Dialogue Strategies

Faculty, faculty developers, student affairs departments, and university leaders throughout the nation have created a wide range of approaches, programs, and resources for engaging difficult dialogues in higher education.

Explore the options here, from syllabi of courses addressing controversial topics, to books and films, to interactive theater scripts and faculty development intensive models.

Featured Project on Anti-Bullying in Academia

Incivility and a lack of collegiality are on the rise in institutions of higher education. This phenomenon can range from disputes and tension at one end and to violence at the other. There are many departments that suffer from noncollegial, uncivil, and nasty encounters between faculty members, faculty members and staff, and faculty members and students.
(Facilitating a Collegial Department in Higher Education, Dr. Robert Cipriano)

Few other factors can bring the productivity of a department to a standstill and destroy its reputation as quickly as can the presence of even a single uncollegial faculty member. .. Collegiality is not simply a matter of being nice to the people we work with. It consists of behaving in an appropriately professional manner that promotes, to the greatest extent possible, the primary functions of our institutions: teaching, scholarship, and service.
(The Essential Department Chair, Dr. Jeffery Buller)

Incivility and uncollegial behavior are increasing on college campuses throughout the nation, amongst all populations. Bullying and other toxic behaviors are hardly confined to academia; organizations throughout the nation are wrestling with how to ensure collegiality in the workplace, elementary school systems seek solutions to bullying amongst schoolchildren, and cyberscholars investigate the causes of cyberbullying. But academia is a unique culture with particular structures and practices that increase the likelihood of toxic behaviors.

UAA has an internationally-recognized “Difficult Dialogues” initiative, which increases faculty skill at proactively and reactively addressing controversy and difficult topics within the classroom. But one of the most common questions raised by faculty after participating in Difficult Dialogues faculty development workshops is: “How can I apply this to the most difficult of my situations… relationships within my own department?”

Universities across the country are exploring a range of responses to this challenge, from additional language relating to civility and collegiality in mission, union, and hiring documents; to supporting the development of departmental codes of conduct; to adding “collegiality” as a 4th criteria for P and T and hiring decisions, and more.

The Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence at UAA, in partnership with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, United Academics, and the UAA Provost’s office, has created a booklet and film designed to help launch productive discussions on faculty-to-faculty bullying on campuses across the country and beyond.

The film, “Toxic Friday,” is based on a script and live theater performance that depict some of the most common forms of toxic behavior within academic departments. The scriptwriter conducted a series of interviews with faculty members at three universities, as well as Human Resources and union personnel. The resulting piece was then “workshopped” with faculty input, and performed multiple times at the UAA campus prior to being turned into a film.

The accompanying booklet and discussion describes the challenge of academic bullying and toxic behavior in higher education and the ways in which UAA and other campuses are responding to that challenge, including through the innovative use of interactive theater. It includes the script that formed the basis for the film, as well as notes about the “backstories” created by the actors that inform a “talkback” session that follows live performances of the script. In that session, actors remain in character and respond to questions from the audience about their motivations. They either respond publicly, in which case the other actors can hear their responses, or privately, in which case they can share more honestly about their feelings, opinions, and behaviors. The booklet also contains a series of questions and suggestions for conducting in-depth and constructive discussions after audiences view the film or live performance of “Toxic Friday”.

UAA hopes that, taken together, these two resources will provide the necessary support to promote widespread discussions about next steps to take to ensure that all faculty work in safe and supportive environments.

Please contact Libby Roderick at eroderick@alaska.edu if you have additional resources to contribute.