Life within the academy is depicted frequently in literature, film, and theater as a series of relationship issues involving students, faculty, and administrators. These fictional stories present life as a series of interpersonal conflicts, leaving a sense of dissonance that is unsettling. One wonders how or whether the key actors are using their highly developed intellects. This study addresses the research question: What roles do cognitive processes play in covert and overt interpersonal conflicts between faculty members at private, liberal arts colleges? To answer this question, I derive a conceptual framework from five stage-theories of conflict. I then identify nine cognitive processes from the perspectives of the individual reaction, the social interaction, and the organizational influence. I describe the role these cognitive processes play in overt and covert conflicts between faculty and identify similarities and differences.
This qualitative study is based on semi-structured interviews with 16 deans of liberal arts and professional schools within five, small, private colleges distributed across the United States of America. Each dean provided two cases of faculty-to-faculty conflict (one overt and one covert) that occurred within the previous three years. I analyzed the 32 cases of faculty-to-faculty conflicts by identifying themes and subthemes, creating cross-case displays, and arraying the data on meta-matrices.
Cognitive dissonance formed the basis for both covert and overt conflicts with social inference creating a spark to ignite public displays of conflict. The perception of self interest and an evaluation of fairness were processes used in all types of conflicts. A perception of inequity was distinctive to cases of overt conflict. The faculty's assessment of congruence with departmental norms and culture and the institutional mission and values was not a strong influence in either type of conflict. Three basic conditions that influenced individual reactions to conflict situations included change in usual work expectations, strong emotion, and personality traits.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2012. Major: Educational Policy and Administration. Advisor: Professor Melissa S. Anderson. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 162 pages, appendices A-C.
Holey, Linka Mary.
From covert to overt interpersonal conflict: an exploration of the role of cognitive processes used by faculty in liberal arts colleges..
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