The goals of promoting collegiality and holding faculty members accountable for their behaviors toward one another are both laudable and much needed. But many challenge the idea that collegiality can be objectively assessed via standardized matrices and direct attention instead to ways that institutions militate against collegiality. It is important to note that in choosing this profession aspiring scholars/educators have envisioned as the core of university life the rigorous pursuit and advancement of knowledge in a creative, intellectually challenging environment. They aspire to make a difference in the world. What disillusioned academics have found instead are grueling workloads, job insecurity, inadequate compensation, a capricious and opaque system of institutional rewards and punishments, a worksite mired in conflict, and administrative bloat and ineptness. The problems resulting from entrenched institutional policies and practices that at best can be described as deeply flawed are now compounded by strained resources, diminishing public support, and a relatively new competing paradigm that positions the enterprise of public education as a business venture rather than a common public asset. Budget cuts, institutional red tape, inequitable work loads, demands to publish, and mind-numbing committee work are now commonly shared sources of stress for faculty members across types of institutions. Intensified public attacks on the work university faculty is an additional stressor. In such an environment, collegiality, which is fundamentally about how faculty members treat one another, is significantly compromised.
Bad faculty behaviors in academic institutions are exacerbated by the fact that the lynchpin for attempts to maintain a civil, collegial atmosphere in the university worksite is the departmental chair, someone who is oft times a former faculty member who is given tremendous responsibility and power but who possesses minimal administrative skills, receives very little training for the job, and holds limited power within the larger institution. Worst, yet, in dealing with departmental faculty bullies and even exhibiting bullying behaviors themselves, mid-level administrators may in fact be part of the problem, not part of the solution. University Human Resources departments (often stated in university policies and procedures manuals as the best place for faculty members to report bullying and seek redress) may also be perceived by faculty members as ineffective and more interested in protecting the institution than the well-being of victims of bullying.
Conducting an evaluation of individuals' social interactions in absence of full consideration of the institutional and administrative policies, procedures, and contexts in which the performance of their responsibilities occurs is inherently hypocritical, conceptually unsound, and bad social science. Usage of standardized collegiality metrics for promotion or merit considerations further erodes one of the purported strengths of the academy: academic freedom, discourse, and dissent.
Understanding and promoting collegiality in the Ivory Tower is an important but complex matter. Assessments of collegiality pose particular issues of concern to female educators. Any institutional evaluation of a female faculty member's collegiality must include consideration of workplace-embedded gender inequities, gender stereotypes, women's professional communication styles, and the institutional contexts in which women conduct their business. The facts clearly warrant such consideration: women educators earn less across academic disciplines and at every level of teaching, they hold lower ranks and fewer positions of power within their educational institutions, they are bullied more and supported less than their male counterparts, they endure longstanding institutional policies that are inherently anti-family, and gender stereotypes, discrimination and evaluation bias continue to impede women's advancement in the workplace.
In conclusion, attempts at capturing collegiality on a standardized matrix designed for efficient assessment of an individual's performance of their responsibilities and then using that measurement in faculty evaluations is an ill fated endeavor with little promise of improving the working conditions of female faculty members. As a largely female-dominated profession art educators need to conduct and disseminate research that focuses on how female educators’ experiences within varied institutional contexts, pre-k through post-secondary, impact their productivity and performance. The most relevant studies from the discipline of art education addressing this concern are either a quarter century old (Rush, 1989) or they just don't dig into workplace inequities impacting female academics (Milbrandt & Klein, 2010). Most of all we need to understand how our own workplace conditions shape our social interactions and both facilitate and impede our success.
Endnote: The Holy Grail - Red-Herring title for this post captures my thoughts about attempts to assess collegiality in terms of any faculty member's behaviors, male or female.
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