March 26, 2008

Short stories

I had no idea this happened to others. At my previous job, as an academic radiologist in what purports itself to be the best academic radiology department in NYC, I was first set upon by my section chief, who would behind my back accuse me of not finishing my work, or leaving early–transgression she herself was guilty of, according to the many support staff who finally could not keep this fact from me. I put in a vacation request, six months ahead of time for a week no one else had asked for, and when the week actually came and I was away, an email was sent to my co-workers about how I must have scribbled my name in last over the others who took the week off, apologizing that everyone would now suffer because of my irresponsibility. When I emailed the Vice Chairman of Clinical Affairs to intervene, he completely ignored it.

I was asked to give a lecture at a major conference, the first lecture I’d given, and received virtually no guidance in the process. After I’d given it, my boss never shared the reviews with me. After another section chief told he he’s seen mine, I discovered in fact, i’d gotten better reviews than my boss did. However, when the conference came up the following year, she gave my lecture to someone else, saying that my reviews were terrible, and that someone else asked I not give it.

But it didn’t even stop with my section chief, because despite winning a teaching award from my students, I was given no students to mentor. Ostensibly because I was “part time,” working 4 days a week, and not doing research because I was working on outside creative projects– although I did as much or more clinical work than every person in my section. This was evidently not a role model the chairman felt should be promoted.

I finally decided to quit when my boss was promoted to be Vice Chairman of Education, in charge of the mentoring program! I endured a three month notice before my last day of work, during which I did everything I could to walk out the door without burning any bridges, but during the last week the department refused to digitize the rest of my teaching files, which I was planning to leave behind for my students. At which point I withdrew myself from a propaganda article that was being disseminated to the community about the importance of teaching to the department. From this point on, my chairman refused to make eye contact with me.

Worse yet, my boyfriend, who still worked there, was given carefully worded hints not to be seen with me at any social function, and this contributed to our breakup.

It was the most malignant job I ever had, and three weeks after I left, I looked in my bathroom mirror and saw a face that looked two years younger than the one I had on my last day of work. I am now more academically productive at a small community hospital, than I ever could be at said stalwart of academia.

Thank you.

Posted by Jennifer Martino, MD

Yes, I was bullied at a major academic institution by my department chair and dean. I was only one in a long line of people who were abused by the chair. The dean condoned it by looking the other way and actually supporting him. Despite a substantial grievance decision against the chair, I was out and he was promoted.

Posted by catch22

I’m an academic at a university in Georgia, and I’ve been bullied by several colleagues in my department for 12 years. I’ve been treated with disdain, given an unexpectedly bad review when I was pregnant (and told “not to use the pregnancy as an excuse.”)My achievements have been ignored, and new rules were created on the spot to rationalize not giving me promotion. At one time, rumors were spread that I was an alcoholic (I almost never drink!), and that I had been deriding colleagues by name in class. I raised the issue with the University’s affirmative action office(nothing happened, not least because the officer saw her job as one of containing complaints), and four successive deans (all of whom refused to act, and accused me of a “lack of collegiality.”) My productivity was ruined, making it impossible for me to find another job in my field.

I now have major health problems,including cancer. I hate to lose a battle with bullies, which is why I have stuck this out for such an insanely long period, but I’m not sure I can deal with this situation anymore. Meanwhile, I have several supportive and decent colleagues who have helped persuade me that it is not my fault that this has happened (for many years, I did blame myself). And my students’ respect for me has kept me going. Much of the problem is systemic, not only in academe but in this particular region: Georgia has traditionally had an authoritarian culture that values pecking orders, and a “merit” pay system has bred distrust and resentment among faculty. I urge lawmakers to treat workplace bullying as the insidious and enormous problem that it is.

Posted by Anon in GA

As an assistant professor at a nondescript liberal arts college, I was relentlessly bullied by one of my higher ranked colleagues. She harassed me with phone calls to my home about my failings, egged students on to challenge my grading system, ranted at me in the corridors about trivial matters, and unleashed her temperamental disapproval of me in front of my pupils. I complained to an administrator, who told me to forget it. It turned out that the colleague and the supervisor were having an affair. Needless to say, I resigned as soon as I could.

Posted by Dulce

As a survivor of workplace harrassment, I can testify that it can be a devestating personal and professional nighmare. I carry the emotional scars of the experience to this day, and am still healing even though it’s been three years since I left the position. When looking back, I marvel that I didn’t have even more serious health problems as a result of the abuse. The experience took place at a major university, and, because I enlisted the help of the union and filed a claim with the EEOC, the university offered me a settlement which I agreed to, only because of my tattered soul after having stood up for myself over the course of two years.

I learned a lot. Sadly, it was to confirm the saying, “Bad things happen when good people do nothing.” Many staff, academic collaborators and community partners recognized my bosses horrible behavior, and of all who saw what she did, only one stood by me to say she would go the course to defend my case. My union representative kept telling me how much he admired my strenght because one other woman he worked with had attempted suicide because of the stress. I also learned that I needed to learn better how to duck.

Posted by Jan Look

I have been on the receiving end of about half of the behaviors listed... from my students at a large state university. Eye-rolling and hateful glaring is just the beginning. Foul language in class, name-calling and the spreading of gossip on the web, sabotaging of equipment in the lecture room, the refusal of students not in my class to leave the room when my class begins, and finally, vague but disturbing threats of violence (”I know where you live”) — all of these have happened to me in the last few months. This does not stop when the term is over, either: students and their parents threaten lawsuits over poor grades and bombard me with hateful e-mail and phone messages. My chair has let me know that the evaluations that really count, those from my colleagues, are great, and that all of this complaining and misbehavior from students should be ignored as so much noise: but it’s very hard to do and requires a much thicker skin than mine.

I had thought that a career in higher education would avoid the behavior problems that plague public school classrooms — but it turns out not to be so. I dread going to class so much that it has made me ill. There’s no logic to the harassment: can students really think that they can get a better grade, or somehow get “revenge” for a poor grade, by making my job difficult? All I can conclude is that deliberately hurtful and insulting behavior has become a cultural norm, a kind of knee-jerk reaction to even the smallest disappointment or fear of insufficiency.

Posted by stressed professor

I have worked in a large, famous public university. I recently left a position where my supervisor yelled, did not listen, excluded, assigned projects but took them over without telling me, and whose manner was rude and abusive. Her supervisor, the higher administration, and ombudsman refused to take action. I found another position on campus. The monster continues her rampage, unchecked. Pathetic.

Posted by diane

As the manager of a university-based program, I had 2 employees (both women) who were bullies. The one was an overt bully and a destructive gossip. Many other employees complained about her; this resulted is several closed-door “coaching” sessions between us. She was a master of manipulation. Usually, the talks resulted in her sobbing and claiming to be misunderstood. The power of her bullying really came to light one day when she lashed out at me (her boss) and started screaming and swearing. I calmly said, “You are addressing me in an inappropriate manner, and you owe me an apology.” Again, she started crying and begged forgiveness. Unfortunately, within the politically correct university system, I could not fire her for being repeatedly out of control. I could only add comments to her performance appraisal– which led to gossip about me being an unfair boss.

The other bully was very covert until the lid was blown off the office-wide spy ring that she controlled. I was totally fooled and thought she was a hard-working employee– until one day when one of her employees came to me to complain. He claimed that she targeted particular employees for elimination and had 2 male employees who went through trash cans and read other employees’ e-mails to gather the dirt. When it was adventageous for her, she let tid-bits of dirt slip out in gossip. (Of course bully #1 above gleefully spread the gossip around.) Sometimes one of them would bring the misinformation directly to me. “Welllll, I thought you should know….”

Eventually 7 of her employees came to me and confidentially told me about threats and other misdeeds. Part of her downfall was that she openly spoke of her plots in Spanish to one of her cronies; she didn’t realize that the initial informant (an anglo) knew Spanish.

I took all of this information to Human Resources and followed all of their advice. I gathered 500 pages of evidence against her– personal letters from the wronged employees, progressive dicipline documents, and even her job applications on which she lied about her experience. She played the system to the hilt– claiming racial and ethnic discrimination on my part. In the end, nothing came of it.

The university said I had gathered “too much information,” and they didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer to go through it all and build a case her. Since she was a classified staff employee (very protected in the university system) she moved to another university department — where they didn’t know her past. I was adjunct faculty (very vulnerable in the university system). Consequently, I became the scapegoat and was laid off. The morale of the story: bullies can pick on underlings and bosses!! Getting laid off was the best thing that could have happened to me. It was incredibly stressful dealing with these evil people.

Posted by Pamela

I work at a college in New England, where I had a bully for a boss. She routinely humiliated her staff in meetings, ignored ideas and suggestions, and discounted her staff members’ expertise. She would not tolerate disagreement, and, with her angry responses to anything she perceived as dissent, created an atmosphere in which no one dared question any of her orders.

I finally realized that she was simply ruling through fear — her own fear, that is. She was so terrified of her superiors that she could not trust any of her staff, for fear they might do something — anything — wrong. Furthermore, she was so afraid of getting in trouble that she based her decisions on fear rather that on what was actually good for the college. What good does that do anyone?

Fear begets fear. The fearful do not make sound or proactive decisions.

Posted by Just Staff

Bullying is regularly used in academia to attempt to remove tenured professors. The targeted professor is usually labeled as “dead wood”, given higher teaching loads, refused needed resources, denied significant assignments, refused praise for good work and denied salary increases. Gossip is spread to reinforce the “dead wood” label, turning colleagues against the targeted professor.

If the targeted professor stays in the job, his low status, low salary and the fact that he has to constantly endure the poor opinions that his peers are encouraged to hold about him inevitably lead to depression.

If he chooses to leave, he will have difficulty finding another job without good references from the very people who are bullying him - in other words, he will be unable to find a good position. If he has to support a family and pay a mortgage, he cannot leave and so is trapped in a position that leads to stress and depression and the resulting physical problems these factors cause. If he doesn’t quit because of the bullying, he’ll probably be forced to quit for health reasons.
It is time for academia to put a stop to this common practice.

Posted by NN

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