Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Faculty Animosity: A Contextual View

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Faculty Animosity: A Contextual View

Article excerpt

Professional conflicts and deep antagonisms within departments and colleges are common aspects of academic life. There are tales of life long rivalries between academic titans--for example, Kant's dispute with the theological faculty (Carlson 2008)--and I suspect many of us lesser beings have observed or experienced the adverse consequences of professorial disputes. For some of us, interpersonal conflicts have grave consequences and the costs are high. This analysis examines faculty animosity from an interdisciplinary point of view, focusing on the social and organizational structures and processes that may foster the individual actions and reactions associated with interpersonal antagonisms. Animosity means ill will and/or resentment associated with hostility toward a target. As used here, faculty animosity involves bearing an explicit or latent antagonistic attitude toward one or more colleagues that leads to hostility, avoidance, and rejection. It may involve conscious and visible vindictiveness (enmity), or angry brooding over a perceived slight (rancor). The conflicts and animosities that arise within the academy are problematic because they diminish the quality of our professional lives, with adverse effects on students as well as faculty.

This analysis employs ideas from several fields to reframe the problem, offering some interpretive vantage points from which to consider the origins and consequences of faculty animosity. Part one examines the culture of academe as a whole, with its longstanding celebration of argument. Adversarialism has historical roots in the academy, as evident in the use of particular metaphors and instructional practices. Part two describes how the structure of academic institutions creates a "hothouse" climate that may intensify hostilities, leading in the most extreme cases to social elimination (workplace "mobbing"). Shifting focus from the general to the particular, part three examines whether the professional culture of professors of education might itself engender contention. This section speculates that professors of education, by virtue of their unique status within higher education, may work in settings that have the potential to amplify interpersonal antagonisms. The article concludes with an analysis of the consequences of faculty antagonisms, offering some concrete strategies for change.

The Argument Culture

Beverly Gordon, an associate professor in a school of educational policy and leadership, once described her intellectual research site as a "'hood--a very dangerous place."

   You can be ambushed and assaulted. You can be robbed or have your
   possessions stolen. You can be shot in a "drive-by" shooting. You
   can get caught in the cross fire of different warring gangs. You
   are recruited and can even be forced to join these gangs for your
   own safety and protection, and yet you still have no real guarantee
   of safety. You can become a prisoner within your own dwelling
   because the streets are dangerous and the gangs are unrelenting,
   unforgiving, and revengeful. The gangs of the 'hood have histories,
   reputations, and identifying attributes that demarcate the
   territories that they uphold and guard. Being a good citizen and
   trying to play it safe is not enough. (1999, p. 407)

The residents of Gordon's 'hood were middle class men and women employed in higher education--"The 'hood I work in is the Academy" (ibid.). She noted that those who work in Academe are as vulnerable to attack as those who live in dangerous neighborhoods, observing

   ... your smile of recognition speaks volumes about the parallels of
   life within the Academy and life in the mean streets of urban
   American society. The metaphor works because you, rather we--those
   of us that live in this "academic 'hood"--are as vulnerable as our
   urban counterparts, but in the university, instead of blood, there
   is an vacated/empty office, which more often than not is reoccupied
   before the corpse has time to cool. … 
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