On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation

Academe, September/October 1999 | Go to article overview

On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation


In June 1999, Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure approved the statement which follows for publication with an invitation for comments. They should be addressed to Committee A at the Association 's Washington office.

In evaluating faculty members for promotion, renewal, tenure, and other purposes, American colleges and universities have customarily examined faculty performance in the three areas of teaching, scholarship, and service, with service sometimes divided further into public service and service to the college or university. While the weight given to each of these three areas varies according to the mission and evolution of the institution, the terms are themselves generally understood to describe the key functions performed by faculty members.

In recent years, Committee A has become aware of an increasing tendency on the part not only of administrations and governing boards but also of faculty members in important administrative roles, such as department chairs or members of promotion and tenure committees, to add a fourth criterion in faculty evaluation: "collegiality."1 For the reasons set forth in this statement, we view this development as highly unfortunate, and we agree that it should be discouraged. Few if any responsible faculty members would deny that collegiality, in the sense of collaboration and constructive cooperation, identifies important aspects of a faculty member's overall performance. A faculty member may legitimately be called upon to participate in the development of curricula and standards for the evaluation of teaching, as well as in peer review of the teaching of colleagues. Much research, depending on the nature of the particular discipline, is by its nature collaborative and requires teamwork as well as the ability to engage in independent investigation. And committee service of a more general description, relating to the life of the institution as a whole, is a logical outgrowth of the Association's view that a faculty member is an "officer" of the college or university in which he or she fulfills professional duties.2

Understood in this way, collegiality is not a distinct capacity to be assessed independently of the traditional triumvirate of scholarship, teaching, and service. It is rather a quality whose value is expressed in the successful execution of these three functions. Evaluation in these three areas will encompass the contributions that the virtue of collegiality may pertinently add to a faculty member's career. The current tendency to isolate collegiality as a distinct dimension of evaluation, however, poses several dangers. Historically, collegiality has not infrequently been associated with ensuring homogeneity, and hence with practices that exclude persons on the basis of their difference from a perceived norm. The invocation of collegiality may also threaten academic freedom. In the heat of important decisions regarding promotion or tenure, as well as other matters involving such traditional areas of faculty responsibility as curriculum or academic hiring, it is natural to confuse collegiality with the expectation that a faculty member display "enthusiasm" or "dedication," or evince "a constructive attitude" that will "foster harmony," or, even worse, display an excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions where these may require reasoned discussion. Such expectations are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom, which protect a faculty member's right to dissent from the judgments of colleagues and administrators.

A distinct criterion of collegiality also holds the potential of chilling faculty debate and discussion. Critique and opposition do not necessarily conflict with collegiality. Gadflies, critics of institutional practices or collegial norms, even the occasional malcontent, have all been known to play an invaluable and constructive role in the life of academic departments and institutions. …

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