It’s about respect
It is worthwhile to take heed of Timothy Haney’s warning
(“The problem of collegiality,” June-July issue) that collegiality
has the potential to quell dissenting views, especially if it is
used as an evaluative criterion in recruitment and promotion.
But I think he misses the point that collegiality is fundamentally
about respect and fostering a supportive work environment.
Surely the academy is a milieu in which critical discussion and
a diversity of perspectives are to be encouraged, so long as
they are expressed in a respectful, non-acerbic manner in the
spirit of intellectual thrust and parry. I have often witnessed
strong differences in personalities, values and professional
opinions being played out with good humour and little rancor.
If that is the kind of intellectual and occupational environment
we desire, shouldn’t we say so? If we drop collegiality as a
goal, won’t we find ourselves belonging to a more antagonistic
and less civil community?
À mon avis
In my opinion
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Timothy J. Haney is an
assistant professor of sociology
at Mount Royal University.
Fostering dissent, diversity and
www.affaresunverstares.ca / un 2012 /
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 CAU T
statement makes little progress in defining what
collegiality actually is, instead relying on a state-
ment about what it does not include. Preferring
instead a bland description involving faculty mem-
bers taking on “their share of the service work-
load,” 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 indi-
vidual – who exercises her or his right of academic
freedom – as somehow “uncollegial.” A collegial
environment may indeed be one where all col-
leagues 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 intimi-
dated 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 hall way
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.
Philip J. Burton
Dr. Burton is an adjunct professor in the ecosystem science and management program at the University of Northern British Columbia.
4 / www.universityaffairs.ca / August-September 2012
It’s how you say it that counts
in his opinion piece “The problem of collegial-
ity,” Timothy Haney seems to overstate the pit-
falls of misusing the concept of collegiality in
advocating for us all to abandon the term. He
states: “There is an inherent tension between col-
legiality 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
Dr. Haney rightly points out that there are
multiple understood definitions of collegiality. I
would argue that to understand collegiality cor-
rectly in the context of an academic or governance
debate, it’s not about what you say, it’s about how
you say it. The Brock University Faculty Asso-
ciation statement that Dr. Haney quotes, urging
faculty to “deal fairly, ethically and respectfully
with their colleagues,” is a reasonable definition
of the collegial ideal in this context.
Mr. Price is student affairs coordinator with the faculty of applied
sciences at Simon Fraser University.