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Mending the Cracks in the Ivory Tower: Strategies for Conflict Management in Higher Education

Edited by Susan A. Holton
Anker Publishing Company
288 Pages
ISBN: 1-882982-21-5

Reviewed by

Marshelle Thobaben

Humboldt State University


Mending the Cracks in the Ivory Tower is one of the few available books specifically addressing academic institutional conflict management. It is designed as a practical, how-to volume to assist higher education administrators and faculty in dealing with the conflict that occurs in their institutions. It explains how the proper management of conflict can improve working relationships, departments, and entire institutions. It is easy to read and written in conversational style. The "Holton Model for Conflict Management," particularly aimed at those who are department chairs or deans, may be useful for CSU faculty and administrators if they are looking for a structured set of guidelines to respond to their conflicts.

Susan A. Holton, the editor, believes that higher education more than any other institution is in denial about conflict and that administrators and faculty in higher education are in great need of information on conflict management. The book is "devoted to analyzing those conflicts in higher education, to understanding the cracks and complexities of those conflicts, and to determining ways in which we might mend the cracks that are threatening the ivory towers of academia" (p. 10). It is intended to be a "mentor on a shelf," offering practical tips on managing the range of academic conflict that is often experienced by faculty and administrators in their respective roles in higher education. It provides tools and methods for conflict management and resolution, inviting us to use this practical guide to "mend the cracks" in our own ivory towers.

Dr. Holton authored two chapters and edited the others, which were written by thirteen nationally recognized experts on academic conflict management. The contributors share their strategies for improving working relationships, departments, and entire academic institutions. They analyze the many kinds of institutional conflicts commonly faced in higher education and share their expertise with case studies, questions, examples, and strategies.

A sample of the chapters and the contributors include

  • What's It All About? Conflict in Academia--Susan A. Holton, who is an editor, professor, former Chair of Communication Studies at Bridgewater State College (MA), and member of the National Association for Mediation in Education and the Society for Professionals in Dispute Resolution, provides an overview of the process of conflict in academia, including how it is manifested, its sources, types, and precursors, as well as how to manage it.

  • Academic Mortar to Mend the Cracks: The Holton Model for Conflict Management, which was also written by Dr. Holton, provides a model that can be used to manage any conflict. It is modeled after creative problem-solving and mediation techniques.

  • The Janus Syndrome: Managing Conflict From The Middle--Walter H. Gmelch, director of the National Center for Academic Leadership at Washington State University and one of the leading researchers in the study of department chairs, examines the dilemma department chairs often experience, which is the difficulty of mediating between the concerns of administration and faculty, while at the same time championing the values of their faculty.

  • Spanning the Abyss: Managing Conflict between Chairs and Deans--Ann F. Lucas is founder and former director of the Office of Professional and Organizational Development at Fairleigh Dickinson University and author of articles, chapters, and books, including Strengthening Departmental Leadership: A Team-Building Guide for Chairs in Colleges and Universities. She examines the factors contributing to and makes recommendations about the conflict between department chairs and deans.

  • The Cutting Edge: The Dean and Conflict--Nancy L. Sorenson, dean of the School of Education at the College of Charleston, and director of the management seminar for assistant and associate deans for the National Association of Academic Affairs Administration (ACAFAD), explains that a lack of effectiveness in dealing with conflict is a problem for deans. She also gives guidelines for learning how to manage conflict and mediate its effects.

  • And Never the Twain Shall Meet: Administrator-Faculty Conflict--Judith A. Sturnick, who is president of The Sturnick Group for Executive Coaching and Consulting, which assists corporations, higher education, and health care, and a senior associate with The Education Consulting Institute in Washington, DC, looks at the division between faculty and administrators and presents 15 principles that both groups can use to understand and manage conflict.

  • Can We Agree to Disagree: Faculty-Faculty Conflict-- Cynthia Berryman-Fink is a professor in the department of communication at the University of Cincinnati; partner in Enhancement Training, a human resources consulting firm; and author of several books, including The Manager's Desk Reference. She examines the interpersonal conflict between faculty and presents strategies that chairs and deans can use to manage it.

There are additional chapters on administration in the age of conflict, chairs working with support staff, conflicts between student affairs and academic affairs, conflict between faculty and students, student-student conflicts, conflict resolution in the academy, and conflict management programs for administrators.

Posted April 9, 2002

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board.
©2002 by Marshelle Thobaben.

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