July 01, 2013

Workplace Bullying in Higher Education

I know the old saying 'don't judge a book by its cover' but somehow I could not help doing just that with this book. An image of a sticking plaster over a bruised apple left me somewhat bemused. I was left wondering, what did this have to do with workplace bullying in higher education (HE).

I did consider the possibility of it referring to knowledge and the damage that is, potentially, being done by bullying in HE  institutions to future generations. That the developers, repositories and distributors of knowledge in society have issues with workplace bullying is not something that is a recent discovery; stories abound of high value, academics bullying doctoral researchers, junior faculty members and support staff in HE establishments. These academics are seen as untouchables because of the income that they generate and the impact that words from an esteemed professor could have on a future career.

HE is not really that different from other sectors and, like other sectors, this perception is being challenged quite strongly through the development of robust policies and procedures, training and management changes aimed at driving out what have been generationally embedded negative behaviours in some areas.

This book is written to help human resource (HR) professionals working in the HE sector understand what the current issues are surrounding workplace bullying. Although set in a USA context this does not limit the appeal or usefulness of the book; topics range from the current, limited, empirical research literature through to the different sub-cultures and biases that exist within financially restrained, historically bound, institutions.

It also provides well-researched observations on the legal and ethical implications of bullying. Of particular interest to me was the development of a model which links the social ecology of bullying with social reproduction theory. In brief, it suggests that bullying does not exist in a vacuum, it reflects the messages that seem to be prevalent in society (for example, the dominance of a subjective capitalism, the primacy of the victim, the demand for tolerance or intolerance) and suggests that HE institutions can fall into the trap of reproducing these inequalities by merely reporting the statistics on bullying rather than actually engendering change.

The authors set out a challenge to the institutions, almost in the form of an ethical demand, to move away from the current emphasis on statistics, characteristics and psychological profiling to a more systemic-based challenge to the societal embedded causes of, and supports for, bullying. The authors are clear that the book should not be read as an answer to the phenomenon of bullying rat herthat it is the beginning of a conversation; a conversation that needs more empirical evidence for it to progress in a meaningful direction. Maybe this was the point of the image on the cover of the book. The contributors seem to recognise that whatever they are offering is a sticking plaster to cover up a bruise as a temporary solution whilst they begin to explore the reasons as to why the bruise occurred in the first place. If this is their aim then, for me at least, the book is a success.

Damian Stoupe
Counsellor and workplace bullying doctoral researcher


Anonymous said...

Have a look at the stop bullying website for the University of Newcastle (Australia) http://stop-b-uon.blogspot.com.au/?m=1 Worst reputation for staff and student bullying in the whole country!!!

Anonymous said...


I work for a big Russell group university in Northern England.
This comment is about both racist bullying and general bullying of staff who are perceived as gentle, sensitive, kind and therefore easy targets. These abrasive personality trait type of people that i talk about here, often hone in on gentle people and take out there aggression on them as they see the qualities of gentleness, softly spoken, caring, empathy, high sensitivity and compassion as weaknesses.
I work in a support position and I have been shouted at and verbally abused by my so called ‘colleagues’. I am male. I am gentle caring polite person. I find that a lot of staff in the administrative, technical and other support type positions esp. the lower grades are local northerners who appear to have limited cultural capital and lack education. I do not mean all northern people who are local to these ex industrial cities of course, that would be absurd, as a lot of them are lovely kind people, however there is a good percentage that are as I have described and employed by the University. They deal with people in a very abrasive manner and I have witnessed a lot of racism from these people and preferential biased treatment of white students over ethnic students in particular those from South Asian, Middle Eastern and East Asian. I have complained and raised this intolerant aggressive yob type of behaviour to higher management who have turned a blind eye. It has upset me and hurt me deeply on a personal level and on humane level.

A very interesting recent case of racism against non white students at the University of York illustrates some of what I’m saying.

An East Asian student contacted me recently and complained about some serious racism and bullying towards him and other non white students from mechanical staff. He was so distressed that I instantly referred him to council ling that were extremely helpful. I hope it prevented psychological injury. However there are other students who are suffering the same fate. Again I raised this with higher management but my email was ignored. I have been intimidated by some of these locals working at the university myself through body language and tone of voice. A clear signal that they do not like me, even though I do not work directly with them.

It is disgusting and sick that this University relies so much on international revenue from students and that it is meant to be an open, cultured place of learning, yet underneath this glossy marketed veneer lies a rotten core. I really hope this gets exposed.

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