-- 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...
Written by Gina Hiatt, Ph.D.