In principal, a college campus is one unified whole working together for a common mission. In practice, the various groups of a college are disconnected at best, fractured—or even hostile—at worst. Faculty and staff think the board has no clue what is going on. The board doesn’t acknowledge the insight faculty and staff have into the day-to-day operations on campus. The president thinks he can run the school without input from anyone else—and proceeds to try. Donors feel the administration has lost touch with the values of the institution and question their giving. How can colleges move from sectarian politics to harmonious collaboration? Schools that want to move from petty squabbles to productive relationships need to commit to three things:
1. Can You Hear Me Now?
Creating Quality Communication. Communication is the lifeblood of healthy relationships. Campus relationships are no exception. While most professionals know this in theory, having good communication practices day-in and day-out is another thing entirely. Communication signals respect. When stakeholders communicate with one another, they are showing that they value the other party as an important part of the institution. If they are kept informed, faculty, staff, and students feel more comfortable with and invested in the direction of a college. Nothing will alienate members of your campus community as quickly as hearing a major announcement from their neighbors at the grocery store, when they should have heard it from college leadership.
2. Can You See Me Now?
The Importance of Interaction. Even if the different groups on your campus are sending and receiving healthy communication, those relationships can still feel remote. It is vital that the groups on your campus—board, faculty, staff, students, and donors—have regular opportunities to interact. Do your donors regularly hear from your faculty and staff about the exciting work they are doing? Would the students recognize one name, much less a face, on the board of regents? Interaction takes communication, from understanding policy to forming relationships.
3.Can You Stick with it a Year from Now?
Committing to Cultural Change. Relationship dysfunctions did not develop overnight and they will not be quickly solved. Campus leadership must be deeply invested in healthy relationships and take a long view to achieve them. Many times, trust has been slowly eroded or, worse still, sharply betrayed. Rebuilding trust will take transparency, consistency, and character. Lack of communication breeds distrust and drama. That not only festers at the upper levels of leadership, but permeates the campus. The converse is also true. When your campus relationships are built on respect, honesty, and commitment, it enhances the student experience. When groups begin to work collaboratively, rather than competitively, colleges can achieve significantly more for and with their students.