November 29, 2011

A bullying culture at Sydney Uni?

A bullying culture at Sydney Uni? An understandably anonymous tipster claims bullying of staff and students at the University of Sydney is now so rampant that staff openly seek to garner the support of students in their fight against an "utterly stubborn" management.

They write: "Further, students have been driven to the point of suicide or even attempted suicide at the hands of bullying university staff and the stock university response is to engage its hired legal guns (the Office of General Counsel) to shut the complainants down. Further still, the university's perpetual cash cow, the Business School, is awash with bullying of Chinese students, first through the over-representation of such students in academic dishonesty matters, and again the discriminatory manner in which those students are dealt with when they make special consideration applications due to illness or misadventure. Chinese students are often publicly yelled at by lecturers in the Business School: 'You are in Australia now, do as we do!'"

Are things really that bad? We'd love to hear from more staff and faculty on life on campus. Drop us a line or comment anonymously.

By Anonymous

Will Stirling University ever learn...

Stirling University doesn't like bad publicity. However that hasn't stopped them from using their corrupt practices to destroy people's lives. Instead, they try to hide their devious ways from the public gaze. Their lawyer obsessively raises the matter of my blog with judges because it is causing the university and several of its employees considerable embarrassment.

Since 2009, Wikipedia has displayed the story of David Donaldson, who in 2007 was a senior researcher at Stirling University. He removed a colleague's name from her research grant application, and replaced it with his own, attempting to make it look like it was his work. His act of piracy, which required swapping names eleven times, was discovered and he eventually wrote a letter of apology to his colleague, Dr. Rhodes. However, he later unfairly forced her out of her job at the university. She won her unfair dismissal claim at Glasgow Employment Tribunal in February 2009. Stirling University awarded Donaldson a Professorship shortly after he admitted to stealing Dr. Rhodes' work.

A number of attempts have been made to remove the article from Wikipedia. It is bound to be a source of embarrassment to the University. In the talk section for Wikipedia's Stirling University page, a discussion refers to a legal representative for the university asking for the Donaldson article to be removed. The request was rejected.

Times Higher Education carries a more detailed account of what happened.

Of course you must be wondering how an academic gets pushed out of a University by another academic. Dr. Rhodes was subjected to the same sham grievance procedure as I was. HR Director, Martin McCrindle conducted an investigation into her grievance and concluded there was no case to answer. He was backed by Principal, Christine Hallett. When Dr Rhodes told Martin McCrindle that she would prove what happened in court, McCrindle replied saying that she had 'no basis' to make a claim to the tribunal. As soon as she submitted her complaints to the tribunal, which she did as she had no other way of addressing what happened, they declared they wouldn't contest her claims! She won the case before it even got to court!

Their lawyer agreed with the judge when he said that not resisting her claims amounted to agreeing with them. Her claims included the fact that Donaldson's theft of her research had led to her dismissal (the theft for which she had a letter of apology) and a sham grievance procedure to investigate what happened when she found herself forced out. The university changed their reason for dismissing Dr. Rhodes three times. Each time she informed them that the reason was not valid in her case, so they just invented another false reason each time.

Similarly, in my own case, at my appeal hearing against dismissal I advised Martin McCrindle that my dismissal would prove embarrassing to the university and to several of its employees. He replied saying that that was only my opinion. Well, of course it was only my opinion, but I think it was a correct opinion. If my blog isn't causing anyone any embarrassment, then why is the university paying their lawyer to keep going on about it like a broken record? And if they weren't embarrassed by their sham grievance procedure, why would they risk a jail sentence by committing fraud in an attempt to cover it up, Martin?

Will Stirling University ever learn that they can't treat people like this?


November 17, 2011

'Prima donna' professors lambasted for failure to mentor

A lack of leadership and the failure to support and mentor junior colleagues have been highlighted in a major study of the professoriate.

Of the 1,200 academic staff from lower grades who responded to a survey commissioned by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, more than half (53 per cent) said they did not receive sufficient help or advice from professorial staff.

Only about one in seven (14 per cent) said they did receive enough support.

Asked if they had received excellent leadership or mentoring from professors in their university, 26 per cent said "never" and 36 per cent "occasionally". This compares with 9 and 19 per cent who responded "very often" and "quite often", respectively.

The study was led by Linda Evans, a reader in education at the University of Leeds, who revealed the provisional findings to Times Higher Education.

Working with colleagues at Oxford Brookes University, she collated hundreds of comments about professors from the point of view of "the led", with respondents from across 94 institutions complaining that many professors were remote, unhelpful, haughty, self-aggrandising and poor communicators.

One disgruntled staff member described professors as "prima donnas, bullies and not team players", while another said the "notion of 'professorial leadership' struck a slightly odd note" because he viewed them as "only looking after their own interests".

Another characterised them as "personal glory seekers", while yet another inveighed against "backstabbing assholes who take the credit for other people's work".

Asked about the accessibility of professors to more junior academics seeking advice, one respondent said: "Are you kidding?" Another said they were generally "too 'busy' with 'important stuff' to bother with mentoring".

Dr Evans, whose study is titled "Leading professors: examining the perspectives of 'the led' in relation to professorial leadership", said she was struck by the volume of criticism. "The comments were predominantly negative," she said.

"There were also positive comments, however, so it's certainly not a case of 'professor bashing'. But some academic leaders and management would be quite surprised at how negatively they are viewed."

A lack of clarity over the professorial role helped to create much dissatisfaction, added Dr Evans, with some professors asked to fulfil too many roles.

"It was remarked that many professors are appointed solely on the basis of research and some are almost autistic," she said.

"So why should we expect them to have leadership skills? That was not the criterion on which they were appointed.

"There must be some system of bringing on the next generation of academics, but whether it is done through professors or the wider university is an important question.

"If we are not careful we will be pulling professors in too many directions. They are not Superman - we can't push them into roles they do not want or cannot do."

Defining a professor's remit was also difficult when the university sector contained so many different institutions, she added.

About 87 per cent of respondents said a professor should maintain a publication record above non-professorial staff, while 82 per cent said excellence in teaching should be a requirement.

About 77 per cent said professors should generate a steady stream of research funding, while 52 per cent believed they should have a lighter teaching load than other staff.

However, the comments received in the survey highlight many common gripes.

"I have no idea what professors in my department/college are supposed to be doing," said one academic, adding that "from the looks of things, neither do they".

Another said: "Many of our professors were 'bought' in for the last [research assessment exercise] and have done nothing to contribute to an improved research culture. Some think teaching is beneath them."

Professors were also described as "pointless - they have little or no role outside their own direct concerns" and are "only interested in getting the star on other people's papers and raising research funds with other people's ideas".

"'Professorial' and 'leadership' are two words that in general do not fit together in universities from my experience," concluded another.

"Once promoted to that position, the majority are slowly heading to retirement. Many of them are unknown to colleagues even in their own corridor."

The year-long study will now seek to gain views from professors themselves, with the findings discussed in seminars hosted by the Society for Research into Higher Education.


November 07, 2011

The academic as truth-teller

The logic of the bureacratisation of academia, forcing academics to 'publish or perish' and cut corners when it comes to teaching, has more to do with the marketisation of universities than learning and scholarship.

Sadly, just as the principle of free higher education is under assault as never before, so too is the idea of the academic as a free-thinking intellectual, particularly in the UK. In the first place, rather than being allowed to pursue ideas for their own sake, increasingly British academics are pressured into meeting university and departmental demands for the five- or six-yearly Research Assessment Exercise (lately renamed the Research Excellence Framework). Introduced in 1985/6 as a means of evaluating the ‘quality’ of academic research across the various disciplines, the RAE requires university departments to submit four publications for each full-time member of staff selected for inclusion. Departments are then ranked according to their research outputs, research environment and indicators of esteem by a panel of subject specialists (there were 67 panels for the 2008 RAE). And it is these rankings that determine the allocation of quality weighted research funding each university receives from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), a non-departmental public body currently overseen by the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. But the pressure to perform well in the RAE has resulted in academics being subject to ever-increasing layers of micromanagement and performance indicators whose logic are more corporate than they are academic. In actual fact, the roots for this bureaucratisation of scholarship can be traced back to the elite US Ivy League business schools and management consultancy firms such as Bain & Company, the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey.

The upshot of this academic drift is that the ‘publish or perish’ imperative is now endemic within academe. And not just any old publication will do. The sheer volume of submissions to the RAE (over 200,000 outputs were submitted as part of the 2008 RAE) makes it virtually impossible for panel members to read through each and every article, which invariably means that common assumptions are made about the ‘quality’ of articles published in top peer-reviewed journals vis-à-vis those published elsewhere. But what this supposition overlooks is all the very good quality research published by those academics who refuse to play the RAE ‘game’. Indeed, it has been argued that only publishing in the ‘top’ journals forces academics to fashion their research around what those journals want, which can result in an unwillingness to push beyond the narrow confines of specialist fields of study and, ultimately, intellectual inertia[11].

Moreover, with sails trimmed tight, increasingly academics are forced to cut corners if they are to meet the next publishing deadline, particularly newly qualified academics who are expected to combine research with heavy teaching loads and endless administrative duties (a problem whose sheer scale and mind-numbingly tedious and pointless nature appears to be exclusively British). ‘What ever you do, don’t over-prepare’: ‘You only need to be one step ahead’: ‘Just cover the basics, ignore the rest’. These are just some of the suggested coping strategies one encounters when starting a new lecturing post. So much for the idea that the university is a place where teaching is carried out in an atmosphere of research, and vice versa. And this says nothing of the way in which the instrumentalisation of research has undermined collegiality by atomising any sense of a collective academic community[12]. It is no wonder that many junior academics, though grateful to finally have got their feet under the desk, find the early years of their careers strangely alienating and dispiriting, not quite knowing where to begin, what to prioritise or who to turn to[13].

Other ‘McKinseyian’ performance indicators include the unyielding pressures academics now face to secure external sources of funding (otherwise known as ‘grant-capture’), which often involves the preparation of long and tedious application forms for ever decreasing amounts of money and worsening odds of success. To compound matters, most academic funding bodies have rolled out award schemes that encourage collaborative research with a non-academic partner, which necessarily means a further narrowing of research aims and objectives. That many present-day universities so prize ‘cultural partnerships’, ‘corporate sponsorship’ or ‘third-stream funding’ in an effort to offset the shortfall in government funding muddies the waters yet further insofar as one sees increasing numbers of academics posturing as ‘consultants’ in the belief that research which has an economic or technocratic function is the surest way to gain promotion. And should the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework go ahead with the proposed 25 per cent weighting for so-called ‘impact’ (the premise being that academics and university departments will need to demonstrate how their research has impacted on and benefited the wider economy and society) the situation will almost certainly become even worse. In terms of the humanities specifically, the effect would be, as recently noted by Stefan Collini, ‘potentially disastrous’, not least because the implication is that academics will ‘be judged and rewarded as salesmen’ and thus forced into ‘hustling’ and ‘hawking’ their intellectual wares[14].

Which brings us to the crux of the matter: as market-driven research and corporate partnerships are accorded even more importance in higher education due to ever decreasing amounts of public funding, it is increasingly likely that we will see yet more universities adopting a subordinate relationship with possibly corrupt and manipulative power elites. This is all the more reason for academics to adopt the position of truth-teller and to question anything and everything that facilitates the growing marketisation of higher education or undermines academic freedom. However, defending the university requires much more than academics representing truth through democratic criticism and moral indignation. Also needed is a much broader social movement comprising all UK university workers, students, other public sector employees and the trade unions. Only then might politicians start to rethink their present assault on higher education, indeed, on the welfare state at large.

In the meantime, it would seem that the onerous responsibility of speaking truth to power has fallen on the student movement. It is they who have taken the upper hand and who are asking difficult questions. And, who knows, if student occupations spread up and down the country, perhaps we will see the uncovering, just as Warwick’s students did, of yet more evidence of ethical wrongdoing. If such a situation were to occur, however, universities will of course accuse students of irresponsible behaviour and do everything in their power to bring them to heel. In fact, there are already disturbing signs that the state itself may yet ‘police’ matters (in and through its many ideological apparatuses) should student dissent intensify. There is no question that those students singled out for ‘public misconduct’ in the months ahead risk all kinds of draconian sanctions, indeed, they run the risk of jeopardising their future careers. And all because they have the conviction to defend the idea of the university as a vital social and public institution. One only hopes that academics will express equal commitment and courage, not just in their writings, but in their actions too.


[11] See Simon Head, ‘The grim threat to British universities’, New York Review of Books, 13 January 2011.
[12] See Ronald Barnett, Beyond All Reason: living ideology in the university (Buckingham: Open University Press, in association with the Society for Research into Higher Education, 2003), pp. 108-10.
[13] For a full analysis of the changing academic experience in the UK higher education sector (based on survey evidence), see Malcolm Tight, The Development of Higher Education in the United Kingdom since 1945 (Berkshire: Open University Press, 2009), pp. 271-97.
[14] Stefan Collini, ‘Impact on humanities’, Times Literary Supplement, 13 November 2009, pp. 18-19.