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  February 20, 2001

Certificate Program in Mediation Offers Training in Dispute Resolution

When Lee Cole-Chu enrolled in a certificate program in mediation through UConn's Labor Education Center, he knew he wanted to expand his horizons and his New London law practice. He didn't know that expansion would begin so soon.

"One of the presenters was from the state Department of Education, and I guess I made an impression on him," Cole-Chu recalls. "Before I knew it, he had appointed me to the panel certified to mediate teacher contracts" in Connecticut.

The education department staffer, Lee Williamson, had plenty of opportunities to observe Cole-Chu in action, says Mark Sullivan, director of the Labor Education Center, one of the programs housed in the University's College of Continuing Studies.

"There is a very large role-playing component to the course," says Sullivan. "We spend a lot of hours together during a short span of time, and we want to make sure these students understand the nature of the job."

That understanding - or lack of understanding - is one of the reasons Sullivan began offering the program.

"There are a lot of people out there who hang out a shingle and say they're mediators, but who really don't understand what mediation is," Sullivan says. "It's not about winning and losing. It's about results. Mediators are catalysts with no power to mandate settlements, but who have the skills to bring two people together. Both sides must walk away knowing they've gained something."

The field of mediation was originally the province of labor-management negotiations. It has grown rapidly, as conflicts have become more common in other areas, and more people have realized the savings to be had - in currency, time, and relationship-building - by avoiding the stages that follow failed mediation attempts: arbitration and court.

"We're training people from across the board," Sullivan says. "Labor representatives, people from the power industry, divorce lawyers, insurance professionals, Environmental Protection Agency staff and medical personnel. More and more, people are realizing this is a much better way to go."

Since instituting the program four years ago, Sullivan says more than 200 people - primarily mid-career, senior management-level executives and attorneys - have taken the course. The 40-hour course is taught in the same manner as many Executive MBA programs, with classes meeting Thursday evenings, followed by 10-hour days on the following Friday and Saturday. After a week off, the three-day format is repeated.

The format, Sullivan says, is efficient for the type of full-time professionals who enroll in the course, and it allows for the rapid feedback and critiquing that is essential to establishing an understanding of the art of mediation.

It certainly worked for Cole-Chu, whose wife took the course the year after he received his certificate. Since receiving his certificate, Cole-Chu has been called on to mediate half-a-dozen teacher disputes.

"Three of them were settled on the spot, and we reached agreement on the others before arbitration. So, yes, I'd say the training was very effective," Cole-Chu says.

One hundred percent effective, in fact.

Richard Veilleux