With a title likely to incite faculty either to indignation or to write a corresponding volume entitled, “Working with Problem Administrators,” or both, a department chair, especially one who still considers herself or himself as faculty, might readily pass on the reading of Crookston’s work. That would be unfortunate. Between the covers of this ill-named book is a great deal of information helpful to faculty and administrators alike.
The title lends itself to the idea that Crookston intends to show department chairs how to extract an intractable faculty member from their department much like a sliver from one’s hand, thereby relieving pain and pressure from the department and allowing it to subsequently function perfectly. Crookston dispels this notion in his first vignette. After citing a national survey of department chairs that identified “dealing with problem faculty” as their number one concern (1), he introduces the vignette with the question of how a chair should view the challenge of problem faculty: “I believe that if a department is experiencing behavior on the part of one or more faculty members that is problematic to others, there’s probably some collective adaptive work to be done by most if not all of the people in that department” (5).
With that in mind, the six steps outlined in the first six corresponding chapter titles are designed to help chairs do that “collective adaptive work”: clarify values and expectations, follow policy, build trust with colleagues, evaluate yourself and your perceptions, listen, and take effective action. It’s clear from the details of the chapters that Crookston greatly values integrity. For example, in his third chapter on building trust, he offers this worthwhile advice: “When you speak or write about someone who is absent (even if the person may never learn about what you say or write), make every effort to do so with wording that you would be willing to have that person see or hear. That way, the persons who do hear you know that they can trust you to speak well of them in their absence too” (49). This is good advice for any person on any campus.
Every chapter in the book begins with a case study that illuminates that chapter’s thorniest predicaments, and each chapter refers back to its opening case study. However, the last five chapters shift the focus from prevention to intervention. In each of these later chapters, Crook includes a section on how to use these six steps to work effectively in “tough” situations, including chronic poor performance, passive-aggressive behavior, and bullying. Also helpful might be Appendix C on “Faculty Behaviors That May Suggest a Mental Health Problem.”
Based on the premise that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but that sometimes we inherit a situation we could not prevent, Crookston’s title could easily be adjusted to read “Working with People,” and it is well worth reading.
Crookston, R. Kent. Working with Problem Faculty: A 6-Step Guide for Department Chairs.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012.