Without values the academy risks anarchy...
November 24, 2023
• Institutional accountability
(h) ensuring that higher education personnel are not impeded in their work in the classroom or in their research capacity by violence, intimidation or harassment;
(k) the creation, through the collegial process and/or through negotiation with organizations representing higher-education teaching personnel, consistent with the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech, of statements or codes of ethics to guide higher education personnel in their teaching, scholarship, research and extension work;
• Rights and freedoms of higher-education teaching personnel
26. Higher-education teaching personnel, like all other groups and individuals, should enjoy those internationally recognized civil, political, social and cultural rights applicable to all citizens. Therefore, all higher-education teaching personnel should enjoy freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly and association as well as the right to liberty and security of the person and liberty of movement. They should not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinion of state policies and of policies affecting higher education. They should not suffer any penalties simply because of the exercise of such rights. Higher-education teaching personnel should not be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention, nor to torture, nor to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In cases of gross violation of their rights, higher-education teaching personnel should have the right to appeal to the relevant national, regional or international bodies such as the agencies of the United Nations, and organizations representing higher-education teaching personnel should extend full support in such cases.
November 23, 2023
A group of academics and other staff members at several UK universities have launched an independent initiative to combat bullying and harassment in higher education. One of the group’s goals is to advocate for the establishment of an independent ombudsperson to which people who have been bullied can turn if they feel that their institution does not deal with a complaint adequately.
“We’ve become increasingly concerned about the prevalence of bullying in UK universities, and the fact that most universities seem to accept a very high level of bullying,” says Wyn Evans, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge, UK, and a leader of the group. It is called the 21 Group, after the reported 21% of staff members at Cambridge who described experiencing bullying or harassment in a 2018 survey.
Surveys of various UK university departments and academic disciplines indicate that roughly 30–40% of students, scholars and other members of staff experience bullying or harassment by someone in their department or field, Evans says. Bullying can have pernicious and long-lasting effects on a person’s work and mental health.
The 21 Group, which launched on 1 November, has two initial goals. One is to gather broader data on bullying at UK universities by asking people to collect and share information on the number of bullying complaints received, and investigations done, by their institutions. The second is to advocate for an independent ombudsperson’s office to be set up for the UK higher-education system, giving people someone to turn to if institutions handle complaints about bullying badly. Such a body exists for undergraduate students — the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education — but not for others within the university system.
Internal investigations by universities often exonerate the subject of the complaint, who might be a senior professor or other person in a position of power, says Evans. “Far too many UK universities prioritize limiting reputational damage to the institution over doing the right thing for their staff and students.”
More info at: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-03418-3
November 18, 2023
November 17, 2023
UK university staff who have been the victim of bullying are being offered support by a new network amid repeated evidence that the problem is “endemic” in higher education.
October 06, 2023
My name is Pilgrim Tucker. I am taking legal action against the Open University for discrimination on the basis of my disabilities, bullying associated with my gender-critical beliefs, harassment, victimisation, and breach of contract*, which has made it impossible for me to continue my PhD research at the OU. I need your support.
...Three years ago, Unite, Unison and the University and College Union carried out an investigation into bullying at Cambridge. The results fell into the category of the least surprising news ever – alongside the likes of “Boris Johnson has another affair” and “banker receives an enormous bonus”.
October 01, 2023
"...Systemic bullying, hazing and abuse generally are identified with poor, weak or toxic organizational cultures. Cultures that are toxic have stated ethical values that are espoused but not employed, and other non-ethical values which are operational, dominant, but unstated. Such cultures thrive when good people are silent, silenced, or pushed out; when bad apples are vocal, retained, promoted, and empowered; and when the neutral majority remain silent in order to survive. Those who are most successful in such a toxic culture are those who have adapted to it or adopted it as their own...
...Evidence of an institutionalized element to the university workplace bullying is found in the openness with which some employees and students are exhibiting behaviours viewed as bullying. These findings are significant when linked with the level of awareness of such behaviours and the frequency of the behaviours. This indicates a pervasive and prolonged nature to the bullying and suggests an organizational culture component to the behaviour. The lack of a policy dealing with harassment outside the Human Rights Act may be a contributing factor. It is also possible, due to a lack of awareness, that the individual events have not been linked together to identify the systemic nature of the issue...
The lack of an overall policy for inappropriate behaviour means that each incident is dealt with in isolation and does not contribute to a set policy by the administration for addressing this issue. There is also inconsistency across the organization regarding how workplace bullying incidents are handled. As a result, some faculty, instructors and librarians believe they are not supported when they raise concerns. This also contributes to the ineffectiveness of administrators in addressing such issues as best practices have not been established..."
McKay, R., Arnold, D.H., Fratzl, J. et al. Workplace Bullying In Academia: A Canadian Study. Employ Respons Rights J 20, 77–100 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10672-008-9073-3
September 30, 2023
...The purpose of this article is to explore and examine the research evidence to see what it reveals about the extent and nature of bullying in higher education, the wider issues that this raises, and the possible solutions that have been put forward, trialled and evaluated.
...These searches reveal an upswelling of interest in bullying in higher education over the last 20 years. For example, a search carried out on Scopus on 22/6/23 identified 698 articles with the words ‘bullying’, ‘higher’ and ‘education’ in their titles, abstracts or keywords, 48 of which had those three words in their titles, indicating a likely focus on the topic of interest. Similar searches using ‘bullying’ and ‘university’ identified 1361 (113) articles, while ‘bullying’ and ‘college’ found 593 (57) articles. This is a substantial and growing body of literature...
Within the intersecting hierarchies of institution and discipline, there operates the principle of ‘academic freedom’, albeit constrained by other expectations and responsibilities. In its ideal state, each academic member of staff is seen as having the freedom to determine what they teach and how they teach it, as well as what they research and how they research it. Of course, it rarely works quite like that in practice, particularly when it comes to teaching, which is today a much more collective and large-scale activity and constrained by the need to receive good evaluations and the recognition of professional bodies. Research often depends upon gaining specific funding, so is constrained by the funds available and the priorities of funding organisations.
Academic life and careers are also built upon competition. To build a successful academic career, each academic needs to get their name known, even if only within a relatively small field: through conference presentations, through article and book publications, through successfully obtaining research grants. Each of these activities, as well as the gaining of employment and promotion, involves peer review when a small number of academic peers are asked to make an assessment of your worthiness..."
Tight, M. Bullying in higher education: an endemic problem?. Tert Educ Manag 29, 123–137 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11233-023-09124-z
August 22, 2023
Here are 10 practical steps that scientists can take to counteract the detrimental effects of abusive academic work environments.
1. Recognize an unhealthy work environment. Recognizing discriminatory behavior is the most crucial point, although the hierarchical nature of academia can make this recognition inherently difficult when it is someone you look up to who is misbehaving. First, if there is a problem, do not assume you are at fault! It is the responsibility of the person in power to not be hostile in their actions or words. Academic institutions and departments should have definitions and guidelines for ethical behavior in place as well as policies protecting employees and students from harassment and bullying...
2. Prioritize your well-being. Mental and physical well-being are inseparable and should be your first focus. Make sure you get enough sleep, take breaks, and do things that make you happy. You are valued for more than your capital and abilities as a scientist, and your well-being should never suffer. Do not hesitate to seek professional psychological help and other well-being resources and services, which many academic institutions already offer to their staff and students. There is no shame in getting external perspectives to guide you through your situation.
3. Confront your situation. It takes a lot of courage to approach a person who is harming you, particularly given the risks of their retaliation. However, by doing so, you take charge of the situation and signal to the culprit that their behavior is unacceptable. We recommend having such a discussion in a public place, for example, a cafeteria. If you feel more comfortable having a third party involved, reach out to a trusted person to join the conversation. Aim to establish agreements that detail how the perpetrator will change their behavior and how they will follow through with their role as a mentor in charge of your growth as a scientist...
4. Approach someone you trust. Reach out to a trusted individual for guidance. An ally who can effectively advise you and advocate for you can be an invaluable source of support and can help protect you from retaliation. Universities and research institutions often employ ombudspeople or others trained to mediate conflict situations. Seek guidance from these individuals, or, if your institution does not have staff trained in mediation, look for peer-mentoring support options at your institution and beyond—there are a myriad of early-career scientist networks, student councils, and online community resources of scientific societies, as well as Twitter and Slack groups.
5. Dare to speak up. It is possible or even likely that colleagues of yours face similar issues but have not spoken up. Finding the courage to do so can be hard for countless reasons. However, simply sharing experiences about and strategies on how to handle difficult work situations can already help you feel better. Sharing your experience with others could also create a “Me Too”–type effect, enabling you to act more effectively as a group against perpetrators. Moreover, having open conversations and removing taboos on discussions regarding harassment and bullying are important steps forward in acknowledging systemic problems.
6. Look for supportive collaborators. For most people, a hostile workplace will negatively affect the quality of their work. Try to find other experts in your field who can get involved in your research and act as mentors and allies. By expanding your team of supervisors or collaborators, you can diffuse the effects of power abuses that can occur in one-on-one relationships. Do not hesitate to approach potential collaborators with your scientific ideas at conferences or via email. However, make sure those scientists are not close associates or friends of the perpetrator...
7. Change your physical work environment. Changing the physical environment in which you work can help put not only literal distance but also mental distance between you and an abusive situation. You could, for example, ask for a new workspace in a different office, laboratory, or building; change occasionally to work from other places (e.g., the library or home); or look for opportunities to work as a visiting scientist in another research group...
8. Document all incidents. Make notes and memos of important conversations with your supervisor and send them as meeting summaries. Such records can be key if your supervisor ignores agreements or your situation is elevated to an institutional level where “proof” of your situation is requested. Also, take note of bystanders who might have witnessed the discriminatory behavior you have experienced...
10. Explore external resources. In addition to resources provided through your institution, professional societies and other groups provide external sources of support. For example, AGU has an Ethics and Equity Center that provides free legal consultation for those who may be targets of hostile and toxic environments. These resources and organizations can offer guidance on how to resolve conflict situations that potentially involve legal actions.
There is no straightforward or easy way to improve or get out of a discriminatory work environment. The above steps are intended to empower individuals facing abuse and to help overcome or alleviate the consequences of workplace bullying, discrimination, and other behaviors that stem from imbalanced power dynamics in academic settings...