UAS approves faculty collegiality language

Ryan Jarvi

With one nay and four abstentions, the University Academic Senate of Grand Valley State University approved slight changes of language in the faculty handbook concerning collegiality at its meeting April 12.

The new language makes minor alterations to emphasize the positive side of collegiality and clarifies that it is not an additional criterion of faculty evaluation. Faculty members are evaluated on teaching, service and scholarship alone.

“In theory we could have had a long list of all the negative behaviors that all of us could enumerate,” said Jon Jellema, associate vice president of academic affairs. Jellema added that language to show how collegiality could be positively demonstrated was preferred. “Not ‘he’s a nice guy I like him,’ but through his work he’s demonstrating collegiality in a broader sense of the term. It was a deliberate choice to be positive.”

For faculty, collegiality is understood as civility, mutual respect and working constructively with colleagues toward a common goal within the department. Some universities have removed collegiality from faculty handbooks, as its misuse could be interpreted as a form of bullying and lead to lawsuits.

Kurt Ellenberger, chair of the Faculty Personnel Policies Committee, said the senate recently charged his committee to look into whether GVSU should have a bullying or civil conduct policy for faculty members. FPPC sent out a survey to gauge faculty input, and out of the 600 respondents, 48 percent said there should be a policy that addresses bullying among faculty members. Eighteen percent said there shouldn’t be, and 34 percent said they were not sure.

At the meeting, senators were concerned with what specific behaviors constitute un-collegiality and whose opinion decides when an individual is not collegial.

Brian Lakey, professor of psychology, raised the question to what extent un-collegial behavior is separate from performance. “If I understand it correctly, I could be a complete jerk and as long as I did service well and scholarship well and teaching well then it’s fine,” Lakey said.

Jellema said that generally the unit or department as a whole would have to be able to point to specific behaviors or actions that demonstrate un-collegiality.

“When you go down the hall and get a cup of coffee you’re a real jerk, but when you’re doing service work, and you’re doing your teaching and your scholarship, which is how we’re evaluating you, we see in those areas that you’re being a good colleague,” Jellema said. “If we see in those three areas that you’re not being a good colleague—that you’re disruptive, that you’re uncivil—and we can point to them not in a general way that he’s a jerk, but we can say ‘when he’s doing service he is very rude.’ There’s a context and there is specific instances that we can point to so that it becomes a little less subjective.”

Figen Mekik, chair of the UAS, offered an example of un-collegiality involving a professor with low enrollment for one of their courses. Through email, that professor may attempt to discourage students from taking a colleague’s class and enrolling in his or her course instead.

Another example was proposed regarding a professor hindering the department or unit by refusing to teach a lab because the individual feels it is beneath them.

Charles Pazdernik, chair of the department of classics, reminded the senate that collegiality language already exists in the handbook, and if the motion was not passed, the old language would remain.

“To the extent that we have this language in the handbook, what we’re really doing on a pragmatic level is we’re saying, within the context of a personnel discussion, this is a card that is available to play,” Pazdernik said. “Having done that I think there is a burden of proof and I think if there is any advantage to making this explicit rather than implicit, that somebody who wants to play that card then has to come out and make the case. If I want to play that card, it seems to me that I’ve got to think really carefully about whether or not I can really get that burden of proof, because having played that card, if I fail to carry the case then, hey, I’m the un-collegial one.”

Ellenberger also mentioned that faculty should be civil and open enough to allow others to study the area that they want to study even though some may think it is wrong and disagree. The main point of being un-collegial is the effect that behavior has on hindering a unit or department’s ability to function.

“If your colleagues are unable to function as a unit in a collegial manner because of that behavior, then that part of it is now impinging on their ability to do research, to teach, to collaborate in classes, to develop curriculums—to do all those other things,” Ellenberger said. “So it does have that possibility—your behavior can deter the department’s ability to function as a unit, and that can be determined as being not collegial.”
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