AAUP Forum on Collegiality

November 21, 2008

Burgiss Theater

AAUP president Victoria Turgeon welcomed the attending faculty, and thanked Provost Kazee, Dean Beckford, and Chair of FSC, Paul Rasmussen for agreeing to be part of the forum. Dr. Turgeon introduced the topic of the forum, namely the role and use of the concept “collegiality,” and shared with the audience a few quotations from the AAUP Redbook on collegiality. She pointed out that AAUP does not recommend the use of collegiality as a separate criterion in the evaluation of faculty, and that AAUP documents warn of possible misusage of the term to enforce certain types of homogeneity among faculty.

Dean Beckford discussed his understanding of the role of collegiality in Furman’s processes of faculty evaluation. Since he is relatively new to the position of the Dean, Beckford indicated that he has not had to extensively deal with issues relating to collegiality. Fully in agreement with AAUP guidelines on the issue, Dean Beckford pointed out that there is occasionally a blurring of lines between questions regarding collegiality and professional ethics: AAUP guidelines and Furman are opposed to any type of discrimination, and insist on objective forms of judgment. We thus cannot condone any abuse of the concept of collegiality where the accusations of lack of collegiality are used as coded language to disparage various forms of diversity. Additionally, Beckford argued that the institution has an obligation to be collegial to its faculty. Referencing a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Dean argued that the institution should behave collegial by providing opportunities and support for faculty development, research, etc.

Provost Kazee suggested that the AAUP documents made a good case for not considering collegiality as a separate category in evaluation of faculty, and pointed out that Furman policies were in line with AAUP guidelines. Kazee suggested that we need to be mindful of the criteria set forth in policies, and that we should make sure that no illegitimate considerations come into play, which may corrupt the process of evaluation. Administration’s role in evaluation is only one of several steps in the process; yet were administration to learn of illegitimate considerations having been part of evaluation (in the inner - departmental process, for example) such errors would have to be corrected.

Paul Rasmussen, current chair of FSC, pointed out that in recent years at its inaugural meeting, FSC has a conversation about criteria used in evaluation of faculty; while occasionally collegiality comes up in such discussions as a possible criterion, FSC usually settles on a position similar to that contained in AAUP documentation. Furthermore, FSC operates in such a fashion that no individual voice on the committee can affect decisions individually; additionally, administrators are also present during FSC deliberations.

Provost Kazee related a conversation he had recently had with a senior faculty member, who argued that collegiality matters. This faculty member argued that collegiality (or lack thereof) can have repercussions on teaching, research, and community service. In Kazee’s view, collegiality is sometimes misunderstood to mean agreeable, conformist behavior; rather, collegiality has a lot to do with a person being able to ask hard, critical questions.

Judy Grisel referenced a research article titled “Can Angry Women get Ahead?” which described an experiment on the perception of gender and collegiality, arguing that work environments oftentimes are suffused with sexist perceptions which can lead to discrimination against women. Particularly in Southern cultural environments, such sexism can be quite pronounced. Dr. Grisel asked what -if anything - can Furman do to prevent sexist attitudes negatively impacting faculty evaluation.

Dean Beckford argued that gender stereotypes are changing, as evidenced by the recent election, in which both during the primaries and in the election women were involved as candidates: yet the candidates encountered gender biases and had to endure chauvinistic treatment in the public, indicating that there are still many challenges ahead for women in society. Beckford argued that gender stereotyping should have no role in the process of evaluation.

Jean Horney asked whether it is possible to leave gender considerations out: whereas Furman in recent years appears to have made headway in hiring women faculty , retaining these women has been a challenge: compared to other ACS institutions, Furman’s percentage of women faculty is rather low.

Bill Rogers asked whether –in the experience of the administrators present- issues of collegiality had affected women in particular. Victoria Turgeon reported that in her experience as AAUP president the majority of concerns regarding collegiality and evaluation had been brought up by women. Provost Kazee acknowledged that there may be a structural problem regarding collegiality and evaluation, particularly as it pertains to women faculty, and asked how such a problem may be redressed. Kazee suggested that one concrete way in which the institution is rectifying the problem already is to have women serve on FSC. Dean Beckford suggested that other parts of the solution may lie in addressing the issue on an everyday basis, in the contexts in which the issue arises.

Victoria Turgeon asked what specific avenues are open to faculty to address concerns regarding the use of collegiality. Provost Kazee responded that, depending on context, this may be the chair of a department or the Dean, and in some other cases the Policies and Procedures manual spells out details regarding reporting mechanisms. More importantly, Kazee argued, it is necessary for faculty to be aware of these issues. On the question of retention of female faculty members, Kazee argued that usually a number of factors are in play which lead to a faculty member’s decision to leave.

Paul Rasmussen pointed out that FSC is fully aware of gender biases in student opinions of instruction and takes these into account.

Bill Rogers inquired whether accusations of un-collegiality are more often made against women than men. Paul Rasmussen stated that while he did not have any statistics at hand, anecdotally this does not appear to be the case. Provost Kazee argued that a look at patterns of Furman faculty who were tenure-track hires revealed that 75% of them went on the earn tenure. Of the remaining 25%, some left Furman before a tenure decision, for reasons including a spouse's career move, relocation in order to be closer to family, etc. As far as denial of tenure at Furman is concerned, there does not appear to be a particular gender pattern, rather, such decisions often have to do with issues related to research and other measurements of success. Jean Horney asked whether Furman has obtained data specifically on the question of faculty leaving prior to tenure; Provost Kazee responded that such data had not been gathered. However, anecdotal evidence from two recent cases suggests that in some cases the decision to leave may have a lot to do with a faculty member perceiving the Furman community to be an unwelcoming environment.

Jean Horney asked whether it may be harder for female professors to get tenure at Furman; Paul Rasmussen cautioned that data which may suggest this needs to be read very carefully. Nelly Boucher suggested that the use of the term “collegiality” in some contexts may give new faculty members pause and may make people uncomfortable, as such terminology potentially carries a number of unspoken assumptions about normativity. Should such language be part of a department’s interview and hiring practice?

Dean Beckford suggested that Furman as an institution still has a lot to learn in regards to the hiring process, as his office has become aware of a number of instances in which problems have crept up, due to inappropriate questions in interview situations and social situations with job-candidates. Dean Beckford’s office is presently working on a manual that hopefully will give guidance to faculty involved in a giving hiring process. Provost Kazee added that it appears that occasionally faculty in a hiring situation may feel intimidated by candidates with very strong academic credentials, and thus perceive a very strong candidate as threatening, as “too strong for the department.”

Karni Bhati asked how issues of collegiality and normativity related to service on university committees. In his experience, passionate faculty with strong opinions, are being avoided when it comes to invitations to serve on university wide committees, as they are deemed “non-agreeable” persona-non-grata. Dr. Bhati suggested that faculty who are in such a situation may feel that their service is not welcomed.

Dean Beckford suggested that the perception as to whether a faculty member is constructive in his/her criticism, and whether a person is cooperative, is always subjective. Dean Kazee related an anecdote of an experience with this issue he encountered at a different institution, where he was serving on a nominating committee: the nominating committee had become aware of the fact that the same group of faculty was always serving on many of the important committees, and that a number of faculty who were perceived as “difficult” were usually left out. Attempting to rectify the situation, the nominating committee presented faculty at large with a nominating slate including many of these “difficult” faculty members, yet when faculty at large was presented with the slate for voting, the larger body of faculty elected to substitute many of the suggested faculty with “reliable” candidates, namely faculty who had previously been serving on the same committees. Kazee observed how difficult it can be to break established patterns of behavior in a large group of faculty.

Jean Horney observed that apart from the criterion of gender, other criteria of difference, such as race, ethnic background, etc. also affect as to whether a faculty member has an opportunity to serve on committees. While Paul Rasmussen argued that he has seen positive developments in regards to gender, Jean Horney disagreed, arguing that compared to other institutions (f.i. Davidson, McAlister) Furman’s advances are negligible.

Dean Beckford observed that Furman has begun to develop a longitudinal database to track how female minority candidates who have applied to Furman are faring, in order to determine how Furman compares with other institutions in hiring and retaining these candidates.

Jean Horney wondered whether Furman women professors are also gradually gravitating toward a “male perspective” on hiring. Nelly Hecker shared with the group of her experience as a female professor: whereas early in her career she did observe gender differentiated treatment among her colleagues, Dr. Hecker observed that Furman has come a long way. In particular, she pointed out that serving on the Faculty Status Committee gave her a sense that Furman is putting a strong emphasis on fairness.

The forum closed around 5:00 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Alfons H Teipen