August 21, 2016

Without values the academy risks anarchy...

"...This ‘me first’ approach is also not helped by academia’s demanding working conditions. In labs an entrenched hierarchy prevails which determines whose agenda dominates the work flow and whose name takes precedence on publications, whilst for more independent researchers, long hours spent in isolation in libraries or archives can take its toll on basic social capabilities and interactions.

While the realities of the academic environment do not excuse individuals from displaying discriminatory or anti-social behaviour towards others, they go some way to explaining why some academics do not see anything untoward about their own uncouth conduct, or why they are attuned to thinking about themselves and their own gain first. When it comes down to it, the system in which they work has come to facilitate narcissistic and egotistical behaviour, if not even demand it.

In this context, putting an emphasis back on the original values of a university could do much to quell the rise of bullying and discrimination. Allowing the market-driven model to dominate the higher education sector for so long has only created a vacuum of values in the way the academic system operates, removing a university’s in-built system of moral checks and balances that might otherwise serve to keep its staff on the straight and narrow.

The ivory tower has lost sight of its primary, foundational function – namely, to nurture the flourishing of the human spirit for the benefit of wider society. When community values were at the core of the academy, its outputs were beneficial to civil society and its workforce adhered to the principles of partnership, equality and fairness. With these values now replaced by the pursuit of profit and fame, is it any wonder that the new academic arena has become a breeding ground for bullies?

If the ivory tower is to retain its image of an idyllic place to work, then, it would not go far wrong in revisiting the common and societal-based values that once shaped its past. Without these values, the academy has no value to anything other than itself. And without these values, the academy may as well prepare for anarchy now..."

Dr Diana Beech is a research consultant at the Research Information Network and a research associate at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, where she currently manages a project exploring the role and relevance of values to contemporary European research policy. Beech is also an active member of the EURAXESS ‘Voice of the Researchers’ network, providing researchers with a channel to influence policy in the European Research Area.

July 30, 2016

Bullying in Academia Up Close and Personal: My Story

This paper is a personal account of being mobbed and bullied over the past four and half years. This whole experience began on October 26th 2009, with what the literature describes as the Critical Incident. Despite the fact that the assessment instrument had not been published, and accompanying medical documentation provided a context for what had occurred, people decided to ignore this information and utilized this incident to demonstrate that what the author had done was unethical and required swift retribution by the University. However, following an administrative review, it was determined that the author had not committed this alleged offence. Certain individuals were appalled and refused to abide by this decision. The outcome was that over the next four and half years the author was subjected to many of the experiences that Leymann, Davenport, Schwartz and Elliot, Friedenberg, Khoo, and Westhues describe in typologies of bullying and mobbing. The most serious consequence was that on July 23rd 2012 the author suffered an Ischemic stroke. Not only was the author’s medical health compromised during this experience; this experience had a devastating impact on his emotional well-being, career and professional development. Within the School of Social Work, I was unable to receive peer support, administrative acknowledgement or empathy regarding the impact that this illness had regarding my well-being. What was even more troubling was the University’s unwillingness to confront the bullying and mobbing. Instead, with no resolution the school leadership continues to hold onto earlier accusations and through communications and interactions blame the victim.

Key words: mobbing, bullying, mental health consequences, physical health repercussions, personal and professional ramifications, critical incident method

Full paper 

July 19, 2016

1,577 Turkish university deans told to leave...

ISTANBUL (AP) -- The Latest on the attempted military coup in Turkey (all times local):

5:20 p.m.

State-run Anadolu news agency reports that Turkey's Board of Higher Education has requested the resignations of 1,577 university deans, effectively dismissing them.

Tuesday's announcement comes right on the heels of an announcement by the Ministry of National Education that it has dismissed 15,200 personnel over their alleged involvement with a group the government claims is responsible for Friday's failed coup.

Of the deans dismissed, 1,176 worked in public universities and 401 in private institutions.
Sweeping purges in the aftermath of the thwarted coup has seen the dismissal of thousands from the judiciary, police force, military and bureaucracy.

5 p.m.

The state-run Anadolu news agency reports that Turkey's ministry of education has sacked 15,200 personnel for alleged involvement with a group the government claims is responsible for Friday's failed coup.

The National Education Ministry said Tuesday that the staff are in both urban and rural establishments, and that an investigation has been launched against them.

The government accuses U.S.-based cleric Fetullah Gulen of plotting the coup and wants him extradited.

Sweeping purges in the aftermath of the coup have seen the dismissal of thousands from the judiciary, police force, military, administrative and religious affairs departments.


July 04, 2016

Breach of contractual disciplinary procedure may lead to significant loss of earnings claims

“…This case will be most relevant to those employers who currently have disciplinary procedures which are incorporated into their employees’ contracts of employment. Up until now, an employer who fails to follow the disciplinary procedure correctly would face claims for wrongful dismissal (i.e. breach of notice period), failure to follow disciplinary procedure (loss of salary over the period in which the disciplinary procedure should have been followed) and unfair dismissal (subject to the statutory cap). This case opens the door to possible claims for damages going far beyond the loss of earnings damages, which can currently be claimed for breach of contract on termination of employment. It should of course be remembered that Mr Edwards was not awarded damages to cover his losses in salary to retirement, but merely that the Court indicated that this may be a possibility, depending on the evidence provided. An employee in this position would of course be subject to the duty to mitigate his loss by finding suitable alternative employment, but for employees who are employed in an industry or occupation where there is in effect only one employer, such as the NHS, and where it may be impossible to obtain employment elsewhere once reputation has been damaged, this case should certainly be ringing alarm bells…”

In the meanwhile, we would argue that academia is indeed one of those professions where it is hard to find suitable alternative employment for once a case has become public the academic is more than likely never to be employed again in this profession.

June 26, 2016

It’s Time to Have a Conversation About Bullying and Mobbing

Free Virtual Conference runs from Mon.-Thurs., June 27-30, 2016 

It’s Time to Have a Conversation About Bullying and Mobbing Register Confidentially. 
Your Name Will be Kept Private -Never Shared.

Listen in as I interview eight, experts on bullying and mobbing, and also 5 academics who were victims of bullying and mobbing who will tell their stories. There will be a wealth of information for any academic from graduate student to Provost.

Listen to interviews with authorities who know the academic experience inside out, researchers who have zeroed in on this subject, and many who have been the victim of bullying themselves.

We will also hear from five brave interviewees who experienced bullying, who will hold nothing back in describing their experiences. They’ll describe how the bullying started, what it felt like, how they tried to deal with it, and what the ultimate result was for them, for their department and for their future.
More info at:

June 21, 2016

The end of my teaching career...

My fourteen years as a community college professor have come to an untimely, unnatural demise. My administrators (including my supposed colleague, a full-time department chair) have orchestrated my removal from the teaching schedule. In the most recent round of abuse, my chair failed to offer me any courses for the fall term.  When I approached the dean, I was told that three successive offers were made to me to teach a class, and they did not hear from me and offered the class to another teacher. This is obfuscation. I sent three letters to my chair, and one was sent by a division secretary, inquiring of the status of my teaching a class for the upcoming Fall 2016 term, and he never replied. The plausibility of not receiving three e-mails, and not receiving a response to three queries?  I was told cheerfully by the dean that if another class opens, I will be the first considered to teach it.  This is not likely during budget cuts.

...At first, my labor union (comprised at any given point of almost all full-time teachers and one complicit part-timer) assisted me, but in the end supported the decisions of the deans and my
full-time chairs. My dean deliberately used my medical disability and the failing health (and eventual death) of my elder mother to "schedule me" out of my teaching rehire rights. 

In the U.S. there is an organization called the National Labor Relations Board which governs employee rights under federal laws.  The NLRB states that it is unlawful to compel a worker to be in the same union as his supervisor.  Even so, labor unions in higher education compel non tenured faculty (contingent/part-time/adjunct) to be in the same union as their department chairs who are most often full-time, tenured faculty who serve as de facto administrators and administrator designees. As such, as pointed out in the paper by Berg, the precarious status of the non-tenured professor makes him a prime target for anxiety-producing emotional abuse. In my case, at least two full-time professors who were union presidents (both department chairs) became division deans; in another instance, a full-time union grievance officer left his position as a union officer and professor
to take a position as an interim Director of Personnel with his sights on the Vice Presidency of Personnel. (He did not get the position and was forced to return to being a mere tenured professor and union officer. The Vice Presidency went to a man outside of the college, and the directorship was given to the new VPs girlfriend.)

My district superintendent wrote her doctoral dissertation on the use of workplace bullying (inducing fear) is used as a managerial tool. The dissertation delineates the step-by-step techniques and the steps to induce fear in faculty and eventual cause their removal or resignation. The dissertation states verbatim that a professor can be scared "shitless" through the use of these tools which she describes as like "spousal or sexual abuse." Although the dissertation condemns the use of bullying, it is clear that there is an unsaid approval of the techniques as they are evident in almost all cases of bullying in some form, and my experiences match the strategies in the dissertation one-for-one.

In short, it describes how to separate, marginalize and eliminate faculty who are not servile and complacent in the "erode, isolate, separate" strategy. This explains what the Asian professor in your blog was singled out, and why my district is currently facing, according to a full-time colleague, "22 or 23" complaints of unlawful discrimination. It is titled, "Realigning: A grounded theory of academic workplace conflict," by Melinda Nish in 2011.

It is fortunate for me that I do not rely solely on my part-time teaching income, and I have other sources of livelihood. Other professors must teach or a living and are therefore more prone to anxiety from unscrupulous colleagues and administrators. Still the loss of my livelihood has been heartbreaking, as I will no longer be teaching. This alone deserves mourning.

I am sad to report that not only vulnerable part-timers are victims of campaigns of bullying. A full-timer, a former union president no less, is now under attack by the college and the new union officers. This professor was very ethical, and upheld the rights and sense of justice for all employees. She now comes under attack in the support of cronyism cloaked under the guise of unlawful discrimination. For irony, the accuser made allegations against her of racial prejudice once publicly stated-- in order to ingratiate himself to his employers--that no racial prejudice exists in the college. He now states that prejudice indeed does exist.

This flip-flopping in what is said and what is done is very characteristic of the bullying as described in the dissertation. It is typical that a bully (the college administration) and his cronies will use any means (betrayal and backstabbing) in order to meet its ends.

I have only two advocates who will be talking to my dean about my loss of status: one administrator and one former union president, the ethical professor. 

In March, the dean who robbed me of my livelihood (I have lost more than $40,000 USD in potential income), colluded with the chair who wanted to hire her friends, and deprived me of the joy of my profession is no longer with the district. Evidently she has hired an attorney that I could not myself afford, one who has a proven track record of winning large settlements against the college.


June 20, 2016

My Experience With Contrapower Harassment in a Community College Setting

I’ve been teaching at a local community college for over 10 years. It’s a generally good campus with a diverse student population and I always planned on retiring from this campus.

One issue I’ve dealt with since I started was challenging students- and the behaviors are escalating. I’m a younger, very petite female. I have a high voice and like to wear nerdy science shirts and jewelry. But I run my classroom with strict standards of behavior and academic integrity. I teach an Allied Health pre-requisite class and am the coordinator of all the sections of my subject. I take my role as the lead instructor seriously and maintain high standards and a pretty “no-nonsense” attitude.

For the longest time I figured the (primarily) male students who challenge my authority in classroom, the snide comments, and online anonymous hate comments from “Rate My Professor” were just the cost of being a teacher in college. Sometimes I would even write it off as a cultural issue due to our diverse student population because many of my male students come from patriarchal cultures. The level of disrespect has been one I thought I SHOULD tolerate- it never kept me up at night, I never had anyone physically threaten, so I didn’t worry. (Notice how I just accepted the harassment and never even considered that it was a problem? I continually ask myself now where that attitude came from.)

Last year I had one student who I nicknamed to my friends as “ugh, the Thorn in My Side” (due to confidentiality we do not use any identifying features about students- even when venting to non-teacher friends). He walked in with an air of indifference. He challenged my comments in class. He did not work with a study group in lab. His lab questions were always along the line of “Why do I have to do it this way?” I just figured he was a difficult student and that once he finished my class he’d go away. He often left lab early, and I would breathe a sigh of relief because I could teach without worry of challenge again during open lab time.

As the semester progressed two issues arose, that I didn’t document because I didn’t know better: the student was not passing and the student’s passive-aggressive attitude escalated. He would show to office hours, which I held in my tutoring center, and be extremely unpleasant to me and my tutors (in retrospect…only my female tutors reported problems with him). It got to the point that I dreaded my office hours. I made them by appointment only. I didn’t tell anyone why. I figured that as long as I kept up my office hours that I was OK, and really the only student coming in with “questions” (i.e., complaints about my teaching, content, rigor) was this one male. His comments were often challenges to my grading because I have a strict spelling policy and state “if I cannot read your writing I cannot assign you credit”.

Near the end of the semester I offered a replacement final exam to help students boost scores. The rules were clear: sign up to take the exam. The student did not sign up, but sent me a rude, challenging e-mail stating that he wanted to take the test. When I reiterated my policy I finally thought “Eh, I should contact my department chair. This student has caused me a lot of trouble”. After the stress this student had put me through I figured a heads up e-mail would be enough to keep me covered in case he complained to the chair.

The guidelines in my syllabus, which follow school procedures, are that students who have grade complaints try to resolve the issue with me first (with a witness in the meeting), then go up the chain of command (department chair, Dean, etc.). If a student has an issue other than grades the student contacts the Dean of Student Affairs.

I found out that the student wrote every member of our Governing Board and the Chancellor. His letter was full of veiled threats against me and the school that were clearly written to intimidate us and bully me into submission for changing his grade. Because the threats were basically public relations types of issues, nothing to assume physical attacks or property damage, the student was referred to administration.

Administration failed to follow the guidelines set forth in the syllabus and student code of conduct. The Dean and Vice President met with the student. They did not notify the department chair. I was then queried, several times, via e-mail and in person by the Dean regarding my class and its policies. I supplied all of my documentation in the class. I supplied my syllabus and asked if the student had been referred back to me per my syllabus policy. I never got answers to that question.

For the next 6 weeks I kept getting e-mails about this student. The VP and President got involved to meet with the student (at least twice that I know of). I was never contacted by either of those administrators. I felt that I had to prove myself to these people, and that they had no vested interest in defending me as a faculty member. None of the administrators involved are experts in Allied Health. The only one who has ever seen me instruct is the Dean- who assigns me top marks in my peer evaluation. I have some of the highest student evaluation scores that I know of from talking with colleague- despite my reputation for rigor. None of this was ever discussed. The Dean, instead, looked up my attrition rates and said they “weren’t great”. He told me in person that if this were for another subject- math or physics- my attrition rates would not be so bad. I felt as if my entire reputation was being set by this one complaint that was handled out of due process and without any personal involvement by me. And I was told be the Dean that at the end of each meeting the student’s query was the same – could I be forced to change his grade to passing?

I started to feel sad. I cried a lot, wasn’t sleeping, and wasn’t eating. I know my teaching suffered. I was more terse with my students and didn’t have the energy to run my classroom with the same enthusiasm as I normally would. I remember going out to a Halloween event and just leaking tears in the car the whole way, then being thankful we were in a dark environment because I just cried all evening.

I started having panic attacks and canceled some classes. This, of course, made things worse because I was already feeling like a bad teacher and then I felt like I was failing even more. I wrote a resignation letter and started looking into admissions criteria for a DPT program. I told my husband that I had to get out.

Every time my campus e-mail pinged on my computer my heart would race and my stomach would ache. I was just waiting for another e-mail asking me to document my professional worth against this single student. (To this day I have not heard personally from the administration, except the Dean, regarding this issue. I have been in meetings with them both, and feel bad about myself. I feel that they will never hold me in respect over this incident. When I have spoken in meetings with them I honestly feel that they are not listening to my comments.)

I sought professional help. My therapist diagnosed me with adjustment disorder (situational depression) and anxiety. I went on beta blockers to help me deal with the elevated blood pressure and tachycardia that seemed to affect me all the time. My therapist asked who else on campus I had spoken with. “No one,” I answered. She stated that my case seemed to be one of contrapower harassment and encouraged me to speak out. I had never heard of contrapower harassment and so I started becoming an internet junky for the topic.

I contacted my department chair. The department chair was livid that I had been treated this way. The department chair told me I should have come forward sooner, that I would have been supported from the beginning. I didn’t expect that. I felt so much stress and shame that I could not handle this problem on my own, and I felt powerless because the head administrators in the school have been dismissive of me.

My department chair contacted our union. They also advised me speak with the Dean of Student Affairs because I did say I felt harassed. When I spoke with the Dean and explained the situation the Dean said there was really nothing that could be done. The Dean said the student was being mean and must have been aware of what he was doing, but that really he had not broken any rules in the Student Code of Conduct! When I pointed out the student had not passed my class and that he might retake (I was concerned he would do it out of spite) I was told my only recourse was to switch sections if I saw him on my rosters. Where is my protection in this situation? That is how it stands at our school today- if a teacher feels harassed by a student (that is not physical or sexual) then all the teacher can do is be vigilant on the roster and surreptitiously switch the teaching assignment to avoid the student.

I don’t know what our union representatives did or said, but eventually the e-mails stopped. My last e-mail was a forwarded response from the Dean. The President wrote the student with a “final” response to his complaints and basically apologized to the student for his experience in my classroom.

I know the student is still on campus. I saw him walking across the quad last semester. I almost had a panic attack and turned immediately to walk the other way. It’s all I can do.

There are some lingering effects… I don’t trust my administration. My heart still jumps a little when my work e-mail comes in. I worry that this student will be allowed to haunt me for a very long time. And the resignation letter, with this brief summary of the hell I went through for 3 months, sit in a folder on my desktop.


The silence of Norman Lamb MP

What follows is a cautionary tale.
I am a casualty of bullying in a British university, having sustained acute psychological injury (depression and post-traumatic stress disorder/PTSD) inflicted by academic colleagues and others.  The abuse led me to attempt to end my life.  The university offered to pay me a six figure sum to withdraw a grievance I had lodged and vacate my position, but there were echoes in the offer of the abuse that had been so damaging to me and I rejected it.  The university's tactics became increasingly grotesque, leaving me with no choice but to resign.
I doubt that the word "recovery" can realistically be used when one has sustained this kind of injury, but one hopes that somehow life will become at least tolerable again.  The grim reality, though, is one of constant struggle against prejudice surrounding mental ill health and against exploitation of the vulnerability arising from one's disability.  But there is something potentially positive in all of this, that being the possibility of being able to help others through perhaps increased understanding of the nature and effects of brutality.  It was with this in mind that I took the decision to write to Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb.
Mr Lamb has been described in a national newspaper as "one of Britain's leading campaigners for improvements in mental health care" and he has said of himself in a publicly broadcast interview that it is his "mission" that every person should be "treated as an equal citizen" and that all people suffering with mental ill health should be treated "with the utmost respect".  I really believed that contacting Mr Lamb would be a safe exercise and I conveyed this in my letter to him, saying that as someone who had repeatedly been given cause to feel betrayed and degraded by privately demonstrated contempt or indifference of individuals or bodies who professed publicly to care about the plight of vulnerable people, I would not be writing to him if I did not feel that he was genuine and committed in respect of the concerns that he articulated.
One of the challenges faced by people like me, identified in my letter to Mr Lamb, is the problem of stereotyping, prejudice and other cruelty in the National Health Service, including mental health services.  Discussion about mental health services is dominated by reference to a lack of funding, but as I explained to Mr Lamb, having witnessed psychological abuse of patients by staff in those services and having experienced such abuse myself, I am very concerned about the issue of attitudes and the way that this is linked to society's apparent disconnectedness from the (interconnected) values of social responsibility, compassion and commitment.
Other very painful details of my experiences and my current circumstances were explained in my letter, as was my willingness to make a contribution to any discussion about positive change that might be effected in the various areas and structures where the existing culture can pose particular challenges for people living with the agony of mental ill health.  I invited Mr Lamb to let me know if I could make such a contribution with, or through, him.
Having sent my letter by a secure form of delivery, I knew that it had been delivered to Mr Lamb's constituency office (and it was signed for by either him or someone with the same last name).  I did not receive a reply and wrote to Mr Lamb again seven weeks later.  I could not believe that he could show such cruelty and felt that I should give him the benefit of the doubt.  My second letter, as courteous as the first one, asked if he could send me, by a secure form of delivery, a copy of any reply he had sent, or any reply he might wish to send.  I enclosed a £10 bank note to cover the cost of postage.  That letter, too, was delivered to his constituency office (and again, signed for by either him or someone with the same last name).  Four weeks on, his silence continues.
What does this tell us about Mr Lamb's claims of commitment to promotion of the equality and dignity of those suffering with mental ill health?  If Mr Lamb does not wish to engage in a dialogue with me about my experiences, that's fine.  But where is the compassion, the decency, the humanity, in not even saying, in whatever way, "I hear you and good luck"?  Is his silence not a form of abuse?
I hope that this cautionary tale will help others concerned about Britain's appallingly backward approach to mental ill health.  Perhaps there are less painful ways of seeking to make a difference than reaching out to public figures whose media profile may be misleading.


June 17, 2016

10 Years Bullied Academics Blog, 2006 - 2016

This blog started on May 14, 2006. Ten years later, we count a total of 666770 page views, or roughly about 180 visits every day on average. These are very worrying numbers.

The most visited post is 'Effects of Psychological Harassment' with a total of 6272 visits, followed by 'PhD students suffer from bullying supervisors' (4378 visits), 'Bullying of a PhD Student - One Wrong Word/Death by Paper Cuts' (3724 visits), 'Abuse of Phd students' (3708 visits), and 'Suspension of Ian Parker - International Protest' (2647 visits). These figures too, tell a story...

In terms of page views per country, the figures are: United States 241696, United Kingdom 141524, Germany 38066, Canada 23938, Russia 22994, France 21385, Australia 15795, Ukraine 12669, Poland 3844, and Turkey 2329.

This blog has been mentioned in the following papers/ news reports/ articles/ books:
  • Samier, E. (2008). The problem of passive evil in educational administration: Moral implications of doing nothing. International Studies in Educational Administration, 36(1), 2-21.
  • Fogg, P. (2008). Take that, You Bully!. Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(3), n3.
  • McMullen, J. (2011). Balancing the right to manage with dignity at work. Perspectives, 15(1), 3-6.
  • Birks, M., Budden, L. M., Stewart, L., & Chapman, Y. (2014). Turning the tables: the growth of upward bullying in nursing academia. Journal of advanced nursing, 70(8), 1685-1687.
  • Coleyshaw, L. (2010). The power of paradigms: A discussion of the absence of bullying research in the context of the university student experience. Research in Post‐Compulsory Education, 15(4), 377-386.
  • Cassell, M. A. (2011). Bullying in academe: Prevalent, significant, and incessant. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 4(5), 33.
  • Wyatt-Nichol, H. (2014). Strategies for Maintaining Sanity and Success. In Career Moves (pp. 9-16). SensePublishers.
  • Pahadi, T. N. Secondary and Higher Secondary School Teachers’ Experience of Workplace Bullying: Prevalence, Nature, Effects and Prevention.
  • Bartow, A. (2009). Internet Defamation as Profit Center: The Monetization of Online Harassment. Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, 32(2).
  • Richards, J. (2007). Workers are doing it for themselves: Examining creative employee application of Web 2.0 communication technology. Work, Employment and Society (WES), 12-14.
  • Keashly, L., & Neuman, J. H. (2010). Faculty experiences with bullying in higher education: Causes, consequences, and management. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 32(1), 48-70.
  • Bullying in academia: ‘professors are supposed to be stressed! That’s the job. - The Guardian
  • Duffy, M., & Sperry, L. (2014). Overcoming mobbing: A recovery guide for workplace aggression and bullying. Oxford University Press.

    and many more...
The obvious question to ask is what if anything has been achieved. Ten years ago the concept of 'workplace bullying in academia' did not exist except of the writings (and books) of Professor Kenneth Westhues. Now there is even a Wikipedia entry. Has all this changed anything? Perhaps not. There is certainly more awareness, and this is the first stage before... Any change is likely to take much time, but is this a good enough reason to give up?

Lastly, we need to mention the many who contacted us and requested anonymity while they were dealing with extreme cases of workplace bullying. Their fear was that if their names became known, this would compromise any chance of returning back to work, returning to a professional career. Sadly, the statistics indicate that once an academic is bullied out of work, very seldom they get the chance to get back their job. Often their professional career is ruined. And so, silence prevails while many suffer...

"Nothing strengthens authority as much as silence." Leonardo da Vinci
"All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men [or good women] do nothing." Edmund Burke

Bullying in Academe

Bullying behavior at your institution can result in lawsuits, high employee turnover costs, productivity declines, low morale and many other problems, writes Raymonda Burgman.

June 15, 2016
Are you trying to lead a committee, department, unit, school, college, university or group through change yet have a bully on your team?

Whenever you meet with colleagues to discuss a change project, this person “aids” the team in eliminating information she says is not germane to the group’s scope of work or charge. As other team members start to speak, this person interrupts and changes the topic. Team members leave the meeting saying how productive the meeting was because they got to the heart of the matter. But the actual fact is that they do not know how to respond to the chilly climate during the meeting because they feel threatened or humiliated. And each feels isolated, thinking he or she is the only one who perceives the comments as harsh and off-putting.

You are not the only one experiencing such situations. According to Morgan State University professor Leah P. Hollis, in Bully in the Ivory Tower: How Aggression and Incivility Erode American Higher Education, more than 60 percent of respondents in an independent study of 175 four-year colleges reported experiencing workplace bullying, compared to less than 40 percent of the general public.

A biting email message, excluding a colleague from the office happy hour invitation or using the silent treatment when asked for an opinion about a new idea proposed by a colleague -- these all are forms of manipulation that we now recognize as bullying. If a supervisor or colleague removes areas of responsibility without explanation, yells at employees in public, constantly monitors employees or sabotages or discounts the quality of an employee’s work, it’s bullying.

The University of Louisville Ombuds Office offers their campus a self-help guide on bullying and succinctly defines bullying as “repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed toward an employee (or a group of employees), which is intended to intimidate and creates a risk to the health and safety of the employee(s).” In the academic environment, bullying derails not only our hopes for a collaborative workplace but also the learning and discovery that are our mission. And with so many people impacted, you can imagine the emotional and psychological toll: anxiety, insomnia, low morale, trouble concentrating and fear of humiliation.

In 2014, HERS partnered with several organizations to look at the pathways to senior leadership in higher education. The research, in which 35 women presidents and senior officers were interviewed, described positive and negative aspects of being top leaders in their respective institutions. Two negative aspects are eerily similar to bullying: scrutiny and criticism, and not fitting in or being heard. Resistance to change and lack of buy-in, in their most extreme forms, are also bullying.

Statistically, men perpetrate most bullying in the workplace, but women are more likely to bully other women and tend to use less explicit forms of bullying. Women may not physically bully, but they will use verbal or indirect bullying, social alienation, intimidation bullying, or cyberbullying. If you witness such incidents, you may question whether you left bullying on a grade school playground.

The High Cost of Bullying

For the leader who encounters a bully on her team, here are some reasons why you should take action.

Usually bullying is about fear and insecurity. Differences in others make some people uncomfortable and foretell troubling consequences if such behavior runs rampant on your campus for faculty members, administrators and students from diverse backgrounds. In her research, Hollis found that bullies disproportionately target women, African-Americans and members of the LGBTQA community. And if your college or university is pursuing vigorous diversity and inclusion initiatives, such groups will be greatly affected if a systemic bullying problem exists. The people your institution most wants to attract, retain and develop may have the shortest employment or time on your campus. Those targeted by a bully tend to lose their jobs or quit.

The cost of such staff turnover is high. Some researchers believe workplace bullying costs at a minimum $250 million annually throughout all workplaces. Consider replacing a chief career services administrator. According to data from the College and University Professional Association of Human Resources, the average salary for a person in that position is $74,423, and a conservative estimate is that direct replacement costs will range from 40-60 percent of that salary, or almost $45,000 at the upper end. The total turnover cost, which includes an assortment of benefits, search costs and other impacts to your campus, ranges from 90-200 percent of the employee’s salary. In the worst case, that means it may cost almost $150,000 to replace a single employee.

Can your campus afford to lose $1.5 million because 10 employees voluntarily leave your campus due to avoidable dysfunction? Employee retention especially matters today, given the limited financial resources available on many campuses.

And, in addition to such high turnover costs, your institution may face potential lawsuits, health care costs and productivity declines as a result of bullying behavior. At the very least, in a collaborative work environment, a bully or bullies will impede you from reaching desired outcomes.

Options to Pursue

How can you as an institutional leader help lessen the risk and incidences of bullying -- potentially saving money and building campus morale? Taking action by learning to be a better ally is best for handling and reducing the risk of bullying. Developing people is the business of higher education, and when we work together to reach our goals, we are at our best.

A bully often lacks empathy, so you must teach and require this conduct if you are to make headway against bullying behavior. And you can’t assume that only certain types of people will engage in such behavior -- anyone can be a bully -- which is why you should make “no bullying” a broad mandate.
As you begin forming a no-bullying (and healthy) work environment, ask yourself and colleagues these three simple questions:
  1. Does your supervisor have a positive attitude?
  2. Does the administration respect all employees?
  3. Do your colleagues respect you?
Answering these questions will help you identify the depth and breadth of campus programs needed for faculty members, administrators and students. Sponsoring or championing a course or workshop on ethics and civility in higher education -- open to all students, faculty and staff -- can serve as a signal of community standards of behavior. An active human resources department, which guides people and develops clear policies about bullying, as well as spaces and systems that allow employees to voice discomfort or concerns, is also important.

You must communicate and ensure that bullying behavior won’t be tolerated in any setting at any time. It’s for the greater good to have collaborative work environments where all employees are valued and appreciated.

At the heart of every campus are people who aren’t looking for salvation for one target of bullying but liberation for all of us as we pursue new modes of operation and systems. As campus leaders, our principal strength is that we are not lone agents of good. We can reach out and work with other people to eradicate bullying and create and sustain a community of thinkers, dreamers, learners and innovators. Bullying is everyone’s issue.