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Mediation On-Line

A Newsletter from ADR Resources
Volume 4, No. 5a.
From: Ethesis@AOL.Com (Ethesis)


Stephen R. Marsh Picture


Thoughts on the Conflict Management Division of the Academy of Management.

There are several major channels that are providing education on conflict management.

Law Schools often have two to four classes on the subject -- negotiation (often limited to Getting to Yes), mediation, arbitration (often using Professor Hubner's excellent textbook) and maybe one other class.[i] A post graduate program such as the LLM at Columbia Law School (Missouri) can be expected to have more material and to have some that decidedly cross disciplinary in focus (Columbia, Missouri, has three endowed chairs with that specific goal in mind). If you have academia in mind as far as dispute resolution and law school goes, what you do is go to the LLM program at Temple, Columbia (Missouri), George Washington or you develop outside credentials, then you go to the ALA "meat market" and interview for the positions that are available.

Dispute Resolution Programs, especially PERC, PARC and ICAR (George Mason, Cornell, Syracuse, not in that order) and the Mennonite schools offer programs that are often either broad based or that are quasi-sociology programs offering PhD level education in dispute resolution.[ii]

Many education programs, and what used to be NIDR, offer significant dispute resolution units.[iii]

Finally, PhD programs in business offer conflict management classes (and consulting/accounting multi-disciplinary firms such as Price Waterhouse, Deloite & Touche and Accenture deliver on those classes to industry), and the Academy of Management now has a conflict management division. This essay focuses on the Conflict Management Division and the challenges I see it as having. [iv]

The Conflict Management Division has the following five challenges (as I see it):

1. Being distinguished from Organizational Behavior (OB). There are two reasons for this. (1) OB is seen as dead at many MBA/Business schools, and is being replaced in many schools by organizational development, change management and similar programs. Regardless of the reality, faculty are perceived as fleeing OB departments at many schools, just ahead of the axe. (e.g., a school I'm very familiar with had a single associate professor left as the "chair" of the OB department -- it is an endowed chair, and next semester they are going back to teaching only undergraduate students). There is some overlap between the two areas, but Conflict Management needs to avoid the "kiss of death" that being seen as OB reborn would endow. (2) Further, to the extent that CM is "just part of OB," then it has no justified separate existence. These two issues overlap.

2. Providing support to Conflict Management PhD candidates -- the division does that very, very well with an award winning research incubator, meetings, faculty pairings, etc., but it would be nice to see Conflict Management find a home inside a recognized degree path (such as International Management) and have universities that are recognized for the programs they offer in Conflict Management (compared to Wharton for finance, as an example). I mention this as a challenge area because the division does so well (award winningly well) in this area, it is easy to overlook the issues that remain because of the newness of the field. Most of these issues should resolve as the area matures and evolves, but they are issues that are important.

3. Providing a career path for CM Business PhD candidates in academia -- basically answering the proposition: "ok, I've decided to focus on conflict management in my PhD program -- where do I go, what are my chances of finding employment (compared to finance, for example), where do I go when I get my PhD?" There is a lot of hiring going on, a lot of placement, but pre-PhDs need to recognize and understand how conflict management fits in with their other options.

4. Providing relevance for the division to senior faculty -- i.e. providing a reason for post-graduate PhDs to participate in the division once they have tenure.

5. Avoiding perceived "sogginess." Regardless of reality, many education program based ADR programs (E.D.s and certificate programs) are seen as "touchy-feeley" and completely soggy. While conflict management is one of the most applied of the business tracks (with direct, focused things that it does, and does well) it is also one that becomes soggy very quickly. My one time favorite negotiation lecturer used to draw repeat crowds when he was focused and applied. He decided to embrace archetype discussions and analysis and he is no longer asked back to what were standing room only venues for him. Perceived "sogginess" is the touch of death.

I'm not saying that any of the five areas are real problems, just as I'm not saying that OB is really dead -- just that these are challenges, often caused by perceptions or beliefs.  For example, OB isn't dead, it obviously is not -- it is a huge and thriving area of academic endeavor, but many perceive it as a field that is shrinking or dead -- and the perception is important in spite of the fact that a recent check showed over ten new faculty openings for OB professors vs. none for conflict management. For influencing students who are starting PhD programs, perception is as important as reality in sustaining the growth and identity of a new division, so that the perception that OB is dead (just as the perception exists that the joint MBA/JD is useless) creates an important reality that is an important half of not being mistaken for "just another form of OB."

I am also aware that it is easy to become too narrow, even as I caution against being seen as too broad. CM in business schools is in danger of becoming "teaching negotiation" much like ADR in law schools and bar associations has become, in many areas "teaching pure process mediation." This is because negotiation is a clear class, a definite skill, an understood niche (one I like, by-the-way) and thus makes for an easy stereotype location for CM focused PhDs. Regardless of my personal preferences, I realize that CM is more than "just" negotiation classes.

With those caveats and comments, those are the five challenges I perceive:

1. Distinguishing the CM field from OB

2. Providing further support to PhD candidates.

3. Signposting the career path for CM PhDs.

4. Providing post-tenure relevance.

5. Avoiding a fade into "touch-feely" perceptions.

Viewpoints that disagree are appreciated (as are essays or thoughts with permission to quote and use on the web as a counterpoint).

Go to the CMD Webboard.

For related material see:


[i] I must note that a law school teaches many, many classes – all of which can be considered dispute resolution classes, even if they are not within what is currently called “ADR.” To meet a law school’s mission and to cover the core purpose of a law school necessarily means that it will not become something else. The limit on the number of classes taught by law schools is part of the reality that they are law schools and not a criticism of them for not being something else. ^

[ii] The proper students for most graduate oriented ADR programs are fivefold:

  1. Consultants. Many of them have existing clients who want DR services and as a result, those consultants are looking for training so that they can do a better job for their clients. Most consultants are also looking for people to partner with on DR projects -- something the students, faculty and staff at a DR program are very suited to do.
  2. Management (at all levels, including paralegals and other staff members) at local corporate offices -- anyone with with CE (continuing educatio) funds. In the program where I teach, we have had a number of students from EDS, JCP, Oxy and other sources who have been very, very pleased to participate in the program. These students are not as price sensitive as students who are paying their own way and they are not looking for a new career, but rather they are seeking to improve their existing careers. This group also includes insurance adjusters and similar professionals, and the occasional seminar that would appeal to attorneys, judges, EEOC, etc., all as people who benefit from DR or CM training to help them do their jobs better.
  3. Undergraduate students who could use a DR minor to support plans to go to work in federal bureaucracies, labor unions, HR departments, as pre-law or pre-MBA (this sort of minor, like most other majors or minors, is barely useful as a way to prepare for graduate professional school, but dispute resolution is a growing trend nationwide as a pre-professional area of focus), and those who other directions not on the list.
  4. Graduate students looking for a master's program before entering a Ph.D. in Business with a change management or conflict resolution focus. These students are ones who are often interested in legitimate academic work. These first four groups are naturals for a DR (Dispute Resolution) or CM (Conflict Management) program. None of them leave a DR program expecting employment as a DR professional, none of them leave a program dissatisfied, all of them leave better prepared for what they do and are doing. They are a huge base in most metropolitan areas, and most of them are also people who will come back to consume consulting services offered by faculty at the program. In many ways, a normal graduate DR program is a huge advertising campaign for the services of the director and faculty.
  5. Individuals intent on a graduate dispute resolution education, such as those trained at ICAR, PERC or PARC and the Mennonite schools. These individuals and their needs are beyond the scope of most programs, though preparing them for such a program (see category 4, above) is not. Being in a graduate ADR/DR/CM program (such as the one at Columbia, New York) to prepare for application to Cornell or Syracuse or George Mason, etc., is an appropriate pathway for students with such a goal. ^

[iii] It is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss the place of education, education graduate programs and dispute resolution except to note that the United States of America spends hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state funds to pay for dispute resolution training in the school system, from kindergarten on up. The last conference of this sort I attended was several years ago while my daughter was hospitalized (so I only attended one out of three days. She died during the course of hospitalization while I was with her, so I don’t regret not spending more time at the conference and less with her). This national NIDR conference was marked by calls for allowing violence in schools in order to further social justice issues and similarly interesting approaches, but it also had some excellent people from UMass doing presentations that I thoroughly enjoyed. ^

[iv] This, of course, is the focus of this essay. It is also an area of dispute resolution and conflict management that tends to be overlooked by the other sectors (the only reason I would feel it appropriate to post such an essay) and one that has tremendous potential for growth at a professional level I see it as a significant part of the future of dispute resolution and conflict management as a profession. ^

Copyright 2001 Stephen R. Marsh
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