MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES OF CONFLICT BETWEEN ACADEMIC AND NON-ACADEMIC STAFF OF FEDERAL UNIVERSITIES IN SOUTH EAST, NIGERIA (ROLE OF COUNSELLORS)

MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES OF CONFLICT BETWEEN ACADEMIC AND NON-ACADEMIC STAFF OF FEDERAL UNIVERSITIES IN SOUTH EAST, NIGERIA (ROLE OF COUNSELLORS)

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

Background of the Study

Conflicts are inevitable in any organization. This is more so in an organization as a university with a structure that allows two or more units or groups to share functional boundaries in achieving its set objectives. In universities, people with differing nature -students, lecturers and administrative staff - have to work harmoniously together. The organizational structure is such that staff and staff, students and students, staff and students share functional boundaries to exchange knowledge.

The goal of university education is pursued through its main functions and activities of teaching, research, dissemination of existing and new information, service to the community, and being a storehouse of knowledge (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004). In carrying out these functions, there are always conflicts within and among the categories of people within the university community, namely students, academics, non-academics and their unions. These categories of people have different purposes and expectations from the university. In pursuance of their individual and group purposes and expectations they sometimes disagree with one another due to their differing ideals which result to conflict.


Several definitions of conflict have been given by different scholars. According to Enyi (2001), conflict can be regarded as a situation where disputants are hostile to each other in their efforts to achieve goals which are at variance with each other.

Best (2006) defined conflict as

1

of incompatible interests and goals by

different entities. It is the struggle over values or claims to status, power, and scarce resources in which the aims of the groups of individuals involved are not to obtain the desired values but to neutralize, injure or eliminate rivals (Louis and Coser, 1996). Conflict is a disagreement between two or more parties who perceive that they have incompatible concerns. This incompatibility can be about needs, interests, values or aims (Bloisi, 2007). Nye (2001) conceived conflict as ‘mutual hostility’ at interpersonal, inter-human, inter-group, inter-ethnic, inter-cultural and inter-national level. From the above definitions, conflict is a fact in human existence and a natural part of our daily lives.

Conflict means to come into collision, clash or being in opposition or at variance with other person or group of persons. It equally mean strife, controversy, discord of action, disagreement in opinions and antagonism of interest or principle (Harks, 2001). Conflict could also be seen as a disagreement over social issues, beliefs and ideologies (Horowitz and Borden, 1995). Adejuwon and Okewale (2009) defined conflict as the result of interaction among people, an unavoidable concomitant of choices and decisions and an expression of the basic fact of human interdependence. Ejiogu (1998) postulated that conflict is a condition of disharmony or hostility within an interaction process which is usually the direct result of clash of interests by the


parties involved. Whenever an action by one party is perceived as preventing or interfering with the goals, needs or actions of another, then conflict is bound to occur.

According to Holton (1998), conflict can be negative and can cause deep rifts in the framework of the society and even in the university; it can also be used as a tool to take the society and even university and the people in it from stagnation to a new level of effectiveness. Conflicts are inherent and inevitable in any human organization. It occurs when two or more values, perspectives and opinions are contradictory in nature and have not been aligned or agreed upon yet, including when values and perspectives are threatened (Fisher, 2000). Ikejiani-Clarke (2009) sees conflict as a natural and inevitable part of people working together, sharing diverse thoughts, concerns, perspectives and goals. It may occur at inter-organizational, organizational, inter-group and interpersonal levels. From the researcher’s point of view, conflict is said to occur when one party perceives the action of another party as blocking the opportunity for the attainment of a goal. For conflict to occur, two prerequisites must be satisfied, namely, perceived goal incompatibility and perceived opportunity for interference or blocking of goals. Management makes the difference as regards the effect of conflict on the society or an organization.

Management, according to Drucker  (2002), is a multi-purpose organ that

manages business, managers, workers and work. Management is a social process,


which is designed to ensure the cooperation, participation, intervention and involvement of others in the effective achievement of a given or predetermined objective (UNESCO in Ogunu, 2000). Laurie (2002) perceived management as concerned with developing people, working with them, reacting objectively towards them and achieving results. The researcher sees management as a process of planning, and organizing operations in order to achieve a coordination of human and material resources essential to achieve set objectives. The effectiveness of individual staff and even the organization depends on how they manage interpersonal conflicts at work.

Management, according to Heimann (2000), is a process that entails assembling activities of an individual or a group of individuals that accept responsibilities to run an organisation. Managers Plan, Organise, Direct and Control all the essential activities of the organisation. Managers do not do the work themselves but they motivate others to do the work and also co-ordinate the work of others in order to achieve the objectives of the organization.

Conflict management is the ability to deal with every situation that involves personal interactions, and differences of opinions (Casey and Casey, 1997). Conflict management minimizes the negative outcomes of conflict and promotes the positive outcomes of conflict with the goal of improving learning in an organization (Rahim, 2002). Conflict management refers to the long term procedures of controlling intractable conflicts. Conflict management refers to resolution of disputes to the


approval of parties in the dispute. Its aim is to enhance learning and group effectiveness or performance in an organizational setting. Conflict management also involves designing effective plans to minimize dysfunctions of conflict and enhance effectiveness in an organization (Rahim, 2002). Conflict is best managed since it cannot be avoided or eliminated in any organization or society.

From the above definitions, Conflict management is the principle that all conflicts cannot necessarily be resolved, but learning how to manage conflicts can decrease the odds of nonproductive escalation. Conflict management involves taking action aimed at conflict resolution, self-awareness about conflict modes, conflict communication skills, and establishing a structure for management of conflict in an environment (Imobighe, 1997) .

Conflicts exist at every level in the society, of which the university is not exempted. This is because it operates with people performing certain specialized complementary roles to make the system work. The university is a social system. Like all social systems, it consists of individuals, groups, units, sections, departments, all of which are important subsystems working together to achieve common goals. Ajayi and Agalele (2004) pointed out that the university is a social institution and an extension of the larger society. The categories of people within the university community include students, academic staff, non-academic staff, and technical staff. Administrative staff and technical staff are grouped under the non-academic staff. This is because they are non- teaching staff. The academics are the teaching and


research staff even though they also have dual functions in teaching and administrative positions e.g. Deans of Faculties and Heads of Departments. In this study, the staff are categorized into two groups namely, academic and non academic staff. These two groups of staff have their job descriptions and specified roles in the university. The academic staff in the university contribute very significantly to the success of the university. They guide students academically and impart knowledge to students through teaching and research. The academic staff organizes several programs for students so as to motivate their interest in learning and research. They are noted for effectiveness in teaching and learning activities of the university (Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), 2011). Apart from teaching, the academic staff are also involved in administrative jobs such as: producing specific designed materials required for effective implementation of the orientation courses, formulating a programme for orientations along with broad guidelines given by university, setting up a documentation centre cum library for reference and source materials necessary for orientation courses and organizing refresher courses for students and serving teachers (ASUU, 2011).

The non-academic staff are the non-teaching staff. They are hired for the primary purpose of performing academic support functions. They are responsible for the day- to- day operations of the university and they also provide advice and support for current and prospective students and academic staff in all matters relating to studying at the university such as: enrolment, re-enrolment, leave of absence and choosing a degree program. The administrative staff carry out functions


of recruitment, admission, examinations and provision of welfare services for the staff and students. (Smerek and Peterson, 2000).

There have been incidence of conflicts in the universities including those in South- East, Nigeria. These conflicts have been affecting the smooth running of the universities. For instance, the non-academics who perform support functions feel unappreciated by both the superior academics and the students. The administrators sometimes clash with students and staff in carrying out their functions of recruitment, admission, examination and provision of welfare services for the staff and students. Also, the academics have a complex function of teaching and research. The two, though reinforcing one another, could be a source of much tension over their division of time, energy and commitment (Adeyemi and Ademilua, 2012).

It is noteworthy that studies have shown that it is in federal universities that conflicts between academic and non-academic staff are prevalent. For instance, Akinwonmi (2005) and Adeyemi and Ademilua (2012) observed that conflicts between academic and non-academic staff of universities are prevalent in federal universities due to the fact that the federal universities, quite unlike the state and private universities, have large number of faculties, departments and units with a corresponding large number of academic and non-academic staff that have come from different ethnic groups with different mindset, values, goals, life perceptions and religious background and that all these variables easily give room to misunderstanding and conflicts between them. Consequent upon Akinwonmi’s and


Adeyemi and Ademilua’s observations, this universities where conflicts between academic be prevalent.


study was restricted to federal and non-academic staff are said to


In an interview conducted on some of the academic and non-academic staff of different federal universities, the major complaints were on the earned allowance released by the federal government. This was one of the dividends of a prolonged strike by ASUU from July, 2013 to December, 2013 over the nonpayment of their allowances since the ASUU-FG 2009 agreement. The strike crippled academic activities in public universities in Nigeria. The earned allowance has caused serious conflict between the academic and non academic staff of both state and federal universities on how the money should be disbursed. The non academic staff claim to be doing more job for the university, therefore they feel or believe that their share of the money should be greater than that of the academic staff and the academic staff claimed that they should be given a lion share of the money. This caused a lot of conflicts which eventually delayed the payment of the money, even though some negotiations were still going on (Sotubo, 2013).

Unhealthy rivalry between groups in the university system has caused a lot of conflicts. Each group claims to be more superior than the other.. For instance, in a meeting held by the academic bodies of the universities, a professor argued that non academic staff were attachment in the academic system who help the academic staff in carrying out their duties. The statement was greeted with mutters of approval by


many others present. This statement was made in order to put the non academic staff at a lower status (Adegbesan, 2012).

Furthermore, the issue of age disparity in retirement between the academic and non-academic staff in the university does not go down well with non-academic staff. This has caused a lot of conflicts in the university. Before now, the academic staff were retiring at the age of 65 years while the non- academic staff were retiring at the age of 60 years. Only recently the issue was harmonized with the non-academic staff now retiring at 65 years. While academic staff retires at the age of 65, professors retire at 70 years. This issue raised a lot of dust in the past (Osang, 2002).

Also, the issue of staff promotion where a staff promotion depend on the number of articles or publications, specifying that it must be on a particular publisher (Thomsin Luther) which is not favourable to some of the academic staff. These issues have caused stress and tension in the university, thereby delaying the affected staff promotions. Unlike the non-academic staff who are enjoying their promotions. (Source interview)

Furthermore, Owens-Ibe (2000) pointed out that conflicts occur in federal universities in South East, Nigeria and they can be attributed to ineffective communication network, poor management style, power tussle, maladministration, disagreement over goals by staff, manipulation of results, alterations of submitted scores of students’ examination, staff benefits, promotion style, irresponsibility


towards one another in carrying out official functions, and academic staff being the head of department over the non academic staff in an office.

The existence and prevalence of such conflict and their traumatic effect cannot be ignored. There is need to trace the source, nature, consequences and management strategies to control and resolve conflict. It becomes very necessary because when this mutual hostility is not resolved, the effect is disharmony and dearth of peace. Peace is order, brother-hood, and life itself. That is to say that when conflicts are allowed to linger, no matter at what level, the organization will not be able to achieve its aims and objectives and develop as expected even with the highest quality of staff and infrastructure. Hence, unrestricted and unresolved conflict is counterproductive to any organization.

The nature of conflict that occurs in federal universities in South East, Nigeria varies from one university to another. These include intra-personal conflict, inter-personal conflict, inter-group conflict, ethnocentric conflict and subordinate conflict etc. Intra-personal conflict deals with crises arising from within the human personality. It concerns how the individual takes in, processes and produces information. It is mostly psychological in nature. Inter-personal conflict is mutual hostility between two people who have incompatible goals, needs and approaches in their relationship. An example is academic and non-academic staff in conflict. They are both working towards similar goals. Inter-group conflict is the conflict that takes place among department, units, sections or group of persons in the university.


Ethnocentric conflict is one motivated by discrimination between indigenous and non indigenous school members and subordinate conflicts have to do with hierarchy of position between two persons or groups among others (Walton and Dutton, 2005).

The sources of conflict that exist in organizations, include: personality clashes, communication gap, unresolved power tussle, role conflict and interpersonal conflict, among others (Oboegbulem and Onwurah, 2011). Personality clash is a very strong difference in motives, style or values in dealing with people that are not resolvable. For example, if individuals differ in their style of dealing with people, they will be unproductive working in teams to execute a task. A hasty man will not have a harmonious working relationship with a slow man.

Communication gap or breakdown is one of the major sources of interpersonal conflict. Therefore learning communication skill is very important because it is used to prevent and resolve conflict at any level in an organization. It is the lifeline of any organization (Oboegbulem and Onwurah ,2011).

Unresolved power tussle usually recycles and escalates to the point of relationship breakdown and termination. For example, if both parties in a relationship have a high need for power and both want to be dominant in the relationship, there is no way both can be satisfied, so a power struggle ensues (Oboegbulem and Onwurah, 2011) .


Role conflict involves very real differences in role definitions, expectation or responsibilities between individuals who are interdependent in a social system. If there are ambiguities in role definitions in an organization or unclear boundaries of responsibilities, then the stage is set for interpersonal friction between the persons involved. Unfortunately, role conflict is often misinterpreted as interpersonal conflict and resolution is then complicated and misdirected. The emotional intensity is often quite high in role conflict since people are directly involved as individuals and there is a strong tendency to personalize the conflict (Oboegbulem and Onwurah , 2011).

The consequences of conflicts on the school organization have been regrettable. Part of the repercussions on school is disruption of academic programmes, hostility, stress, anxiety, unnecessary tensions, suspicion and withdrawal from active participation in school activities. It also renders school environment uncomfortable for serious academic activities. Hence, there is a need for management strategies of conflict.

Management Strategies of Conflict (MSC), according to Rahim (2002), are designed to enhance critical and innovative thinking to learn the process of diagnosing and interventions in the right ways. They are a plan of action designed to achieve a specific goal (Amoh and Bacal, 2007). There are many management strategies of conflict but for this study the researcher considered the strategies that are most closely related to the study. According to Oboegbulem and Onwurah


(2011), some of these strategies include: Dialogue, Confrontation, Mediation, Negotiation, Effective communication, and Clarification of goals and objectives.

Dialogue strategy is a process in which parties in a conflict engage in deep and meaningful discussion with their opponents, not for the purpose of resolving a dispute (as is usually true with negotiation or mediation) but rather for the purpose of developing a better understanding of the people on the other side through dialogue. Disputant’s breakdown negative stereotypes, focus on deep-rooted feeling, values, and needs, and come to the understanding of the conflict and the issues on all sides. It is a process where groups in conflicts are brought together (face-to face) to express their views on the subject matter. Dialogue is also a discussion where the conflict parties share their feelings and fears, are open to listening to the other parties’ needs, are willing to be changed by what they hear, and are open to the idea of being vulnerable (Oboegbulem and Onwurah, 2011).

Confrontation strategy is direct expression of one’s view (thoughts and feelings) on the conflict situation and an invitation for the other party to express his or her views on the conflict. It is also where the problem is subjected to debate between those in conflict in order to expose the problem and convince the disputants on its emptiness. Confrontation process allows one to get at the root cause of the conflict in a productive manner. One is indirectly trying to say, let’s exchange ideas, pleasantly and comfortably. Once one has heard others’ opinions, one will decide on the best option. This is not contest for superiority. Confrontation


is a matter of achieving understanding for behaviour change (Amoh and Bacal, 2007).


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