À mon avis
In my opinion
Fostering dissent, diversity and
by Timothy J. Haney
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Timothy J. Haney is an
assistant professor of sociology
at Mount Royal University.
what might be seen as a controversial
argument, I believe that universities
should cease discussing collegiality as
a sought-after trait.
Many Canadian universities currently task themselves with deciding who among
their colleagues is collegial and who is not. In fact,
evaluative documents generated by university
departments and faculties frequently mention
collegiality, either as an assessment criterion or
as a collective goal. For example, when assessing
junior faculty for tenure and promotion, York University’s department of social science rates such
candidates as “excellent” if they demonstrate
“fairness, effectiveness, judgment, collegiality,
respectfulness and other attributes of strong collegial spirit.” In another example, the Brock University Faculty Association demands in their collective agreement that faculty “shall deal fairly,
ethically and respectfully with their colleagues.”
So, what’s wrong with collegiality?
First, the evaluation of our colleagues should
be based entirely on job performance. Collegiality,
however, has little to do with job performance.
Can a colleague be curt, touchy or argumentative
and still be an excellent teacher or researcher?
Absolutely. Can one fulfill service obligations
effectively without being particularly friendly?
Of course. Therefore, collegiality (as many envision it) tells us nothing about the actual quality
of one’s job performance.
Second, there is confusion over how to define
collegiality. According to the Canadian Association
of University Teachers, “Collegiality does not
mean congeniality or civility.” Yet, the CAUT
statement makes little progress in defining what
collegiality actually is, instead relying on a statement about what it does not include. Preferring
instead a bland description involving faculty members taking on “their share of the service workload,” the statement leaves substantial ambiguity.
Though collegiality can involve concrete actions,
such as agreeing to guest-lecture in a colleague's
class while she’s away at a conference, nonetheless
it is often understood as one’s interactional style,
word choice, or how well someone schmoozes
at a wine-and-cheese reception. All of these characteristics are quite disconnected from one’s actual
Another obvious problem with collegiality is
its potential to silence dissent and generate uniformity. There is an inherent tension between
collegiality and academic freedom. CAUT maintains a statement on academic freedom, which
makes it very clear that faculty members should
not be sanctioned in any way because of what
they say. Yet, collegiality revolves around what
we say to one another. Because academic freedom includes the “freedom to express one’s opinion about the institution, its administration and
the system in which one works,” it is fundamentally at odds with notions of collegiality.
Academic freedom is meant to promote discussion and disagreement, because both occur for
the betterment of the institution and of society.
However, when universities evaluate collegiality,
they run the risk of evaluating a dissenting individual – who exercises her or his right of academic
freedom – as somehow “uncollegial.” A collegial
environment may indeed be one where all colleagues interact positively with one another in a
mutually supportive environment. Or, just as
commonly, a collegial environment may be one
where many of the faculty members are intimidated and silenced.
Finally, collegiality may have the unintended
(or perhaps intended) consequence of erasing
the very diversity that Canadian universities say
they wish to foster. Previous research (including
my own) finds that faculty members from working-class and poverty-class backgrounds are more
direct in their speech, less nuanced, less afraid to
challenge authority and more confrontational. If
collegiality is understood as a middle-class notion
of congeniality, as an aggregation of hallway
comments, positions on issues in meetings, and
other interpersonal interactions, then those who
are labeled as uncollegial may disproportionately come from backgrounds marked by modest
socioeconomic means, thereby eliminating one
form of diversity.
Because of confusion over the meaning of
collegiality, Canadian universities should eliminate use of the word. Even where it is not used
in hiring decisions or evaluating candidates for
promotion, the assumption remains that departments, faculties and universities should work
harder to become collegial places. Such a notion
ignores the problematic aspects of collegiality.
Instead, universities should actively encourage
critique, dissent and disagreement – several of the
qualities that are often viewed as uncollegial.