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Collaboration Is Key When University of the South Conducts Policy Reviews

January 2021
University of the South campus
Note: This article highlights the experiences of one United Educators (UE) member and doesn’t represent UE risk management or legal advice.

Many higher education institutions update policies as part of a departmental process. But at The University of the South, policy changes occur in collaboration with other departments at the institution. This ensures broader risks are covered, expanded discussions occur, and multiple viewpoints are considered.

“For me, student policies are in service of addressing student risks,” says Eric Hartman, Vice President of Risk Management & Institutional Effectiveness for The University of the South. “Oftentimes, we just revisit the policies and fail to think about the broader risk and efforts beyond the policy, like engagement, training, and communications.”

Strategies to Improve Collaboration

The University of the South, a 1,700-student private liberal arts university in rural Sewanee, Tenn., is a well-tuned machine when it comes to policy review. If your college or university is working to increase institutional collaboration, the following advice can help:

Identify, Engage Relevant Personnel

When The University of the South examines its student code of conduct policy, for example, it now extends policy review beyond a few people in the Dean of Students’ office.

Discussions in recent years also have included the university’s General Counsel, the Title IX office, Facilities Management, and the police department. It is also critical to identify what role students might play and how their engagement can be effectively facilitated. One role for students is to identify strange jargon and acronyms.

Establish Principles of Collaboration

The University of the South’s principles for working in teams are:

  • Include people who share responsibility for the policy.
  • Ensure people identify their concerns.
  • Encourage people listen to others’ concerns prior to drafting new language.
  • Review the university’s policy framework to ensure policies are thorough.
  • Consider communication and training implications.
  • Establish a secondary process to coordinate communications and training.

Don’t Rush Into Things

The first year you work to increase voices on policies, begin with a pilot project such as a code of conduct or HR policy, Hartman recommends.

Ensure Meetings Will Be Effective

Require attendees to review the policy in advance, and attempt to identify opportunities for improvement, including whether there are lapses in communicating the policy. Meetings should be structured and focused on specific feedback and any relevant data or experiences. Avoid having broad and open-ended conversations.

Understand the Amount of Collaboration Needed Will Vary

The length of time and level of consultation in collaborating with relevant departments and the broader community should be determined by the type of policy and scope of its application.

Realize Pushback Is Inevitable

Your university inevitably will experience some pushback from people who always have updated a policy a certain way, Hartman says.

Explain that reviewing the policy in a new way isn’t designed to make things a longer, more drawn out process; it will, however, ensure the policy includes a diversity of perspectives, avoids jargon, and is understandable to broad constituencies.

Note How Collaboration Improved University’s Policies

Efforts to ensure collaboration have significantly improved the quality of The University of the South’s policies, Hartman says. Having multiple perspectives on the university’s code of conduct, for instance, led to reorganizing information within the policy as well as a decision to include a value statement to provide greater clarity about why the policy matters. It also led to greater understanding that the university needed to fully communicate the expectations the policy sets for students when it comes to conduct.

The risks that codes of conduct attempt to address expand beyond student life, going into safety, hygiene, and security issues, Hartman says. Including stakeholders beyond one department ensures broader perspectives will be considered.

The University of the South was founded in 1857 and has been a UE member since July 2009.

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