Some practices and principles that help an academic department be supportive, collegial, and congenial

  • Communicate openly with all colleagues affected by the deliberations of any committee on which you serve, especially those you lead. (A decision made without consultation or allowing for others to disagree—even if you are 100% right and/or have done the bulk of the work and are entitled to others giving due deference to what you propose—is not a decision that builds capacity in the unit [Program, Department, College] to implement the decision effectively.)
  • Communicate openly when you notice ambiguities about mandates arising at different levels of the program/department/college hierarchy. (This gives the parties involved a chance to reconcile the differences.)
  • Do not make or allow to be made negative comments about any colleague. Instead, whenever possible affirm what has worked well and, in the appropriate setting/procedure, make suggestions to colleagues about what you think could be improved.
  • Avoid any action or email or wording that embarrasses anyone—It is usually possible to express what you would like without showing up a specific person for their shortcomings.
  • In emails, when the relevant information or the outcome you seek can be stated directly, don’t add complexity by interpreting other people’s motives or behavior.
  • If an issue is sensitive for you, don’t plead your case by email; in such situations arrange to talk and use email only for information and putting succinct memos formally on the record.
  • Memos for the record and Annual Faculty Reviews should focus on facts, not on argument. (“Facts” means documentable items and relevant happenings that other observers could confirm, even if they disagreed with the significance you draw from them.) Conversely, do not omit facts that are inconvenient to your position. Indeed, acknowledge receipt of such facts so there’s no worry that you can later claim not to have heard them. (This is also a matter of respect that helps keep lines of communication open.)
  • If someone emails requesting to talk, don’t try to process things further by email; acknowledge the request and arrange a time for the conversation.
  • If you disagree with the judgement of the Department Chair, Program Coordinator, or committee chair, start by asking for a face-to-face meeting to inquire about any facts and procedures that may not be apparent and then to discuss the disagreement (if it still persists).
  • If, after such meeting, you still disagree with the judgement, you can use the procedures of the Program or the Department (e.g., depending on the Department’s Constitution, range from calling a Department meeting to voting for the Chair’s dismissal) to take the matter further. Don’t bypass such consultation—the potential for interventions from above tends to detract from faculty commitment to and confidence in their own role in governance and administration.
  • Similarly, don’t cc emails to higher-ups (except if the matter is a dispute that the original parties agree has not been able to be resolved at the original level). (Such cc’s make it harder for the person emailed to suggest changes or respond without embarassment to anyone.)
  • (See also e-etiquette)
  • Apologize “early and often” for mistakes and for any misunderstandings—even if you think the other parties might bear primary responsibility for the misunderstanding.
  • If an issue gets heated and feelings are hurt, but apologies are made and accepted, then faculty can move forward and continue to cooperate on the tasks of running a department.

3 Dec ’06, extracted from


1 thought on “Some practices and principles that help an academic department be supportive, collegial, and congenial

  1. Pingback: New Social Media: From technologies to spaces we make for virtual and face-to-face interactions « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s