February 24, 2008

Mean and Nasty Academics: Bullying, Hazing, and Mobbing

Tenure is supposed to protect scholars from outside control, but it does a lousy job of protecting them from one another.”
-- Kenneth Westhues, quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education

I don't usually post my newsletters here, but I think this is a subject that needs to get more airing. So here is the text of my latest newsletter, called "Mean and Nasty Academics." (If you'd like to sign up for my bi-weekly (sometimes less frequent) newsletter, go to this page, which also lists the bonuses you will receive.)

Another reason I'm posting this newsletter issue is that I have received some interesting replies from my newsletter readers that will help those of you struggling with these issues. I will put these replies up in later posts.

Mean and Nasty Academics

"I was surprised to experience hazing as a graduate student, not once, but continually and by multiple professors… I watched how some of the other women faculty members in the department were treated, and they were second-class citizens at best." (Twale and De Luca, 2008, p.84)

"A tenured full female prof gets up to talk, and an untenured junior faculty man tells her that her ideas are not really important, that it may be a concern of hers but not ours. And the entire faculty went along with it, including the women... Be invisible. We weren’t supposed to say anything, even the strong women who could hold their own. Women sensed they were in a powerless position." [Ibid, p.85]

As an academic coach, I could add many more examples of graduate students and professors of all ranks being victimized by mean, nasty, harsh, underhanded, passive aggressive or bullying behavior at the hands of other academics.

The only reason I don’t give you details of what my clients have told me over the years is that I need to protect the identity of the victims. However, I’m not giving anything away if I tell you that I have heard numerous examples of departments ganging up on one individual, of professors being shunned, of tenured professors harassing other tenured professors, and of incredibly harsh treatment of graduate students by their advisors or other professors.

Bullying and emotional abuse don’t only exist in academia (see Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace). But Darla Twale and Barbara De Luca, the authors of Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to Do About It, suggest that there has been an increase in “bullying, mobbing, camouflaged aggression, and harassment” (p. xii) within academia.

In working with people who have been the victims of bullying, I find that one of their first needs is reassurance that they did not do anything to deserve such treatment. So let me say that No one, ever, under any circumstances, deserves to be humiliated, undermined, insulted, shunned, marginalized, ganged up on, or even spoken to harshly. If it has happened to you, you did not cause it to happen. And you are not alone.

What Can I Do About Bullying?

There is no space here to review the reasons that academics can be so cruel to one another. Instead, I’ll focus on what you can do about it. The following suggestions are summarized from the Twale and De Luca book; additional comments from me are in brackets.

Avoid becoming part of an abusive department. Before you attend graduate school or accept a job, do your homework. Look at faculty turnover rates, policies and guidelines regarding harassment, and level of enforcement of such policies as seen in grievance filings and resolutions...

From: http://www.academicladder.com

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was targeted at 2 universities in the U.S. as a graduate student: the first time at the university where I was pursuing my PhD in clinical psychology--in this instance, the bullying grew into mobbing; the second time in a research division of a medical department at a university in the same state (near my home), where I was severely targeted by my supervisor, whose data I had planned to use for my dissertation. The emotional fallout and threat to my workplace reputation was so severe during the second experience, I was forced to choose between my mental health/reputation and the completion of my degree. I am now ABD (permanently) and am blacklisted at the only university near my home where I can seek employment as a research assistant. As a result, I am working as a low-paid administrative assistant. The years of scholarly work have come to naught, and my career was completely destroyed. And all I did was perform my work at a very high level--so high that apparently, I was a threat to those who supervised me and whom I at first thought would mentor me. The grief I have felt over my losses (incluing severe financial losses) has been profound. I hope to someday work to make this type of unacknowledged (in the U.S.) criminal behavior illegal in the states.

Ginnette said...

I fear that will be me, so close to graduation and fearing dealing with a type A female professor who is passionate about her field and says "I'm here to help you succeed" but isn't really. She is entitled and elitist and is pursuing her masters already has her ph.d, God save the Queen...
I decided to google dealing with a difficult professor to try and deal with my apprehension at getting through her course in order to graduate I would have to switch majors so close to graduation and even have fantasized about suing her and the school for backing her up when she is in the wrong...

Anonymous said...

Although rife, abuse of PhD students is a part of life that seldom gets talked about, or even acknowledged. It is the dirty little secret of academia. The humiliation and belittling; the demoralizing and power tactics. The terrible neglect by supervisors as if you and your work really is not important at all(and worse, you are just so hopeless and stupid!). Of course, these bullies were once subjected to this same process and so the cycle gets perpetuated....

Anonymous said...

The graduate faculty I have to work with are also emotionally abusive bullies. I have spent the last 6 years working to try and finish my degree. I recently passed my defense, only to be told that I have revisions to make (as does everyone), and that they will let me know when they decide that the revisions are good enough. So I still feel like I am in limbo even though I've earned this and have completed everything they have asked.

I have been told (not advised, told), that I am not to start a family until I am done with their program, have been stood up for countless meetings and then berated because I only sent one reminder of the meeting, and have been told that grade school children could write better than I. My advisor was 20 minutes late to my defense and I was told that it was my fault.

Of course, there isn't any recourse, as even the DGS in my department tells me "They have tenure. There isn't anything we can do."

Anonymous said...

I am currently being bullied by a couple of Professors who have a lot of power in the department. My advisor has not been able to do anything to help me. The Chair of my department suggested I explore the possibility of transferring to another University. I am a 3rd year graduate student with one more year to graduate. I have been sick, physically and emotionally. I feel completely helpless. I spoke to the Ombudsperson and to the Dean of Graduate School, but nothing was done. I feel I am isolated, being beat up with lots of spectators, but no one willing or being able to help. I can't take this any longer. I am about to quit. I hope that this one day will be considered criminal and that these bullies will pay for the crimes they commit simply because they have the power and they can.

Anonymous said...

As a dissertation editor hired by a PhD candidate who is being emotionally abused by her adviser, I've been googling "grad-student abuse" to find out more about this sickness. I'm appalled how little is being exposed about this, and almost nothing that's recent.

It appears to me that this adviser is sabotaging the grad student's work in order to keep her under her thumb as long as possible. This adviser is isolating the student in order to emotionally abuse her, keeping her on the phone all hours of the day and night. She's even ordered the student not to have contact with me. I've APA-edited the paper perfectly and the adviser continues to undo my work and revert to previous versions randomly, so no one knows what's in it anymore. All the while insisting that the student have it done YESTERDAY ...

The student is about to have a breakdown and it seems there's nothing I can do to help her, since she needs that lunatic's signature in order to submit her paper. How do students keep from murdering their advisers who are certifiably insane?

Anonymous said...

I was also abused by my advisor in grad school. I was a master's degree candidate. I had to leave after the first year because it made me physically ill to be in this guy's presence. I spoke with the assistant dean but felt it went nowhere. It really is a problem in higher education, and it happens more than people realize. But the problem is where can you turn? You have to jump through the department hoops who are more often than not, loyal to the abusive professor. It's a shame too, because it cost me my graduate career.

Melanie Simms said...

I am an undergraduate student, who dealt with tremendous bullying by professors at a state university in pennsylvania after standing my ground when an instructor told me i was stupid, and another made false accusations, and another harrassed me about missing one class when my mother was terminally ill. i received no support at that university and i left finally when an instructor tried to frame me for plagiarism- admittedly my work was sloppy, i'd forgotten my works cited page and I was mentally and physically exhausted from a threat to my life and my mother's terminal illness; but they knew that; on top of my learning disabilities, i was amazed they could try to pursue me so heartlessly.
my only sense of balance comes from knowing this college has been sued multiple times in federal court for speech code violations, and other federal indescrections; but the experienced marked me and caused me great pain; that instructor abused their power and caused direct harm. fortunately for me i have never had a plagiarism charge against me EVER so nothing was put on my permanent record, but i will hate that instructor till the day i die.