Friday, March 20, 2009

collegiality

A British colleague and I were drowning our professional sorrows in a bit of bourbon whisk(e)y at a campus pub yesterday, when an American from another department stopped by our table to discuss the bad news that's affected us. Professor American expressed his dismay at our news and how it had been delivered to us and the campus--that he felt a lack of collegiality in the way that we were treated.

As soon as he went back to his table, my British colleague said "I love that word collegiality. It's really an American thing, isn't it?"

Well, maybe.

If it's not a word that you use much, then Wikipedia is helpful in this case:

Colleagues are those explicitly united in a common purpose and respecting each other's abilities to work toward that purpose. A colleague is an associate in a profession or in a civil or ecclesiastical office.

Thus, the word collegiality can connote respect for another's commitment to the common purpose and ability to work toward it.
Wikipedia also notes that in sociological terms, collegiality is the opposite of bureaucracy.

The word comes from French, and certainly can be found in BrE texts. But in academic life, it certainly is true that it's a word one hears much more on the left side of the pond.

31 comments:

Jonathan Bogart said...

My sympathies, Lynn.

I'm surprised that "collegiality" is not in wider use in BrE, as I'm pretty sure my first exposures to the word were all BrE sources. It's such a useful concept, too.

lynneguist said...

Thanks, Jonathan. If anyone's interested in supporting/following the protests on this issue, there's a facebook group.

Elizabeth said...

I'm so sorry to hear that. Fight on sister!

Don't really have anything to say about collegiality just now. Though I do have an entirely inappropriate vision of a protester delivering a beat down on an administrator with a sign shouting, "I'll show you what collegiality means motherf*cker." But I'm guessing you don't actually live in a bad action movie.

Altissima said...

I'm a keen follower of your blog, delurking to say that I'm sorry to hear your news. I wish you and your colleagues all the best in your fight to save the department.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Oh Lynne, what awful news and how very worrying for you. I do hope it comes out all right in the end.

I don't know or use the word "collegiality" - it somehow has never crept beneath my radar. However, I have noticed that here in the UK we tend to use the word "colleagues" to describe what in the US are often referred to as "coworkers"; am I right in thinking that "colleagues" tend to be reserved for people in academia or "professions" rather than jobs?

jhm said...

On a perhaps not too tangential note, I recently was watching an American professor of Mathematics discussing some work by professor of another discipline at the same university. He started to refer to him as a "colleague," stopped himself, then decided that, indeed, this other person could be considered a colleague (or that the search for another, more accurate term was not immediately at the ready). Of course, this is my own interpretation, not one explicitly described, but it seems reasonable.

Add my condolences, or encouragement to resist—as the case may warrant—to the others'.

John Cowan said...

I wonder if people seeing the word in writing for the first time tend to tie it to college rather than colleague.

And yes, Mrs. R; as someone working in industry (meaning, in this context, 'not academia'), I would never refer to my co-workers (or cow orkers, as the case may be) as colleagues.

sharon said...

Well, I've only ever seen it in US academic contexts (in blogs, actually) and I did assume that it was referring to 'college'. It never occurred to me that the word it refers to is actually 'colleague'. Oops.

Thinking about it, one major reason I jumped to this erroneous conclusion is probably because I've frequently seen it used (negatively) in contexts that were evocative of the worst stereotypes of Oxbridge college politics...

sharon said...

Also, I forgot to say that I'm really sorry to hear about this bad news, Lynne, and I wish you all the best. The bastards.

tafkass said...

I feel a Sandra Bullock film vehicle coming on.... (Miss Collegiality? No? OK, I'll shut up.)

Sorry to hear about the axeing of the department, good luck with the protests.

RWMG said...

Oh dear, that's dreadful news, Lynne. I hope you and your colleagues manage to change some minds.

townmouse said...

oh dear. I hope this works out.

Regarding collegiality I had no idea what it meant (although from the context I could probably have worked it out) but I'm so glad that there is a word that expresses the opposite of bureaucracy and the whole box-ticking process-driven approach that seems to be infesting everywhere. Now that there's an actual word to describe it, and an important-sounding word to boot, I feel it would be much easier to fight back against the people with the flow charts...

tomroper said...

Outrageous. Good luck to the department and staff and students in their campaign.
But in thirty odd years of being, if not always part of British universities, at least hanging around outside them hopefully, I have often heard it from the lips of British-born academics
It's not a beautiful word though; neither is colleague which sounds specious and insincere the moment it is uttered.

Caz said...

If anyone would like to, there is now a petition to save Linguistics at Sussex! You can sign here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/Save_linguistics/. We would all appreciate any signatures we can get in support of our amazing Linguistics department!

Caz (Sussex Linguistics student, on the rampage)

James said...

Oh no! There have been cases where university administrations have tried to shut a department down but ultimately failed. You might be able to get ideas from them!

Roger Owen Green said...

I've always thought of librarians, e.g., as collegial, that is working as colleagues, as opposed to some professions, including, occasionally, college professors, who tend to undermine their compatriots. (US librarian)

Shefaly said...

Sorry to hear the news. Of course, it is unworthy of making it to the BBC, which is too busy discussing the deaths and marriages of various celebrities, and making linguistic errors which I have long stopped bothering with. In a country where people can barely speak their own language with any proficiency, it is but to be expected that linguistics will be considered dispensable.

On collegiality: I first heard the word from an American friend describing the atmosphere in her office. It definitely does not sound like it applies to your Uni at the moment :-/

My sympathies.

Cameron said...

On a completely different note, but with sympathies and solidarity, Lynne, there was no need for your "(e)" in "bourbon whiskey". If it's Bourbon it is spelt with an e regardless of dialect, similarly Irish whiskey. But Scotch is always and only "whisky". No dialectal confusion in there. No e refers to Scotch, with e refers to others.

Cameron said...

Incidentally, "coworker" is another AmE word which is a direct translation of the German equivalent, "Mitarbeiter", which is used in exactly the same manner.

Canadian said...

I haven't really heard the word "collegiality" outside of academia. We use it to mean things like: "Academia is not supposed to be like the corporate world, here we are all equals and the university administration can't boss us around, we take part in the decisions that are made, things aren't just handed down from on high, and not only are we not bureaucratic and corporate but we would never create an adversarial relationship by creating a union and/or going on strike."

mollymooly said...

I do associate "collegiality" with "college" -- whether academic or of cardinals -- rather than "colleague". Collegiality entails solidarity, which not all colleagues possess, alas.

I would use "colleague" for any white-collar co-worker; blue-collar co-workers are "workmates". I don't consider "colleague" pretentious, but its more restricted range of applicability means I welcome the broader American import, so long as it has a hyphen.

And I'm sad to hear about Sussex. When my favourite bloggers are affected by the downturn, it's a bleak sign indeed.

Max said...

In Britain in the last few years it has become normal to hear over the public address system in supermarkets "This is a colleague announcement" (contrasted, maybe only implicitly, with "customer announcement"). Previously they used to say "This is a staff announcement". Is "colleague" used that way in US supermarkets? The denotation is clearly not specifically white-collar workers.

Ginger Yellow said...

Collegiality is used quite a lot in discussions of US politics, particularly the Senate. In that instance, I think it is very much an American thing. It's almost totally alien to parliamentary systems, especially Britain's, where debates are much more personally confrontational and the opposition is supposed to (and historically does) oppose.

Hips Unhinged Ltd said...

I'm a regular speaker for my university's Debating Society, which uses the British Parliamentary style of debating, and it is quite common to refer to speakers on both sides as 'colleagues' - ie, "my colleague on the Opposition/Proposition". This doesn't suggest solidarity at all, but I suppose that it could simply be a case of faux politeness, in much the same way that politicians have to call each other 'honourable'!

Kevin said...

I have to admit I was a bit flabbergasted to be lead to believe from posts here that the word "collegiality" had a distinctly Leftpondian tinge to it. Especially since one tends to associate the modern US of A with weak labour militancy.

To me, the word is the Proustian madeleine that brings back memories of British (teacher) trade unionism in the Thatcher years flooding back. (Perhaps it was just an NASUWT thing, but collegiality was very much the buzzword "when I was alive".) At the time it meant an egalitarian push towards replacing the idea of devising payscales based upon the idea of dangling a few very large carrots before a very few teachers to one that ensured all teachers got adequately fed in recognition of the fact that we were all colleagues who exercised the vast majority of our responsibilities in common.

Strawberryyog said...

Horrendous news about your Dept - I do hope you are able to fight this off and I'm off in a moment to go and join the Facebook group!

I think of "collegiality" as an AmE expression but I am not sure if this is real, or just because of the company I keep! That is, I work in a UK academic environment where I don't recall ever hearing of it, but I spend some of my leisure time being with and communicating with a group of trumpet players, of whom plenty are American, and it's there that I've heard the idea - the very pleasing idea, I might add - frequently referred to.

Andy J said...

Very belatedly, I would like to add my good wishes for your fight to retain the Linguistics faculty.
@ Mrs Redboots "I don't know or use the word "collegiality" - it somehow has never crept beneath my radar." I think you meant that it has never appeared on your radar; by definition if it gets under your radar, you aren't aware of something's presence!

James said...

Well I hope this qualifies as fashionably late but will settle for endearingly out of touch. In a pinch I'll accept stylishly disaffected, but that's as far as I'll go.

Ahem.

(Australian perspective) I'm familiar with, but not frequently exposed to, collegiality and have always correctly inferred its broad meaning but not its origin, assuming it was derived from collegiate and hence college. I'm willing to blithely ignore all evidence and continue under this assumption. Or am I missing the point? Etymology isn't my strong suit, is colleague itself derived from college? Is that why it's used predominantly to describe academic workers?

John Cowan said...

Ultimately, Andy J., you are quite right: a college was originally any group of people associated for a common purpose, such as a guild, and the members of the college were colleagues. College is still used in this sense in the American Electoral College (which technically elects the President), the College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church, and so on.

However, the words have gone their separate ways since about the 16th century, and since about the end of the 19th century collegiate has mostly superseded collegial as the adjective related to college, leaving the derived noun collegiality associated with colleague rather than college.

Andy JS said...

I know that the Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes loves to use the word "colleagues" to describe fellow LibDem MPs which sounds a bit odd because no-one else does that in the House of Commons, but I think it's an attempt by him to sound especially egalitarian.

I read somewhere that the word "campus" was unheard of in Britain until the 1960s. It's interesting that that word is now universal in Britain but the other terms used for university students are still different in Britain and America, and in Britain there is only one word in use to describe a student in a particular point in their student life - "fresher" - meaning a first year student, but usually only at the very start of the first year. After that they are simply called "first-years", "second-years", etc, compared to "freshman/woman", "sophomore" for first and second year in the USA. (Sorry if I sound like I'm lecturing people on things they already know but it's just over-enthusiasm on my part).

I suppose the reason why "campus" caught on in Britain but the others didn't may have been because "campus" is easier to say than something like: "the university grounds, buildings, and student residences".

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

@ John Cowan. I think the reason that the word "campus" was unknown pre-1960 in the UK is that we didn't really have that sort of university until then! They belong to the sort of university that "isn't even red brick - it's white tile!" as Jimmy Porter so famously said.