May 31, 2008

Workplace bullying is a problem that cannot simply be denied

The reactions by Bill McGregor of the Headteachers' Association, John Stodter of the Directors of Education and Cosla's spokesman to the suggestion that bullying is "endemic" within six local authorities make interesting reading (The Herald, May 16). They seem to deny it is a problem on their own patches. Just a small review of existing evidence might be helpful.

Two years ago, Amicus and the DTI funded a national project that addressed the serious issue of bullying in the workplace, in which it estimated the cost to UK employers as more than £2bn a year in sick pay, staff turnover and loss of production. One in 10 employees said they had been bullied. Stress-related illness and absence levels in education were substantially above the national average.

In a recent study by Glamorgan University, it was found that nearly 80% of teachers had been bullied in the past two years, with many telling researchers that the problem was continuing and they were regularly bullied. Many said members of their school's senior management team were either the bullies or allowed bullying by others to continue, causing some teachers to think about leaving their posts or abandoning their careers altogether.

Nearly one in 12 staff working in the NHS has experienced bullying or harassment by their manager, according to Westminster figures. An official survey of doctors, nurses and administrators showed the scale of the culture of bullying that had to be tackled by hospitals and primary care trusts.

November 7, 2007, was Ban Bullying at Work Day - a message that doesn't appear to have got through to all parts of further and higher education. Academics at Leeds Metropolitan University claimed that 42% felt intimidated at work, 37% felt their work was belittled and 24% felt they had been humiliated by bullying. The University and College Union survey (with a 41% response rate) suggested a management culture at odds with the university's goals of challenging received wisdom, encouraging students to think and promoting collaborative inquiry. Some 96% of respondents said they felt inhibited about positively criticising policies and 63% reported witnessing bullying.

Denying the nature and existence of the problem without having proper evidence is not only to demean, insult and possibly harm those who have suffered; it is to sustain the corporate, structural and institutionalised hands (and voices) that guide a failure to properly address the matter. There is much evidence on our files to deny that substantial claims of bullying are "groundless", as Cosla suggests. This is a legislated Health and Safety at work issue. What is desperately required is for the Scottish Government at least to commission root-and-branch departmental research of workplace bullying so the truth can emerge and be properly inspected - and this is before tackling that which so much evidence suggests is equally endemic in the private sector


May 29, 2008

Disgraceful events at Nottingham University

CAFAS - Council for Academic Freedom & Academic Standards - 7 Benn Street, London E9 FSU

29 May

The Home Secretary
Home Office
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF

Dear Home Secretary

You are no doubt aware that a member of the staff of the University of Nottingham, Hicham Yezza, who has resided and worked in the UK for the last thirteen years, is currently under threat of almost immediate deportation.

Mr Yezza has found himself in this predicament as a consequence of having helped a postgraduate student, Rizwaan Sabir, who asked him to print a copy of an al-Quaida document that Mr Sabir had downloaded from a US military website in the public domain. Mr Sabir’s academic supervisors confirm that the document in question is directly relevant to his research. Both men were initially arrested in connection with this document, but subsequently freed without charge. But Mr Yezza was rearrested on grounds related to his immigration status, and now faces deportation.

CAFAS takes the view that the original arrest and detention of these members of the University was unwarranted. We accept that, in the current climate of opinion, the police may well have had concerns about Mr Sabir’s interest in the al-Quaida document, and the assistance Mr Yezza gave him. But these concerns could surely have been quickly resolved, without breaching the principle of academic freedom, simply by consulting the academic staff in charge of the research in question.

We are not in a position to evaluate the immigration problems Mr Yezza is now said to face. But it is clear that these problems have surfaced solely as a consequence of the involvement of the police in Mr Sabir’s academic research, the legitimacy of which is seemingly no longer challenged.

In the circumstances, we think it absolutely vital that Mr Yezza be provided with a proper opportunity to prepare his defence and to have his case impartially examined by the Courts. To deport him without his being allowed this opportunity to defend himself would be patently unjust. We therefore urge you to delay deportation long enough for this process to take its course.

If you do not feel able to do this, I should be grateful if you would explain why, so that I may circulate your explanation to our members in UK universities.

Yours sincerely

Geraldine Thorpe
Assistant Co-ordinator, CAFAS

Cc Liam Byrne, MP

May 28, 2008

Tips for handling power

In her book 'Bad Leadership', Barbara Kellerman suggests some tips for those in power, to help them avoid turning bad. These include:
  • Limit your tenure. When leaders remain in power for too long, they tend to acquire bad habits
  • Share power. When power is centralised, it is likely to be misused, and that puts a premium on delegation and collaboration
  • Get real, and stay real. Virtually every bad leader loses touch with reality somehow
  • Know and control your appetites. These include the hunger for power, money, success and sex
  • Be reflective. Virtually every one of the great writers on leadership emphasises the importance of self knowledge, self control and good habits. Acquiring such virtues is hard. Intent is required, but so is time for quiet contemplation
  • Encourage a culture of openness in which diversity and dissent are encouraged
  • Bring in advisers who are strong and independent
  • Avoid groupthink. Groupthink discourages healthy dissent and encourages excessive cohesiveness
  • Establish a system of checks and balances

May 23, 2008

Lincoln acts to lift morale of discontented staff

The University of Lincoln is implementing an action plan to improve staff morale after an internal survey revealed that only 49 per cent of respondents felt "valued" by the university.

The survey, which polled more than 800 employees, 64 per cent of staff, was undertaken at the end of last year. The results were published in the current issue of the University of Lincoln magazine Contact. The poll suggests that staff believe the university falls short on managing change, communication, reducing bureaucracy and offering career progression.

Of those surveyed, 86 per cent said they felt more could be done to help them "prepare for and cope with change" and 57 per cent felt they were "required to do unimportant tasks which prevent them from completing more important ones". On the subject of career advancement, 59 per cent said that there were not enough opportunities for progression in the university.

The action plan, drawn up in response to the results, includes developing a communications plan for major changes, a framework for staff development and promotion and "less use of paper/memos and more face-to-face and telephone contact".

"When the staff survey was conducted, we were halfway through the appraisal year and only 57 per cent of staff surveyed had had their appraisal," said Jayne Billam, the university's director of human resources. "This can lead to staff not feeling valued."

"Now up to 90 per cent of people have been appraised. We had the highest level of staff engagement for our staff survey ... (and) the largest response in the sector compared to the other 32 HEIs surveyed by the independent survey specialist Capita," Ms Billam said. "The survey also showed positive results, with 83 per cent (of respondents) saying that the university was a good place to work."


...and who is this man...

... an under-qualified arrogant professor nicknamed "Nick the Prick"...

Lame duck HEFCE...

So what do we have here? Students were asked to beef up their ratings of Kingston University. The whole issue became national news and placed a huge question mark on the reliability of the student satisfaction survey. Kingston University - a serial offender when it comes to workplace bullying - is off the hook because the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE, read: taxpayer's money) declares that it is 'in discussion with the institution about the allegation'... Excuse me, but it is not an allegation - there is an actual recording of the event. HEFCE is also in discussion with Kingston University about appropriate 'next steps'. Don't worry HEFCE because Kingston University have taken steps to ban students from recording similar incidents...

May 22, 2008

Who is this man?

A personal account...

After working for the University for 23 years, I have finally been driven out. I gave up my tenure and resigned in July. Both Spencer, my husband and I have been having problems with our Department Head. This has been going on for five years now, but the proverbial (and literal) final blow came last November when I was assaulted by a co-worker (‘colleague’ is a label he does not deserve). It is quite a long and sordid tale, so I offer the abridged, and yet still long version here. For this story, we’ll call my assailant ‘Bernard’.

A few weeks before the ‘fateful incident’ the same ‘man’ had sent me an email that given my experiences at work the last few years, seemed very much like a threat. What prompted his email was this: In what turned out to be an act of sedition, I recklessly asked him to improve the training given to our teaching assistants (only some of whom speak English, and most of whom suck, but all of whom are among the best paid teaching assistants on campus), and he “cautioned me” not to criticize him. Apparently, striving for improvement and getting people to do their jobs is no longer what we do. He ignored several attempts by me to get him to explain, so I went to his office. I asked him to explain what he meant by his threat (on the day before Remembrance Day no less – lest we forget!) Well, looks like he forgot. He began yelling at me and accusing me of being abusive (!?) and then he slammed his door in my face. He’d have broken my nose if I hadn’t put my foot in the door. There were several awkward moments as he continued to yell, pushing on the door while I tried to figure out how to get me and my foot out of there without getting hurt. Bernard is not a large, nor as it turns out, a strong man. I managed to extricate myself without further physical injury.

Now, I suspect I’ve been very lucky in that the last time any human tried to hit me was when I was about 9. Being a pacifist probably helps. And even after 23 years of dealing with university kids fresh out of high school - some of whom are very unhappy when I fail them - this is the first time someone has tried to attack me at university. I had a very hard time coping. There were, of course, no witnesses.

[Aside: I bought a Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta Splendens) and named it Bernard as part of my own personal therapy. They have much in common my colourful little Bernie and the man who assaulted me. Both are: Small. Angry. Insignificant. AND wear a suit that looks 3 sizes too big. Curiously, I ended up having to buy a second fish because the first Bernard I bought did not survive the night in his new home. My family thought it particularly fitting since we had put him in a vase with a Peace Plant - Bernard couldn’t, apparently, live with the Peace. (Wee Bernie the fish, is now nearly 3 years old, and each time I talk to him I am reminded that I have survived, and he – the human Bernie – is still small, angry and insignificant. It may seem silly, but it helps me.)]

Without skipping a beat our obdurate Department Head suggested that if I felt unsafe having my assailant’s office just down the hall from me, *I* should be the one to move. My office was the last thing I had in that department that I valued since he had already taken or canceled everything else, and unfortunately he knew that. I went on a medical leave and did not return until after classes were over.

Not long after getting back to work I learned that the man who assaulted me had filed a grievance against ME for harassment. Is that A) ironic or B) what? Turns out, the correct answer was ‘B’. I seemed to be the only person surprised by this. I’m learning though. Human Resources refused to acknowledge my doctor’s orders for reduced duties (they really ARE evil, like Dilbert says), and the ever-vigilant Campus Security had conveniently omitted the entire criminal incident from their report – all they said was that I had had an email threat. After all, it’s hard to claim our campus is safe if people go around reporting assaults. Can’t have that. Besides, there’d be all this paperwork. It’s just easier to claim nothing happened. As if that wasn’t enough, THIS year I’d gone all out in trying to implement the university President’s “plan” for a rich undergraduate experience. My students loved it. Not to be outdone by the perversity of a pseudo-police unwilling to enforce law, my annual assessment from the Head pretty much trashed everything I did this year. In spite of the fact that what I do in my classes is publishable work, my teaching was assessed by my head as inadequate. The problem, you see is that I’ve been treating my students as individuals. This is apparently bad.

Still I persevered – after all, we live in modern times, no? Violence against women is no longer condoned, especially in an enlightened Science Faculty, and even more so during a time when there are almost weekly news stories about how we need more women in IT (information technology). And besides, I come from a long line of people that do not give up easily. Can you guess what happened next? Machiavelli would have felt right at home. The brand new Dean of Science found ME guilty of harassment. Somehow, I am to blame because Bernard felt the need to hit me. My punishment: I was to be banished (they forced me to move out of my office WHILE I was still on a medical leave); I was to enroll in courses that would teach me how to get along with people, and if I bothered poor Bernie again I could be fired. Interestingly, when Spencer (who is in the same department as me) asked the Dean why I had to move my office to a different building, and to the top floor no less (a point as far away from the students as was possible), the Dean told Spence it was so I could be close to my HUSBAND. Isn’t that progressive of him? After 23 years of professional service, I am still just a wife. That’s when I realized I would not survive five years under this man’s “leadership”, nor would my staying make any difference. Tyranny wins. Sigh.

Ah, but the story doesn’t end here. Oh no my weary friends, there’s more. Administrative positions at the university come up for renewal about every five years, and this year it was our Department Head’s turn. A man known to be dishonest (he was caught in a lie during his “re-appoint me” talk!), who is known to treat some people like royalty and relentlessly bully others, was,…wait for it….RE-APPOINTED for another five years. The Dean clearly has a use for the likes of him, and that can’t mean good things. Our department has gone from a place that used to supply graduates to some of the coolest places on the planet to work (Disney, Industrial Light and Magic, Jet Propulsion Labs, …) to one of which I am ashamed, and who’s graduates are wanted almost nowhere. And, it seems Spencer and I are not the only ones who feel this way. The department HAD about 45 faculty, among them 9 women. Besides me, we lost two other faculty this year (one woman; the other world-renowned in his field), and by my last count we will loose 6 more this year (2 of them also women, and none of them due to retirement). Those are only the ones I know about, there may well be others. Tragically, Spencer is still there, but since he has a few years left before retiring, he has arranged to be one of the six leaving this year. This summer Spencer will be moving to the Faculty of Environmental Design. I think it will be interesting to work with architects. Spencer’s not so sure – but it’s bound to be better than working with reprobates. Meanwhile, the department that used to be one of only two in the country visited by Bell Labs recruiters continues to circle the drain.

So the moral of the story is…. (some) Universities remain mediaeval institutions where men get to be men, and women, well, they need to remember their place. It leaves me, for the first time as an adult, without a job. It is hard not to be bitter (as if the last two pages weren’t clue enough), but I’m working on it. Spencer and I have learned much about who our friends are, and it will take us a long time to heal. I know I for one will never again offer my loyalty freely to a place – only to people. On the plus side, through my experiences I have met a whole pile of very nice people who have been similarly abused by this University (not just women), and when I have some time I plan to write a book about it. It seems this institution has quite a history of what mobbing and bullying expert Ken Westhues calls “the envy of excellence”. He says that most people targeted in this way possess a perilous combination of traits: excellence AND integrity. A menacing pair of traits, huh? Clearly something a university must control.

In the mean time, if anyone knows of any job openings


Bullying among support staff in a higher education institution

Purpose – Workplace bullying has been a subject of increasing study in recent years, particularly in the UK, Scandinavia and Australia. Health effects of workplace bullying are often cited as an undesirable outcome of being bullied, yet these health effects have not been studied systematically. This study was small and exploratory. The overall aims were to explore support staff perceptions of the nature and causes of bullying, and to examine the perceived relationship between bullying and self-reported health complaints.

Findings – A total of 42 employees responded, 19 reporting experiencing one or more forms of bullying in the previous two years, while 17 had witnessed colleagues being bullied. The top four bullying tactics ranked in terms of frequency of reporting were undue pressure to produce work, undermining of ability, shouting abuse, and withholding necessary information. When bullying occurred it was likely to be by a line manager. Major findings are that headaches, loss of confidence, loss of self-esteem, fatigue/listlessness, and stress are the most commonly reported health consequences of being bullied, and that these syndromes are associated with a decrease in workplace morale, increased stress at home, and propensity to seek alternative employment.

The context of the research

The motivation for the research came partly from the writer's own experiences of being bullied and partly through witnessing and hearing “through the grapevine” of the bullying of colleagues. The writer (a non-health professional) had experienced bullying in both primary and secondary school and naively thought that bullying was something that did not happen, or more to the point would not be tolerated or condoned, in the workplace. This proved not to be the case, and the writer in her early working life accepted that some people were natural “victims” and others “bullies”, and this was the way of the world. However, in the latter part of her working life, this has been called into question and bullying behaviour, it appears, may occur for many reasons and anyone may become a target of bullying at some stage in their career. Thus, when the opportunity to conduct some research for a dissertation arose, the researcher was keen to gain insight into the perceived reasons for bullying and obtain details of support mechanisms, effects on relationships and health consequences. While working as a member of support staff in an educational establishment the researcher undertook a small but intensive study of bullying experiences amongst support staff...

Bullying and position in the hierarchy

Research undertaken by Björkqvist et al. (1994a, b) in a university setting found that position in the hierarchy was related to bullying, in that individuals in lower administrative and service jobs were more likely to be bullied and those in superior positions were more often identified as the perpetrators of bullying. Similarly Marmot et al. (1991) in the Whitehall II study concluded that bullying and stress were more frequent in lower grades of staff.

The issue of bullying and unequal power situations is particularly relevant to this study, as there is a great disparity in status between academics and support staff. While universities may deem it desirous to address equal opportunity issues, they are, in the twenty-first century, still mainly entrenched in forms of institutionalised sexism and intellectual elitism...


Studying bullying at work presents considerable difficulties, as the breadth of the phenomenon encompasses many different forms of behaviour and reaction. Bullying, or the more generic “harassment at work”, is claimed to be a more crippling and devastating problem for employees than all other work-related stress put together (Einarsen, 1999). Stress can also have serious implications for the efficient functioning of the organisation. Increased sickness absence, high turnover of staff, low morale, and poor performance can all be consequences or indicators of bullying in the workplace. Cox (1993) suggests that mental health problems are amongst the fastest growing sources of days lost from work. In financial terms absenteeism, loss of trained personnel, higher recruitment costs and reduced productivity can add up to a heavy burden for organisations. The costs of stress, therefore, are paid for both by the suffering of the individual and the financial cost to the organisation.

Bullying is morally as well as professionally unacceptable, and impacts not only on the health of victims and their colleagues but their families too. Job stress due to bullying can have serious and deleterious effects on family life that may manifest themselves in increased welfare costs (Cohen et al., 1997). While it is acknowledged that problems exist in relation to proving the causal link between bullying and ill health, employers have a vicarious duty of care towards its employees. It is therefore essential that employers are aware of such issues and of potential signs of bullying behaviour. Consequently there is an urgent need to address this issue by documenting incidents, finding the source of the abuse and what and who perpetrates it, and developing a procedure to eliminate the abusive behaviour. Any policies, to be effective, must be guided by research...

By: Mary Thomas, School of Education, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK - Health Education; Volume: 105 Issue: 4; 2005

May 18, 2008

Societal Effects

Harassment can make you a social outcast period. If you do nothing about the harassment those around you might sympathise, but they will in time learn to ignore it and treat it as a common day to day occurrence. If you take action against the harasser, school, or place of employment, you might find that you are ostracized, and retaliated against in many unfair ways.

Socially you might not be invited out to group or social activities, you might be shunned during daily school, or work place events. People who associate with you will be singled out with peer pressure to stop the association. People around you will tell the most demeaning and degrading lies about you.

You might find that your family and friends think you are over-reacting and fail to offer support on any level. They may even be the very ones who turn against you, if they become affected by the harassment through your job loss, or dropping out of school. They may be angry at having to help you out.


May 17, 2008

How to recognize mobbing - Characteristics

  • The target has a record of success.

  • The mobbers make up the rules as they go along and do not follow the accepted university due process procedures.

  • The timing usually favors the mobbers, such as choosing to attack after the faculty member has had a serious medical procedure.

  • The mobbers protest vehemently against any external review of their actions.

  • The mobbers attempt to carry out their attacks in complete secrecy, using such tactics as anonymous hate mail left in the target’s mailbox.

  • The charges against the target are for relatively minor instances, such as alleging that a faculty member has said certain things that the mobbers find objectionable.

  • There is a unanimity of negative opinion about the target.

  • The target is selected first and then the charges are brought.

  • The mobbers use “impassioned rhetoric” in attacking the target.

  • The mobbers spread rumors and gossip about the target.

From: Women In Higher Education

Sticks, Stones and Semantics: The Ivory Tower Bully's Vocabulary of Motives


This ethnography focuses on the techniques of normalization used by university professors who are accused by their colleagues of bullying behavior. We examine how the organizational structure and institutional values of the university provide protective coloration for academic intimidation and discourage both the detection and effective labeling of such behavior. In noting that attempts to label bullying behavior frequently fail because the judgments are seen as mere matters of opinion in an environment whose principal currency of exchange is opinion itself, we modify and extend Sykes and Matza's discussion of neutralization techniques to academic settings.

While we cannot speak to the presence or absence of guilt feelings on the part of alleged academic bullies, or to whether neutralization techniques successfully assuage such feelings, we can nevertheless discern the operation of these techniques to resist the imputation of unflattering social identities and/or to lay claim to public identities that are highly esteemed within the academy.

Moreover, we identify three additional techniques of normalization that are employed by alleged ivory tower bullies: appropriation and inversion, in which accused bullies claim victim status for themselves; evidentiary solipsism, in which alleged bullies portray themselves as uniquely capable of divining and defining the meaning-structure of events; and emotional obfuscation, which takes the form of employing symbols and imagery that are chosen for their perceived ability to elicit an emotional response on the part of an academic audience.

By E. D. Nelson and R. D. Lambert, Qualitative Sociology, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2001

May 16, 2008

Minister vows action on 'falsified' student survey

The Government has promised to act if reports that students are being pressed to give falsely enthusiastic responses to an official survey prove true after staff at London's Kingston University were recorded doing so.

Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary John Denham was pressed at Commons question time over allegations that the National Student Survey was being "falsified". Mr Denham said he took the claims "very seriously" and "utterly condemned" the practice, adding that action would be taken if any breaches were found.

Students from a range of universities are claiming they are being pressed to make falsely enthusiastic responses to the survey. Staff at Kingston University were recorded telling students to falsify their ratings of the institution.

Hundreds of students have e-mailed the BBC News website claiming this is a more widespread problem.

The National Student Survey, set up by the funding council (Hefce), provides a league table of student satisfaction, which is intended to be useful for young people choosing a university.

Raising the issue in the Commons, Tory David Evennett asked: "Given that the National Student Survey is endorsed by the Government and funded by the taxpayer, what action will ministers be taking to investigate recent claims that records have been falsified."

Mr Denham told the Bexleyheath and Crayford MP: "I take those allegations very seriously.

"The evidence, such as it is, is that this is a very isolated example of students apparently being encouraged to rate their institution more highly than they might have done unprompted. I utterly condemn it."

But also worth checking: Universities face survey warning

May 13, 2008

University staff faking survey - Kingston University

By Sean Coughlan, BBC News education reporter

Students were instructed to exaggerate as "that's what everyone else is doing". University staff have been caught pressuring students to dishonestly answer an official funding council survey of student satisfaction.

Kingston University staff have been recorded instructing students to inflate their responses in the annual National Student Survey. "If Kingston comes down the bottom, the bottom line is that nobody is going to want to employ you," staff warned.

The university says it regrets this "isolated" incident. The audio recording, published on Live! the student news website of Imperial College, London, reveals members of university staff strongly urging students to falsify their responses in this national survey, in order to create a more positive impression for the university.

'It might sound biased...'

"The reason it's important is the results of this survey get fed into a national database which then feed into league tables - and it's the league tables that prospective employers and postgraduate courses use to assess the value of your degree," an unnamed member of staff tells students.

If you think something was a four - my encouragement would be give it a five, because that's what everyone else is doing.
Kingston University staff to students

"If Kingston comes down the bottom, then the bottom line is that nobody is going to want to employ you."

Using an expletive, the member of staff tells students that a poor ranking will make employers think that their degree is without value. The university says the recording is authentic and that it is investigating the identity of the member of staff, which the press office says it believes to be a lecturer.

This National Student Survey was introduced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) as part of its quality assurance process - "to gather feedback on the quality of students' courses in order to contribute to public accountability".

However the recording from Kingston University shows an attempt to use the survey to manipulate the university's standing.

"In effect you're competing against lots of students at other institutions who also want their university to look good," students are told.

"Although this is going to sound incredibly biased, you rate these things on a five-point scale, if you think something was a four - a 'good' - my encouragement would be give it a five, because that's what everyone else is doing."

'Banging my head'

The recording even shows students being told specific areas in which the university wants to change its "profile" by fixing the results of the survey. The staff member tells students that there is a "dip" in the university's profile in giving students feedback. She says they might be failing to recognise the amount of feedback they are receiving.

"Feedback, in terms of this questionnaire, means what happens in seminars. Every seminar you have you get some interactive feedback from the person giving it. So if I ask a question and no one answers, and I start banging my head on the table, that is feedback.

"If I'm smiling and going 'yeah great', you're getting feedback. If you get a mark for a piece of work, that's what we mean by feedback."

Another member of staff instructs students not to use the survey for negative comments if they are unhappy about the modules they have been taught. "All that garbage you're spewing out about us" should not be included in the National Student Survey.

A spokesperson for Kingston University confirmed that they believed the recording to be genuine. "We believe this to be an isolated incident and regret the inappropriate comments made to students about the National Student Survey, even if these remarks were not intended to be taken entirely literally.

"With regards to disciplinary action, the investigation has yet to be completed so no decision has yet been made on what action should be taken in this case."

The Higher Education Funding Council (Hefce) says it is aware of this incident and believes it to be authentic - and says it takes this "very seriously" - but that it does not invalidate the overall results of the survey.

The importance of this national survey has been emphasised in previous years by the Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell - who called it a "powerful tool for student empowerment and institutional improvement".

"Academics up and down the country pore over these results to see how they are performing and how what they are offering can be improved," Mr Rammell had said about the survey.
To download and listen to the recording scroll to the bottom of the web page and click on 'click here to download'.
Also how the media covered this story:

Your Local Guardian: Kingston University students told to cheat on survey

Daily Mail: University lecturers told students to give them glowing reports or risk a 's**t' degree to boost league table ranking

Times Online: Give us glowing report or get a s**t degree, lecturers tell students

Flisolo: National Student Survey Rigged

Times Higher Education: Students urged to inflate national survey marks to improve job options

Telegraph Online: Kingston University students 'told to lie' to boost rankings

The London Paper: Kingston University lecturers in hot water over telling students to artificially boost ranking scores Students claim survey dishonesty

This is Hertfordshire: KINGSTON: Lecturers involved in university lie exposed

Londonist: Kingston Coaxes Suspect Survey Responses

And the following - posted on another blog:

Emma said...

I went to Kingston uni first as an undergraduate and then as a PhD student. This behaviour is very typical of the staff mentioned, particualry Fiona. Fiona is engaged to the Head of Psychology and thinks she can get away with everything as a result. When I was working as a memebr of staff whilst doing my PhD this was the kind of thing she would ask us to do.

There is so much favouritism at this uni and many staff are unhappy.

Fiona once told me to give a student a low mark because she kept complaining. She should be sacked for this but because of her fiance being so high up in the uni it probably won't happen.

May 11, 2008

Workplace bullying: a cross-level assessment

By Joyce Heames and Mike Harvey, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi, USA

Recent studies indicate that workplace bullying behavior is a noteworthy and prevalent issue in organizations around the world (e.g.Demark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Ireland, UK, Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, US, and other countries). A survey conducted in Canada revealed that 78 percent of the respondents felt incivility had worsened in the previous ten years (Pearson, 1999). A survey of 5,000 employees across all sectors of British industry reported that one in ten workers had been bullied in the previous six months causing stress and an estimated 1 million work days lost in production (Keelan, 2000). A study of 9,000 federal employees in the US estimated the cost of workplace bullying and harassment activities to be $180 million in production days annually (Farrell, 2002). In addition, in Iceland, researchers revealed that 8.3 percent of the workforce had experienced and 23.4 percent had witnessed bullying in the six months preceding the study (Olafsson and Johannsdottir, 2004).

…Three avenues of thought have developed around explanations for the inherent characteristics of the workplace bully. One group placed emphasis on the genetic and childhood experiences that lead to workplace bullying. Raine et al. (1994) set forth biological “causes” of aggressive bullying behavior in the workplace. Some support has been shown for the assertion is that the adult bully learned this behavior in childhood, is unable to break the psychological cycle as he or she grows into adulthood, and thus mimics the destructive behavior either at home or in the workplace (Haynie et al., 2001; Robinson and O’Leary-Kelly, 1998).

A second group of academics has looked to the context of the workplace and relational stress issues as being instrumental in provoking deviant behavior such as bullying (Einarsen, 2000; Einarsen and Skogstad, 1996; Heames et al., 2006). Their premise suggests that organizational structure, group norms, status inconsistency, and the resulting strained relationships can contribute to or escalate negative behavior that can lead to bullying. O’Leary-Kelly et al. (1996) conceptualized a model of organization motivated aggression, which focused on actions and outcomes instigated by characteristic and situations in the organization that led to aggressive behaviors. A third faction suggests a combination of innate characteristics and social contexts encourages overt bullying (Espelage et al., 2000). They contend that it is both situational and dispositional with employees’ behavior being governed by both their genetic (natural instincts) and the norms of the workplace (environmental instincts).

Pearson (1999) reported that 46 percent of workers considered quitting because of the increased pressure due to the hostile environments created by bullies and 12 percent did quit their jobs. Although this paper proposes that bullying is felt across other levels of the organization, it appears that the victim as the immediate target endures the most dramatic corollary. The target of repetitive bullying behavior can become personally traumatized and in some cases psychologically scarred for life (Leymann and Gustafsson, 1996; Namie, 2003).

The profile of the individual who is repetitively victimized by a bully can become known in the organization, which in turn, lowers their social standing within the organization and results in an even lower level of self-esteem (Crawford, 1999). Individual and social factors within the organization have been identified for employees that might be considered easy targets for victimization (i.e. low self-esteem, disability, physical weakness, shyness and unassertive personality, lack of friends – especially lack of high powered friends, submissive, low in independence, and introversion) (Aquino and Lamertz, 2004; Smith et al., 2003). All of these characteristics leave the potential victim vulnerable and open for the more aggressive personality of the bully (Aquino and Byron, 2002):

The harmful actions directed against a selected target are often performed deliberately to exercise social control, enhance self-identity, or achieve justice as defined by the actor (the bully) (Felson, 1992, p. 5).

Another central tenet for consideration is the victim’s disposition or outlook on life. A predisposition to negativity lends itself to a victim’s perception and belief that once bullied they will always be bullied (Coyne et al., 2003; Jockin et al., 2001). Negative affectivity (NA) is defined as “the tendency to experience negative emotions across situations and time” (Perrewe´ and Spector, 2002, p. 37). According to Watson and Clark (1984), persons with high NA are prone to focus on the negatives aspects of their personal environment and are less happy with their lives, and may project a meek demeanor. If the victim becomes labeled as a “submissive” and perhaps “deserving of mistreatment”, they can be targets for other aggressive behaviors and may even become the scapegoat for other members of the group (Aquino and Lamertz, 2004). Some victims of repeated serious work stressors such as bullying suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), an extreme case of anxiety disorder that affects every aspect of a person’s life and including their mental health (Leymann, 1996)…

It is believed that peers, subordinates, and immediate managers are often frightened and sometimes afraid of retribution from the bully if they try to intervene and thus, may experience self-doubt when faced with such a situation (Bowes-Sperry and O’Leary-Kelly, 2005; Delbecq, 2001). For fear, the bully will turn on and make them the target of his/her destructive behavior, other group members maybe hesitant to voice objection to the behavior or to express concern for the victim. This fear perceived by the observers does not have to be real relative to the ability of the bully to actually retaliate (O’Gorman, 1986). Consequently, self-preservation appears to drive many group members into a mode of silence and acquiescence


May 10, 2008

Is it worth it?

Are the target’s needs for fairness and justice outweighed by the price paid for challenging an often smug, hurtful culture that will likely outlast any lone individual’s campaign for justice?

May 08, 2008

Taking the HEA to task over accountability

I am writing as a member of the Higher Education Academy academic council. I was elected in October as a representative of the fellows. My platform was highly critical of the HEA leadership. I alleged, inter alia, that the HEA failed to defend academic freedom, values and standards because it listened to "managers" not practitioners. I came first of 92 candidates in the ballot.

Like other contributors to Times Higher Education (Letters, 24 April; 1 May), I am disgusted at the way in which the HEA has behaved towards Lee Harvey. Its leadership has steadily dismantled the democratic checks and balances without which institutional abuses become rife. Shame on it.

An evaluation of the HEA by management consultants Oakleigh Consulting ( is an eye-opener. At the last meeting of council I submitted a paper recommending "that the board invite some suitably experienced fellows to investigate those aspects of the culture in (HEA) York which have given rise to the dissatisfaction among staff noted in the Oakleigh Report ... and to the critical comments ... which led Oakleigh to conclude that 'this is the sort of issue which gives organisations an unhelpful reputation'".

Council refused. It also refused to put the report or the HEA's "action plan" in response to it on any future agenda of council. This is what the HEA really thinks about "academic input" to the board. It has become an organisation of managers, by managers, for managers.

When the academy abolished its former council (30 members; 16 elected fellows; various powers to determine policy) and replaced it with the "academic council" (15 members; four elected fellows; no powers to determine anything), the CEO claimed that this would "increase the input of academic teachers". Such sophistry is risible, but what is happening to Lee Harvey is no laughing matter. As correspondents have said, what example does this set for universities in this country? What example does it set abroad? What is this supposed to teach students about how to treat colleagues decently in academic debate or in employment?

But colleagues threatening to resign their fellowships should think again. Since the HEA abolished the individual subscription (without consulting council), it has made itself financially unaccountable to fellows. Write letters of complaint to the board instead. Copy the THE thread to them. Force them to see how widely our disgust is shared.

The time has come for an independent inquiry into the way in which the HEA has been governed and managed since it swallowed the Institute for Learning and Teaching. The ILT was far from perfect, but it was collegial, democratic and had a culture of respect for academic freedom and individual academics. Academics and students need such an institution. The HEA is not it.

Philip Burgess, Perthshire

Extracts from 'Interim Evaluation of the Higher Education Academy', January 2008:

The leadership and management of the Academy also need to be predicated on more effective internal communication and interaction than hitherto. A more open culture underpinned by delegated management practice must be a key objective in this regard.

The Academy serves the needs of a multi-faceted and multi-layered community of interest. Its approach to communications needs to have the same degree of sophistication, and be better directed and more focused and accessible.

The Academy must recognise that, put simply, it has ‘customers’ – primarily HEIs and individual academics teaching in HE (whether located in HEIs or further education colleges (FECs)) – and that they have needs it exists to serve.

All this demands putting in place a more sophisticated relationship management and communications strategy than has been in evidence to date, supported by proportionately more capable systems and processes. It also calls for a clearer and more coherent business strategy...

All staff, led by SEG and the Chief Executive, should address the development of a more open, responsive and effective culture of communication across the Academy...

It was suggested to us by some staff in the Academy (including members of the Board) and some consultees who interact with the Academy that there is residual dissatisfaction across the Academy’s staff base regarding the process of formation and the style of leadership by some senior managers.

Some of the contributory factors to this appear to have included:
• uncertainties over shifts in some staff roles and remits
• a perceived lack of clarity by some staff of the processes through which decisions regarding the continuation/cessation of project funding streams are made, where this impacts on staff activity.

The extent to which staff feel that they are supported through current line management and project management structures may partially depend on the nature of their roles. For example, some staff suggested that the line management structures for senior advisers and assistant directors are less ‘bedded down’ and thus less clear than for other staffing groups
It would seem from the above that the HEA is run like any other HEI... favoritism, nepotism, incompetence, lack of accountability, etc.

Cut it out. Enough of this!

"You know what stops mobbings? Somebody saying, Cut it out. Enough of this."

By Sandra M. Stokes, PhD, professor of education and women’s studies, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Sheri R. Klein, PhD, professor of art education, University of Wisconsin-Stout

The topic of mobbing has recently received media attention, with some experts believing that instances of mobbing on higher education campuses are increasing. Researchers claim mobbing affects only about 2% to 5% of all workers, but the highest number of mobbing incidents takes place in higher education. Women faculty are the majority of the targets.

What exactly is mobbing? According to authors Noa Davenport, Ruth Schwartz and Gail Elliott in Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace (Civil Society Publishing, 2004):

Mobbing is an emotional assault. It begins when an individual becomes the target of disrespectful and harmful behavior. Through innuendo, rumors, and public discrediting, a hostile environment is created in which one individual gathers others to willingly, or unwillingly, participate in continuous malevolent actions to force a person out of the workplace.

These actions escalate into abusive and terrorizing behavior. The victim feels increasingly helpless when the organization does not put a stop to the behavior or may even plan or condone it.

As a result, the individual experiences increasing distress, illness, and social misery… Resignation, termination, or early retirement—the negotiated voluntary or involuntary expulsion from the workplace—follows. For the victim, death—through illness or suicide—may be the final chapter in the mobbing story.

Financial consequences also can be a part of the mobbing; personnel reviews often are intentionally used to justify little to no salary increases or lack of retention.

How to recognize mobbing

Mobbing can be distinguished from the ordinary storm und drang that sometimes characterizes life in a university. A major characteristic is that the attack made on the target is not made on the actions or words of the faculty member but instead on the faculty member herself.

Other characteristics:

* The target has a record of success.
* The mobbers make up the rules as they go along and do not follow the accepted university due process procedures.
* The timing usually favors the mobbers, such as choosing to attack after the faculty member has had a serious medical procedure.
* The mobbers protest vehemently against any external review of their actions.
* The mobbers attempt to carry out their attacks in complete secrecy, using such tactics as anonymous hate mail left in the target’s mailbox.
* The charges against the target are for relatively minor instances, such as alleging that a faculty member has said certain things that the mobbers find objectionable.

--There is a unanimity of negative opinion about the target.

--The target is selected first and then the charges are brought.

--The mobbers use “impassioned rhetoric” in attacking the target.

--The mobbers spread rumors and gossip about the target.

Mobbing behaviors

Is it your imagination or is it mobbing?

While behaviors vary in scope and intensity, the most common include:

* not speaking to the target (e.g., when the department is assembled for a meeting, everyone is chatting except to the target; when it is time to be seated, everyone moves away from the target)
* downgrading work done by the target while praising work done by everyone else (e.g., giving the target a satisfactory rating for producing a book while giving exceptional ratings to everyone else for little to no productivity)
* filing complaints through faculty grievances based on “lack of collegiality”
* assigning everyone in a department to teach summer courses except the target
* a department chair taking away a course from the target when students complain of too much work instead of backing up the target
* not passing a major addition to a department’s curriculum because it was created by the target
* not including the target in any departmental planning
* conveying untrue allegations against the target to one and all
* letting untenured faculty as well as academic staff know that they should not interact with the target

Gender in mobbing

Research indicates that about 57% of those who are mobbed are women. According to the AFT Wisconsin Local 3535’s Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, women are targets in 75-80% of all cases of academic mobbing on campuses across the University of Wisconsin system.

Cases at the Wisconsin union include many instances of mobbing against faculty, particularly women faculty, who are outspoken about unethical and unjust situations. These faculty are quite competent and successful, and they be-come targets of mobbers who are threatened by their competence and professional success.

Other factors that determine who gets mobbed:

* Ethical and just people with high standards
* Independent, skilled and bright people with integrity
* Cooperative, “nice” people
* Marginalized or vulnerable people, such as those with a disability, those from another country or those who are somehow unlike everyone else.

Sadly, the perpetrators of mobbing are also often disproportionately women. In fact, according to researcher Linda Shallcross, the technique of mobbing—in which the attacks on a target are sneaky and collective—greatly appeals to women.

Administrators’ role

One characteristic in higher education that especially encourages mobbing is the tendency of administrators and/or campus leaders to ignore or tolerate the mistreatment of the target. Although mobbing can be instigated by a campus leader or administrator, it is always led by someone who has power over a group.

Administrators who are not directly responsible for the mobbing often fail to respond to it, which allows the mobbing to continue until the target gives up and leaves, develops life-threatening medical conditions (most commonly cardiac complications) or commits suicide—as do some 12% of all academics who are mobbed.

Administrators and campus leaders need to become more aware of this phenomenon on their campuses and take action to end it. A faculty member who has conducted years of research on this topic, Kenneth Westhues of the University of Waterloo, has said: “You know what stops mobbings? Somebody saying, ‘Cut it out. Enough of this.’”

What can be done?

If you suspect that you are being mobbed, document everything that is said and done to make you feel this way. Get help from external sources who are knowledgeable about academic mobbing. Find an ally (a colleague, mentor or supervisor) whom you can trust to be a reality check and source of support.

Outside observers can look at situations where attacks are occurring. Are the attacks on the person or on her actions/words? Don’t stand by idly. Make campus leaders aware of the attacks and insist that they take action against the mobbers. Work for anti-mobbing policies on your campus. Don’t allow any one person or group to circumvent normal university due process procedures.

Those who do nothing and tolerate the attacks are jeopardizing not only their own careers, but also those of other smart, effective campus contributors who are likely to be the next targets.

Doing nothing enables the mobbers, so that academic mobbing will continue. It won’t stop until colleagues and administrators say “NO” to mobbing. The consequences of inaction are enormous for everyone, but the real losers in the academy are the students.


May 05, 2008

When Whistleblowing Leads to Bullying at Work

By Stig Berge Matthiesen (Associate Professor), Univeristy of Bergen, Norway

Whistleblowing can be defined as the act that takes place when an employee is witnessing wrongdoing in the work place (e.g. unethical conduct, corruption, violence or bullying against others, criminal acts etc.) from a fellow employee or a superior (or a group of employees or superiors), and he or she then tries to stop the wrongdoing by informing a leader or someone who is in the position to stop the wrongdoing. This telling about the wrongdoing may be done internally or externally. In the whistleblowing literature it is common to differentiate between whistleblowing and informing. A whistleblower does not take action with the intent to promote their own career ambitions.

Blowing the whistle concerns important ethical or societal issues, and the whistleblower may feel that he or she does not have the conscience to just keep quiet. Lives may be lost, serious pollution may get out of control, human rights may be seriously violated, or the company may get liquidated, if someone does not take action. On the other hand, if you want to get even with your colleague, or express something negative about him or her to your boss, then you act as an informer, not as a whistleblower. Many, including those in the judicial system, find it difficult to differentiate between acts of whistleblowing and acts of informing. Mixed cases may of course also exist.

Some whistleblowers are rewarded, and gain career promotion. An example of this happened when 3 middle managers were appointed as “name of the year” in USA in December 2002 by Time Magazine. They had reported severe corruption (in the World Com and Enron companies) or criminal neglect (in the FBI system after the 11th of September) to their superiors, in order to stop the wrongdoing. First they were ignored, but they never gave up.

However, some whistleblowers experience the opposite of being rewarded. Ingratitude is the way of the world, they realised instead. Some whistleblowers are exposed to severe bullying after they blew the whistle. They can be met with severe intra group or career sanctions that may lead to major health problems, even to symptoms of PTSD. A typical way of punishing or sanctioning a whistleblower is to meet him or her with tough ostracism, to completely isolate the person from others or from work tasks. Many of whistleblowers are simply sacked from their job, or their work contracts are not renewed. They may even experience that rumours about this “disloyal” worker are spread around, to other companies as well, making it extremely difficult for the person who blew the whistle to obtain another job.

One of the whistleblowers I met as part of my job as a researcher and counsellor in the field of occupational health psychology, Mr. X, worked as a prison officer in a sub-unit of a major prison. In this job he was confronted with many episodes of unethical or criminal acts conducted not by the prisoners, but by his fellow prison officers. A relatively influential group of his colleagues constituted the problem. The organizational culture of the unit, with e.g. severe corruption, was in his opinion out of control. At least this was what he realized after several years with gradual decline of the general professional conduct in the ward. He found this negative development impossible to tolerate. When Mr. X took action and informed the management of the prison, he was treated as a Judas or traitor, not only by his fellow colleagues, but also by the union representatives.

He was then socially isolated, being transferred to another job as an industrial guard in the prison system without being asked about his own opinion. In his “new job” he would not have any regular contact with any colleagues or inmates, as a “persona non grata”. When he was met with the impact of all the sanctions imposed upon him, he suffered a nervous breakdown. The break down turned into a long lasting sick leave. After some years, with several episodes of successive long term sick leave, he was granted disability benefit. After some of his old mental strength had returned, he took his case to the court, but lost.

As part of the judicial process, Mr. X was tested extensively by various psychological tests (MMPI-2, SCL-90, GHQ-30, among those) by 2 expert witnesses (I was one). We, as expert witnesses, also conducted several interviews with him. The psychological tests all revealed the same picture. Mr. X suffered from severe mental health problems (depression, anxiety, concentration difficulties, and bizarre imaginations, among others). About 18 months after the trial ended his case was taken to the appeal court. The story repeats itself – he loosed again.

Did his mental health further deteriorate after such an experience? About 2 months after the last court trial, Mr. X , went through the same kind of psychological screening. All tests revealed that he had recovered his mental strength, quite contrary to my expectations in advance. Mr. X’s own explanation was that even if he lost the court trials, and even after being out of working life against his own will, he had been able through this process to achieve a kind of psychological redress. The judicial process, and all the people he had been in contact with therein, gave him access to extensive moral and social support, he claimed. Suddenly Mr. X was heard and understood by his surroundings. He was no longer confused. Thus, Mr. X now recognized the interconnection between the various things that had occurred in relation to him blowing the whistle. Sense of coherence, shattered assumptions being recovered, cognitive dissonance being replaced by cognitive consonance, are but some of the psychological processes that may explain why Mr. X recovered.

In sum, exposure to bullying and harassment may be the consequences of blowing the whistle on your colleagues or your organization. This may be the case, in particular, in organizations that lack experience with how to handle whistleblowing. A defensive reaction when someone blows the whistle is to “kill the messenger”, instead of preventing or interfering with the alleged acts of wrongdoing.

Poor leadership skills should also be considered as an important intermediate factor when whistleblowing ends with bullying. Usually, the leader will have a (high) work task orientation, combined with a minor (low) level of people orientation. Hence, many whistleblowers may realize that they may be exposed to strong work place sanctions following whistleblowing, such as severe ostracism or even risk of losing their job or any positive or meaningful parts of their current job. Such an unfair and destructive process must be prevented. Still, as seen in the presented case, some of the bullied whistleblowers are able to maintain their mental health irrespective of this, and they may recover. The case of Mr. X may illustrate this. Psychological redress may constitute an important explanation of such mental recovery. As occupational health psychologists, we may have a role to play in that respect.


May 03, 2008

Leadership or rather the lack of it...

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers (students, colleagues etc.) stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.

From "A soldier's way" by Colin Powell. ISBN 0091791995

Now think of your own academic leaders and managers and draw your own conclusions...

May 01, 2008

Kingston University and Student Satisfaction Survey

This is how certain persons (MPEG file) at Kingston University instructed a specific group of students on how to fill in the Student Satisfaction Survey.

More specifically, Fiona Barlow-Brown and Fred Vallee-Tourangeau from Kingston University told students that:

• they will be 'hounded' if they do not fill in the survey;

• they will have to logon to computers to fill in the survey (does this guarantee anonymity?);

• if Kingston comes down to the bottom of the table in terms of student satisfaction, nobody would want to employ them because employers will think that their degree is 'shit';

• if they think something on the survey is worth a '4', students are encouraged to make it a '5' because that is what everybody else is doing (beef up the score); and

• the student satisfaction survey is not the place to provide negative feedback for modules that students are not happy with.

Considering the above statements, it is natural to ask a number of questions:
  1. Does the recommendation that student-satisfaction surveys be made public in an effort to improve the quality of institutions, put pressure on academics and administrative staff to 'manipulate' outcomes?

  2. In this survey where the scale ranges from 1 to 5, how appropriate is it to tell students that a '4' should be rounded-up to a '5' because everybody else does the same?

  3. Administering the survey through individual student logon, does not guarantee anonymity. Is this right?

  4. Do employers look at student satisfaction surveys to determine if a degree is 'shit'?

  5. Why is not the student satisfaction survey the place to provide negative feedback for modules that students are not happy with?
Professor Lee Harvey was recently suspended from the Higher Education Academy because he expressed in public his views about the survey. Among other things, Prof. Harvey wrote: '... This valuable source of information [the survey] has been under-exploited...' Judging from the manner Fiona Barlow-Brown and Fred Vallee-Tourangeau from Kingston University briefed the students, could it not be argued that the process of conducting the survey is open to subtle but potentially decisive 'manipulations'?

Lastly, how indicative of the way Kingston University deals with students, is the briefing approach adopted by Fiona Barlow-Brown and Fred Vallee-Tourangeau?

We would appreciate some answers from the HEA, Kingston University, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, UniversitiesUK, and of course the National Union of Students.
To download and listen to the recording scroll to the bottom of the web page and click on 'click here to download'.