WMU News

CEDRS improving mediation procedures

Dec. 9, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Just because talk is cheap doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile.

Campus Employee Dispute Resolution Services at Western Michigan University is a case in point. This free program allows WMU employees, including student employees, to have private, off-the-record conversations with neutral mediators who help them resolve their interpersonal conflicts in the work place.

Introduced in 2000 as part of the Employee Assistance Program, CEDRS is now a separate program housed in the Sindecuse Health Center. On Oct. 14 it began operating under a revised policy statement and set of procedures that are spelled out in the Dispute Resolution section of the "Employee Handbook," which is available online at <www.wmich.edu/hr>.

"The changes we've made should not only increase the program's visibility, but also make it more user friendly," says Dale R. Anderson, who became CEDRS coordinator May 6 and immediately began gathering employee input on how to improve the program.

"People told me they were concerned about issues like confidentiality, retaliation and using our service during work time," Anderson says. "So we clarified these things, put guarantees in writing and added them to the 'Employee Handbook.'"

With that work done, Anderson is focusing on explaining the conflict resolution service to University employees.

"We provide mediation and community conferencing services primarily in cases where there are interpersonal disputes and generalized conflict involving co-workers, subordinates and supervisors, or even entire work groups," he says. "Everything we do is confidential and designed to promote nonadversarial, nonjudgmental discussions in venues where employees feel safe and have a chance to talk at length."

To date, CEDRS has most often been called upon to assist in situations related to personality conflicts; misunderstandings arising from differences in work or communication styles; and disagreements and misunderstandings about job expectations or performance, especially when employees have several masters. It also has proved helpful for subordinates who want to have a set block of time to meet with their supervisors in a safe environment, but have no control over scheduling their supervisors' time.

To use CEDRS, employees simply give Anderson a call. If the situation is an appropriate one for the program to handle, Anderson contacts all parties in the dispute, schedules a meeting time and assigns mediators. He helps ensure fairness and diversity by selecting two mediators for each case, and, for the time being, sitting in on all sessions to make certain the process is functioning smoothly.

"CEDRS is, in large part, employee driven," Anderson says. "People want confidentiality assured and don't want a direct informational tie to the administration. That's why we now have a formal, enforceable confidentiality pledge and a clear policy that states, within certain guidelines, nothing said or used during mediation can be applied to other disputes or grievance procedures. It's also why I now report to a steering committee."

The CEDRS Steering Committee is the group that oversees Anderson's activities and sets policies and procedures for the program. Currently, its membership is composed of representatives from the AAUP, AFSCME, PSSO, APA, Human Resources and the University's general counsel. There also are seats for representatives from the POA and MSEA.

Anderson provides aggregate information to the committee, but he, too, is bound by confidentiality and barred from referencing departments or people.

Following such rules is familiar territory for the part-time WMU staff member, who has been a practicing mediator since 1992. He is a nationally board certified counselor, a Limited Licensed Professional Counselor in Michigan, an approved trainer for the state's court-appointed mediators and, as if that weren't enough, a licensed residential builder.

Anderson earned a master's degree in counseling with a self-designed specialty in multicultural counseling and conflict mediation from WMU. He is trained in several mediation models.

For more information, contact Dale Anderson at 269 387-3406 or <dale.anderson@wmich.edu>.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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