September 29, 2018
Hundreds of academics at top UK universities accused of bullying
"...A Guardian investigation found nearly 300 academics, including senior professors and laboratory directors, were accused of bullying students and colleagues. Dozens of current and former academics spoke of aggressive behaviour, extreme pressure to deliver results, career sabotage and HR managers appearing more concerned about avoiding negative publicity than protecting staff.
In response, Prof Venki Ramakrishnan, the president of the Royal Society, called for an overhaul of workplace practices, saying bullying had become ingrained in the culture of too many academic institutions. “In science, like in many creative professions such as the film industry, there are huge power differentials,” he said, adding that intense competition and lack of oversight risked allowing bullying to go unchecked.
Other leading academics called for an end to the culture of secrecy around the issue. Prof Athene Donald, a distinguished physicist and the master of Churchill College, Cambridge, said: “I know of two instances where it is hard to think a cover-up is not going on. “They’re at different universities, different situations. I’m really quite bothered about universities desperately trying to damp things down.”
The Guardian sent freedom of information requests to 135 universities. Responses revealed a total of 294 complaints against academics at 55 institutions. A further 30 universities reported 337 complaints against all staff – academic and non-academic. Across 105 universities, at least 184 staff have been disciplined and 32 dismissed for bullying since 2013.
Fourteen universities said they had used non-disclosure agreements to resolve bullying cases, with at least 27 staff signing confidentiality clauses in exchange for financial payouts. Separately, more than 200 academics contacted the Guardian to share their experiences. Dozens were interviewed, with many giving accounts of behaviours that went well beyond robust academic discourse, professional rivalries or personality clashes.
One compared the management style of his boss, one of the country’s most eminent scientists, to that of Henry VIII. Staff were said to be subjected to “classic tyrannical” behaviour, with everyone’s motives treated with suspicion and everyone viewed as “someone else to be crushed”. At another internationally renowned laboratory, the pressure was reportedly so extreme people were driven to falsify data rather than incur the wrath of the director..."