February 28, 2007
"I ask anyone who has experienced academic bullying to take a step back, remove oneself emotionally from the situation, and look at the situation as if one were a complete outsider. The truth is that academic bullying can cause death, suicide and other types of violence. I have seen brokenhearted and disappointed scholars die of cancer within ten years of a disappointment. That is why we who have been bullied or mistreated have to see the situation for what it is and not allow ourselves to be manipulated or instigated by it. We have to be clear about the kind of values and lives we want for ourselves, whether or not this will ultimately involve remaining in academia. We have to be clear that the people who mistreat us want us to be ruined and that we have to see them for who they are and build an emotional stone wall between ourselves and them."
Posted by: firstname.lastname@example.org
February 27, 2007
Procedures & Systems – Many employers, even major outfits, fail to have contracts, statements of particulars of employment, handbooks and basic policies so when a problem happens, management find themselves flailing around, wondering what to do. Employment Tribunals will automatically mark down any organisation, which has not demonstrated a willingness to prepare a fair working environment. These documents will help managers to react in an appropriate way, for example, through application of grievance and equal opportunities procedures.
Effective Communication – Tribunal cases normally begin with a simple human omission; a junior manager’s failure to report information to personnel has lead to a sense of frustration either about or from a worker. Staff should be trained on their rights and encouraged to come forward and line managers, in particular, need to look out for problems. Regular, short meetings with line managers should keep you in the loop so that you can act. The worst employment case will involve an employee who suffers in silence. Encourage a culture of openness and confidence that issues will be taken seriously.
Proportionality – most legal rights come down to this: is there a problem? and what is a proportionate way of dealing with it? Or, more simply, ‘serious issues should be treated seriously’. If a worker reports a substantial health problem, then you should spend more time on it. A scribbled occupational health nurse’s note on a worker’s suspected serious disability will not be well received by an Employment Tribunal when an expert report is required. Similarly, if sacking an employee for gross misconduct, a botched disciplinary on 24 hours’ notice is unlikely to impress.
A Paper Trail – many employers keep inadequate records. How can you, for example, prove that Bloggsy was warned about his lateness on “too many occasions to mention?” In a World of email communication and itemised phone bills, an Employment Tribunal is simply not going to believe you unless you have a piece of paper proving your point. For legal purposes, if you can’t prove a fact, you might as well abandon it. Keep relevant emails on the worker’s file.
Consistency - if the entire spectrum of employment law could be reduced to one word, it would be “consistency”. An employer, who treats all staff in the same way and, importantly, explains any differences in treatment such as pay or promotion, could avoid most claims. Discrimination, of all types, and unfairness, both have at their root some failure to deal consistently; either by comparison with other internal situations or by objective standards of fairness. Tribunals will draw adverse inferences where there is no clear reason for inconsistent treatment of a worker.
Escalation - The most common criticisms levelled at employers in the Tribunal are: “where are the warnings?”… and… “How did this employee know there was a problem?” Managers have a tendency to avoid raising issues until it is too late for the employee to change. As one CEO recently put it: “ we only warn people when we are sacking them”. Records of regular and clear commentary, especially if fair (in terms of timing and content) will do wonders for an employer’s case.
Timing - One of the big problems with HR management is that you never quite know what is round the corner. That employee who is repeatedly late might suddenly develop a disability, or the poor performer may announce her pregnancy. If there is no record of the problem before the change in the status quo, a Tribunal is likely to believe the employee’s suggestion that you are victimising her for asserting her rights. When there is a problem, act quickly to prevent being wrong footed by events and let the employee know there is a free-standing issue which needs to be addressed. Employment law should not give staff greater rights simply because they have a problem; you should not have to retain an incompetent employee simply because she is pregnant or disabled although, obviously, care will have to be taken to make sure that no risks to health and safety are caused by being over-zealous when she is medically vulnerable.
Training - A Chairman at an Employment Tribunal will usually ask the employer what steps were taken to train staff on appropriate standards of behaviour. It can often be a complete defence for an employer in a discrimination case to show that it instructed staff on standards of equal opportunities leaving the guilty employee as the person to foot the bill for compensation. Training of staff is, without doubt, the best way to avoid Employment Tribunal claims.
Investigations - When a problem comes to light, it should be investigated and records kept. One of the biggest ‘crimes’ is simply to sweep an issue under the carpet, so, when an employee complains of sexual harassment in the pub after work, a response such as: “sorry, events out of work are not our concern”, is unlikely to work. An investigation might establish that you cannot reach a conclusion due to lack of evidence or that the issue is genuinely a personal matter but failure to do anything could be discrimination on its own account. Employers often make the mistake that events outside of work are always irrelevant; this may not be so, if it is relevant to the workplace. An employee who is abused at the pub is unlikely to be able to work for the perpetrator the next day.
Alarm words - certain words should automatically lead you to act and, at the very least, investigate: harassment, victimisation, bullying, pregnancy, stress and whistle blowing are but a few. As part of the training of managers at all levels, focus should be directed at what these words mean in terms of the law and compensation. Whilst your organisation wrestles with difficult employment law concepts, these simple cultural and practical changes could be all you need to keep out of trouble ... the cost of doing nothing at all will be far greater than giving a little thought to the basics.
From: Employersworld.co.uk, by Gordon Turner
Wise words but the issue remains that there is no monitoring, there is no policing and universities (as well as other employers) would rather wear down the victim in a prolonged and protracted legal case than admit that they did not follow the right procedures - even if this is going to cost lots of tax money. There is also no compulsion on (academic) managers to be informed of the above and apply it.
February 26, 2007
Full report available from: Statistics for equal opportunities in Higher Education, May 2005
We have reasons to believe that little has changed since May 2005. We have recent evidence that researchers from ethnic backgrounds are excluded from research which they instigated and pioneered in the first place. Promotions often bypass ethnic staff. Ethnic staff are perceived as easy targets by administration and management.
February 25, 2007
February 24, 2007
Robert Sutton, a respected 52-year-old Stanford University professor, is a gentleman and a scholar. But that isn't stopping him from making liberal use of an unprintable vulgarity to kick off his new campaign to jerk-proof the American workplace.
Sutton, a management science and engineering professor, says he's not trying to offend anyone with the blunt title of his new book, out this week, "The No -- hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't." But he felt he needed to use an "emotionally authentic" term to spur corporate America to stamp out boorish behavior that decreases productivity, drives away talented workers and destroys morale.
"I am disgusted with the norm in business and sports that if you are a really big winner, you can get away with being a creep," Sutton said. "My dream is that leaders of all organizations will eventually treat acting like an -- hole as a sign of bad performance rather than an excuse for good performance."
For getting away with being profane, Sutton owes a debt of gratitude to retired Princeton University philosophy Professor Harry Frankfurt, who penned a best-selling book in 2005 on the Platonic essence of bull manure. " 'On Bull -- ' opened up the market for books with dirty titles for professors from fancy universities," Sutton said. Even Sutton's six-figure advance was based on the sales of "On Bull -- ."
Sporting a neatly pressed button-down shirt and khakis and a deep scholarly interest in the workings of high-technology, Sutton seems an unlikely gutter fighter for the rights and feelings of working people. But the preponderance of jerks, who use their position in the workplace to demean and sap the energy of others, has always bothered him.
Sutton was familiar with the vast academic research into workplace bullying, but it wasn't until he used a profane word in a much-discussed Harvard Business Review essay that he realized the gut-level resonance it had with people. So he refused to go with a publisher who would insist on cleaning up his language. "This is language that people will remember and spread," he said.
He even made sure the book was thin enough to slide underneath a boss' office door. Sutton fully expected title waves. But even he is a bit surprised at just how much attention he has attracted from all over the globe. The book already has been translated into a dozen languages, and he has given interviews to media organizations in as many countries.
Sutton has received hundreds of e-mails and as many faithful visitors to his blog, all with their own nightmarish tales of suffering at the hands of mean bosses or co-workers. More than 13,000 people have taken his online " -- hole Rating Certified Self Exam" (ARSE for short). He even offers corporations a way to measure the "Total Cost of -- holes," or TCA. About 2,000 promotional " -- hole" erasers from his publisher, Warner Business Books, quickly became hot commodities in his campaign to rub out jerks at work.
That campaign is making him something of a bookish, bespectacled rock star in Silicon Valley, where companies from Google to eBay to Yahoo, trying to create worker-friendly cultures, have invited Sutton to give talks on the subject.
Silicon Valley certainly can lay claim to its share of outrageous accounts of brilliant but brutish technocrats mercilessly torturing their employees. Sutton uses Steve Jobs as the poster boy for a concessionary chapter on "The Virtues of -- holes." But Sutton says there's an unmistakable groundswell of support for his struggle to create a kinder, gentler workplace, particularly at a time when the war for talent is once again in high gear.
" -- hole bosses and cultures drive good people out," Sutton said. "Having Google as the employer of choice for many young folks ... means they have to compete with people who really do try to adhere to the 'don't be evil' culture." Shona Brown, Google's senior vice president of business operations, might be too polite to use Sutton's preferred terminology, but she told Sutton that Google has a zero-jerk policy, he said.
Lars Dalgaard, the 39-year-old CEO of San Mateo-based SuccessFactors and a major player in the rough-elbowed world of business software, identifies himself as a recovering Fortune 500 " -- hole." He realized as a young general manager that " -- holes stifle performance." So he explored more effective and humane ways to deliver results and hit financial targets.
Now he's famous for mandating a strict "no -- hole" rule at his 475-employee company. Job interviews are lengthy and feature probing questions designed to uncover any browbeating tendencies. Last year, he took candidates vying for a chief financial officer vacancy to lunch at a local restaurant to see how they treated the wait staff. Some got a free lunch but nothing more.
A welcome letter for new recruits spells out 15 corporate values, the last of which is: "I will not be an -- hole." "If you don't use coarse language, people become inured to it," Dalgaard said. "No one can hear it anymore. It doesn't even stop in the ear canal."
Dalgaard demands that everyone treat one another with respect. And that means everyone. He encourages his colleagues to knock him down a few pegs if he falls out of line. Whenever he feels the temptation to revert to his old ways, he uses his company's own performance software to refresh himself on how to solve problems without creating bad feelings.
Diego Rodriguez, an associate consulting professor at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford who works at innovation company Ideo in Palo Alto, is another Silicon Valley denizen known for urging organizations to develop a "shock-proof, bullet-resistant -- hole detector." Ideo screens out jerks to maintain its collaborative culture, Rodriguez says.
"We are in the business of helping other companies be innovative and using the process of design as a way to get there," he said. "It's difficult to get things done if people feel they can't trust each other, be open with their ideas, feelings and insights or if someone is treating someone else poorly on a consistent basis. That just shuts the whole process down. With that in mind, we are very careful about filtering people out in the recruiting and hiring process to ensure people don't show up and ruin the experience for everyone else. ... Life's too short to work with jerks. It's one of our cultural pillars."
A half-dozen other entrepreneurs have told Sutton they enforce a "No -- hole" rule when hiring and firing but use more polite terminology, he said.
Sutton defines a jerk as one who oppresses, humiliates, de-energizes or belittles a subordinate or a colleague, causing that person to feel worse about him or herself. Tactics include personal insults, sarcasm, teasing, shaming or treating people as if they were invisible. He distinguishes between "temporary" jerks, those with the potential to act like jerks but who don't do so all the time, and "certified" jerks, who are routinely nasty. The certified jerks are the ones who pose the greatest threat to an organization's culture. Sutton then explores ways to implement a no-jerk rule and how to survive an environment that doesn't have one. He also warns organizations that being a jerk is contagious. Hire one, and you'll soon have plenty polluting the work environment.
Sutton has had his own run-ins with jerks. As a young, inexperienced professor at Stanford, he received poor teaching evaluations from his students. He worked hard to become more effective in the classroom and was delighted when his students voted him the best teacher in his department at the end of his third year. His delight was short-lived. A colleague approached him, hugged him and whispered in his ear: "Now that you have satisfied the babies here on campus, perhaps you can settle down and do some real work."
"It's a painful memory," he said, recalling his entrepreneur father's sage advice to avoid jerks in business at all costs.
Sutton says the hardest thing for many people to acknowledge is that they themselves can be jerks. He readily admits he, too, can be a jerk. (If he didn't, his wife, a prominent Silicon Valley corporate lawyer, would remind him). But writing the book has helped him become less of one. "I view this as a problem that we all struggle with," he said.
From: San Francisco Chronicle
February 23, 2007
'...A wide variety of circumstances was reported in organisations. No one suggested that bullying and harassment could be eradicated. Through embedding a set of clear values within the culture of the organisation that were fairly enforced, with the organisation owning the problem rather than seeing it as primarily that of individual conflict, it could be minimised however. Organisations which were effective in tackling the issue had clear differences in values and action compared to unsuccessful organisations. Some organisations failed to acknowledge the problem at all, although our sampling meant that these were in the minority... A key finding for future project work has been the issue of engagement by employees at all levels of the organisation for change to be effective and ‘owned’. Thus superficial attempts which do not reach the endemic values and culture of the organisation are unlikely to succeed...
Threat to reputation
In general we found these were of either high concern or of very little concern to employers. Third sector organisations which gain most of their funding from trusts, government or charities treated reputation as a key issue. A single press report of bullying or harassment was seen as very damaging (potentially terminal) for a small voluntary sector organisation. An example of this involves an organisation which relied on charities for medically-related funding. Our participant explained how all IIP and other ‘box ticking’ exercises were completed with employees being told that failure to maintain a completely ‘clean’ image would erode their competitive position in obtaining funds. This HR specialist suggested that several employees left the organisation when harassed or bullied as they would never make a serious complaint for fear of endangering funding and their colleagues’ jobs...
The leadership role in assisting definition
It was agreed that management and senior management lead by defining acceptable behaviour through their own actions and their reactions to the behaviour of others. That their behaviour was watched and followed by others throughout the organisation was stated in almost every forum of the research and is a message that participants suggested needed reinforcement. The commitment of top management by ‘walking the talk’ was agreed on by all in the research. It was not seen as a ‘desirable’, but rather as an ‘essential’. Almost everyone participating in the research cited examples of very poor behaviour at top level with senior managers bullying and harassing, contradicting any definition which might be in a policy.
In addition, senior management seen avoiding, proactively covering up or excusing bullying and harassment was seen as negatively as if senior managers had themselves been bullying or harassing. Such actions were judged as collusion by all participants, and created an unsafe atmosphere which was reflected in the comment ‘If you sit on the bullying fence, you get splinters’. While everyone is responsible for their own behaviour, cues from senior management act in two ways: they make such behaviour appear acceptable and they suggest that anyone acting against such behaviour will be unsupported...'
February 22, 2007
The purpose of this online forum is to provide practical and emotional support to all targets of workplace bullying in Higher Education, and to share our experiences and advice for the benefit of all.
Membership is open to all but ideally we are inviting academics, teachers, educators, and researchers to join this group. This Yahoo group is new, and as such it may take time to evolve into something more significant and/or dynamic. We believe there is a need for a dedicated forum so that the experiences of academics, teachers, researchers etc, are shared, and hopefully are combined towards productive actions and campaigns. Please join us.
Details on how to join this online group are available at:
February 20, 2007
The researchers' paper, appearing in the current issue of Research in Organizational Behavior, examines how, when and why the behaviors of one negative member can have powerful and often detrimental influence on teams and groups.
William Felps, a doctoral student at the UW Business School and the study's lead author, was inspired to investigate how workplace conflict and citizenship can be affected by one's co-workers after his wife experienced the "bad apple" phenomenon.
Felps' wife was unhappy at work and characterized the environment as cold and unfriendly. Then, she said, a funny thing happened. One of her co-workers who was particularly caustic and was always making fun of other people at the office came down with an illness that caused him to be away for several days.
"And when he was gone, my wife said that the atmosphere of the office changed dramatically," Felps said. "People started helping each other, playing classical music on their radios, and going out for drinks after work. But when he returned to the office, things returned to the unpleasant way they were. She hadn't noticed this employee as being a very important person in the office before he came down with this illness but, upon observing the social atmosphere when he was gone, she came to believe that he had a profound and negative impact. He truly was the "bad apple" that spoiled the barrel."
Following his wife's experience, Felps, together with Terence Mitchell, a professor of management and organization in the Business School and UW psychology professor, analyzed about two dozen published studies that focused on how teams and groups of employees interact, and specifically how having bad teammates can destroy a good team.
Felps and Mitchell define negative people as those who don't do their fair share of the work, who are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or attack others. They found that a single "toxic" or negative team member can be the catalyst for downward spirals in organizations. In a follow-up study, the researchers found the vast majority of the people they surveyed could identify at least one "bad apple" that had produced organizational dysfunction.
They reviewed a variety of working environments in which tasks and assignments were performed by small groups of employees whose jobs were interdependent or required a great deal of interaction with one another. They specifically studied smaller groups because those typically require more interaction among members and generally are less tolerant of negative behaviors. Members of smaller groups also are more likely to respond to or speak out about a group member's negative behavior. The two looked at how groups of roughly five to 15 employees in sectors such as manufacturing, fast food, and university settings were affected by the presence of one negative member.
For example, in one study of about 50 manufacturing teams, they found that teams that had a member who was disagreeable or irresponsible were much more likely to have conflict, have poor communication within the team and refuse to cooperate with one another. Consequently, the teams performed poorly.
"Most organizations do not have very effective ways to handle the problem," said Mitchell. "This is especially true when the problem employee has longevity, experience or power. Companies need to move quickly to deal with such problems because the negativity of just one individual is pervasive and destructive and can spread quickly."
According to Felps, group members will react to a negative member in one of three ways: motivational intervention, rejection or defensiveness. In the first scenario, members will express their concerns and ask the individual to change his behavior and, if unsuccessful, the negative member can be removed or rejected. If either the motivation intervention or rejection is successful, the negative member never becomes a "bad apple" and the "barrel" of employees is spared. These two options, however, require that the teammates have some power: when underpowered, teammates become frustrated, distracted and defensive.
Common defensive mechanisms employees use to cope with a "bad apple" include denial, social withdrawal, anger, anxiety and fear. Trust in the team deteriorates and as the group loses its positive culture, members physically and psychologically disengage themselves from the team. Felps and Mitchell also found that negative behavior outweighs positive behavior -- that is, a "bad apple" can spoil the barrel but one or two good workers can't unspoil it.
"People do not expect negative events and behaviors, so when we see them we pay attention to them, ruminate over them and generally attempt to marshal all our resources to cope with the negativity in some way," Mitchell said. "Good behavior is not put into the spotlight as much as negative behavior is."
The authors caution there's a difference between "bad apples" and employees who think outside the box and challenge the status quo. Since these "positive deviants" rock the boat, they may not always be appreciated. And, as Felps and Mitchell argue, unlike "bad apples," "positive deviants" actually help spark organizational innovation.
So, how can companies avoid experiencing the "bad apple" phenomenon? "Managers at companies, particularly those in which employees often work in teams, should take special care when hiring new employees," Felps said. "This would include checking references and administering personality tests so that those who are really low on agreeableness, emotional stability or conscientiousness are screened out."
But, he added, if one slips through the selection screening, companies should place them in a position in which they work alone as much as possible. Or alternatively, there may be no choice but to let these individuals go.
Now there is a thought: '...checking references and administering personality tests so that those who are really low on agreeableness, emotional stability or conscientiousness are screened out...'
What happenes when the university responsible for employing a rotten apple did not check references? The victim is blamed, the management takes no responsibility, the rotten apple is promoted.
February 19, 2007
The 45-year-old was taken to East Surrey Hospital after police found her body but died on the way, the hearing was told. West Sussex coroner Roger Stone heard that Miss Winstanley had spoken of her worries about her new role at Kingston University.
The inquest heard how Miss Winstanley was a professor in the School of Human Resource Management, but was struggling with the new role. Reading from the evidence, court clerk Jos Atkin said: "She found it difficult to cope in the role, especially with the technology."
Mr Stone said: "Sadly, given the circumstances and the notes left by the deceased, I have no doubt that she took her own life. I pass on my condolences to the family."
Speaking after the verdict, Professor Christine Edwards, Miss Winstanley's colleague at Kingston University and friend of more than 25 years, paid tribute to the distinguished academic. She said: "It was such a tragedy. Diana was both an excellent academic and a warm and outgoing person who cared very much about other people. "She accomplished so much in the 18 months to two years she was here and I have been trying to pick up the pieces."
I wonder how many silent witnesses there were in that university?
Suicide don under 'huge stress' in job - 15 September 2006
Universities urged to review plans to outsource support services as inquest hears of work pressures leading up to academic's death. Tony Tysome reports. Universities were urged to bolster staff support services this week after an inquest was told that an academic committed suicide after becoming unable to cope with the pressures of her job.
Kingston University is to conduct a review of its occupational health service for staff after an inquest heard how Diana Winstanley, a professor in the university's School of Human Resource management, hanged herself in her home in July shortly after complaining to her ex-husband about heavy workloads.
The university had received no indication that Professor Winstanley, who was an expert in work-related stress, was suffering as a result of her workload. The tragic news comes as many universities are considering outsourcing confidential staff counselling services, which are seen as a vital lifeline for a growing number of academics suffering acute levels of stress.
David Berger, who chairs the Association for University and College Counselling and is head of counselling at Hull University where the service for staff is about to be outsourced, warned that outsourcing could in effect leave some staff with no support or outlet for their anxieties.
He said: "Although some staff may quite like it, others will find it virtually impossible to find the time to go to offices outside the university within normal working hours." Mr Berger said there was anecdotal evidence that both work-related stress and mental ill-health were on the rise among academic staff. The AUCC is taking steps to plot the trend.
Sally Hunt, joint general secretary of the University and College Union, commented: "Our stress survey indicated borderline levels of psychological distress among staff. Employers must take action to reduce workloads and tackle the causes of occupational stress in the sector."
David Miles, Kingston's pro vice-chancellor for external affairs, told The Times Higher that the institution was preparing to review its staff support systems in the light of the tragedy. Professor Miles said that higher education was "an area where people are expected to deliver high standards under pressured circumstances, and this is becoming increasingly so".
"There is a sense of profound shock here over Di's death. In the preceding weeks, to most people who met her she seemed to be her usual positive self," he said. "There was no indication she was suffering a level of stress that might have contributed to her death."
Professor Miles said that the university offered confidential counselling to its staff through its occupational health service and that it had recently revised its stress management policy.
Evidence submitted to the recent inquest, held at West Sussex Coroner's Court, suggested that Professor Winstanley was struggling in her job, which involved some overseas travel and grappling with challenges involving computer technology. Professor Winstanley's former husband, Nicholas Jarrett, told the inquest that work had been the main cause of his ex-wife's anxiety shortly before her death.
Speaking to The Times Higher later, he said: "I have no doubt at all from the things that she said to me that she was under huge stress at work, and that she was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the demands that were placed on her. "I believe from what she said that she had inadequate administrative and technical support."
Christine Edwards, a colleague at Kingston and a long-standing friend of Professor Winstanley, said: "No one would have been more aware of the support available at the university than Diana. "As far as we are aware, she had not set in motion any of the procedures within the university's human resources policies or accessed any of the support services open to her."
Times Higher Education Supplement
So since she had not accessed any of the support services available to her, and since the university offers confidential counselling to its staff, well... Kingston University did all it could really. Really? It should have never got to that point in the first place. Support and counselling are often there so universities can wash their dirty hands from any claims of negligence. Proximity to counselling does not entail in itself a possible happy resolution.
February 17, 2007
February 15, 2007
Dear Peter, dear Roger and dear Sally,
We would like to bring to your attention the tragic issue of entrenched workplace bullying in higher education, and we would like to have your comments, suggestions and proposed strategies to deal with this. We are making some suggestions and comments below but ultimately we want to hear your opinions on the matter.
Right now most - if not all - HEIs have in place and are required to have in place anti-bullying policies. These exist on paper, but - as evidenced in numerous cases (Sheffield Hallam University, Leeds Metropolitan, Birmingham's School of Health Sciences), plus our own UCU survey, the problems persist. Quote from recent UCU survey:
'...An astonishing 82% said their institution had a management culture which 'actively contributed to stress' (87% in colleges, 80% in universities). 27% thought their management 'acknowledged the causes of stress' but only 15% thought their management 'sought to address the causes...'
Some rough figures: It is estimated that 14-16% of the British workforce experiences workplace bullying. In a union with a membership of over 100.000, this translates to over 14.000 members.
It appears that there are few, if any, 'formal' evaluations of bullying intervention programmes. For example, the recent HSE Research Report 024 reviewing supporting knowledge for stress management standards (Rick et al, 2002) found no studies examining evidence on interventions to reduce the bullying/harassment stressor.
In our opinion, it is far more productive for our union to intervene before disciplinary decisions are imposed on academics and other staff, before bullied staff loose their jobs under tragic circumstances. It is far more productive for a truly independent body, external body to assess if the university (employer) has indeed followed the right procedures before reaching a decision. This needs to happen before a decision is imposed and not after. The problem with formal grievance/discipline procedures, from the point of view of statistical monitoring, is that they come at the end of a long chain of actions and decisions and are therefore rare.
Usually, any mediation offered by the employer can be used / is used as another forum for power games where the target (victim) experiences the ultimate bullying and usually leaves with an exit package, a confidentiality clause and wrecked health.
The 2005 Survey of HR Professionals: Which of the following factors impair your organisation's ability to deal effectively with bullying?
Unwillingness to acknowledge a problem by management - 74.4%
Prevailing management style - 70.4%
Lack of training in how to deal with bullying - 45.4%
Lack of cooperation from management - 44.4%
Inadequate procedures - 30.2%
In random order, some of the challenges we face, are:
• Failure of some employers/managers to fully implement ACAS guidelines, and in particular the right to call upon witnesses, to have representation, to have access to accurate records of all hearings. Yes, the Employment Tribunals can decide on this but does it have to always go that far? Are there no other options?
• Failure of some employers to have appropriate internal procedures, embedded with principles of natural justice. How many universities have a record of resolving employment disputes through negotiations and a truck record to prove so?
• Colleagues who are afraid to speak up for fear that they may suffer various forms of penalties. So the victim is often left without wtinesses. Which colleague will openly support the victim of bullying and become a witness against senior managers?
• HR and personnel departments caught in the dilemma between their professional training and professionalism, versus possible management 'pressures' to go along with the prevailing and obviously wrong groupthink.
• A noted lack of expert union reps in workplace bullying backed up by union active policy, strategy, negotiation, and legal action. There is a web page online from a network support group, and a legal/counseling help line that union members can phone, but the issue seems to be the lack of satisfactory results in some well document cases. The available help from the network support group, seems to come too late in the process.
• Funding and quality control bodies should somehow engage in the process of contributing to the implementation and appropriate application of internal grievance and disciplinary procedures. They should/can consider what is happening with workplace bullying, for this has effects on how the general workplace functions or dysfunctions. Yes, we know universities are independent bodies. True, but this is where the collective energies of multiple partners at all levels have to come into this, and the union is only one of them. In fact, the union could lead such a campaign and perhaps attempt to unite all the players in some kind of common cause.
Yes, we do have a new booklet that is well written, BUT the issue remains 'policing' and monitoring and from what we know, universities are not always good at policing their own. An independent party is indeed needed, an external party, even an ombudsman, something, anything… for there are far too many instances when universities when left on their own have not always done the right thing… (ACAS, internal procedures, discrimination, victimisation, racism etc)
TUC, Andrea Adams Trust, and other organisations are working/have worked on a number of projects – policing remains the issue, the gap, the weakness. We feel that our union could be more proactive on this issue and at least advocate for this. This is perhaps one of the central challenges. Does 'independence' mean lack of accountability and transparency on issues of workplace bullying?
The reply from HEFCE is/was that universities are accountable to their own governing bodies. Well, one wonders how cozy these relationships may become after some time. There is a voluntary code of practice for governors, but how many of us know about it or have read it? How many governors have been challenged successfully?
So, who has responsibility for this mess? So far, we have failed to pinpoint a single agent for change. That would be too easy. A collective and coordinated effort of multiple players is needed. We have a long way to go. We would like to know if our union will play a leading role in this or will remain a passive observer offering well-written booklets and support after the events.
It would be good to hear/read from all of you your thoughts and your suggestions on how to tackle workplace bullying in academia.
Peter Kropotkin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
PS: We have been suspended on full pay for over one year now. Our employer is hoping that we will not exhaust all internal procedures and as our health deteriorates we may decide to resign. In the meanwhile our employer has intimidated our witnesses, has refused to hand over important documents for our defense, has set up a 'micky mouse' court that has found us guilty in a grievance hearing that can be compared to stalinist courts, and has recently made us an offer for - yes do not laugh - £20000 with a confidentiality clause attached to it.
We are fully aware that our case is not unique. Workplace bullying in academia has been researched. For example, Professor of Sociology, Kenneth Westhues has come up with the following formula:
1. By standard criteria of job performance, the target is at least average, probably above average.
2. Rumours and gossip circulate about the target's misdeeds: "Did you hear what she did last week?"
3. The target is not invited to meetings or voted onto committees, is excluded or excludes self.
4. Collective focus on a critical incident that "shows what kind of man [woman] he [she] really is."
5. Shared conviction that the target needs some kind of formal punishment, "to be taught a lesson."
6. Unusual timing of the decision to punish, e. g., apart from the annual performance review.
7. Emotion-laden, defamatory rhetoric about the target in oral and written communications.
8. Formal expressions of collective negative sentiment toward the target, e. g. a vote of censure, signatures on a petition, meeting to discuss what to do about the target.
9. High value on secrecy, confidentiality, and collegial solidarity among the mobbers.
10. Loss of diversity of argument, so that it becomes dangerous to "speak up for"or defend the target.
11. The adding up of the target's real or imagined venial sins to make a mortal sin that cries for action.
12. The target is seen as personally abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities; stigmatizing, exclusionary labels are applied.
13. Disregard of established procedures, as mobbers take matters into their own hands.
14. Resistance to independent, outside review of sanctions imposed on the target.
15. Outraged response to any appeals for outside help the target may make.
16. Mobbers' fear of violence from target, target's fear of violence from mobbers, or both.
February 14, 2007
Sally Hunt or Roger Kline - Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee [and yes, there is a third candidate - Peter Jones]
It is almost certain that Sally Hunt will win the election for General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU). She will have done so without mentioning at all the 'B' word (Bullying).
The vote of course is not compulsory and chances are that since none of the two candidates (Sally Hunt, Roger Kline) have 'excited' us with their promises, the turn out (return of ballots from the membership) is likely to be low. An early indication of this is the following:
'...it is a shame only 12 of the 600 UCU members at Westminster have turned out to hear them. But professional troupers perform however small the house. And Kline and Hunt are used to it: attendance at hustings everywhere has been worryingly low, though 50 turned up at Sheffield...' The Guardian
As members of the union (UCU), we have a number of options:
1. Vote for Sally Hunt.
2. Vote for Roger Kline.
3. Don't vote at all - as some argue, if we vote we are only encouraging them - or
4. Write on the ballot paper 'WHAT ABOUT WORKPLACE BULLYING IN ACADEMIA' - which of course will make the vote invalid.
Since it is a foregone conclusion that Sally Hunt will win the election, our position is to vote for none of them and to 'spoil' the ballot paper by writing your own statement on the ballot paper against workplace bullying in academia. This may not change the course of history, but it may - it just may - get the scrutineers on both camps to think - we hope - about the issue for twenty seconds. Of course the more spoiled ballots they count, the better.
Ballot papers have to be returned by March 7, and the result is out on March 9. No newspaper, no union official, no representative of Sally or Roger will ever acknowledge such spoiled ballots, but a statement has to be made. In effect, both candidates are fighting a turf war with plenty of uninspiring rhetoric for us the docile voters.
If you are concerned about workplace bullying in academia, then make a statement. Don't abstain. Don't vote for either one of the candidates, it only encourages them. Vote against workplace bullying in academia. Use your ballot to make a principled statement - this is our position.
We have received a number of posts, comments, emails reminding us that there are in fact three candidates for the position of general secretary of UCU:
Onlookers, witnesses, eyewitnesses, spectators, turncoats, reprisals. Why junior staff are afraid to speak out against senior staff.
In most bullying situations, the target of bullying finds themself isolated and alone. Work colleagues, who may formerly have been friendly and supportive, melt away and the target is left feeling like a pariah and an outcast.
There are many reasons why colleagues at work fail to come to the aid of a fellow worker being bullied. These include:
- the bully has gone round the department and warned everybody off, often using implied threats of reorganisation (redundancy), restructuring (redundancy) or even disciplinary action against anyone who helps the target
- the bully creates a climate of fear where everybody is afraid to speak out or take action
- fear of reprisal
- very few people, when put to the test, have the integrity and moral courage to stand up against bullying, harassment, corruption etc; the target is selected often because they do have this moral courage; most people will pass by on the other side, only targets have the integrity to be a good Samaritan
- in the presence of an aggressor, particularly a devious, manipulative, charming one, many people prefer to act more like sheep than humans
- many bystanders are only mediocre at their jobs and their sense of vulnerability through fear of being targeted is thus greater
- understanding of bullying is low and many people still hold outdated views such as "why don't you stand up for yourself?" [answer - because the moment you assert your right not to be bullied the bully moves into phase two of the bullying process which is elimination - click here for more] and "if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen"
- work colleagues often have no understanding or experience of bullying, manipulation, psychological violence, etc
- some bystanders are able to employ the "I didn't know what to do" excuse to abdicate and deny their responsibility; bystanders who use this excuse make no effort to find out
- you'll be surprised to realise how many work colleagues have brown noses which you hadn't noticed before or which you'd put down to sunburn
- some of your workmates will turn out to be turncoats
- denial is everywhere
- in environments where the bullying is entrenched, it's regarded as "normal" behaviour
- work mates think that if they keep their heads down, their mouths shut and pretend nothing is happening then it won't happen to them [wrong - their turn will come eventually]
- work colleagues have their own share of problems and they're not going to risk losing their job for someone else
- your workmates are not people you have chosen to be with and they may not be friends - they just happen to be there
- work is an institution, not a family or community; your co-workers have no legal obligation towards you
- bullying goes on over a long period of time, the target eventually becomes obsessive about the bullying, work colleagues start to experience compassion fatigue and turn off; if the bullying continues, colleagues may become aggressive and actively join in with the mobbing, victimising and scapegoating as the pack mentality takes over
- unlike assault and harassment, bullying is subtle and comprises hundreds, perhaps thousands, of incidents which out of context and in isolation are trivial - thus bystanders can't see the full picture
- bullies exert power and control by a combination of selectively withholding information and spreading disinformation, therefore everyone has a distorted picture - of only what the bully wants them to see
- bullying often goes on behind closed doors so no-one sees it or recognises it
- bullying may be carried out in front of people who are unable to recognise the tactics of bullying, especially the use of guilt and sarcasm
- the bully goes to great lengths to undermine their target and portray them as a poor performer - work colleagues are encouraged to regard the target as a threat to the organisation
- the bully is a smooth, slimy, sycophantic individual who excels at deception using a combination of compulsive lying, Jekyll and Hyde nature, manipulation, mimicry of normal behaviour, self-assuredness and charm
- bullies, especially female bullies, are masters of manipulation, and are fond of manipulating people through their emotions (eg guilt); bullies see any form of vulnerability (eg the need to pay the mortgage) as an opportunity for manipulation and exploitation
- your colleagues at work have vulnerabilities too
- bullies are adept at manipulating peoples' perceptions with intent to engender a negative view of the target in the minds of work colleagues, management and personnel - this is achieved through undermining, including the creation of doubts and suspicions and the sharing of false concerns
- bullies poison the atmosphere and actively poison people's minds against the target
- when close to being outwitted and exposed, the bully feigns victimhood and turns the focus on themselves - another example of manipulating people through their emotion of guilt, eg sympathy, feeling sorry
- most bystanders are hoodwinked by the bully's ruses for abdicating responsibility and evading accountability, eg "that's all in the past, let's focus on the future", "what's in the past is no longer relevant", "you need to make a fresh start", and "forgive and forget, you've got to move on", etc.
- the bully encourages and manipulates bystanders to lie, act dishonourably and dishonestly, withhold information and spread misinformation
- the bully manipulates bystanders to punish the target for alleged infractions, ie the bystanders become instruments of harassment
- the bully is often able to bewitch one especially emotionally needy bystander into being their easily controlled spokesperson / advocate / supporter / denier
- the bully often forms an alliance with a colleague who has the same behaviour profile, thus increasing the levels of threat, fear and dysfunction
- the bully is able to charm and manipulate a number of bystanders to act as supporters, assistants, reinforcers, appeasers, deniers, apologists and minimisers
- in an environment where aggression is dominant, good people become disempowered and disenfranchised
- many people do not have the emotional intelligence or behavioural maturity to understand bullying, let alone deal with it
- when there's conflict in the air, most people want to be on the winning side, or the side they think will survive
- some people gain gratification (a perverse feeling of satisfaction) from seeing others in distress and thus become complicit in the bullying
- a few sad people think that bullying is funny
- some observers regard behavioural responses that are reasonable and civilised as a sign of weakness rather than maturity
- many people lack critical thinking skills and analytical abilities and thus cannot see through the facade or the bully's mask of deceit
- apathy is rampant
- many employers are interested only in creating a workforce of corporate clones and drones so this is what employees are programmed to be
- the bully grooms bystanders, and the target, to believe the target deserves the treatment they are receiving
- when the target of bullying is off sick, the bully labels them as having a "mental health problem" and forbids staff to contact the person
- the bystanders see only the Dr Jekyll side of the bully, but only the target sees the Mr/Ms Hyde side; Dr Jekyll is sweet and charming, Mr/Ms Hyde is evil; Mr/Ms Hyde is the real person, Dr Jekyll is an act
- many workplaces undergo reorganisation every six months (or more) therefore there's never sufficient time for employees to gain an accurate picture of the bully.
February 13, 2007
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Pastor Niemoeller (victim of the Nazis)
February 12, 2007
Staff also raised serious concerns about pressure at work, the report finding that 'urgent action' was required in 10 areas of work relating to stress. 'Clear improvement' was needed in 22 other areas, while in no category was the University rated as doing 'very well', according to scales devised by the Government's Health and Safety Executive.
The survey, carried out for the University's internal health and safety service, received 844 responses. A similar report prepared last year found staff rated the quality of the university management as 'very unsatisfactory' in many respects.
Lecturers' union the UCU said the findings on stress and bullying were 'disturbing' but pointed out such problems were common throughout higher education. And spokesman Roger Kline praised Hallam for seeking to understand the issues involved. [Roger Boy why did you not kiss their feet?]
"This report makes disturbing reading - it shows the pressures that university staff are under and the levels of stress," he said. "But this is not unique to Sheffield Hallam. I am quite certain that were surveys to be done in most institutions they would show similar or even worse responses." [So when will we have surveys in all other universities Roger Boy?]
In all 96 staff members said they had been bullied at work. University Vice-Chancellor Diana Green said the University cared about the welfare of its workforce and it was important that the wellbeing of staff was regularly monitored.
"We do this in a variety of ways, one of which is the staff stress survey. The survey allows us to take action to alleviate stress where there are concerns and I, and the Board of Governors, have publicly committed to improving the University's performance in this area." [I will vomit later...]
From: The Star, 9 February 2007
There is a great deal about academic life here that we appreciate and consider worth emulating abroad. But we are baffled by the level of monitoring, reporting, evaluating and bureaucratic hassling to which academics in this country are subjected. Our response is to ask: why doesn't Britain let its academics do what they do best, teach and carry out research, without government and university administrators breathing down their necks?
Many British academics groan under the weight of administrative tasks, and they appear to think that this worsening trend is an American one - and American universities are widely held up as a model. US universities have indeed experienced an increase in paperwork in recent decades. But they can't compare with their UK counterparts in terms of sheer zeal for reporting and monitoring.
The problem is that bureaucrats prefer to introduce monitoring and reporting in order to forestall problems that they expect, rather than dealing with the tiny number of such problems that might actually appear. This is evident in the constant reporting on all sorts of things. Instead of the central administration reacting to problems that come to their attention, they expect departments to spell out their activities in mind-numbingly detailed reports - hardly any of which result in any action.
But there is also, more worryingly, a systemic distrust of academics. If lecturers who have been trained for many years can be trusted to teach their courses, why can they not be trusted to assess students' performance without a host of colleagues looking over their shoulder every step of the way? In the US and most other countries it seems to work just fine without these excessive layers of control. While it should be compulsory for lecturers in their first post to be adequately trained and mentored, it seems laughable, if not demeaning, to double- and triple-check every mark on every essay and exam on every course of every lecturer or professor right up to retirement. By stark contrast, even GPs, themselves familiar with appraisals and audits, normally seek a second opinion only when referring a patient to a specialist; otherwise they treat the patient, often with a serious condition or illness, alone.
In the US, panels appointed to interview new colleagues typically consist of three or four staff members from the hiring department. They are, after all, the experts and can certainly be trusted to make the best appointment. In Britain, such panels usually include a vice-chancellor, a dean, a head of another department and often a senior member of the personnel department. Potentially, then, an appointment could be made by a panel whose majority is not from the field for which a candidate is chosen. The present unwieldy system reinforces the notion of academics as unruly youngsters whose every step must be watched and controlled.
The business world seems to be the model for much of what goes on in academia these days, but when we describe this system to business people they inevitably say that no business could survive with this level of monitoring and waste of resources. Academic staff have less and less time for students and research, as polls have shown. If American universities are indeed as superior as some think, it is not only a matter of better funding. In our experience, American lecturers have considerably more time for their students and for research.
British academics seem to be stressed out like no others, and that is bound to diminish their effectiveness and reduce their levels of research output. While they continue to produce excellent research and are outstanding teachers, despite their administrative overloads, they could do even better - and suffer much less stress in the process - if their talents were directed toward these areas instead of into mounds of useless paperwork. We hear that Britain is seeking to attract foreign academics - but this crushing load of administration is not the way to do it. British universities cannot afford to be complacent if they wish to compete in a global academic marketplace.
A national commission is needed to investigate procedures at UK institutions of higher education with a view to reducing monitoring, reporting, assessment, paperwork - and anything else that really doesn't play a useful role in what universities are, or should be, all about: first-class teaching and world-class research.
Professors Susanne Kord and W Daniel Wilson are department heads at University College London and Royal Holloway, University of London. This article was written with the collaboration of Professor Leonard Olschner, of Queen Mary, University of London, and Robert Weninger of King's College London. All worked previously at American universities.
From: The Guardian, Wednesday December 27, 2006
Smash bureaucracy... undermine it... treat it as a tick box exercise... don't let it control you. It is a powerful means of keeping us down, of making us slaves to the system.
But the university hit back this week, claiming it had already supported bullying victims and acted to dismiss staff who had "behaved badly". It accused the union of acting "irresponsibly" by resurrecting old complaints and failing to co-operate with the university over the latest allegations.
A support group of allegedly bullied staff has been formed to share experiences after a story in The Times Higher last year about claims by former art lecturer Julia Odell that she had been bullied and harassed at Leeds Metropolitan Harrogate College. Ms Odell resigned her post at the end of last year and signed a deal with the university to settle her allegations of constructive dismissal. The university did not admit any liability and the terms of the deal are confidential. [The normal process - the victim is invited to sign a confientiality clause and the bullies get away with it.]
Since then, dozens of staff have come forward to tell UCU leaders in private that they too had been bullied, the UCU said this week. Many claimed that managers brushed aside their complaints, and that bullying intensified after they reported their problems. [Surprise, suprise... Don't worry, HEFCE has a working group to encourage mediation!]
A letter from UCU regional official Adrian Jones, seen by The Times Higher, calls on LMU vice-chancellor Simon Lee to commission an external independent inquiry into the complaints and allegations.
The letter, dated January 4, also sent to Education Secretary Alan Johnson and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, warns that "evidence is surfacing, rapidly, of a culture of bullying" at the university. It adds: "In some areas it appears to be so entrenched that it might legitimately be described as institutionalised."
Mr Jones says in the letter that the UCU has received "a great many" approaches from staff who claim to have been bullied at the university. He adds: "A number of those now contacting UCU are still employed but say they are afraid to complain within the university's procedures as, they assert, where this was done by others known to them their concerns were not taken seriously, but instead the bullying intensified once they had complained." [Is the union surprised about this?]
The UCU is conducting a survey of LMU staff to gather further evidence of bullying at the university. [Why can't the UCU do the same with all universities?]
In a letter sent to all UCU members at Leeds Metropolitan, Adrian Jones says the union has noted that the university is currently introducing an occupational stress management policy. But he adds that UCU still feels it is necessary to conduct a staff survey on bullying to get "a better sense of the scale of these problems". The union is expecting to compile the results of the survey by early March. Mr Jones declined to comment on his letter, other than to say that Professor Lee had so far failed to respond to it.
Roger Kline, UCU's head of equality and employment rights, said the union was "determined to make LMU a bullying-free zone". He added: "Bullying is an offence to human dignity, academic freedom and collegial working, and damages staff health." [Nice rhetoric. He is waking up... a bit slow off the mark but he is getting there.]
An LMU spokesperson said: "The university did receive a letter from a regional official at the UCU. It referred to an individual case from a previous year of a former part-time member of staff in Harrogate that had already been resolved and governed by a legal agreement between the parties. [Yes, confidentiality clauses are powerful means to shut up the victims.]
"The university is therefore not in a position to discuss this further. The letter also made a number of general and unspecified allegations of bullying. No details were given about the alleged incidents. Notwithstanding this, the university was concerned to find out further details about the incidents so that we could investigate further. We rang the UCU, but they refused to take or return our calls. [Wow, just imagine... the management phoned UCU and UCU refused to take or return our calls...]
"Where specific allegations of bullying have been raised, the university has investigated and dealt with such incidents swiftly, supported those who had raised concerns and dismissed those who had behaved badly, despite union support for the perpetrators and union objection to the university's approach. We believe the UCU has acted irresponsibly in this matter. It refused to speak to us about these matters. If and when the details are provided we will act swiftly, as we have always done. Similarly, the attempt to rekindle interest in a three-year-old story about some staff reactions to the previous management in Harrogate is unworthy of further comment."
The Higher Education Funding Council for England has handed a £125,000 grant to a team of academics to raise the awareness of the use of mediation and other ways of avoiding costly and often drawn-out legal disputes within the higher education sector.
According to the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, which is a partner in the project, universities spend an average of £100,000 a year on legal fees, most of which goes on defending legal claims against students and staff. Settlement costs can reach six-figure sums.
Mediation is a way of avoiding big legal costs, and advocates say it can also save years of stress and wasted management time. Unlike arbitration, a mediator does not have the authority to arrive at a decision. Instead, the mediator's job is to find a solution that both parties can agree on.
Joan Whieldon of Wolverhampton University's School of Legal Studies is one of the team who will work on the two-year project, which is called Transforming Policy and Practice in Dispute Resolution in HEIs and is funded by Hefce's leadership, governance and management fund.
She said the project aimed to encourage higher education institutions to overhaul their procedures to ensure that disputes were resolved fairly and speedily. [Ha, ha... the emphasis is on 'encourage', not force, not monitor, not oblige, just 'encourage'...] The team will also examine mediation training provision and design training for mediators.
Ms Whieldon said: "In many cases, it will require a huge culture change to existing conflict and dispute procedures, which are generally processed through some form of informal/formal grievance or student complaints procedures. "The intention is to take the adversarial 'win/lose' and 'us and them' approach away from the dispute while resolving the problem to the satisfaction of all parties." She said that if a mediation scheme resolved just two or three disputes that might have evolved into litigated cases, it would save the entire cost of the grant provided for the project as a whole.
Mediation is more commonly used by higher education institutions in the US. Doug Yarn, professor of law at Georgia State University, will offer a US perspective on the project. He said: "As in all organisations, conflict in institutions of higher education is inevitable. The challenge is to resolve it in a way that is the least costly, not merely in economic terms but also with respect to emotional and health costs, the cost to human relationships and the cost of recurring conflicts.
"In contrast to adjudication and dictation, mediation works through consensus. In the 35 colleges and universities that comprise the University System of Georgia, we have been using it effectively to reduce the costs of conflict in disputes ranging from roommate spats to employment discrimination to revolts by faculty against department heads and college presidents. We have prevented costly lawsuits and improved internal relationships and modes of decision-making."
But he added that although mediation gets most of the attention, it is just one of many alternative resolution processes Georgia uses to resolve conflict. Administrators, faculty, staff and students are also taught a variety of constructive problem-solving skills to help them to resolve disputes without resort to third parties.
A spokesman for HEFCE said: "Litigation is time-consuming and often stressful and expensive for all parties involved. Alternative approaches such as mediation are used relatively little in higher education at the moment and can offer opportunities to resolve conflicts promptly and in a non-adversarial manner."
WE FOUND A CREATIVE SOLUTION THAT MET EVERYONE'S NEEDS
Soran Reader, a lecturer in philosophy at Durham University "I was in dispute with Durham that was solved by mediation. We signed a compromise agreement, so I can't give details.
"Before mediation, the dispute was adversarial, with complaints and countercomplaints escalating, and it might have ruined my career or the university's reputation. But we agreed that court would be bad for both sides. Lone claimants rarely win against institutions. Even when they do, the rewards are small. Work is set back, relationships are ruined and reputations damaged as imperfections are publicly exaggerated to 'win'.
"Mediation is better than court, but it is not easy. A mediator is not interested in the rights and wrongs but in what can be agreed. He or she pushes you to see where you will give, and as an employee you are vulnerable.
"We found a creative solution that met everyone's needs. Mediation was great. It can save a huge amount of public money, not to mention personal suffering. Early mediation can prevent disrupted work. In higher education, there is a reluctance to acknowledge that things are not perfect, which may reflect how universities are rewarded for presenting a positive picture.
"It is well known that women and other groups face difficulties in getting hired, tenured and promoted, and that higher education institutions can find such difficulties hard to manage but are afraid to be open about such problems. They should be open and work to solve things."
From: Times Higher Education Supplement, 9 February 2007
Nice try. A bit 'airy-fairy'. We are not convinced that encouragement alone will achieve much. It shows how reluctant HEFCE is to impose specific targets and agendas on workplace bullying in academia, and as for the amount of £125.000 - a drop in the ocean... Thank you HECFE for leading the way.
February 09, 2007
Does anyone care about the draconian and far-reaching changes proposed to the once glorious Freedom of Information Act?
While Shilpa Shetty swanned through the House of Commons yesterday and charmed everyone she met, truth seeking MPs were actively debating their concerns over the curtailment of access to vital information, which could begin as soon as 19 March.
I have just read the Hansard report of this crucial debate and I am very disturbed by its implications, which I believe people are totally unaware of. I am also staggered to learn that up to 1 February, there were only 21 responses to this consultation - and that they are fairly evenly split.
It is not just a cost issue, far from it. What this boils down to in the words of Labour MP Don Touhig, is a mere annual saving of £12 million, the cost of cutting 20,000 requests from the new criteria, cuts which he describes as ”blunt and brutal” and contrary to the whole intention of the Freedom of Information Act, as well as “mean-spirited”.
The £12 million saving equates to just 4 per cent of the total cost of running the COI, the government’s press office - which would you rather have, fact or spin? It is also feared it will deliberately curtail contentious issues - in effect, gagging whoever it chooses.
Freedom of Information requests are presently answered free of charge, although applicants can be asked to pay for photocopying and postage costs. However, a Department can refuse to process a request if it estimates that the cost will exceed £600. Local authorities, national health service bodies and other public authorities can refuse if the estimated cost exceeds £450, based on £25 per hour staff time. The DCA proposes to include the costs of reading the information, consulting other authorities or bodies about the request and considering whether to release it: three more hurdles, all of which are unnecessary
Touhig is also concerned that the changes will make the requests open to abuse because it will aggregate campaigners, journalists, lawyers and academics according to their “legal body” and refuse requests made by the same individual or organisation if the combined cost of answering their requests exceeds the limit of £600 for central government and £450 for other public bodies. He warns:
“I have grave fears that the proposed new regulations will invite abuse. Authorities will realise that by deliberately extending the hours that they spend, or estimate that they will have to spend, on a request, they will be able to ensure that a request for information is rejected.
“The more people the authority decides to invite to a meeting to discuss the request, the easier it will be to reject it. Instead of just bringing in the officials directly involved, the authority might decide that it would make sense to bring in line managers and departmental heads. A two-hour meeting involving six people at £25 an hour each automatically adds £300 to the cost of the request. A few additional hours will usually be needed to find the information, then there is the time needed to read it and to extract the relevant passages, and we see how we move very quickly towards the cost limit. That work could easily bring the request up to the £450 or £600 threshold without much having been done. If there were any doubt, and the authority did not wish to release the information, it could add an extra few hours by consulting its legal department.
“Politically contentious requests will also be hit. Inevitably, authorities will spend longer considering such requests, particularly if the consequence of disclosure may be to suggest that the policy the authority is pursuing is a mistake or is not working as intended. The mere fact that the request is contentious and the disclosure could have serious consequences for that authority could lead to it being refused under the new proposals. Secrecy would replace scrutiny in very critical areas and we should resist that.”
Alarmingly, Touhig warns that newspapers may be punished for being “un-cooperative or disruptive” - and quite rightly asks who will make that subjective decision.
“The next factor is even more alarming. Page 14 of the consultation paper proposes that authorities should take into account the volume of requests made by an applicant in the past and whether the applicant has been “un-cooperative or disruptive”. I am sure that nobody in this room would ever be un-cooperative or disruptive in seeking information, but that measure appears to be a direct invitation to authorities to discriminate against applicants who have not shown them sufficient deference.”
And if we need reminding about the importance of the FoI Act, this is how Tony Blair described it back in 1996 when he was Leader of the Opposition:
“A Freedom of Information Act is not just important in itself. It is part of bringing our politics up to date, of letting politics catch up with the aspirations of our people and delivering not just more open but more effective and efficient government for the future.”
So what has made Blair change his mind? Why is government deliberately taking this backward step, why does it fear the truth? Touhig cited recent examples obtained from FOI, including some amusing cases:
“The MOD has released includes anonymised details of investigations into alleged offences by soldiers in Northern Ireland, the types of boots used by the armed services, the number of service personnel failing drug tests and information about complaints of discrimination and bullying. On a lighter note, the MOD has also released its recipe for curried meatballs, and disclosed reports of UFO sightings in Wales, including a black object hovering over Rhyl, a flying disc over Newport and a spinning craft with legs flying over the valley where I live.”
The ridiculously short 12 week consultation period for this ends on 8 March - with the new regulations implemented 19 March. How can we persuade government to extend this consultation period? Do you feel less information should be made available through FOI? Just think of all those questions the public and our activists will be unable to access, how crusading newspapers will struggle to get true answers from a government that wants to cover up the true facts. [Just think of how many University managers will use the new measures to cover-up their actions.]
If you want to object and share our concerns, then contact Vera Baird a.s.a.p.
Vera Baird MP
Redcar Constituency Office
Redcar Station Business Centre
Vera Baird MP
House of Commons
Private Office to Vera Baird
Telephone: 020 7210 8294