On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation

The statement that follows was approved by the Association’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and adopted by the Association’s Council in November 1999.


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 serving in such roles as department chairs or as 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 believe 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 teaching, scholarship, 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, collegiality may be confused with the expectation that a faculty member display “enthusiasm” or “dedication,” evince “a constructive attitude” that will “foster harmony,” or 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. Criticism 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. They have sometimes proved collegial in the deepest and truest sense. Certainly a college or university replete with genial Babbitts is not the place to which society is likely to look for leadership. It is sometimes exceedingly difficult to distinguish the constructive engagement that characterizes true collegiality from an obstructiveness or truculence that inhibits collegiality. Yet the failure to do so may invite the suppression of dissent. The very real potential for a distinct criterion of “collegiality” to cast a pall of stale uniformity places it in direct tension with the value of faculty diversity in all its contemporary manifestations.

Relatively little is to be gained by establishing collegiality as a separate criterion of assessment. A fundamental absence of collegiality will no doubt manifest itself in the dimensions of teaching, scholarship, or, most probably, service, though here we would add that we all know colleagues whose distinctive contribution to their institution or their profession may not lie so much in service as in teaching and research. Professional misconduct or malfeasance should constitute an independently relevant matter for faculty evaluation. So, too, should efforts to obstruct the ability of colleagues to carry out their normal functions, to engage in personal attacks, or to violate ethical standards. The elevation of collegiality into a separate and discrete standard is not only inconsistent with the long-term vigor and health of academic institutions and dangerous to academic freedom, it is also unnecessary.

Committee A accordingly believes that the separate category of “collegiality” should not be added to the traditional three areas of faculty performance. Institutions of higher education should instead focus on developing clear definitions of teaching, scholarship, and service, in which the virtues of collegiality are reflected. Certainly an absence of collegiality ought never, by itself, to constitute a basis for nonreappointment, denial of tenure, or dismissal for cause.

Notes

1. At some institutions, the term “collegiality” or “citizenship” is employed in regulations or in discussions of institutional practice as a synonym for “service.” Our objection is to the use of the term “collegiality” in its description of a separate and additional area of performance in which the faculty member is to be evaluated. Back to text

2. The locus classicus for this term is the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure: “College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution.” (AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, 10th ed. [Washington, D.C., 2006], 3.) Back to text