November 28, 2012

Another story of the power of a university versus a victim...

Once upon a time there was, in fact there still is, a high-achieving student in South Australia who wanted to be a clinical psychologist. A mature age student, a mother, someone who wasn't afraid to speak up if necessary. She loved her study and did very well at it. She had switched careers to pursue a subject and career path that fascinated her. She juggled her commitments with two pre-school children at home. Her daughter still anxiously remembers when mum was locked away every weekend working feverishly at her study.

This student was excited about taking her study towards a future career, and about completing her first ever research project in a supervisor relationship. That year, however, became hell. Her supervisor constantly told her her thesis wasn't working, that she needed to rethink and rewrite, which she did about 14 times. Other staff members scowled at her and ignored her. Finally, after months and months of rewrites, of missing many invaluable family and friend moments as the stress and the extra work took its toll, of a steadily declining grade point average, they told her, probably one of the highest achieving students in the year, that her research project was not viable and she would have to return the following year and repeat.

She was shocked, she spiralled into depression and anxiety, yet her motivation and love of the topic (not to mention stunning ignorance about what was really going on: a bullying campaign designed to eliminate her and get her away from a very dodgy department) drove her to return with fresh determination and a desire to make the most of another opportunity to learn how to do a research project. Her new supervisor was competent and efficient, the work got done swiftly and the student eventually achieved a first-class honours. That year, however, was also hell. She knew staff members were watching and testing her, she knew that a lot of her research project participants were fake and had been briefed instead of being genuine. She knew that her study and project were being negatively impacted by staff, for example by asking participants not to turn up to test sessions, while her fellow students were bolstered by support. (And in fact the student's project partner went on to win a University prize. The price of silence?) The student lost 20 kilograms in the course of a year. She hated going to campus, she shook like a leaf every time, she was scared of running into the staff from the psychology department. She got through her thesis, quit her job in a different sector of the university, and turned down a scholarship and two interviews for postgraduate study because she could no longer stand the stress of being in an environment were everyone seemed determined to test and undermine her.

Two years later and well away from the university, and she has been victimised and harassed by staff members of this department on an almost daily basis. Only, they do it indirectly; they get others to do their dirty work so that she can't prove anything. Her house and car are repeatedly sabotaged, and almost every time she goes out there is someone throwing something negative about her into her face, only subtly for example through passersby conversations. The police told her to go to the university, the university told her to go to the police. People with a great deal of power use it to abuse her covertly. She has filed complaints in all the relevant places, yet the power of these people in a small city means that she has constantly been hitting her head against a brick wall. All she wants to do is postgrad study in her beloved topic at a different university and to be left alone, yet these goals are undermined by academics from the first university. Her ex-supervisor refuses to answer the student's emails and phone calls requesting a reference (which the supervisor gave happily two years ago, and which had obviously been good as it got the student to interview stage). There has ostensibly been no contact between the supervisor and the student since the student left the university two years ago. The student emails other staff members, asking for a statement of duties that would at least outline some of the activities she undertook during her study, following the advice from literature about dealing with bullies. There is no response.

Consequently, the student applies for post-grad studies at two other universities, using an ex-employer reference and a friend reference. She gets (hallelujah) an interview at one university, but the other one does not take her through to interview stage. When she asks for feedback as to why, they send her a general response. She, however, suspects that the glaring omission of not having her Honours supervisor provide an academic reference may be to blame.

The day of her interview, which she gets through only by using anti-anxiety medication, she gets an email from the Dean of the Faculty of the first university. The Dean says she will provide a statement in response to the student's requests for a reference from staff memberes. Her statement says only that the student got a first-class Honours, and stated her GPA. She said that was all she could provide (rightly so, the student had never met her). The student wrote back, asking if she could please explain why her ex-supervisor was ignoring her and negatively affecting her chances for future study by failing to give her a reference. The Dean wrote back, saying that the reason was that two years had elapsed, and that the university could not help the student further. The student knows that there is in fact no time limit on reference giving. She rings the student association, but as usual no one can help one little old student with a target on her head to fight the might and abusive power of academic staff at a university.

The student waits to discover the outcome of her interview. But years of damage have been done.

This is a true story.

November 22, 2012

Union outs institutions with 'climate of fear'

Bullying, harassment and conflicts with colleagues are contributing to growing stress levels in the academy, a survey has found.

The effects of strained relationships in the workplace have emerged from an occupational health survey completed by about 14,000 university employees.

Staff were asked by the University and College Union whether they had suffered any form of bullying or harassment in the form of unkind words or behaviour, or had experienced high levels of conflict with colleagues.

Stress levels were higher among academics than in other professions, the survey reveals.
On a scale of one to five, university staff scored 3.53, with 1 marking the most stressful environment. That compares with an overall stress level of 4.01 measured in a national Health and Safety Executive survey in 2008.

In its report, the UCU names 19 universities that it deems to have the highest levels of workplace conflict.

Disagreements over "unfair" workloads may trigger many of the conflict issues raised by staff, said Stephen Court, senior research officer at the UCU, who conducted the survey.

"The way that workload is allocated in a department can seem not very transparent or fair to individuals," said Mr Court. "Some people might feel they have unfairly high teaching workloads, while others are allowed to prioritise research, particularly in the run-up to the research excellence framework."

He added that heads of department and other middle managers can also experience "strain from all sides as they try to implement institutional priorities".

The UCU also conducted a poll about bullying in the sector. At one in three institutions, more than 10 per cent of respondents say they face bullying - defined as "offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour" - on a regular basis.

According to the survey, which excluded institutions that returned fewer than 53 respondents, Canterbury Christ Church University had the highest proportion of staff reporting bullying, with 19.2 per cent of respondents saying they face the problem "always" or "often".Next was Staffordshire University (17.2 per cent), Brunel University (16.3 per cent) and Teesside University (16.1 per cent). Sally Hunt, the UCU's general secretary, said: "At best, the universities represented in this survey have a climate of fear and anxiety, which demoralises and demotivates staff.

"At worst, overt harassment and bullying of individuals is going unchecked. We know from our members that this can have extreme effects on physical and mental health, and in the worst-case scenarios it renders experienced, hard-working staff no longer able to do their jobs."

She said universities should work with the UCU, which is running an Anti-Stress and Bullying Week from 19 to 26 November, to combat the problems identified by the polls.

Last month, the occupational health survey also showed that academics suffered from high stress levels as a result of heavy workloads and a long-hours culture.


The full report at:

November 21, 2012

Inquiry into workplace bullying, Australia. Submission 277.

Dear Members,

Thank you for the opportunity to prepare a submission for this important review. I decided to make this submission as a consequence of the ongoing work place bullying I endured at an Australian University between 2007 and 2010, the subsequence clinical depression (a direct consequence of this relentless bullying) and continued defamation of character I have endured by senior academics from the University.

I was the recipient of a post-doctoral research fellowship, a prestigious fellowship, which provided me with an opportunity to develop expertise overseas. This was a fantastic opportunity. On my return to Australia, this University offered a $100,000 support grant, as an incentive for me to return to their organisation. I had in writing before my return to Australia that I would be paid at an Academic Level C salary (under their salary range). On my return to Australia, the Head of the Department of this University advised that he was not going to provide the Department’s $50,000 share of the support grant and that he was not prepared to pay me at a Level C salary. This resulted in an ongoing dispute.

I subsequently took the matter to the Dean’s office after 6 months of negotiating with the Department to no avail. (The Dean’s office is above the Department in terms of seniority and overseas all activities in the Faculty which includes a number of Departments). The Dean of the Faculty ruled in my favour. I was awarded the full $100,000 support grant, and I was to be paid at Level C and the department were requested to provide a desk in an office as soon as possible.

This was to be the beginning of the cycle of work place bullying, by the Head of that Department. I was over looked for space in an office, despite being a mid- career research fellow and the joint co-ordinator of 67 research higher degree students, while other new and more junior staff members to the Department were being placed in offices. When I complained I was moved to sit between two junior administrative staff in another part of the open plan area. It was not possible to talk with students in this setting and my work was very difficult to carry out. When I complained, I was called the ‘squeaky wheel that gets all the oil’ it was suggested that I could ‘teach the students to be assertive’ through my behaviour. Numerous other derogative statements were made to me. When I raised concerns over treatment of some of the students, I was advised that it was ‘just a storm in a tea-cup’ and not to worry about doing anything further. These were serious cases that required intervention by senior academics.

During this time, a financial account held at the Department in my name, held for the purposes of research was cleaned of funds while I was attending an International conference overseas. I was sent an ultimatum by email to accept a teaching role or not have a position on my return to Australia. By the time I returned to Australia, my access to research funds, which I had acquired was terminated and the position I held as the joint coordinator was allocated to another academic staff member. I was made redundant in this process. It was only after I was made redundant, and had received a letter from the Academic Board of the University congratulating me on my effort as a recipient of a major grant for over a million dollars, that I felt I had enough courage and strength to complain to the Vice Chancellor of the University. I was provided with a small amount of funds to assist in keeping my research going for a short time. I then ended up on Federally funded Sickness Benefits for 6 months.

By the time I was made redundant by the University I was clinically depressed. If it had not been for an intervention by a close friend and colleague who had become concerned for my wellbeing, I would not be here today to tell you my story. I was extremely lucky, emergency treatment was called and I was looked after, through the worst of the clinical depression. I felt traumatised and shocked at what had happened to me. It has taken until now to be able to write clearly about the cruelty that I endured while at that University. It is appalling that to this very day, I still have these senior academics speaking derogatively about me, to other researchers and students. I know this to be true as it is relayed back to me and they too feel uncomfortable but disempowered to speak up. It is time I spoke up and said this is not ok.

The culture of this University needs to be addressed, before the trauma and shock takes its toll on someone: before there is a suicide. Culture is set from the top. While this particular university (as do other universities) have policies against bullying and harassment, no amount of policies will see this change, unless they are actioned by individuals and individuals stand up and state – this is wrong and there is someone above capable of addressing the issue. It is about creating values that ensure that when something is wrong, people can and are encouraged and expected to stand up and say this is wrong. Rather than cower away and hide or be quickly removed from the environment for daring to take a stand. It should not be acceptable to keep senior academics in their positions, simply because they bring in large amounts of research funding to a University. This is what happened in my case.

The people doing the bullying were some of the largest research income generating academics in that University. The cycle of abuse continues in that institution because the people do not suffer any consequences of their bullying behaviour. Below is one of my stories prepared for Beyond Blue.

Sitting in a Cold Darkened Room 

Sitting in a cold darkened room, huddled on my sofa, cold to the bone. This is how my friend found me. Help was called for and that was the start of my journey back.

I am a researcher, I have a PhD and have held the top research funding in the country. It didn’t protect me from depression.

The road back has been long and hard. Never again will I question people being late for work. Some days I still have trouble crawling out of bed. Work is still hard, when people have no idea of depression and its impact and there is a snigger here or there it can be a struggle to keep on the journey.

I am keeping on track and am true to myself. I am on medication and I go for psychology support weekly and that has helped a great deal. Most of all I have learnt to talk to my friends and have stopped the charade.

I now have an understanding, which one cannot buy about depression and I hope someday to be able to make a difference through my work. For now it is one step at a time, keeping my head held high.

November 15, 2012

Inquiry into workplace bullying, Australia. Submission 232.

...Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on this important social problem. I am mostly writing in relation to your first term of reference. I am a victim of workplace bullying and I believe my story is relevant (and common).

...When incompetent or malicious people are moved to management positions, their efforts to impress people above them are self-seeking. They believe others should „make them look good‟. Left unchecked, their narcissism destroys the morale of the group and can lead to poor mental health of the individuals.

This is a personal story and I want to quote from a diary kept during 2008 when I was a senior lecturer at the University of the . I had extensive experience in teaching, publishing, research. I had a significant international reputation and had published several books.

I created a diary because I was lucky enough to have insurance with my superannuation fund, but that required making a case that I was unable to continue with my career. Unfortunately severe depression left me physically unable to speak. I was literally silenced because I couldn‟t make sounds, unless I was reading. Through two difficult years as I attended a series of assessments with psychiatrists, I read from this dairy. In my diary, on my psychologist‟s advice, I listed the events of the bullying and

I am now quoting excerpts:

“...About five years ago I asked for Long Service Leave combined with Research leave to finish my book on propaganda. I finished the book, which is now published. When I returned to the University, I found that XXX had been promoted into a newly created position of Deputy Dean. It is an inappropriate appointment: this is her first academic job, so she is inexperienced. Her personality type is to always feel slighted and she uses the position of power to ‘get’ people who slighted her.

She has used the position to litter my personnel file with letters of complaint, alleging misconduct. This was the first example: In my war propaganda course, which is always crowded with students, we had a tutorial room from which the chairs were always being taken to adjoining rooms. On one occasion, some students didn’t have a chair and one of them went to the Academic Office of the faculty and complained, thinking he was assisting me in getting more chairs. In fact, the Acting Dean called me in and told me that my tutorial room was crowded, that this breached workplace health and safety regulations and that this was misconduct.

She sent me an aggressive bullying letter and I went to the Vice Chancellor with it, to complain about her heavy handedness and her inflexibility. I complained that I was being bullied for no reason. He agreed that she had been inflexible and asked the new Deputy Vice Chancellor to meet with me. He had just arrived and when I met him, he was hostile, indicating that he didn’t believe my version of events, that the Acting Dean had told him another version. Nevertheless he agreed to set up formal mediation. I asked for a specific mediator. The Deputy Vice Chancellor did not ever organise the event because he said my mediator wasn’t available

I knew that the Deputy Vice Chancellor had been the Deputy Dean’s supervisor at University of XXXXX and I thought that fact was why he reacted the way he did. I felt powerless to do anything about what was clearly now a poisoned relationship with a new person in power.

This is another example:

"...I was then the chair of a Selection Committee for a new lecturer in the Faculty (and this was the last time I played any role designed to make a difference to the direction or staffing of the Faculty – from this time on I have been completely sidelined and ignored). The outstanding candidate was a man coming from University of . The internal candidate did not have a Masters yet, so of course, she had no publications. After the interviews the Deputy Dean (who was a member of the Selection Committee) announced that this outstanding candidate was a paedophile. She said she had written evidence and had been contacted by five people from U to warn her. 

I wrote a Memo to the Head of Personnel saying I thought that that unexpected announcement made sane decision-making impossible and asking his guidance in whether this was a situation which needed correcting. He did nothing. After a long time I decided to ring the candidate and tell him to get the committee notes through Freedom of Information processes and to ask for my memo. He did. The Pro Vice Chancellor called me to his office and asked me if the committee had leaked. He asked me who he should be asking about whether they’d leaked information to that candidate, and he said the FOI request had caused a lot of trouble for him. I know he didn’t ask anyone else so I interpreted that as a threatening meeting..."

Since then I’ve applied for Research Leave to work on my next book, which is a biography. My application was rejected. The Manager of the Research Office, who is an administrator not an academic, informed me that writing a biography is a hobby, not a research project, and that the university may consider ordering me to stop work on the project. I’ve since won a prestigious Arts Fellowship to Antarctica to help me work on the biography but had to take Long Service Leave because my research leave was rejected.

I feel that the last five years has been an uninterrupted process of abuse and attack, that no positive messages are directed at me, that any email I get from any of my supervisors is likely to be the next attack, and that my closest colleagues have also come under constant attack. One of the members of my former team was made redundant, one left when she was not promoted despite an impressive CV and one is so disengaged he has sold his house and moved to Melbourne, and is on leave from which I doubt he’ll return.

There are no positive experiences for me except from the students and even though there are many wonderful colleagues there, they are so sad and jaded, even their presence doesn’t help. People have their doors shut and don’t speak to each other. When I got back from Antarctica I went back to work and found that I was sitting in the car for a long time before I got out. The students started telling me that because my courses had been removed from a lot of majors, they couldn’t complete their degrees. I didn’t know that my courses had been removed from majors, which means students in that major can’t do my courses. I found myself saying ‘I can’t help you’. And it isn’t normal for me, it isn’t something that sits well with me, and I felt so utterly helpless that one day I just decided not to go back.

It is a story which has cut short my career by more than twenty years but it is also a story of proper processes not being followed, of mediation meetings that were not set up, of complaints about inappropriate action not being addressed; of high achieving members of staff having their research options shut down until they stopped producing the publications needed by the University and of a culture which required generation of ideas through open discussion being transformed into corridors of closed doors. I never did return to either that University or any other.

A lot of my colleagues followed me out, into either reliance on a pension or, in one particularly tragic case, by ending his life. As you were quoted as saying in About The House, bullying has had a „profound effect on all aspects of a person‟s health as well as their work and family life‟. It certainly has had a profound impact on me. I have made this submission simply to make one small contribution to “the national evidence base on workplace bullying”.

Yours sincerely,

23 August 2012

November 02, 2012

Carmen de Jong

Carmen de Jong was recruited as a professor by the University of Savoy a few years ago (2006), to lead a special unit devoted to mountain. At that time, Annecy was applying to organize the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Carmen was asked to examine the question of artificial snow, but she gave "wrong" advice (not in favour of artificial snow) in a place and in a situation were the artificial snow and other ski industries were (and remain) very influential. Then, her unit was suppressed and she got into a lot of trouble. Now, it is getting even worse.    
Best regards            
L. G. M.

I forward the following message on behalf of Carmen de Jong:

I would like to follow on the contact made via Luis Gonzalez-Mestres, a colleague from a collective for the defence of independence of research.         
I am a geographer with PhD and educated in the UK, Germany and France. In 2006, I was recruited as professor at the University of Savoy in Chamberyin the domain of interdisciplinary and applied mountains sciences across three departments: Geography, Geology and Biology within the faculty of interdisciplinary mountain science. I was employed as scientific director of the Mountain Institute to coordinate international projects on state-of-the art mountains themes and develop applied research in close contact with mountain stakeholders.

In connection with my recruitment I was specifically asked to tackle themes such as artificial snow. But the moment I started to give talks, publish and organise research on artificial snow and climate change and coordinate large European projects, the trouble began.

The pressure on my university by the ski industry and local politicians to stop me from working on this theme was immense. In addition, the region was preparing the candidacy for the Winter Olympic Games of Annecy 2018, actively supported by my university. Although I brought in more than 4 million Euros of research funding a real witch-hunt began in order to destroy my scientific career. None of the steps taken to silence me were ever discussed or voted in any councils and I was never given a chance to defend myself in front of any councils.    
I was removed without evaluation or valid reason from all the European projects that I had initiated and coordinated. After I refused to bend to the pressures to resign from the direction of my CNRS mountain unit, it was closed. The managing director of the Mountain Institute was replaced by a non-specialist appointed directly by the local government of Savoy who started to define and block my research. All my funding, my PhD and postdoc students and trainees were taken away from me. My special benefits were cut, my work accidents refused, my international collaborations blocked, my travel permissions declined, my professional mobile phone cut off (and handed over to another person in Paris) and my post opened.

Although I had limited teaching, I was suddenly asked to do a full teaching load outside my qualifications and field of competences. An offer for a prestigious sabbatical at the University of Colorado was declined and the reasons falsified in the council meeting minutes. Everything that I have developed has been taken over by a neighboring institute. There have also been attempts to take away my office from me. In a last step to destroy me and my family (I have two children and a retired husband) the president, who has never met me, has announced with 4 weeks delay to more or less totally cut my salary for a year referring to my teaching load 2011/2012. This action comes as a complete surprise. The university has not written to me with reference to my teaching of last year for more than a year and has never answered my letters on this issue.             
I urgently need help. Please could you help me diffuse this information and become member of the Scifraud mailing list.    
Best regards from           
Carmen de Jong

November 01, 2012

Cause célèbre scholar queried Met managers

A psychology professor suspended after criticising university managers is to face a disciplinary hearing for alleged "gross misconduct".
Times Higher Education understands that Ian Parker, professor of psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, will face two charges in relation to a confidential email sent to his colleagues about the appointment of a senior lecturer.

In the email, seen by THE, Professor Parker claims the appointment process was "not transparent to other members of the department" because staff had not been involved in shortlisting candidates and had been "discouraged" from attending the interviews. This "extraordinary state of affairs...may give rise to unfortunate (no doubt mistaken) perceptions about how open and fair this process was".

The senior lecturer appointed had their PhD supervised by the head of department, although Professor Parker says "there is nothing wrong with the prior connection". However, he adds, the lack of transparency raised "questions about the way the department is...being managed".

The message, which was also sent to John Brooks, Manchester Met's vice-chancellor, urges senior management to review their decision-making processes.

According to his supporters, Professor Parker, co-director of the department's Discourse Unit, will face charges that he "constructed and widely distributed an email [that] intended to undermine the credibility of a head of department", adding that this "constitutes a failure to comply with a reasonable management instruction".

The date of the disciplinary hearing has yet to be announced.

A petition demanding Professor Parker's reinstatement has received nearly 3,500 signatories. Noam Chomsky, emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has backed the scholar, and Manchester Met staff have voted for possible strike action over staff victimisation.

The university has refused to comment on the charges, although it previously claimed that speculation linking the suspension to questions of departmental "secrecy" had been "wholly inaccurate".