When You Must Say No, Use Care

Mel Fugate, management professor at SMU's Cox School of Business, talks about saying no with care in academia.

If you’re a faculty member or administrator in a management role, saying “no” to suggestions and projects is a huge part of your job. But a one-word answer like that can be difficult to deliver in academia.

How can you stay firm while softening some of the inevitable blow of rejection? Experienced academic managers offer these tips:...

3. Be fair.

If the person you are rejecting, however politely, is convinced that you are a vindictive dictator, she or he is likely to call you out for being unfair.

“Fairness needs to be a primary consideration if you’re going to tell somebody ‘no.’ Are you telling somebody ‘no’ because you’re favoring somebody else?” said Mel Fugate, associate professor of management and organizations at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business, in Dallas.

Higher ed is notorious for being nepotistic and governed by egos and personalities rather than merit, according to Fugate, and it also tends to maintain the status quo even when faced with better options.

Academia “is probably one of the most extreme in terms of industries where Bill’s doing that why? Because that’s what Bill does, and nobody is going to tell him otherwise,” he said.

Deans or program directors who need to tell a professor that he or she needs to pick up a course at an undesirable time, for example, might consider offering that professor a more desirable schedule the following semester, so that sacrifices are shared fairly, Fugate advised....