I have gotten emails from dispute resolution colleagues asking what we, in Missouri’s dispute resolution center, might do (or might have done) to help manage the conflict at our university more constructively.

For years, some folks in our DR community have noted despairingly that we aren’t engaged in major conflicts like the one that has been unfolding here.  Sure, we are called to handle relatively small matters, but the feeling is that people don’t recognize us as competent, relevant, likely to be helpful etc. in these major conflicts.

Of course, some of us are involved in managing major conflicts – especially those who do that for a living – but, as a field, probably not as much as we might.  I think particularly of the US Community Relations Service, which takes the initiative to intervene in conflicts like these.  Those of us in academia, however, may not have the skills, experience, or time to intervene directly.

We could provide training, certainly after a crisis like ours and perhaps even ahead of time.  If so, what should we teach? Transformational mediators and Bernie Mayer argue that we are too focused on resolution rather than constructive engagement.  Or is a focus on problem-solving necessary when there are intense social conflicts with a lot at stake?

The University of Missouri has had a Difficult Dialogues Program, which my colleague, Paul Ladehoff, has been part of.  If the events we have experienced occurred at your school, community, business etc., do you think a program like that is likely to make a difference?

What do you think we could do that realistically might make a difference?  And that would be wanted by the parties?  What could and should we do?

At base, this raises the question of whether our field is relevant for conflicts like these and, if not, is that a problem?

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus and former director of the LLM Program in Dispute Resolution, at the University of Missouri, School of Law. He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also an avid writer and contributor to Indisputably.org