August 22, 2012

The bullies of academia and suicide

About 20 bullying victims at one of Australia's leading universities have attempted or considered suicide, an inquiry has been told.

One female academic became so traumatised she tried to kill herself in her campus office, she told the federal parliamentary committee into workplace bullying.

Microbiologist Dr Michelle Adams later told The Daily Telegraph she swallowed "tablets" in February last year during a long-running campaign to stop bullying at Newcastle University.

"I am now medically retired and ... under the medical care of both a psychiatrist and a psychologist," the 46-year-old mother of two said.

Dr Adams told the inquiry she suffered "almost 10 years of bullying, harassment and victimisation" after reporting academic misconduct in 2003.

"When one act of bullying involved the theft of ... tuberculosis from my research laboratory, at least one colleague was of the opinion that 'things go missing all the time',"she said.

"When I explained I was scared the attacks would escalate to violence I was told I was 'over-reacting'."

In a letter to NSW and federal MPs, Dr Adams said an anti-bullying group at the university had collected "evidence about 20 victims of the bullying have either attempted or considered suicide".

The issues at Newcastle follow revelations during the inquiry that staff relations at the University of NSW had become so dysfunctional some employees spend days "crying in the toilets".

More than two thirds of the academic and general staff at UNSW say they had been bullied at work and some claim to have been sexually assaulted. University authorities have been accused of failing to address the issue.

The anti-bullying group at Newcastle told the inquiry 175 current and former staff and students had responded to an online survey.

In March this year Dr Adams was awarded more than $60,000 by the Workers Compensation Commission.

The University of Newcastle last night said it had "worked with Dr Adams for a number of years ... to determine the factual basis for her allegations and concerns" but had not been able to put her mind at rest on any issue she raised.

New Vice-Chancellor Professor Caroline McMillen said the university was committed to a workplace free from bullying: "Our staff embrace the code of conduct and I have found they are deeply committed to equity and excellence."



Bullied out of Newcastle Uni Oz said...

Thusfar, three submissions on bullying by ex-Newcastle Uni academics have been authorised for publication on the Parliamentary Workplace Bullying Inquiry in Australia. Their submissions are nos. 8, 25 and 53.

Anonymous said...

This doesn't surprise me.

I experienced my own share of bullying and harassment from my department head and his deputy during the years I taught at a technical college. I was constantly on edge and was often uncivil to students and colleagues. It didn't take much to get on my bad side and it was a rare day when I didn't snarl at anyone.

If I hadn't quit when I did, I might have either become an alcoholic or swung my fist at someone. Even though I often went to the institution's gym, the level of personal stress remained high.

After I quit a decade ago, it took about 2 years for all that stress to dissipate.