A culture of respect

Organizational culture in colleges and universities has been in the news a lot recently, especially as it relates to respect. There are many reasons for this, ranging from increased awareness of sexual violence prevention to discussions of academic bullying.

What does it mean for academic leaders to create and nurture a culture of respect?  I like this definition from Hobart and William Smith Colleges:

A Culture of Respect is one in which empathy, diversity and truth are valued and practiced. A culture of respect is one that encourages us to see the world from multiple perspectives; to participate in dialogue that lifts understanding and that cultivates a practice of listening; to understand marginalization and isolation as the byproduct of prejudice and hate; to show leadership and intervene even when it is inconvenient and especially when it is difficult; and to fight oppression while we also guard against intolerance in our own thoughts and actions.

Clearly that’s easier said than done. An Australian blogger called the Thesis Whisperer used much less flowery language when he reflected on the question: Do you get further in academia if you are a jerk? Unfortunately, he concluded that sometimes the answer is yes.

As leaders, we can shape culture by the actions we reward. Are people secretly admired for displaying clever sarcasm when ripping apart a colleague’s research? Are training programs on sexual violence prevention or cultural inclusivity treated as “fluff” rather than business needs? Are academic leaders evaluated on their scholarly output, without regard to their supervisory skills? There are still pockets of disrespectful behavior in higher ed. Finding and eliminating them would significantly change an institution’s culture.

MnSCU is taking many steps to promote and enhance our culture of respect for all of our students, faculty and staff.  What activities are occurring on your campus, and how can you support them?

Dee Anne Bonebright



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