Guide for Chairs and Deans managing disruptive behaviors

 The steps below assume that the behavior you are responding to is new, or newly reported. If the behavior has been happening for a long time, you may be starting at a later step in the process below. It can be challenging to learn, as chair or dean, of concerns that have been simmering for some time. The Associate Vice Provost, as well as the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, are available to consult with  you. 

Step 1:  Document the behavior and provide resources as appropriate

  • Pay attention if you observe or hear about behavior that disrupts department functioning in a way that compromises the work or learning environment for others. Do not ignore such behavior.
  • Document concerns that you become aware of.
  • As appropriate, check in with those who are the subject of the concerning behavior to ensure that they are aware of confidential supportive resources, such as Employee Assistance at University Health Services, or the Student Ombuds office. It is especially important to ensure that students are aware of their rights and available resources.
  • Follow up with those who have expressed concerns to you; acknowledge the impact on them and others. Let them know that there are confidential resources available for them and for those impacted by the concerning behavior.
  • Indicate to those who have expressed concern that you are acting on the matter but may not be able to share details about private conversations you have had with others.
  • Keep the matter as confidential as possible. Do not spread rumors about complaints you receive.
  •  You can review relevant information (e.g., student teaching evaluations), or discreetly check in with one or two individuals who may have more information about the concerning behavior. However, do not do a widespread investigation. If concerns get to the point of requiring an investigation, the campus has formal procedures for this (see Step 5). That is not your job.

Note: Taking action is time-consuming, but you can make a difference if you address concerning behaviors early. The costs of inaction can be high.

Step 2:  Sketch out a strategy

  • Generate a description of the pattern of behavior.
  • Outline the points you want to communicate.
  • Get support from campus resources as necessary.

Note: The Associate Vice Provost is a good starting point for a conversation to discuss policies, resources, and strategies.

Step 3:  Meet with the person whose conduct is concerning

  • Let the person know that their behavior is disturbing to others. Be clear about which behaviors are concerning.
  • Let the person know that as chair you are accountable to university policies and to Berkeley's Principles of Community.
  • Use a calm and assertive approach that is neither punitive nor aggressive. Position yourself as an ally willing to assist the individual in modifying their conduct.
  • Provide guidance for a path forward towards productive interactions and behaviors.
  • Seek agreement that the concerning behaviors will cease.
  • Document the meeting, and anything that is agreed to, in a memo to the individual. Continue to document subsequent interactions on this topic.
  • Caution the individual against trying to find out who complained, if that is not already known, and remind them that retaliation is a serious offense.

Note: Consider having a third person present in the meeting as a neutral observer to take notes. 

Step 4:  Attach consequences if the disruptive behaviors continue

  • Within the scope of your ability as chair or dean, remove any rewards the concerning behavior will yield if it continues.
  • Within the scope of your ability, implement new practices that you can and will stand by (e.g., the person will not make inappropriate requests of particular staff members or students; charges are applied when faculty demand that staff submit a grant proposal at the last minute; committee assignments are established by the chair).
  • Anticipate that the person might test how serious you are. 

If the behavior had or continues to have a negative impact on teaching, research, or service, it is appropriate to include a comment about it in the individual's next merit review. Your comment could be a commendation, if the faculty member has conscientiously changed their behavior. 

Step 5:  Report severe or pervasive disruptive behaviors that violate the Faculty Code of Conduct to OPHD or the Vice Provost for the Faculty 

  • If concerning behavior by a faculty member is severe or pervasive enough to potentially violate a university policy, it needs to be reported to the appropriate administrative authority. The Don’t Panic sheet provides a lot of detail on this. Highlights to remember:
    • If the behavior involves sexual harassment, or harassment/discrimination involving a protected category such as race, gender identity, disability, etc., report it to the Office for Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD). (As a Responsible Employee, you are obligated to share what you know about sexual harassment or sexual violence with OPHD.)
    • If it is not of this type, report it directly to the Vice Provost for the Faculty. 
    • If you are not sure where to report, don't worry; just report it somewhere. Those who receive reports can refer reports to one another. You can also seek advice from the Associate Vice Provost for the Faculty.
  • Refer parties who have been harmed by the behavior to supportive resources. 
    • If you are dealing with a student in distress, the Gold Folder can direct you to the appropriate office.
    • You can warmly refer those who have been affected by sexual harassment or sexual violence to the PATH to Care Center.

When you make your report, it is helpful to provide a summary of the documentation you have and any steps you have previously taken.


A useful reference:

C. K. Gunsalus, The College Administrators Survival Guide, Chapter 5: Bullies, pp 119-140, 2006.