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Friday, October 10, 2008

SU Center for Conflict Resolution Earns $460,000 TSA Grant

SALISBURY, MD---Salisbury University’s Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) has been awarded a $460,000 federal grant to examine conflict management practices within the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Dr. Brian Polkinghorn, executive director of the CCR, learned about the opportunity to apply for the grant literally days before the proposal submission deadline. He immediately contacted Dr. Patrick McDermott, the center’s director of research and evaluation, to discuss the idea. McDermott had just returned home from China, where he had been teaching as a Fulbright Scholar. They immediately teamed up to apply and six weeks later received good news: Their proposal won.

Through the competitive grant, renewable up to four years, the CCR will conduct a nationwide evaluation of the TSA’s Integrated Conflict Management System. The system helps reduce the number of formal employee grievances by providing the TSA’s 140,000 workers with additional options for internal dispute resolution.

“I am thrilled that Salisbury University and the Center for Conflict Resolution will play such an instrumental role in evaluating a major component of an institution as vital as the Transportation Security Administration,” said SU President Janet Dudley-Eshbach. “Drs. Polkinghorn and McDermott are international experts in their fields, and this grant further validates the value of their work and the stature of the center.”

With a great deal of coordination from all of the CCR’s research staff, including Dr. Ruth Obar, Robert La Chance and Haleigh La Chance, Polkinghorn and McDermott spent Labor Day weekend writing a 645-page proposal after learning about the opportunity five days before the application deadline. Despite round-the-clock work by the five—who exchanged 137 e-mails in that time—they maintained their senses of humor.
“This endeavor cured Pat of his jetlag,” joked Polkinghorn.

He and McDermott used the CCR’s history of nationally recognized research successes to demonstrate to TSA that SU was the best university for the grand-scale job. Over the past eight years, SU’s CCR has worked in more than 30 countries on projects ranging from the establishment of regional conflict resolution centers to the provision of sensitive services in places such as Kosovo, Bosnia, Nepal, Kashmir and Israel. Domestically, it has worked in all regions of the country on many large-scale cases including the $2.5 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge crossing.

Polkinghorn credits the CCR’s success directly to its team, including Obar, a senior center research fellow, who also took part in earlier award-winning projects such as three large-scale research studies for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the State of California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing Pilot Mediation Program. Robert La Chance is the center’s managing director and academic program coordinator, and Haleigh La Chance is director of special projects, who also has researched the Maryland State Highway Administration Partnering Program.

McDermott spent last year in China as a Fulbright Program lecturer in law at one of China’s leading law schools, East China University of Politics and Law in Shanghai. This summer, Polkinghorn was named a recipient of the University System of Maryland’s prestigious Elkins Professorship. He is one of the few to ever win it two years in a row. He is currently on leave working for the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica, leading program and curriculum development for 17 master’s programs in Peace and Conflict Studies at universities in South Asia, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Since last semester Polkinghorn has written more than $900,000 in grants, the largest one being the TSA research proposal with McDermott.

During this project the duo, with its bi-coastal team (Obar is currently in San Diego), will conduct studies at 18 TSA locations throughout the United States. These will determine what works within the current system and recommend best practices and ways to enhance its dispute resolution programs.

The student-centered CCR employs a “teaching hospital” model in which researchers and practitioners work side by side with students in the field. The TSA project will allow more fieldwork opportunities for SU’s conflict resolution students and add value to the University’s new conflict resolution master’s program, scheduled to begin in fall 2009, Polkinghorn said.

Regionally, the CCR is highly regarded for bringing some of the world’s most notable conflict resolution experts to Salisbury, including former President of Poland Lech Walesa and former President of South Africa F.W. deKlerk, both Nobel Peace Prize winners.

The TSA grant proposal is a classic example of collaboration between academic departments in SU’s Fulton School of Liberal Arts and Perdue School of Business, added Polkinghorn. McDermott is a member of the Perdue School’s Accounting and Legal Studies and Management departments. Polkinghorn is a member of the Fulton School’s Department of Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution.

For more information call 410-219-2873 or visit the SU Web site at

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