February 26, 2009

University researchers to study violence at work

Psychologists from the University of Sheffield will examine the causes and effects of work-related violence and bullying in a groundbreaking new study, thanks to a £97,000 grant from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

Violence at work is an emerging issue which can leave victims prone to anxiety, depression and, in a minority of cases, suicide. A wide range of workers, from police officers to call centre employees, are known to suffer from physical violence and verbal aggression in the workplace.

Work-related violence and bullying have implications not just for victims, but also for the health and well-being of those who witness them. The effects are also felt at an organisational level, for example through staff absences.

The research team, from the University´s Institute of Work Psychology (IWP) and the Department of Psychology, will be one of the first to examine both violence and bullying instigated from within organisations (by other employees), and from outside of organisations (by customers), in the same study.

Many acts of violence, aggression and incivility - especially those originating from outside an organisation - are difficult to predict and prevent. The researchers will therefore focus on how to limit the effects violence and bullying have on employees´ well-being and health.

The researchers will measure the impact of violence and bullying over time to enable greater insight into the causes and detrimental effects.

Christine Sprigg, from IWP, said: "Recent research has suggested value in considering external and internal sources of workplace violence simultaneously. Based on these initial findings, this will be the first time a single study has considered both the intra- and extra-organisational forms of violence and bullying.

"We look forward to working with a number of organisations to deliver our findings to IOSH. Without their support we would not be able to gather the evidence that is needed to give the correct advice to those who have to deal with these difficult issues."

Notes for Editors: The research team includes Christine Sprigg and Dr Karen Niven, both from the Institute of Work Psychology, and Dr Chris Armitage from the Department of Psychology.

The team is inviting a range of organisations and employees to collaborate with the research. Organisations interested in this groundbreaking research should contact Dr Karen Niven, Research Assistant, on 0114 2223268 or email k.niven@sheffield.ac.uk or Christine Sprigg, Lead Investigator, on 0114 2223263 or email c.a.sprigg@sheffield.ac.uk

From: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk

February 19, 2009

Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven?

Academic life can be a great thing, providing one with the opportunity to engage in teaching and educational activities, scholarly research and writing, and myriad forms of public service.

However, the culture of academe can be petty, mean, exclusionary, competitive, and hierarchical. Bullying and mobbing behaviors occur with surprising frequency, and sometimes with stunning brutality. They can transcend the type of institution, academic disciplines, and political beliefs.

Here’s my short take on bullying in academe: Academicians are adept at intellectual analysis, manipulation, and argumentation. When applied to the tasks of teaching, scholarship, and service, these skills reinforce the most socially useful aspects of the academy. But many of us who have worked in academe have seen what happens when they are applied in hurtful or even malicious ways.

Of course, exquisitely rationalized actions and explanations occur in many organizations, but in dysfunctional academic settings, they often rise to an art form. After repeated such bludgeonings, we may become accustomed to, and sometimes all too indifferent towards, intellectual dishonesty and rhetorical “mal-manipulation.” Call it Dilbert in Tweed.

Because this kind of mental facility often is at the heart of both perpetrating and defending bullying, academe becomes a natural petri dish for such behaviors, especially the covert varieties. After all, so many decisions in the academy are based upon very subjective judgments. This can create a particularly attractive setting for the passive-aggressive bully and the quiet-but-deadly mob.

Fortunately, bullying in the academic workplace is receiving more attention. For those who want to investigate this topic further, here are some good starting places:

The Work of Kenneth Westhues

Kenneth Westhues is a University of Waterloo sociologist who has written a series of insightful, provocative, and exhaustively researched books about workplace mobbing in academe. Ken’s work, which is grounded in
meticulous case studies and analyses of how professors have been subjected to extreme mistreatment at the hands of administrators and faculty colleagues, digs well beneath the surface: He shows us just how twisted and frightening these behaviors and the rationale behind them can become – often at the hands of intelligent, successful people who claim to be fair-minded, ethical human beings.

Ken’s most important book, in my opinion, is The Envy of Excellence, which explores in horrible detail the
mobbing of former St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto theologian Herbert Richardson during the 1990s. The impact of Richardson’s story runs throughout Ken’s subsequent works.

Ken and I share a great mutual respect for each other’s work, even though we disagree on several matters. Ken uses the term “mobbing” to label the behaviors he finds so disturbing, while I usually use the term “bullying.” More substantively, Ken expresses deep reservations about enacting legal protections to address these behaviors, while I believe that the law can and should enter the picture when bullying becomes malicious and harmful. (For those who want to explore that debate, The Envy of Excellence includes his argument, while my response and general observations about mobbing and bullying in academe are contained in my essay, “The Role of the Law in Combating Workplace Mobbing and Bullying,” which appears in Ken’s edited volume, Workplace Mobbing in Academe.)

Ken’s website http://arts.uwaterloo.ca/~kwesthue/mobbing.htm) is a mere introduction to his work. His books require study, not casual perusal.

Significant Relevant Works
(Mellen Press series)

Eliminating Professors

The Envy of Excellence

Workplace Mobbing in Academe

Winning, Losing, Moving On

Remedy and Prevention of Mobbing in Higher Education


The Blogosphere

Commentaries on bullying and mobbing in academe are appearing with greater frequency in the blogosphere as well:

Bullying of Academics in Higher Education (http://www.bulliedacademics.blogspot.com/), hosted by a group of European scholars, is an excellent ongoing source of information and commentary.

See also individual posts in:

Historiann (http://www.historiann.com/2008/04/10/academic-bullying-and-discrimination-round-up-yee-haw/)

Millennial Law Prof — with an interesting generational view (http://www.themillennials.org/2008/07/academic-bullying.html)

Feminist Law Professors (http://feministlawprofs.law.sc.edu/?p=3284)

Academic Ladder (http://www.academicladder.com/gblog/2008/02/hazing-and-bullying-one-academics-story.htm)

Professor Chaos (http://profssrchaos.blogspot.com/2008/07/academic-bully-symptoms-and-diagnosis.html)

Wake Up APS Physics (http://wakeupapsphysics.blogspot.com/2008/04/relationship-between-bullying-violence.html)

BrainstormChronicle of Higher Education blogger Marc Bousquet blogs on “The Last Professors,” with comments that follow (http://chronicle.com/review/brainstorm/bousquet/the-last-professors)

From: http://newworkplace.wordpress.com/

February 13, 2009

Workplace Bullies: Taking “Sticks and Stones” to a New Level

We are all dealing with changes big or small as a result of recent economic events, and for the most part, we’re doing our best to take them in stride. One change that I’ve been reading more and more about lately, however, reveals a disturbing twist in the workplace landscape. According to a recent article on BNET, workplace bullies are out of the sandbox and on the rise in offices everywhere.

Okay, maybe not everywhere. But Preparis, Inc. a leader in work force preparedness solutions, forecasts that incidents of workplace violence could potentially rise as down-on-their-luck U.S. workers anticipate more layoffs this quarter and also continue to feel the pressure of putting food on the table for their families during the busy holiday season. As many workers fear that their homes, finances and jobs are threatened, they may turn to desperate measures to make ends meet - or take their stress out on those they work (and feel most comfortable) with. Preparis also mentions some warning signs of high stress that employers should watch out for.

Results from a 2007 WBI-Zogby survey of 7,440 American workers revealed that 37 percent, or an estimated 54 million people, have been bullied at work, and many lawyers say that bullying-related litigation is on the rise, particularly in light of our recent economic woes.

The effects are being felt abroad, too. The UK’s Chartered Management Institute has found that, in comparing recent results of their workplace bullying survey with survey results from three years ago, bullying appears to be on the rise across all organizations. Jo Causon, director of marketing and corporate affairs at CMI, says, “In the current economic climate, the pressure to deliver is more acute than ever, but the need to perform should not be seen as an excuse to bully.” She adds, “Now, more than ever, the ability of the UK’s managers and leaders to set a good example is paramount.”

From: http://thehiringsite.careerbuilder.com

February 12, 2009

Governors and academics are 'out of touch'

Concerns that some university governing bodies are out of touch with the academic leadership of their institutions have been raised by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

A survey for the foundation found that although the majority of senior university managers reported that relationships between the governors and the academic board were constructive, a significant minority reported less constructive relationships. One in five managers said relationships were only "sometimes" constructive, while 15 per cent said they were "rarely" constructive. Some 8.5 per cent of governors said relations were "rarely" or "not at all" constructive, and 10 per cent reported that they "don't know" if relations were good or not.

The Office of Public Management surveyed 294 governors and 131 managers at 27 universities across the sector.

The report accompanying the survey, published this week, says that in some institutions surveyed there was "almost no contact" between governing boards and academic boards "whereby not even minutes of the academic/board senate go to the governing body".

"It would certainly appear difficult for higher education institutions to undertake effectively their responsibility for determining educational character (whether formally defined or not) in such circumstances," the report says.

Half of governors and a third of senior managers answered "don't know", "sometimes", "rarely" or "not at all" to a question about whether their universities' employees understand the responsibilities of the governing body.

The report, prepared by Allan Schofield, the director of the Leadership Foundation's governor development programme, notes that little research has been done on how boards can maximise their effectiveness and how effective boards can be distinguished from poor ones.

"Similarly, the four UK higher education funding bodies have identified the increasing importance of governance but have no real way of identifying effectiveness in practice, beyond compliance with regulatory requirements and what is deemed acceptable practice in the sector," Mr Schofield says.

He adds: "In the private sector, it is difficult to conceive of a board being held to be effective where a company is performing less than satisfactorily, however, in higher education it has been perfectly possible to have the situation where corporate governance has had little relationship to the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching and research.

"The case for enhancing governance ... needs to be made not only on the basis of public accountability, but also by demonstrating the 'added value' to institutional performance that effective governance can bring."

From: Times Higher Education

February 07, 2009

Conduct unbecoming...

In a letter to the Times Higher Education (THE) ('Conduct unbecoming', 5 February 2009) the three authors raise the question of 'the integrity of your magazine'. As indicated by the comments below I, too, wonder whether this is a question that needs to be explored or discussed in the public domain.

I am aware that in 2008, a few months before the University of Leicester was given the THE award of 'University of the Year' - a category for which the THE editor, Ann Mroz, was one of the judges - the THE had received information indicating less than respectable results of staff surveys at the University of Leicester over the previous four years. Some of those results were worse (in percentage terms) than data published by the THE in relation to similar issues at other institutions, for example, the issue of bullying of staff. Yet the THE did not publish the Leicester results, or a letter to the THE in which reference was made to those results.

Since October 2008, when the University of Leicester received the THE award, the THE has included more 'promotional' material relating to that University in its magazine - including in the 'Campus round-up' pages in its edition of 5 February 2009. In those pages, the reader is told that staff are to be given an extra day's holiday this calender year 'in recognition of their contribution towards [the University being given the THE award].' The Vice-Chancellor, Bob Burgess, is quoted as saying that 'the national accolade... is a testament to the very high standing of the university.' The content of this latest material in the THE might lead a cynical reader to wonder whether the University of Leicester is preparing the ground for an application for the THE's forthcoming 'Leadership & Management Awards', for which the editor of the THE, Ann Mroz, will again be one of the judges.

I would like to suggest three questions:

1) Does the THE's apparent enthusiasm for including 'positive' information about the University of Leicester - even when the THE has received negative information (which may indicate an even worse position in respect of the treatment of staff than that highlighted by the THE in relation to other institutions) - add to concerns about the 'integrity of the magazine' or its imprtality or its need to keep the public interest at the top of the agenda?

2) Is the THE now in effect a public relations agency for the University of Leicester?

3) Do the THE criteria for choosing the 'University of the Year' exclude data or questions about the very important issue of the treatment of staff, to include matters such as bullying and suicide or attempted suicide [of staff]?


February 04, 2009


Egosyntonic is a medical term referring to behaviors, values, feelings, which are in harmony with or acceptable to the needs and goals of the ego, or consistent with one's ideal self-image. It is studied in detail in abnormal psychology. Many personality disorders are considered egosyntonic and are therefore nearly impossible to treat. Anorexia Nervosa, a hard-to-treat Type I disorder, is also considered egosyntonic because many of its sufferers deny that they have a problem. It is the opposite of egodystonic. Obsessive compulsive disorder is considered to be an egodystonic disorder, as the thoughts and compulsions experienced or expressed are not consistent with the individual's self-perception.

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egosyntonic

February 03, 2009

The ultimatum Leeds Met put to its vice-chancellor: Face an inquiry or quit

Strife-torn Leeds Metropolitan University has admitted that vice-chancellor Simon Lee quit in the face of allegations about his treatment of staff. Professor Lee was given the choice of resigning or facing a formal inquiry into the allegations.

At a meeting in November, governors' chairman, Ninian Watt told Prof Lee that "serious complaints regarding his treatment of staff had been made by a number of staff in the university in such a way that these could not be ignored".

Mr Watt did not use the word "bullying" but it has been reported that the complainants alleged he had reduced senior colleagues to tears and accused them of disloyalty.

Mr Watt made it clear that only two courses of action were open to Prof Lee: face a formal inquiry or resign. He went on January 14.

In a statement released today, the university says: "The Chair specified the nature of the behaviours alleged, but did not provide the details of individual complaints.

"Prof Lee was advised that two courses of action were open to him: first, that the allegations be formally investigated, during which time Professor Lee would be suspended, or second, that he resign from the University, leaving at the end of the current academic year."

The vice-chancellor denied the allegations but, says the statement, "it was agreed that he would have a period of time to decide which option he would prefer to pursue. At the end of that period he chose to resign."

Leeds Met's chancellor, former Olympic athlete Brendan Foster, resigned last month after his efforts to mediate between Professor Lee and Mr Watt proved fruitless.

In November, after receiving advice from University lawyers and several governors, the Chair of Governors informed Professor Lee that serious complaints regarding his treatment of staff had been made by a number of staff in the university in such a way that these could not be ignored. At no time has the Chair used the word "bullying".

The Chair specified the nature of the behaviours alleged, but did not provide the details of individual complaints. Professor Lee was advised that two courses of action were open to him: first, that the allegations be formally investigated, during which time Professor Lee would be suspended, or second, that he resign from the University, leaving at the end of the current academic year. Professor Lee denied the alleged behaviours.

It was agreed that he would have a period of time to decide which option he would prefer to pursue. At the end of that period he chose to resign.

Discussions took place between the respective legal advisors to negotiate a compromise agreement. This was concluded on 23rd December with an agreement that Professor Lee would announce his resignation in the week commencing 12th January.

Professor Lee has not received details of the individual complaints. The University is not taking formal action on the complaints. The University has not taken disciplinary action against Professor Lee.

From: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk

And: New chief vows no bullying under his regime

February 01, 2009

Staff demand to know why v-c and chancellor left

The University and College Union branch at Leeds Metropolitan University has called for more transparency over the resignations of the vice-chancellor and chancellor this month.

After a six-hour meeting of the board of governors on 28 January, the university announced that Geoff Hitchins has been made acting chief executive and that Simon Lee, the vice-chancellor, will continue in an “ambassadorial” role only until his departure in August.

Leeds Met gave no further information about the reasons for the departure of Professor Lee.

The UCU branch at Leeds Met unanimously passed a motion this week regretting that “no adequate account of the chancellor and v-c’s departures has been given either by the chancellor, v-c or the board of governors”.

It also demanded “transparency as to the reasons for the v-c’s departure”.

The union’s motion also criticised a “bullying culture” at the university and called for a “collegiate culture”.

Speculation over Professor Lee’s exit is mounting. The most recent edition of the university’s student newspaper, The Met, reported his departure with the headline: “Resigned or pushed?”

Professor Lee did not attend the governors’ meeting on Wednesday. The vice-chancellor’s daily “VC Reflects” column on the Leeds Met website was replaced by a statement from the chairman of the board of governors, Ninian Watt, on 29 January.

On 30 January, Dr Hitchins reiterated in a personal statement on the website that “until he leaves the university, [Professor Lee] will focus on an agreed external ambassadorial role and I will concentrate on the executive management of the university”.

Dr Hitchins said his “immediate task” would be to work with colleagues and trade unions “over key issues and ways of working… it will be business as usual, but inevitably reflecting my collegiate style of leadership and management.

“There is no denying that these are challenging times. My focus has to be on taking the university forward in line with the agreed priorities and obligations. The senior team and I must do all we can to ensure that we retain the confidence of students, staff, governors and other stakeholders and business partners, as we move forward to a new era under the leadership of the next vice-chancellor.”

The Yorkshire Post quoted Dr Hitchins as saying: “There may well be some people who have a concern about the culture of the university. All I can tell you is that there will be no bullying on my watch. I have been appointed because my style is my style, which is different, it is very collegiate.”

From: Times Higher Education