Collegiality as a Factor in Faculty Evaluation

January 1, 2004

In recent years, more and more institutions are beginning to include collegiality as a factor in faculty evaluation. Often, promotion and tenure committees (and administrators) are apprehensive because they are unsure of the legalities involved. They are also fearful that considerations of collegiality might spill over into considerations of popularity or other personal factors that are inappropriate to objective faculty evaluation.

First, let me share a brief recap of what has been said on this topic by the courts and by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). My sources for this information include a very helpful article (Does Collegiality Count?) by Mary Ann Connell and Frederick Savage, published in the Spring 2001 issue of the Journal of College and University Law.

After reviewing various opinions from the courts and the AAUP, Ill share my own thoughts regarding the incorporation of collegiality into faculty evaluations. Here is a quick look at six representative court cases:

[A college has the right] to expect a teacher to follow instructions and to work cooperatively and harmoniously with the head of the department. Chitwood v. Feaster (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit - 1972). The court noted that the non-tenured faculty members had a pattern of bickering and running disputes with the department heads.

We are persuaded that collegiality is a valid consideration for tenure. Although not expressly listed among the Schools criteria, it is impliedly embodied within the criteria that are specified. Without question, collegiality plays an essential role in the categories of both teaching and service. University of Baltimore v. Iz (Maryland Court of Special Appeals -1993). This decision rejected the breach of contract claim.

It is predictable and appropriate that in evaluating service to an institution, ability to cooperate would be deemed particularly relevant where a permanent, difficult-to-revoke long-term job commitment is being made to the applicant for tenure. Bresnick v. Manhattanville College.

The ability to get along with co-workers, when not a subterfuge for discrimination, is a legitimate consideration for tenure decisions. Stein v. Kent State (Affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit). It is critical in cases such as this one that there be no hint of discrimination in the evaluation process. This case involved a claim of gender discrimination and retaliation. Also see Babbar v. Ebadi, a case that involved a claim of discrimination based on national origin and religion.

[Plaintiffs actions] clearly reflect unprofessional conduct and a continuing pattern of non-cooperation. Jawa v. Fayetteville University. This case involved a terminated professor with tenure. He had made reckless accusations, disrupted meetings, and even refused to respond to calls for conferences with the chairto whom he refused to speak.

The AAUP has been concerned that collegiality not be considered separately from the traditional criteria of teaching, research, and service. In a statement entitled On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation, approved by the Associations Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and adopted by the Associations Council in November 1999, the AAUP expressed the preference that institutions develop clear definitions of scholarship, teaching, and service, in which the virtues of collegiality are reflected. It stated further that a fundamental absence of collegiality will no doubt manifest itself in the dimensions of scholarship, teaching, or, most probably, service.... The Association understands collegiality as a virtue whose value is expressed in the successful execution of these three functions.

Let us assume that collegiality is a desirable faculty behavior and an appropriate part of faculty evaluation. Given the position of the AAUP and the guidance from the courts, we must devise ways to incorporate collegiality into the evaluation process in a fair, reasonable, and legally defensible way.

First, we must understand the difference between collegiality and congeniality. One is a defensible factor in faculty evaluation; the other is not. Collegiality is characterized by working together with ones colleagues in a positive manner to advance the mission of the music programin whole or in part. Congeniality is a personality trait and is irrelevant in faculty evaluations. One need not be congenial in order to be collegial (although that is nice when it happens).

Faculty committees and administrators are sometimes prone to confuse collegiality with congeniality. In order to make the appropriate distinction, evaluators need to engage in a discussion of specific behaviors and categorize them as either collegial (and therefore relevant) or congenial (irrelevant).

Just as collegiality and congeniality are not synonymous, neither are collegiality and conformity. For example, if senior faculty members interpret collegiality to mean that their juniors should never make waves or voice opinions that challenge the prevailing wisdom, the result may be the appearance of a collegial department when in fact the opposite is true.

I suggest that collegiality be viewed as a continuum that extends all the way from the hard-working, cooperative, supportive, positive faculty member who is on every committee, attends every event, and volunteers for all the dirty work to the negative, egocentric, self-serving, grouch who contributes nothing, disrupts meetings, bashes colleagues in public, and refuses to go the extra centimeter.

I submit that most of the continuumlets say 75%should include a wide variety of behaviors that are to varying degrees collegial. For example, some people are shy or introverted and therefore contribute very little in meetings and committees. Others are all-business and do not participate in social activities that they perceive to be wastes of time. There are those who are simply very private people and have little or no interest in the lives and concerns of their colleagues, nor do they desire any involvement of others in their lives. And certainly there are some who are passionate about certain issues and can be quite vociferous in their advocacy of such issues when they arise in meetings. None of these behaviors should disqualify one from being considered collegial.

The other end of the continuum (25%) is reserved for behaviors that are clearly non-collegial. Remembering the AAUPs position, it is probably wise to define non-collegial behaviors in connection with one or more of the three traditional criteria. Let me share a few examples.

The most obvious connection is to the service criterion. I know of at least one Dean who considers non-collegiality to be negative service. Non-collegial behaviors in the area of service would include such things as refusal to serve on committees, participate in department events, or contribute to departmental initiatives. Less obvious examples of behavior that are a disservice to the music department might include the faculty member who broadcasts to area teachers, donors, or community leaders his or her opinion that a colleague is a terrible teacher or that the overall music program is inferior and to be avoided at all costs.

The next most likely connection is between collegiality and teaching. There are times when faculty members are asked to take on extra teaching assignments on a temporary basis. Most faculty members will do so. But what to do with the person who refuses to go beyond his or her minimum load? And there are those who refuse to collaborate or cooperate with colleagues in any teaching-related initiative.

In music, research and creative activities often are very collaborative in nature. For example, there may be a faculty member who continually thwarts any attempt to create a faculty chamber ensemble or who refuses to participate with colleagues in creating a grant proposal.

Although there is room for honest disagreement about the appropriateness of these examples, the critical point is that those involved in the evaluation process need to reach a consensus about what behaviors are collegial and noncollegial. Without such a consensus, each person involved in the evaluation process may have a different definition of collegialitya dangerous and ill-advised circumstance.

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