Collegiality again at the fore

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An AAUP report this month on the case of John Boyle, an assistant professor of linguistics at Northeastern Illinois University, raises once more the problem of using the vague term “collegiality” in questions of the granting of tenure. The NEIU president, an AAUP posting on the case says, ”cited only two reasons for denying tenure: the candidate’s failure to meet her deadline for filing a plan regarding student advising and the inadequacy of his ‘cooperation with colleagues and students.’” According to the report, the deadline wasn’t missed: The plan was simply and inadvertently misdirected, hardly a reason for denying tenure. This certainly should not be a cause for termination, but it is the other reason that is most troubling.

According to the Inside Higher Ed story on the report, ”The AAUP rejects the notion that collegiality or similar concepts are a fourth, unofficial requisite for tenure, following teaching, scholarship and service.” As the report itself says:

The use of collegiality as a criterion for denying tenure is, in itself, troubling. In its 1999 statement On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation, the Association recommends against adding a separate category of collegiality to the traditional categories of teaching, scholarship, and service in evaluations of faculty performance: “Certainly, an absence of collegiality ought never, by itself, to constitute a basis for . . . denial of tenure.”

When a candidate for tenure (or promotion) shows excellence in teaching, scholarship and service, often the only thing left for antagonists to do is claim a lack of collegiality, something that, because it can never really be defined, is too often a useful means of attack when all others have failed. This is a most dangerous tactic, however, for it results in suspicion and distrust, setting up campus cultures of division and, ultimately, of rancor instead of encouraging the goal that all of his should have, the goal of real collegiality. It creates “in” groups and outsiders and makes real progress for the institution impossible.

All of us who are higher-education professionals need to be aware of the dangers of adding conditions for tenure and promotion to the established trio; all of us need to keep in mind that judgment of others should be on what they accomplish and not on the nebulous emotional reactions that so often result in determinations of lack of collegiality.

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