Mediation is helping NWC

Posted 9/28/10

Facilitator Pam Fisher summarized: It seems things are better, but there is no sense of confidence that things won't revert to the way they were before.

Fisher told those present at an all-campus meeting last week those feelings all are normal. …

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Mediation is helping NWC


But some still waiting to see While some Northwest College employees say the college environment is getting better as mediation progresses, they fear the change is temporary. Others are more hopeful, while still other employees say things haven't changed.Fred Ebert, instructor in speech communications and forensics, described the feeling on the college campus as one of disengagement while people wait to see what happens.

Facilitator Pam Fisher summarized: It seems things are better, but there is no sense of confidence that things won't revert to the way they were before.

Fisher told those present at an all-campus meeting last week those feelings all are normal. Even when change is desired, it's often uncomfortable, she said.

But, she added, “You're here. You care.”

Fisher was hired by the NWC Board of Trustees last spring to help the college community resolve its differences and mend rifts in order to function more cohesively.

She presented a list of communication guidelines developed by the TRUST team (True Respect, Understanding and Support Team) under her guidance after her last visit Aug. 18-19.

The team encourages people to:

• Look forward.

• Stop placing blame.

• Find ways to express concerns as a whole.

• Avoid using e-mail and blogs to criticize.

• Talk to people personally and civilly about differences of opinion.

• Challenge peers who fail to practice these guidelines.

Fisher stressed that, initially, civility will be tenuous until it becomes an ingrained way of thinking and dealing with problems on campus. But civility, even if only on the surface, is better than incivility any day, she said.

Fisher said that, during her initial sessions on campus last month, she heard people say they got attacked when they spoke up; sometimes, those attacks came from their peers, and not from administrators.

Others said they don't speak up because they're afraid of being attacked.

“The only thing I didn't hear was, ‘This doesn't apply to me,'” she said.

Fisher said one thing the college needs to guide the decision-making process is a list of four or five core values, stated in simple and concrete terms.

“You don't have core values,” she said. “You have big, broad values.”

How shared governance works also must be defined, she said.

“We have to agree on the process,” she said. “We don't have to agree on the outcome. If the process was followed, if it was fair, most of the time we can live with the outcome.”

Fisher divided meeting participants into three groups, each charged with providing guidelines for meeting two of the needs outlined by the TRUST team.

To facilitate better, more timely communication, members of one group said information from meetings should be available within 24 hours, and communication should be up front with no surprises later. Constituent group representatives should provide needed information to their groups.

That group also said that shared governance would be improved by a decision-making flow chart that accurately outlined an agreed-upon process.

The second group said the college's mission statement is unclear, with archaic and flowery language that needs to be simplified.

That group also called for transparency in the budgeting process across campus so people understand what money can be used for various purposes and what money is obligated for specific funds and purposes.

Group members also proposed working with the Northwest College Foundation for a more focused plan for growth in various departments.

Group No. 3 also called for respect for the process, and for sufficient time and opportunities for campus-wide input in decision making.

The group noted that the book, “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” summarized many of the behaviors and philosophies needed to facilitate peace and cooperation on campus.

According to members of the various groups, a proposed code of conduct should facilitate respect for the process, listening to understand and avoiding personal attacks.

It should recognize that an academic institution is not the same as a business and places a greater value on freedom of speech.

Fisher left assignments for the TRUST team and other groups to continue working to identify and resolve issues will continue between now and Fisher's next visit to campus on Oct. 29.

NWC President Paul Prestwich said Fisher's focus during that session will aim at shared governance, which has been a source of repeated contention on campus, he said.

“The current plan is that, with that focus, we should create an ad hoc committee to look at where we are ... and make recommendations on how we can improve shared governance and decision-making systems,” he said. “I think that it's important for us to, first of all, have a system that is well understood.

“Our system now, there's a fair amount of confusion, and people have different interpretations of how our system works. There is a lack of clarity.

“If we do it right, it will be less about creating less of a role for one group or another, but about enhancing the role of groups and for members of our campus community to have a voice.”