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Resolving Conflicts in Higher Education Prepared by Bonnie Leonhardt, Ph.D., S.P.H.R. © 2006 by Bonnie Leonhardt. Resolving conflicts in higher education. Factors contributing to conflict potential:. Multiple stakeholder groups: students, faculty, staff, administration, Deans,

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Resolving Conflicts in Higher Education

Prepared by Bonnie Leonhardt, Ph.D., S.P.H.R.

© 2006 by Bonnie Leonhardt.

resolving conflicts in higher education
Resolving conflicts in higher education

Factors contributing to conflict potential:

  • Multiple stakeholder groups: students, faculty, staff, administration, Deans,
  • chairs, governing Boards, community members.
  • Faculty governance issues
  • Autonomy of disciplines in multiversities
  • Tradition of keeping a harmonious front.

Conflict management strategies

  • Move from smaller institutions with shared values to multiversities with diverse
  • values created new conflict management strategy: “divide and isolate”
  • (Veysey, 1965).
  • Conflicts have increased as money to isolate differing views as dried up and as
  • societal conflicts are taken up by academics.

Failures of “Divide and Isolate”

  • Most academic institutions have formal mechanisms to handle disputes within
  • groups: faculty grievances, student/student disputes, staff grievances.
  • Many institutions are now grappling with conflicts that span traditional
  • boundaries: faculty/staff conflict, town/gown conflict, student/ faculty conflict.

Few organizations have informal mechanisms for conflict resolution

  • As one administrator put it “the Board doesn’t want to hear about it unless it’s a
  • grievance.”
  • Management at the Dean and chair level is often untrained in resolving
  • disputes with or between subordinates.
  • Costs of conflict are not recognized.

Results of unrecognized conflicts

  • Conflicts grow until they disrupt the delivery of services, cause absence or
  • turnover, create long-lasting animosity, and even lead to inefficient
  • restructuring (divide and isolate).
  • By the time the conflict is referred to a formal dispute resolution process, much
  • of the cost is already incurred.

Resolving conflict early pays off

  • Costs of faculty search have increased.
  • Student retention problems are costly.
  • Hostile disputes that erupt into litigation or public discussion are damaging to
  • reputation.
  • Conflict limits collaboration and program integration.

More information

Visit the Conflict Management Toolbox for free access to assessment instruments.

More resources for academics.

Staff development and other services to institutions of higher education are available from:

Dana Mediation Institute, Inc.

Mediation Training Institute International