New Test to Measure Faculty Collegiality Produces Some Dissension Itself

Posted on: June 12th, 2013 by Taylor Fontes No Comments

The Chronicle reports that higher education consultants Jeffrey L. Buler, dean of the honors college at Florida Atlantic University, and Robert E. Cipriano, a professor emeritus of recreation and leisure studies at Southern Connecticut State University, have devised an instrument that tests faculty collegiality.  They say that the test, called the Collegiality Assessment Matrix, is both objective and reliable enough that collegiality could be used as a criterion in evaluations for reappointment, tenure and promotion of faculty.  They developed a Self-Assessment Matrix as a companion tool to use as a comparison.

The AAUP is staunchly opposed to the idea on the basis that it uses subjective terms; does not take into consideration context and cultural differences among colleagues and institutions; and it conflicts with overall principles of academic freedom.   Mr. Cipriano, who claims that academic freedom should not protect bad behavior among faculty, plans to discuss their work at the AAUP annual conference this week in Washington, DC.

Editorial Comment:

Collegiality is certainly important in any work place.  However, there are two very critical questions that must be addressed here: 1) Can collegiality really be measured objectively? (I, and others quoted in the article argue NO); 2) Should collegiality be a determining factor in evaluating faculty for reappointment, tenure and promotion? (I argue no to this as well).

The Collegiality Assessment Matrix contains 10 statements about the behavior of the faculty member being evaluated.  While the consultants claim that objectivity is maintained by using observable behavior rather than on perceptions of personality or attitude.  However this is far from the case.  Words like caustic and disparaging, both of which are featured in the 10 statements on the test, are anything but objective.  In the self-assessment, the statement, “I follow through on professional tasks and deadlines so as not to inconvenience, delay, or burden others in the unit,” is also totally open to interpretation.  What one person deems an inconvenience or a burden another might view as perfectly appropriate and reasonably assumed as par for the course.

Furthermore, as one professor aptly points out, there are cultural, regional and differences when it comes to qualifying collegiality.  I would argue that there are also gender differences. Generally speaking, women tend to be more analytical of others’ behavior toward them and to internalize more.  They are also likely to be less overtly hostile, more empathic, and better at communicating and solving problems amicably than men.  Men are less likely to be aware of behavior that comes off as insensitive and tend to act rationally and devoid of emotion.  If not everyone is speaking the same language, then the instrument will not be reliable.

It almost seems unnecessary to comment on the utility of a self-assessment tool.  As one university that adopted the tool discovered, few people are going to characterize themselves negatively, particularly if they know that it might affect their job.  And it is nearly, if not entirely, impossible to assess oneself objectively even if one genuinely intends to do so.

But the more important concern of the two I mentioned is whether or not collegiality should be a criterion for reappointment, tenure and promotion – even if there were some way to determine it objectively.   It is hard to render a decision based upon such an unlikely hypothetical, but in the interest of the exercise, I would still argue no.  Collegiality should be encouraged and conflicts among faculty should be addressed, without a doubt.  But people are dynamic and behave differently based on a myriad of circumstances and factors.  To say that the number of publications one has in highly regarded journals or how many committees they serve on can be measured in the same way as whether or not the faculty member respects the decision-making processes of the unit, for example, is simply wrong.

Moreover, as AAUP’s Gregory Scholtz brings up, faculty members may be disdained for holding controversial views or having strong personalities.  Academic inquiry thrives on controversy, and dissension or failure to conform to popular opinion should not be construed as lack of collegiality.   But there is a very real risk involved if collegiality is adopted as a criterion for keeping one’s job.

To read the full article by Peter Schmidt go to:

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