Beitz is a co-author of "Social Bullying in Nursing Academia," an article published in the September/October 2013 edition of Nurse Educator that draws upon interviews conducted with 16 nursing professors who were the victims of social bullying in an academic nursing workplace. Beitz says that the participants described in detail instances in which they were slandered, isolated, physically threatened, lied to, or given unrealistic workloads, among various other bullying tactics.
The participants in the study were primarily non-tenured female faculty teaching in baccalaureate programs throughout the Unites States.
"We don't know how widespread this is, but it exists," says Beitz, who says she was bullied in her career. "Not many people look at bullying in the academic environment. We wanted to raise awareness of it."
In the study, Beitz notes that in the most common cases of bullying, academic administrators are targeting faculty, but in some cases, faculty are bullying other faculty members or their administrative superiors.
Bullies may be threatened by a fellow academic's qualifications and scholarship, or victims may be targeted because they are perceived as weak, Beitz says.
"The bully can make life miserable for the target," she explains. "That's because in an administrative role, a bully has the power to make decisions about the target. Part of it is the unique nature of higher education. The tenure process is different than any other environment. Administrators in academia have power over colleagues, and sometimes that power causes them to bully their subordinates."
Beitz says bullying victims will often blame themselves for the actions of a colleague and she says sometimes the only thing a victim can do is leave the environment altogether, which can dissuade nurses from pursuing careers as educators.
"Institutions need to have good faculty who are experienced clinicians and researchers. That doesn't happen in a bad bullying environment," she says. "If I hadn't had support from fellow faculty, I would have left education. I wouldn't have wanted that to happen. I've enjoyed my career. I feel like I've had an impact on a lot of wonderful graduates who have gone on to have great careers. People want to feel valued. That's why it's important to serve the people you work with and employ a collegial, positive environment."
Beitz is now working on a follow-up study on resilience and how victims are surviving when bullied. Additionally, since her bullying study does address the prevalence of bullying in nursing academia, Beitz hopes to cast a wider net and perform a quantitative study on the issue nationwide. Beitz's co-authors on "Social Bullying in Academia" were La Salle University nursing professors Earl Goldberg, Ciara Levine, and Diane Wieland.