Michaela Winchatz, associate professor in the College of Communication, teaches courses in cultural and intercultural communication, gender and communication, language and power, and fieldwork methods. Her expertise in communication serves her well in her role as Faculty Council president.
Because communication makes up a large part of our daily lives — whether it be at work with our colleagues or at home with our families and friends — it is often taken for granted. Some of our learned communicative patterns serve us well, as we navigate our everyday responsibilities; other patterns are not as helpful and can make difficult or tense situations even worse.
My training in communication has been of tremendous value to me as president of Faculty Council. While it may sound like a cliché, communication is at the heart of almost everything we do and — given a group of diverse faculty with a wide range of experience and viewpoints — I am always excited to find how relevant and helpful my academic background continues to be.
Faculty Council is set up much like Congress: we have 28 elected faculty members representing all the colleges and schools. The number of representatives per college is determined by the size of the college. For example, as the largest college, LAS has six elected representatives; the smaller colleges have two each. Faculty Council meetings are open to all faculty members to attend, but only elected members are allowed to vote.
Every month this microcosm of the faculty comes together for a three-hour meeting to deliberate, debate, and make decisions about all kinds of faculty issues. Faculty Council is comprised of passionate individuals who care deeply about DePaul. Some of the issues we deal with can be contentious, and it’s only natural that faculty members with varying viewpoints and agendas will not always agree. In these meetings, it is part of my role to facilitate our interactions. Discussion facilitation is something I teach at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and I view it as an art form requiring subtlety in how questions are formulated, as well as needing me to stay focused to keep the dialogue on track and moving forward.
Another subject matter I teach is conflict styles and strategies, which has also been very beneficial to me in this position. The differences can be vast in how each of us approaches conflict, how comfortable (or uncomfortable) we are while engaging in it, and what communicative tactics we use during conflict. Many of the differences in how we engage in conflict can often be tied to culture, gender, race, ethnicity, and even class.
Having knowledge of discussion facilitation and conflict strategies doesn’t provide me with all the answers or necessarily stop me from making mistakes along the way — but it does help me to interpret the “why” of how people express themselves in certain situations, and knowing “why” sometimes aids in breaking down communication barriers. At the end of the day, Faculty Council should be about fair debate and building consensus, as much as these are possible.
One of my goals over this past year was for Council to pay more attention to the tone of our communication during meetings. While I believe that many different conflict styles can be effective, we do try to follow a few guidelines for hashing out and resolving our differences. For example, all comments have to be relevant to the motion(s) on the floor; our tone needs to remain civil and respectful, and no one can talk out of turn. I imagine some folks would like to see our conversations move forward more quickly, but I truly believe that the way to achieve successful decisions is to create an environment for all voices to be heard.
As Faculty Council president, I participate in many difficult conversations that include students, faculty, and university administration. Beyond planning and facilitating the Faculty Council meetings, my role as president provides me with the opportunity to represent the faculty to various audiences. Given the diversity of faculty voices, this is often a nuanced balancing act. Ultimately, I do my best to speak for DePaul faculty in all their complexity. Having the daily opportunity to use my background as a cultural communication specialist makes working in this position all the richer.