October 24, 2008

Critiques of the anti-bullying movement and responses to them

...Of the 50 or so academic mobbing targets described on my website – Lawrence Summers, Ward Churchill, Therese Warden, James D. Watson, Norman Finkelstein, Sami Al-Arian, Justine Sergent, many more – few have been identified in academic or public media as targets of bullying. Many have been called bullies themselves.

The term “difficult person” is a common synonym for bully, the workmate who needs to be corrected or gotten rid of, the nail sticking up that needs to be hammered down. In the first US book on mobbing, Noa Davenport and her colleagues argue that labeling a workmate a “difficult person” is a technique of mobbing.

Robert Sutton’s popular 2007 book, The No Asshole Rule, reports and reflects the work of many presenters at this conference. Yet in her Hammerly Memorial Lecture on Academic Mobbing this spring, Joan Friedenberg criticized Sutton sharply for oversimplifying the complexities of workplace conflict. Sutton is bright and circumspect. He says he worries “slightly” that “if we are too zealous about becoming civility Nazis …it will stifle creativity and individuality.” Friedenberg’s worry – and mine – is not slight but serious, that Sutton’s book invites workplace mobbing.

A popular motto for colleges in the past, pinpointing their academic purpose, was “Doce, disce, aut discede” – in English, “Teach, Learn, or Leave.” The motto deserves renewed currency in light of Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate’s 1998 book, The Shadow University, which is about academic hangers-on who neither teach nor learn but instead meddle in scholars’ lives. Brock University philosopher Murray Miles has lately reported that his institution has a policy modeled on those at Bath, Kent, and Bradford in the UK, against “academic bullying.” The human rights officer who helps administers Brock’s policy offers a workshop entitled “Unlearn,” the first line of the description of which is, “Be nice, or leave.” I share Miles’s horror at the inversion of values this counsel implies...

By Kenneth Westhues
Professor of Sociology
University of Waterloo
Paper presented at the 6th International Conference on Workplace Bullying, Montreal, 4-6 June 2008


Anonymous said...

Typically, at the place where I used to teach, things went like this:

"Mobbing? That's not mobbing you're experiencing. It's a team-building exercise. Bullying? Naaaah. We're just offering our 'support'".

As for motives for mobbing and bullying, it could be for any reason one chose, whether it was because one had more education than everyone else or if one could afford to buy, say, a brand new computer that someone else wanted to be the first to have.

It didn't matter what one did--someone was bound to be offended.

Kevin Kennemer, The People Group said...

An employer has a moral responsibility to provide a safe, productive and healthy work environment in our civilized society. Identification of a workplace bully or workplace asshole would be based upon specific facts and incidents. Historically, these abusive workers have rarely been identified, disciplined or terminated. Seventy percent of the time these office terrorists go unreported and unpunished. Their targets are not so lucky. Those who are the recipient of the bully's clever psychological and health-altering violence eventually lose their valued position 77% of the time. So at this point, I am not very concerned about the reputation of bullies. I am more concerned about good, productive employees who are diligently working while being attacked by a workplace terrorist who is more concerned about their own power, ego and narcissistic tendencies. Ultimately, we should treat everyone with dignity and respect, even the tyrants, however, these unproductive trouble makers should be quietly shown the door with a pink slip in hand.

Anonymous said...

Sacking bullies is all fine and good but what if those bullies are valued by the management?

My last boss was one of those. In his drive to be promoted into the upper ranks, he would do almost anything to impress his masters. I'm sure that many of his aggressive tendencies towards me were demonstrations to show his worthiness. How else to show one's leadership capabilities than to deliberately provoke an incident and then resolve it to show how effective an administrator one is?

Unfortunately, the upper administration was only too willing to let this sort of nonsense happen.

Anonymous said...

I am struck by Kennemer's use of the term 'terrorism' because that is exactly how I described my own mobbing experience. I used to refer to my workplace as 'the minefield' because I never knew when or how the next psychological booby trap was going to explode, usually on email, like a sniper attack. When I used the term 'terrorism' in a letter of grievance, the term was then used against me in disciplinary proceedings as an example of my 'uncollegial' and 'extreme' behaviour towards the bullies. It is simply appalling the way complacent senior management reward the complacent, do-nothing, smugly self-satisfied 'hangers on', as Westhues calls them. They stick their noses into the business of their hard-working targets whose only crime is to do their jobs a bit too diligently and too brilliantly to ensure the perpetuation ad infinitum of the complacency and unambitious mediocrity of their academic workplace.