Pham Thi Ly (2012)
Paper presented at National Conference on Vietnamese Higher Education in Globalization Context, held by Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City, Nov 9, 2012, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.Published in Conference Proceedings, (pp. 84-104), 2012, Vietnam

11 - Tieu de-Tinh than cong su-EngAbstract

Collegiality is a vital concept in academic culture in Western universities, but it has not been examined sufficiently in Vietnam. On the pathway of Vietnamese universities to achieving international norms, important roles are played not only by academic standards, but also by the relationships between colleagues in university governance and academic production. This paper presents a comparative analysis on the issue of collegiality based upon observations and experiences of a Fulbright scholar from Vietnam. The author focuses on current trends and consider how collegiality can be strengthened in the era of global integration. She contends that the concept of collegiality is an ideal that is easy to admire but hard to enforce. Cultural and socio-political structures, traditional academic and contemporary managerial models are all related to the issue of collegiality.  The author also found that, in Vietnam as elsewhere, collegiality between domestic scientists and their international colleagues leads to much better results in academic productivity. Her conclusion is that strengthening collegiality in and between individual faculty members and their academic institutions is vital to serving the collective purpose of Vietnamese higher education in the era of global integration.

 Keywords: collegiality, academic culture, university governance, organisational culture, educational reforms


Collegiality is a kind of soft power that influences the effectiveness of academic institutions by its role in the decision-making process and generation of knowledge. Collegiality affects both university governance and academic performance, but this concept is shaped and exercised differently under different cultural and socio-political contexts. Therefore it is worth studying  collegiality practices in various contexts through a comparative analysis. I have tried to describe “collegiality” using an operational definition in two areas: university governance and academic cooperation. The paper examines mannifestations of collegiality in these fields.


Recent research and scholarship on collegiality in higher education reflect the themes discussed in this paper.  A recent article in Higher Education, “The How and Why of Academic Collaboration: Disciplinary Differences and Policy Implications,” discusses the fact that most grant funding for research is predicated on collegiality in the form of researcher collaboration, a model that, under current conditions, favors the hard and social sciences over the arts and humanities.  The article reports the results of interviews with researchers in a variety of disciplines as regards their collaborative research work and considers how incentives for research can be better fitted to actual practice and ideal outcomes.

Some of the best recent scholarship on collegiality was published in a special 2005 issue of the cross-discipline theoretical journal symploke, published by the University of Nebraska Press.  In the article “The Specter of Collegiality,” Terry Caesar considers the perpetual danger of collegiality devolving into a system of enforced consensus and cohesion, while emphasizing the positive role collegiality plays in maintaining civility within a discipline and a workplace.  Caesar also addresses the social complexity of collegiality in the two-tier academic system, discussed above, in which tenure and tenure-track faculty occupy privileged organizational positions in respect to instructor and adjunct faculty.  In the article, “On Collegiality, Collectivity and Gender,” in the same volume, Judith Kegan Gardiner relates her own experience in employing the collectivist and voluntarist models and ideals of feminism in attempting to maintain and foster collegiality in the workplace and profession in the face of the increased emphasis in higher education on the business model of hierarchical bureaucratic managerialism.

Gardiner’s fellow symploke contributor David B. Downing takes up the issue of the business model of academia in his essay, “Academic Freedom as Intellectual Property: When Collegiality Confronts the Standardization Movement.”  Downing argues that academic collegiality traditionally implied the shared ownership of knowledge for the common good and the academic freedom necessary to investigate, challenge, and contribute to that commonly held body of knowledge.  He contends, however, that the contemporary system of parceling knowledge into intellectual property bundles that can be sold and traded in the capitalist marketplace puts at risk both traditional collegiality and the closely related concept of academic freedom.  Downing warns that academic freedom will be curtailed and collegiality will become mere conformism in a system in which higher education scholars are considered the hired labor producers of an intellectual commodity to be sold and traded at a profit by their university owners in the capitalist marketplace.  This argument is particularly pertinent in the contemporary financially-challenged higher education environment in which universities rapidly are replacing face-to-face instruction with distance learning (e-learning) course offerings.  Courses taught through distance learning frameworks typically are considered to be owned by the university that offers them rather than by the professor that created and teaches them.  Collegiality in a higher education marketplace dominated by such university-owned course offerings might well become an obsolete concept and value, a cautionary thought for those who value the enabling freedom of intellectual endeavor within a society of self-regulating and self-respecting individuals.


Collegiality in American higher education is a vital but vague concept.  Wikipedia, which is itself a notable and laudable collegial effort, defines the idea of a colleague well: “Colleagues are those explicitly united in a common purpose and respecting each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose”. The word colleague originally means “one chosen to work with another”[3] In a thoughtful 2005 essay, “Collegiality and Community,” American university administrator Joseph R. Urgo observed that, whereas it is the duty of higher education administrators to work productively with other personalities, individual faculty members work primarily “with ideas, contributing not to happiness nor even to contentedness but to the production of knowledge”[4]. The ideal of faculty “collegiality,” Urgo contends, is meant to ensure that individual faculty members, each of whom primarily and rightly is concerned with his or her own knowledge quest, will also strive to work well together on occasion in order to serve the collective purpose of the higher education institution.

In actual practice, collegiality is an ideal that is easy to admire but hard to enforce.  In fact, the very concept of enforcement is at odds with the shared responsibility ideal of collegiality.  American professors are generally tenured and promoted according to three criteria: research, teaching, and service.  Since a professor can be a very good researcher and teacher without being a good colleague, the ideal of collegiality normally is considered under the category of service to the department and institution.  Collegiality is not typically a separate criteria for tenure and promotion and there are good reasons for it not to be so, as it could be used to compel a faculty member to go along with a group majority he or she disagrees with in a particular instance or series of instances and/or to submit to the will and wishes of a potentially unsympathetic superior.

The concept of collegiality implies that colleagues have close to an equal share and weight in decision making, but in contemporary American higher education, this is less and less the case.  Before the last few decades, academic departments traditionally were composed wholly of tenured and tenure-track professors.  But in an effort to increase productivity and lower costs, higher education institutions in recent years have hired non-tenure-track instructors who teach full-time and have no research or service obligations.  This is the case even at prestigious research universities.  When it comes to departmental administration and decision-making, these instructors are second-class citizens, who typically are not allowed to vote on governance issues or to participate in the hiring or promotion process.  Departmental collegiality in such an atmosphere is necessarily diminished, as tenured and tenure-track faculty members, who have relative job security, are free to speak their minds and to participate in running the institution, whereas instructors, who typically are given one-year renewable contracts, are inhibited from doing so.

Another trend in American higher education that has worked against the ideal of collegiality is the increasing reliance on the “business model” of bureaucratic organization and supervision.  Traditionally, academic department chairs have been the “first among equals” in regards to departmental faculty and it was not uncommon in decades past for the departmental chair position to rotate among tenured faculty members, so that every member was obliged to serve a term as chair, at the end of which another faculty member automatically would rotate into that position.  In American higher education institutions today, however, this is very rarely the administrative model in use.  Rather the department chair is typically chosen by the college dean, who is him or herself chosen by the university provost, who serves at the pleasure of the president, who is hired by a board of governors or trustees, most of whom typically come from the business world.

The current trend in the conservative wing of American politics is to question the very concept of tenure as job security in public education.  The conservative legislature in the state of Florida, for instance, recently abolished teacher tenure in primary and secondary education and has announced that it will take up the issue in regards to higher education at next year’s session.  (Eliminating tenure at state universities would be a much more dire step, as they are accredited by regional and national organizations that often require it.)  An atmosphere in which all faculty members are on one-year renewable contracts would be an atmosphere potentially hostile to collegiality as a concept of shared governance and decision-making.  It is even conceivable that collegiality would become a cynical code-word for enforced faculty submission to administrative authority.

Of course in the current tenure system, those who have achieved tenure occasionally indulge in uncollegial behavior toward their colleagues for which they are rarely, and only with difficulty, reprimanded by their superiors. Ideal collegiality involves not only doing one’s part in running an academic department and university, but also respecting the roles played by others in doing so, including those from very different backgrounds from oneself.  When women first began joining academic departments in large numbers during the 1980s and 90s, one among many of their concerns was that the concept of collegiality would be used as an excuse to compel them to go along with the male majorities in making collective decisions.  There were similar concerns when universities made the push to make their faculties more representative of the national population in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation, and multiculturalism.  There is no doubt of the fact that, to be a good colleague, one must be a good citizen, and even a good person.

Collegiality in academic production in American higher education differs according to subject area and field.  In the fields of medicine, science, engineering, education, and business it is quite usual for academic researchers to collaborate on research in a complex collegial manner and to publish the results as multi-author studies.  Social scientists such as sociologists and political scientists sometimes work collaboratively as well, although it is not the standard practice in the field as it is in the natural and practical sciences.  In the areas of arts and humanities it is rare for researchers to work in collaboration with one another, although in the performing arts such as theatre and music it is of course standard practice.  In general in the academic areas in which research is collaborative, collegiality is a more complex and also more highly regulated area than in the areas in which academic research is an individual pursuit, in which collegiality refers mainly to professional interpersonal behavior in the workplace.


As noted above, collegiality implies that colleagues have somewhat equal importance in the decision making process of university governance. In order for this to be true, there are two critical factors: First, the institution should have the autonomy to make decisions on its own; second, an appropriate structure of shared governance thatenables participation of people involved. In practice, Vietnamese higher education institutions (HEIs) have very limited autonomy at the present. In public HEIs, financing issues, personnel appoinment, curriculum, etc. all are subject line-ministries decisions. Non-public sector has a greater level of autonony though they still have to conform to detailed instructions from MOET. The second factor is shared governance structures that allow participation of the stakeholders, such as Board of Trustees, or Academic Senate, and so on. These bodies do not ensure collegiality but they do work agaisnt authoritarianism somewhat. Unfortunately such structures are not common practice in Vietnam yet.

Vietnam has a long tradition of collective decision-making model. However the so-called “collective  ownership” of Vietnam differs greatly from “shared governance” model of US institutions. There is a saying that is “No one cries for a common father”, which reflects the fact that no one takes responsibility for something because he or she is not the only one making decisions. Vietnamese society has experienced the model of  “ownership of the collectives” during 1960s-1980s until transforming into market-oriented socialism with the domination of business model even in higher education institutions. Both these above settings have great impacts on decision making process of the university, in different ways.

“Ownership of the Collectives” does not mean equal power between participants. It is rather a way to get rid of being held accountable for making decision. How has transforming planned economy and “ownership of the collectives” into socialism market oriented economy influenced collegiality in Vietnamese HEIs? While financial problems and adaptation of the business model in American universities have great impacts on collegiality in this system, such impacts in Vietnamese HEIs seems unobvious. A significant consequence of adapting market economy is the emergence of private sector in higher education system. However changes in Vietnamese universities have always taken place much more slowly than those in society. The monitoring structures imposed upon HEIs by MOET do not differ greatly from those applied a few decades ago: they are still based on control and the level of control are almost the same as before. However, the rise of non-public institutions has created an academic environment that is different from public ones. Though most faculty members of non-public sector are originally from public schools, some even work at public schools concurrently, private universities have been operating by a set of principles and motivations that differ from those of state universities. They are less dominated by MOET and more affected by selection of students, in other words, by the market; therefore their governance model sounds more like that of business. According to Downing, in such a structure, faculty members are considered hired labor. Therefore, in the context of limited autonomy and missing empowerment structures for participation of stakeholders in the decision making process, as noted above, one can say that there is little room for collegiality to grow.

Another factor influencing the development of collegiality is cultural tradition. The common organisational culture style in Vietnamese universities is hierachy combined with clan culture, which do not focus on equality. This has its roots from the thousand-year history of  agricultural culture in Vietnam, in which family, rather than the individual, is the most important nucleus of production process and society. Vietnamese people are bound by their families and clans, not by individuals as citizens of a society. Therefore the bond of individuals beyond their clan is often weak. Nearly one hundred years ago Phan Boi Chau commented on Vietnamese people characteristics as below:

Foreigners look down on Vietnamese people. They say “Vietnamese do not have even a group of people that consist of more than three individuals”. This comment sounds overcritical at first, but in the end if we look at our society carefully we can see the true situation of incoherence between our Vietnamese people: we hate each other, we distrust each other, we care for our own only. Saying that Vietnamese do not have a group of three persons who trust and are honest with each other, that is not wrong at all.

(Phan Bội Châu, Cao đẳng Quốc dân, 1928)

There is another common saying: “A Vietnamese person is as productive as three Japanese at work, but three Vietnamese persons work less productively than one Japanese person”. This points out  the serious lack  of collegiality in Vietnamese practices. In an article published in The New York Times dated Sept 11, 2012, Thomas L. Friedman argues that, “when there is trust in society, sustainable innovation happens because people feel safe and enabled to take risks and make the long-term commitments needed to innovate. When there is trust, people are willing to share their ideas and collaborate on each other’s inventions without fear of having their creations stolen”. Sharing ideas is essential to academic activities, as at present scientific research becomes much more complicated and interdisciplinary so that all large studies must have many people participating. If everybody is afraid of their ideas being stolen; if everybody is anxious about others’ success and sees it a threat for his/her own success, then there is no commitment fully made. The situation of  low-trust society, in which everybody does things on his/her own without cooperation for their own short term benefit only, will lead to the consequence that no great work can be done.

In such a context of cultural and social settings, is it possible to develop collegiality in academic environment, and if it is, how? The author of this paper has a personal experience on this matter. During one year of her appoinment as the leader of a small organization  belonging to VNU-HCM – a  self-financed institution in which the leader has full autonomy and is able to make decision on financing and personnel issues, as well as working structures within the institution – she successfully established a team whose members are connected to each others with a high degree of collegiality.  The commitment to a shared goals and values is what engages these people. Each member is aware of his/her contributions into the success of their institution, due to their participation in the decision making process as an equal member. The final decision is rational rather than being based on authority. As a result, no one goes to work looking at the clock waiting for the time to leave his/her office but everybody is ready to work overtime to achieve common goals. Thanks to collegiality, they are coherent as a unified block in term of determination and willingness to perform public services. One does not only try his/her best but also respects others’ work and contributions, as each and everyone is a vital part of the institution.

In scientific research, how is collegiality of Vienamese people demonstrated and what are the results? Using VNU-HCM as a case study to analyse the impact of collaborations on research work, we found some interesting results: In 525 VNU-HCM articles published on international peer-reviewed journals during 2006-2010 there were only 20 written by single author, the rest were produced by collaboration of multi-authors. Among these papers, 68 articles were Vietnamese co-authored, and 437 articles were the results of collaboration between Vietnamese and international colleagues. An analysis done by Ly T Pham, Tho D Dinh and Tuan V Nguyen  (2012) pointed out that the research outputs and impact of international collaboration papers, measured by impact factor and citations, are much better than those of non-collaborated ones.

Moreover, it is worth noting that perceptions of the collegialty concept, the manner of collaborations and how colleagues deal with conflicts are probably different between American and Vietnamese academics, as collegiality is influenced greatly by social settings and cultural traditions. People are raised in a Confucian-based social system focused on public consensus and group harmony while Western people emphasize individual identity and diversity. As noted above, one can annihilate a person’s viewpoint that differs from those of the collectives’ or authorities’ in the name of “colleagiality”. However this kind of consensus is not true collegiality, as collegiality requires shared responsibilities and equal contributions in a common work. In such a social setting, the pressure on public consensus might result in one easily abandoning his/her own perspectives and submit to those of the authorities’, whereas Western people obtain consensus by reasonings rather than by a hierarchical system.   This is  essential to the collegiality practices in  American academic environment.

On the other hand, it is observed that Vietnamese collagues usually identify collegiality with friendship at a certain level. One can easily take disagreement at work as personal conflicts, and vice-versa, let personal conflicts influence collaborations at work. The Vietnamese idiom “One hundred reasonings are less convincing than a little love” reflects the manner of working together between Vietnamese colleagues, which can be considered unprofessional. This is not excluded in American academic environment, however the more common practice is that, people can disagree in the meeting dialogue but when leaving the meeting room they are still friendly colleagues.

I have not had a chance to examine the nature of collegiality between Vietnamese colleagues versus between Vietnamese and international colleagues. It might help to understand the complexity and limitation of these relations. These areas would be topics for my further research work on the series of academic culture.


Collegiality, academic freedom and academic integrity are the pillars of academic culture that have contributed greatly to the success of Western universities for centuries. These concepts might be shaped and interpreted differently in various cultural, historical, political and social contexts, though their impacts on universities’ success are undoubted when we consider the university as the place that prepares basic competence in participating fully in social life. Such values can not be bought, borrowed or installed; they cannot be built in one day, but are vital to a university. Without such values, university would be a vocational school or a knowledge enterprise. However in reality, collegiality as well as academic freedom and academic intergrity could be abused anywhere in the world. Building these values, nurturing and protecting them must be the vital task of people who take responsibilities in future of education, or country.


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[1] Fulbright visiting scholar in United States of America, 2008.

[2] This section and some observations on American context are written based on information, ideas and some writings of Dr. Don Adams, professor of Florida Atlantic University, with his approval. She also thanks Prof. Russell Brooker for editing the English version of the paper. The author greatly appreciates these contributions to the paper.


[4]“Collegiality and Community” by Joseph Urgo, Symploke, (2005) V.13, No 1/2.