November 27, 2008

Stress and strain blamed on 'bullying culture'

A culture of strained working relationships is endemic in UK universities, according to a survey of almost 10,000 academics by the University and College Union (UCU).

One third of UCU members questioned agreed with the statement that "relationships at work are strained", and fewer than 3 per cent of respondents said that there was "never" any friction or anger between colleagues.

The UCU blamed a bullying culture in academe for the sense of discord, as more than half of a total of 9,700 respondents to the survey reported having been subjected to some form of bullying or personal harassment during their career.

Gill Evans, project leader for the Improving Dispute Resolution programme funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said that the results should not come as a surprise.

"The root of the problem is the shift from the old collegial assumption that academics were all essentially equals and free to express their view to (one of) top-down line management," she said.

"With line management you get patronage and mutual mistrust. Without old-fashioned tenure people can lose their jobs, so they try not to rock the boat. But then they feel resentment that they dared not say what they thought, and that poisons the atmosphere," she said.

Professor Evans said a collegial working environment "involves lots of discussion and it can make decision-making slow", but added that "speedy decision-making is not necessarily good decision-making".

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Good institutions are ones that are aware of the problem and (are) proactively trying to tackle it. Poor ones are those who refuse to accept there may be a problem or try to place the blame elsewhere."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know all about that. Many years ago, while I was still teaching, the deputy department head was appointed to acting head while the department head himself was away on leave.

The deputy had a beef with me for a long time, going back to shortly after I'd started there several years earlier. Just what the source of his grievance was I never officially learned, but I suspect personal envy had a lot to do with it. Once he was in a position of authority, he cut loose on me. When I asked him why he didn't do something about his concerns with me at an earlier time, his answer was that he "couldn't do anything" before, a sure sign that his reason that his action was for the "good" of the students was a load of malarkey.

Because of his harassment and frequent potshots at me, my performance as an instructor was seriously affected and I snarled and growled at many of my colleagues. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell them what was going on as they either wouldn't believe me or, if they did, they likely would have thought I deserved it.

Eventually the matter was resolved, to some extent, because a senior colleague figured out what was happening and gave me wise and sage advice. I took my case to an associate dean (when we still had them) and he brokered a resolution.

The assistant department head kept his job, though I suspect he got his wings clipped because he overstepped his authority. Unfortunately, he was a sore loser and continued waging his war against me, escalating it after the institution restructured its management and we got a new dean--someone who absolutely detested me and wasn't shy about letting me know.

I resigned several years ago and haven't found a job since. The new dean and my tormentor retired, presumably with nice pensions.

El Cid