March 19, 2021

Faculty Experiences with Bullying in Higher Education

 "...When bullying/mobbing occurs, it tends to be long-standing. McKay et al. (2008) found that 21% of their sample reported bullying that had persisted for more than five years in duration. In our 2008 study, 32% of the overall sample (faculty, staff, administrators, etc.) reported bullying lasting for more than three years. This percentage increased to 49% when we focused on faculty. 

It may be that academia is a particularly vulnerable setting for such persistent aggression as a result of tenure, which has faculty and some staff in very long-term relationships with one another. Both conflict (Holton, 1998) and aggression (Jawahar, 2002) research note that the longer and more interactive the relationship, the greater the opportunity for conflict and potential for aggression. 

Further, while ensuring a “job for life,” tenure may also restrict mobility so that once a situation goes bad, there are few options for leaving. Zapf and Gross (2001) observed that the number of actors was linked to the duration of bullying. They found that the more people who joined in the situation, the longer it went on, concluding that it may become increasingly difficult for witnesses/bystanders to remain neutral as bullying proceeds and intensifies. 

Given the preceding discussion, once bullying begins, and the longer it is permitted to continue, the more likely it is that other colleagues will be drawn into the situation—possibly accounting for the higher incidence of rates of mobbing among faculty (Westhues, 2006)...

Cultures that “breed” bullying and hostility are variously characterized as competitive, adversarial, and highly politicized, with autocratic or authoritarian leadership that does not tolerate nonconformity (Hoel & Salin, 2003). These are conditions that appear contrary to the academy’s espoused notions of collegiality and civility, grounded in the “sacred” values of academic freedom and autonomy..."


March 03, 2021

Leaders who yammer “transparency”: The more we hear it, the less we see it...


...So many senior managers and executives, public officials, and non-profit directors yammer endlessly about their commitment to transparency, especially when they assume their new positions...

Often much sooner than later, a certain dissonance creeps into the rank-and-file. Hmm, our Great Leader keeps talking about transparency, but why don’t we know the details about what’s going on? The reality doesn’t seem to be matching the rhetoric.

Maybe someone has the temerity to raise this discomfort at a staff meeting, town hall forum, or coffee hour. More often than not, the response will be a defensive one, perhaps with an explanation that would make George Orwell’s head spin. I’m being transparent by telling you that I choose not to share this with you!

Eventually, the Great Leader stops using the T word. It’s passé, a term of the past (i.e., beyond a year after the Great Leader’s arrival), and at this point unnecessary. Business as usual is once again the norm, except it’s possible that there’s even less transparency than ever before. That truth will become, uh, transparent to most, but by then the options for doing anything about it will be limited.

February 23, 2021

The Psychopath in the C Suite: Redefining the SOB [Seductive Operational Bully—or psychopath]


"...What really puzzled those who had the measure of Richard was that the people caught in his web usually described their initial encounter with him as like finding a soul mate, typically claiming, “We have so much in common,” “We’re so much alike.” They seemed to delude themselves into thinking that they had initiated an instant friendship. They failed to recognize that Richard had really been engaging in an exercise in mimicry, reflecting their own persona back on the person he was talking to, a talent that is sure to be endearing—it’s nice and easy to fall in love with yourself...

...a serious concern for some people in the office was the confusion about Richard’s background. Some began to question whether he was an imposter citing impressive but fictitious credentials. Suspicion circulated about his previous activities and the opacity of his career timeline. Some whispered that there were some gaping holes. What was Richard trying to hide?

...Feelings of shame and guilt are quite alien to these people. They have no understanding of empathy; they are unable to see beyond their narrow self-interest; and they only care about what is good for number one. They also have no moral code or understanding of what is right or wrong. Expediency is all that matters. It is not conscience that enables them to control their antisocial impulses, but convenience...

...Feelings of shame and guilt are quite alien to these people. They have no understanding of empathy; they are unable to see beyond their narrow self-interest; and they only care about what is good for number one. They also have no moral code or understanding of what is right or wrong. Expediency is all that matters. It is not conscience that enables them to control their antisocial impulses, but convenience...

The question remains, what can be viewed as developmental and what genetic in the creation of psychopathy? Given the lack of consistency about causality, most research about psychopaths has taken a genetic or neurological direction. The biological relationship between the brain and psychopathy is at the center of most of these studies. For example, many intriguing, consistent correlates of psychopathy (affective, semantic, and physiological differences) have been established in the laboratory. Usually, these tests suggest that psychopaths are prone to neurological (probably genetic) anomalies—that is, faulty wiring can be blamed for their condition (Livesley et al, 1992; Harris et al, 2001). 

According to some of these studies, biogenetic deficiencies (neurological abnormalities, mainly in the frontal lobe of the brain) prevent psychopaths from processing complex emotional experiences. The cause of the non-typical anatomy or chemical activity within this area of the brain may be abnormal growth (possibly genetic), brain disease, or injury..."

Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries

Susceptible Followers and Conducive Environment: The Gateway to School Leaders Toxic Behaviour

"...Susceptible Followers

Followers are indispensable part of the leadership arrangement without which becoming leaders will be difficult. In the popular discussion ‘he who thinks leads without followers is only taking a walk’. It is argued that any good leader is in turn that he/she has been a good follower before. Toxic leaders in school setting would not have evolved without followers...


On the part of Colluders their interests in toxic leaders are: Personal Ambition, Machiavellianism, Greed and Low Impulse Control.

Personal ambition is the first characteristic of a collusive follower. Colluders tend to act in their own interests. Thus, a colluder will likely endure the toxic behaviours to progress their agenda if there is any financial, professional, or political incentives for participating in a toxic leader’s mission, (Kellerman, 2004; Lipman-Blumen, 2008; Padilla, et al., 2007). Teachers in this act in the school setting always exert all energies in order for his/her personal ambition to be materialised, on personal ambition to them, it is the issue of survival of the fittest.

Machiavellism is the second characteristic of a collusive follower. A type of social influence, Machiavellism, is characterized by harnessing power, politics and expressive behaviour to achieve desirable ends (Thoroughgood, 2013). Described by four factors, Machiavellist distrust others, partake in amoral manipulation, desire control in all things, and desire status above all else. Therefore, when the opportunity presents itself to gain power, status, and control the Machiavellist-colluder will use their persuasive prowess to grown within the hierarchy of a toxic leader. Machiavellist-teachers play dirty politics in the school system, manipulate others in order to survive, desperate for power and control and bully other teachers occasionally.

Furthermore, greediness is another characteristic of a collusive follower. It is the part of the habit of colluders to be selfish due to his/her personal ambition and the propensity to gain power by dubious acts. Colluders often greedy because of the selfish desire to have financial benefits and juicy position within the system. Greedy colluders will continue to romance with toxic leaders as long as it is beneficial to them in terms of financial gains, power, information or position. It is suffice to say that greedy teachers in the school setting are the corrupt teachers who compromise everything for their survival.

Finally, low impulse control is the last characteristic of a collusive follower. Low impulse control means that these individuals possess low levels of self-control displaying no restraint from engaging in deviant behaviours as they do not consider the long-term consequences of their behaviour (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). This means that colluders with low impulse control are short-sighted, risk-takers that have a strong desire for immediate gratification.

Thus, they are more likely to act immorally for a toxic leader if they know they will be rewarded despite what that means for others (Beightel, 2018). School teachers with lo impulse control are always at the side of the school toxic leaders in order to gain their favours like attendance in seminars, conferences or workshops, being the chairmen of various committees in the schools and host of other goodies that come through the influence of the school leaders..."


February 21, 2021

Understanding the followers of toxic leaders...

...we suggest that an individual becomes susceptible to toxic illusio due to their increased personal uncertainty in a given domain, subject to the availability of a toxic leader and a conducive environment. Moreover, we argue that the individual’s adoption of the toxic leader’s proposed value system is an agentic choice to reduce their personal uncertainty.

In other words, individuals with high levels of personal uncertainty may find joining the toxic game and adopting the self-concept and the worldview associated with it more rewarding than the alternatives, including the status-quo. Once they join the game, however, reciprocal social identity processes initiate, and material and social ties of interest become entrenched in their toxic field. As players alter the game, they play with their decisions and actions, and players are also shaped by the toxic leader and the illusio.

...Beyond the social identity ties, toxic illusio offers other material, social, cultural, and symbolic resources as well. Toxic leaders use coercive persuasion techniques to further consolidate and homogenize their follower group and to ensure that the players stay committed to the game. Coercive persuasion methods are the ‘discursive systems of constraint that are difficult for followers to challenge and resist’...

An example of such practices is the significant use of ‘friend or foe’ rhetoric... When used effectively, this rhetoric not only introduce an existential threat by an ‘other’ to immediate the necessity of group social identity, but also consolidates the appropriate attitude and behavior expectations of the toxic illusio by drawing a clear distinction between the in-group and out-group. The perceived existential threat also legitimizes the toxic leader and the group’s emphasis on loyalty to the group identity, which in turn normalizes the associated reward and punishment systems... toxic processes normalize within the game through their institutionalization, rationalization, and socialization, players may find it even easier to continue business as usual without any experience of moral conflict...

Normalization of toxic habitus numbs the moral aspect of actions, especially when the individual believes such practices are the norm among, and perceived favorably by, the rest of the players. Institutionalized organizational behaviors (collective habitus at work) are defined as ‘stable, repetitive and enduring activities that are enacted by multiple organization members without significant thought about the propriety, utility, or nature of the behavior’...

...providing a post-hoc justification for their judgment only when specifically prompted, players of the toxic game can go through most toxic behaviors without any hint of moral dissonance...

...we suggest that a player of a toxic game would choose to leave the game only if (or when) their moral dissonance exceeds the utility they derive from being a member of the toxic illusio...

From: Understanding the followers of toxic leaders: Toxic illusio and personal uncertainty

February 14, 2021

Imperial College under investigation by OfS over bullying scandal


One of Britain’s most prestigious universities is being formally investigated by the universities watchdog as result of the controversy over bullying of staff by two leaders of the institution.
Two of Imperial College London’s most senior executives, its president, Alice Gast, and its chief financial officer, Muir Sanderson, have admitted they bullied colleagues, as the university bowed to pressure in December and published parts of a report into the scandal.
The investigation is only the second to have been launched into a university by the Office for Students (OfS), which has powers to scrutinise whether members of senior university management meet a test for being “fit and proper” to exercise their roles.
Gast and Sanderson have remained in their posts despite coming under continuing pressure from staff, students and others. A motion of no confidence in both was passed last month by members of the University and College Union (UCU), which represents academic staff.
“Those of us who think this has gone on far too long and that they should have stood down when it was the decent thing to do are very hopeful about this OfS intervention,” the Guardian was told by a source close to one of the whistleblowers whose original allegations of bullying led to a lawyer being brought in to investigate.

“It’s clearly very serous for an institution as prestigious as Imperial to have this hanging over it and we think that all aspects should now be looked at.”

A spokesperson for the OfS confirmed an investigation was ongoing. “We are looking into regulatory matters relating to Imperial College. While this work continues, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” they said.

Members of Imperial’s governing council, who are expected to meet again as early as Monday, are understood to be divided on how to proceed and have been discussing whether to issue a statement in relation to Gast and Sanderson.

The university blamed a “clerical error” after the Guardian reported in December that its longstanding policy on bullying was altered days before staff were told of a completed investigation into bullying allegations against the president and CFO.

Gast, Sanderson and other senior figures were to undergo bullying and harassment training in line with the recommendations of a review conducted last year by Jane McNeill QC, who was called in to investigate.

“I am very sorry that I bullied someone,” Gast, Imperial’s self-described “CEO”, said in December, while Sanderson said he had bullied two colleagues.

The report by McNeill – who was called in by the chair of Imperial’s governing council, the Tesco non-executive chairman, John Allan – led to a disciplinary hearing for both Gast and Sanderson. McNeill found Gast had bullied one senior colleague while Sanderson was found to have bullied two colleagues between late February and mid-March.

The OfS, which was established in 2018 and comes under the auspices of the Department for Education, has previously investigated De Montfort University. Its then vice-chancellor, Dominic Shellard, resigned in 2019 in advance of the investigation, which went on to identify “significant and systemic” failings in governance.

A spokesperson for Imperial College London said: “We fully support OfS undertaking this investigation and have provided all relevant information as requested. We are confident in our process and its outcomes and we await the OfS findings.”


February 13, 2021

Survivor Case study: A decade of bullying in high education. The failure of anti-bullying structures

This article presents a case study of an immigrant female, a survivor of bullying in two different international academic institutions. 
The bullying started at her Ph.D. studies endured during her Postdoctoral studies. A long-term academic case of mobbing perpetrated with impunity...

Cases of bullying in high education are underreported because moral harassment is normalized, accepted and positively associated with higher standards of academic productivity and success. Based on the normalization of this behavior, victims do not dare to report their situation. They fear of dismissal, bad reference letters or authorship usurpation, as examples...

Targets can be persons in inferior positions but also newcomers, existing a potential bias towards immigrants and women, despite their ethnicity, gender or personal background what all the targets seem to share is the fact of commonly being ethical workers. So, academic bullies´ ultimate goal may withhold potential fear on being overshadowed by a more accomplished and ethical coworker (Gorlewski et al. 2014), obscuring their own weaknesses and incompetence by eradicating the target (Khoo 2010). Bullies can be employers at different levels at the academic institutional hierarchy. However, around 72% of the incidents involved harassers from higher ranks (Cassell 2011; Anonymous 2018) abusing of their power.

...Bullying generates economic consequences for targets, academic institutions, and public health systems. For example, around 30% of the victims experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (Wajngurt 2014), and about 70% of them leave the organization (Gravois 2006). Consequences on victims are also common, being removed from their positions, their academic lives terminated through retirement, but also suicide, mental breakdown, cardiovascular diseases due to the high level of stress have been registered (Westhues 2006). Bullies can display active, subtle or inactive conducts (Cassell 2011), from subtle isolated unconscious or conscious events, micro-aggressions, to flagrant intimidations (Farrington 2010). 

...The first years of bullying shows the profile of an inactive bully maybe empowered by his untouchable self-perception and the lack of effective anti-harassment policies within the European Union. The second period represent a case of academic mobbing still under investigation. Years of inactivity, incompressible delays, misinterpretation, manipulations, alteration of events, persons, blames, badmouthing, sabotages, authorship usurpation or gaslighting have been a common issues Dr. L suffered for a decade, jeopardizing her research and professionality. 

Competitive and success in academia is associated with publishing results, but the process behind a published article is never considered. Competition to get funds it is exceptionally high, and the supervision of ethics in research is low. Victims of academic mobbing who dare to fill a grievance would have to wait for eternal processes of investigations, where the target of the inquiry would be commonly the victim. Opacity and secrecy usually surround the processes of investigation of reported cases, affecting the mental health of the victims, jeopardizing job opportunities and retaliation.

...The process of hiring in academia is hugely dependent on “old-boy networking” based on good references. If falling into the wrong mentor hands, the only mechanism available for targets is being submissive and quiet. A more in-depth investigation of harassment in high educations is needed. Universities and colleges need to develop a better mechanism for the prevention of misconducts and implement mechanism to approach and reconduct this type of behaviors.

"Survivor Case study: A decade of bullying in high education. The failure of
anti-bullying structures" DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.16970.82887

February 10, 2021

When a law is made, the cunning that finds loopholes goes to work...

“When a law is made, the cunning that finds loopholes goes to work. One cannot deny that there is a certain slyness among younger players, a slyness which, when rules are written to prevent slyness, makes use of the rules themselves.”

Yasunari Kawabata,
The Master of Go (1951)

February 05, 2021

Stop Making Excuses for Toxic Bosses

...In a recent study published in Personnel Psychology, we examined one possibility: After a run-in with a toxic boss, the tendency of many people is to heed what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” and forgive the indiscretion, especially when the boss appears to be making amends for their uncivil behavior. For example, former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was notoriously ruthless toward his staff, constantly berating them in public, calling for favors at all hours of the night, and throwing objects at them when they did not work as quickly as they wanted. George Reedy, a long-time aide of President Johnson, wrote in a memoir about how Johnson’s cruelty extended “even to people who had virtually walked the last mile for him.” 

However, it seemed that whenever Reedy considered resigning, Johnson would present “a lavish gift” or do something else that made it so Reedy “forgot his grievances” and kept working for Johnson. However, Johnson’s abusive behavior toward Reedy persisted — and even worsened — during the 15 years they worked together...

We found that when bosses reported having abused their employees, they viewed their social image as being damaged, with this effect being especially pronounced among those who reported at the outset of the study that it was important to them that they appear moral to their employees. In other words, among those bosses who were highly focused on having an image of adhering to a strict moral code, engaging in abusive behaviors, such as ridiculing employees, made them feel more concerned with their social image...

Consequently, even though abusive bosses may appear on the surface to be considerate to their victims following one of their abusive episodes, the bosses in our study reported behavior that was instead a superficial attempt at impression management. As a result, toxic bosses were not likely to change their ways, mainly because their focus was on covering up their bad behavior through manipulative ingratiation and self-promotion behaviors, not on actually changing their toxic behaviors...

January 28, 2021

I am so scared...

...I just came across this blog, as I contemplate some of the consequences of bullying from a couple of PhD supervisors. The bullying is also (like the blog author and commenters) from the same origin as this blog. I am so scared, I have to write cryptically, even when this post is anonymous. I am not that far into the my research project, but already, if the comments and experiences I receive are as common as this blog suggests, then, the people who are entrusted with a duty of care to help and guide people are perhaps falling short of professional standards of implied common ethical practices and codes of conduct that might be more readily observed in other professions. I wish there was a forum for help and advice. I am fearful of tomorrow's consequences and I'm not sure what do to. I am motivated by my passion for the project I have proposed and the possibility of helping marginalised people. My project has significant impact potential, yet, I am not sure of my future...