March 13, 2020

Third of Cambridge University staff 'have experienced bullying'

Nearly a third of staff at the University of Cambridge say they have experienced bullying and harassment in the workplace, according to an internal survey obtained by the Guardian that revealed what one union called “a culture of bullying” in parts of the institution.
Responses from 3,000 academic and non-academic staff – a quarter of Cambridge’s total workforce – found that nearly one in three had either been the victims of bullying and other forms of victimisation or had seen it directed against colleagues in the previous 18 months.
The survey found that the largest group to have suffered bullying and harassment were women and assistant staff – Cambridge’s term for non-academic support staff – while the largest group to exhibit bullying and harassment were academics.
The results are revealed as the Office for Students, the higher education regulator for England prepares to set out new requirements for how universities handle harassment and sexual misconduct affecting students and staff, including intervention by the regulator in cases of ineffective procedures.
 ...The initial survey was carried out in July 2018 but was only released on the university’s internal network in 2019.
A summary of the results includes comments by Stephen Toope, Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, who wrote: “To be a leading institution, we must accept that this type of behaviour has no place at Cambridge. The experiences of bullying and harassment shared by some of the staff participating in this joint survey show us, however, that we have work to do to make this a reality for all.”
Ivan Williams, Unison’s Cambridge branch chair, said: “The levels of staff who say they have witnessed or suffered bullying is deeply worrying. I would also be concerned that, due to a lack of training, many staff is not even aware that some of the treatment they have to deal with at work would be classed as bullying...

From: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/jan/07/third-cambridge-university-staff-experienced-bullying

July 14, 2019

UK universities pay out £90m on staff 'gagging orders' in past two years


UK universities have spent nearly £90m on payoffs to staff that come with “gagging orders” in two years, raising fears that victims of misconduct at higher education institutions are being silenced.

As many as 4,000 settlements, some of which are thought to relate to allegations of bullying, discrimination and sexual misconduct, have been made with non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) attached since 2017.

The figures, uncovered by the BBC, have prompted allegations that universities are deliberately using gagging orders to stop grievances becoming public. Dozens of academics told the corporation they were made to sign NDAs after being “harassed” out of their jobs following the raising of complaints.

There are wider concerns that non-disclosure agreements, designed to stop staff sharing trade secrets when moving to a new employer, are being misused to silence workers highlighting misconduct.

Universities UK (UUK), which represents higher education institutions, said NDAs were sometimes used to protect information about research but that they should not be exploited to silence victims.

“Universities use non-disclosure agreements for many purposes, including the protection of commercially sensitive information related to university research,” UUK said. “However, we also expect senior leaders to make it clear that the use of confidentiality clauses to prevent victims from speaking out will not be tolerated. All staff and students are entitled to a safe experience at university and all universities have a duty to ensure this outcome.”

Using freedom of information laws, the BBC obtained information from 96 universities showing £87m was spent on settlements that included gagging clauses in the past two years.
It is not clear how many of the payouts relate to allegations of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct as many of the institutions were unable to disclose why the NDAs were signed.

Anahid Kassabian, a former music professor at the University of Liverpool, broke her NDA to reveal how she felt like she was “bullied out” of her job and treated as a “burden” after being diagnosed with cancer.

Kassabian, 59, who worked at the university for 10 years, said: “We all think we’re isolated and alone, sobbing over past wrongs, when in fact there are many, many of us, and if we could speak to each other it would feel very different.”

The academic, who also has multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, said she believed her medical conditions meant her ability to work was called into question and that the causes of the emotional stress she was under were not properly addressed.

The BBC has reportedly seen documents suggesting the university felt it had done all it could to support Kassabian.

The University of Liverpool told the corporation: “We refute these allegations in the strongest possible terms. Ms Kassabian was not subject to discrimination or bullying and the university did not fail to make reasonable adjustments.

“Settlement agreements with a standard confidentiality clause are used for a range of cases including conduct, capability and redundancy. As we too are bound by confidentiality, we are unable to provide specifics in relation to her case.”

From: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/17/uk-universities-pay-out-90m-on-staff-gagging-orders-in-past-two-years

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..."

From: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/sep/28/academics-uk-universities-accused-bullying-students-colleagues

July 25, 2018

Have you experienced bullying in academia? Share your stories - The Guardian


 Concern has been growing about bullying in the world of academia. We want to hear from academic staff about their experiences A top cancer genetics professor quit her job at the Institute of Cancer Research after facing multiple allegations of bullying dating back 12 years.

Prof Nazneen Rahman, who was head of genetics and epidemiology at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), was given leave of absence last November after a letter signed by 45 current and former employees accused her of “recurrent bullying and harassment”. The complainants claimed the ICR had failed to take appropriate action for years despite “multitudes of oral and written complaints” against Rahman at both the institute and the Marsden.

This is not an isolated case and concern has been growing about bullying in the world of academia. Earlier this month, the scientific journal Nature reported that the Max Planck Society, a prestigious research body in Germany, was investigating fresh allegations of bullying and sexual harassment. PhD students are thought to be particularly vulnerable because they depend on their supervisors for publications and references.

This can create a dangerous power imbalance. Share your experiences We want to hear from academic staff about the problem of bullying. Have you faced it? How good was your institution at responding to it? Do universities need to do more to tackle the problem?

Share your comments, experiences and thoughts – anonymously or otherwise – with us. You can get in touch by filling in the encrypted form below – anonymously, if you wish. Your responses will only be seen by the Guardian and we will feature some of them in our reporting.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jul/24/have-you-experienced-bullying-in-academia-share-your-stories

January 07, 2018

Harassment at Annual Meetings American Political Science Association

A "sizable" minority of women and a smaller but still notable share of men have experienced harassment or other inappropriate behavior at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, according to a survey of members that the association has just released.

A solid majority (63 percent) of the 2,424 members who responded to the survey indicated that they had never been harassed or treated inappropriately at the meeting. But the figures were different for men (74 percent) and women (51 percent).

Among the findings:
  • Forty-two percent of women and 22 percent of men said that they had been "put down" or "experienced condescension" at the meeting.
  • Thirty percent of women and 10 percent of men said that they had experienced "inappropriate language or looks, such as experiencing offensive sexist remarks; getting stared at, leered or ogled in a way that made them uncomfortable; or being exposed to sexist or suggestive materials which they found offensive."
  • Eleven percent of women and 3 percent of men reported having experienced "inappropriate sexual advances or touching, such as unwanted attempts to establish a sexual relationship despite efforts to discourage it, being touched by someone in a way that was uncomfortable, or experiencing bribes or threats associated with sexual advances."
The survey looked at specifics within that last item and found that the numbers of people reporting certain kinds of inappropriate behavior were low. But the report published by the association said the data should still be of concern.

"That 29 of our members felt they had experienced threats of professional retaliation for not being sexually cooperative, and 44 felt they were being bribed with special professional rewards is, respectively, 29 and 44 people too many," said the report, published in PS, an association journal. The report found no statistically significant differences in the results by race or ethnicity.

But the study found that nontenured faculty members experience more harassment or inappropriate behavior than do tenured faculty members, graduate students or postdocs...

More at: http://www.insidehighered.com/

December 26, 2017

Abusers and Enablers in Faculty Culture

...It’s easier to blame the victim than change the system. Abusers weaponize their own idiosyncrasies and parade them as high standards, shaming anyone who falls short. That often sets in motion a cycle of low self-esteem, late work, and less polished writing to prove that the accuser, not the abuser, must be problem.

The feeling of being unheard, untrusted, and not believed keeps the cycle spiraling further out of control. Too many of my clients feel guilt creep into their professional lives. Some can be quick to blame themselves. Others hesitate to turn down requests to give a talk or contribute to a journal, because they think they "owe" colleagues "favors" and will be criticized for not delivering. This is often the legacy of chronic, institutionalized abuse — of people breaking others rather than building up their confidence and helping them be successful colleagues.

If you find yourself saying, "Look, what he did was wrong, but really, her work isn’t that good, anyway," or, "If she were strong, like me, she would have stood up for herself," or, "If she didn’t have something to hide, she would have spoken out" — you are part of the problem...

From: https://www.chronicle.com/article/AbusersEnablers-in/241648



Bullies have no place in academia – even if they're star scientists

...My self-confidence, scientific progress and mental health were in decline from the beginning. My supervisor belittled me in front of my peers, derided me for enacting laboratory safety measures and denied me the technical training I needed to gain traction in a new scientific discipline. I recall silently sobbing as his large frame hulked over me, and how he gesticulated wildly as he yelled, “Just do what I tell you!”. That meeting lasted 90 minutes, the culmination of months of relentless bullying from he, the principal investigator on our research project.
I walked out of that meeting resolving that no one would treat me that way again. I wanted to complain to the university, so I sought to follow institutional policy, only to find that it didn’t exist. Human resources was completely ineffectual, lacking knowledge and training in conflict resolution, contractual negotiation and my legal entitlement to a safe workplace.

Desperate for help, I reached out to the university with which my institute was affiliated. I was told that it could not offer me support as I was not a member of university staff. Despite the existing arrangement – the institute posing as independent entity and university department, depending on which funding pool it wished to dip into – a political distinction had been drawn, and I was left on my own...

That supervisor followed a pattern of systematic abuse of predominantly female employees. The institute, its senior staff and the university were complicit by failing to provide adequate support to the victims, and for rewarding the supervisor with a position of power while continuing to recruit vulnerable staff to place in his care. No amount of scientific brilliance can excuse this behaviour.

Universities should have avenues for recourse against the perpetrators of harassment at all levels, which the victims can access without fear of reprisal, burden of proof or risk of personal or career injury to the vulnerable party.
I would also have appreciated more support from my institution for the mental health consequences of a bullying supervisor. Instead, I had to rely on my personal network – my partner, friends and family. Fortunately, I could afford the medical treatment I needed to return to wellness. But not everyone is so lucky...

From: https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2017/dec/15/bullies-have-no-place-in-academia-even-if-theyre-star-scientists

July 07, 2017

It is sad...

Academics are horrible to people that are more intelligent than they. I graduated at the top of my class and suffered the entire time. Post grad school I noticed they only hire and elevate people like themselves, or that are less intelligent than themselves (so they can feel superior to the new hire). Higher education has become the land of the imbecile. They pat themselves on the back for bad ideas that have lead to the dumped down, wrongly righteous, twisted-notioned-nation that we have today. Academia needs to change, they have been purporting the worst ideas for ages and now we have an entitled, non-critical-thinking pile of people that can only work in groups (which is rotten because the bossy bullies end up dictating the ideas) and that are too afraid to take a stand against ideas many of them know are lame or childish. It is sad how low higher education has become.

Anonymous

The University of Manchester...

The University of Manchester has terrible bullying problems. It is not just the academics, support staff have awful bullying cultures among each other and with the academics too. I am currently being bullied by women as a male in a support role. I am the most vulnerable as I am on a probation period. The girl who has decided to hate me from the start and make me suffer emotional and mental torture is Hxxxxx Dxxxxx in FBMH. Her methods are under the radar mental tactics. I hope you can sleep at night! I have complained to higher management, however, they have sided with her and remain mostly silent. I will soon leave and take all my skills and experience with me.

Anonymous

January 27, 2017

Government Bullying: EU academics in Britain told to ‘make arrangements to leave’

Some EU citizens living in Britain who decided to seek permanent residency after the Brexit vote are being told to make arrangements to leave. A number of these people are among the 31,000 EU academics currently working in UK universities. Colin Talbot says many are alarmed and some have already decided to leave – putting the expertise of Britain’s universities in serious jeopardy.

“The UK’s university sector is one of our most valuable national assets,” Prof Brian Cox, the University of Manchester academic and TV presenter, told me last week. He argued that UK higher education “is a genuinely global industry generating billions of pounds in export earnings, one of the necessary foundations of our innovation-led economy and perhaps our strongest soft power asset; political and industrial leaders from all over the world were educated here in the UK.”

Which makes it all the more strange that the government should be – whether accidentally or deliberately – undermining them. Most of the Brexit commentary about UK universities has concentrated on issues of funding, research cooperation and students. Much less attention has been paid to what keeps universities running – academic staff – and what Brexit will mean for the 30,000-plus EU academics in the UK.

I arrived at a meeting a couple of weeks ago and noticed one of my academic colleagues was visibly distressed.

When I asked what was wrong, they said they’d just had a very alarming letter from the Home Office. Having lived and worked here for more than two decades (they’re a national of another EU country) they decided to play it safe after the Brexit vote and apply for leave to remain. Big mistake.

They received a threatening letter from the Home Office saying they had no right to be here and they should “now make arrangements to leave”. The letter was obviously wrong – they had every right to be here under existing UK law – but that didn’t lessen the emotional impact for my colleague, whose whole future was suddenly thrown into uncertainty.

I had read similar stories in the press, and wondered how many other academics might be affected, so I turned to Twitter to ask for any similar experiences. The tweet I posted asking for examples was retweeted – mostly by concerned academics – over 1,000 times. People started writing to me with cases and I began digging into the issue.

The first thing that struck me was the level of fear, anger and disgust – and in some cases resignation. I have disguised individual cases – that’s because few people are willing to speak openly, such is the degree of fear about what might happen after Brexit.

The impact on individuals

Some EU academics (along with others) who have been living and working legally in the UK for years decided, after June 23, that they should try to cement their position by applying for one or other of the various routes to permanent residency. The procedures are daunting and of Kafkaesque complexity – one form runs to 85 pages and requires forms of proof that make acquiring Catholic sainthood look simple. As a result many applications are failing – but it is the form of the rejection that is causing much concern. A typical letter from the Home Office says (in part):
“As you appear to have no alternative basis of stay in the United Kingdom you should now make arrangements to leave. If you fail to make a voluntary departure a separate decision may be made at a later date to enforce your removal…”
This appears to be a fairly typical ‘prepare to leave’ letter, variations on which have been sent to “failed” applicants – even though they are currently here perfectly legally.

Even more worryingly, the decision on whether to accept or reject these applications is based on the “Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and Regulation 26 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006”, to quote the letter again. The latter will be repealed in the Great Repeal Bill planned by the government, which could rescind any ‘right to remain’ granted under existing law and regulations.

Brian Cox sums up the situation very well when he told me:
“We have spent decades – centuries arguably – building a welcoming and open atmosphere in our universities and, crucially, presenting that image to an increasingly competitive world. We’ve been spectacularly successful; many of the worlds finest researchers and teachers have made the UK their home, in good faith. A few careless words have already damaged our carefully cultivated international reputation, however. I know of few, if any, international academics, from within or outside the EU, who are more comfortable in our country now than they were pre-referendum. This is a recipe for disaster.”
Another academic colleague said: “As an academic I’m embarrassed and ashamed of [the] UK governments’ stance on EU citizens.”

One academic told me: “the Home Office is hedging its bets because we non-UK [academics] are now effectively hostages …”. A neuroscientist from the EU at a top UK university reacted with defiance: “For what is worth, I refuse to apply for a piece of paper [leave to remain] that I don’t need and won’t be valid after Brexit – when current law says I don’t need it. It’s just a certificate. They can stick their 85-page form up their arses.”

The level of anxiety is obvious: “I’m about to submit my permanent residency application. Any pointers from the rejections you’ve seen so far? Scary times ahead…”. Another said: “as an Irish citizen I am assuming the Ireland Act will continue to provide my right to be here. But… “
A policy specialist from Oxford said “people have been turned down for administrative reasons alone. The Home Office looks for any reason to say ‘no’ at the moment.” Or as another, retired, academic puts it, this is just “inhuman bureaucracy” at work.

How representative is all this? A recent survey of academics conducted by YouGov for the University and College Union (UCU) found that an overwhelming majority (90%) said Brexit will have a negative impact on UK higher education. Three-quarters (76%) of non-UK EU academics said they were more likely to consider leaving UK higher education. A third (29%) said they already know of academics leaving the UK, and over two-fifths (44%) said they know of academics who have lost access to research funding as a direct result of Brexit.

The impact on universities

UK universities are heavily dependent on academics from the EU. To cater for our global audience we need to attract the brightest and best and Europe is, unsurprisingly, a major source for such talent. Over 31,000 UK university academics come from the EU – sixteen percent of the total (all figures calculated from the Higher Education Statistics Agency data for 2014/15).

But this national figure underestimates just how important EU academics are to our top-rated universities. The London School of Economics has 38% EU academic staff. Other prominent London colleges – Imperial, King’s, University College London – have between a quarter and nearly a third. Oxford has 24% and Cambridge 22%. My own university, Manchester has 18% and most of the Russell Group of ‘research universities’ are in the top ranks of EU academic staff employers.
EU academics are equally important in the core subject areas that are vital to our long-term economic health. So areas like physics (26%), chemical engineering (25%), biosciences (22%), chemistry (21%) and IT (20%) are all heavily reliant on European talent.

So what?

Our global status isn’t, of course, just dependent on EU academics – UK experts are our bedrock (70%) – but the other 30% that come from the EU and the rest of the world are an important part of our global status.

Losing this talent – whether through demoralisation or deliberate design – would have catastrophic effects. As Brian Cox puts it: “Ministers must consider our global reputation before uttering platitudinous sound-bites for domestic consumption, and think much more carefully about how to ensure that the UK remains the best place in the world to educate and to be educated. [UK Universities] are everything the government claims it wants our country to become; a model for a global future.”

“The current rhetoric is the absolute opposite of what is required. The UK appears, from outside, to be increasingly unwelcoming and backward looking”.” They should be even more careful about the policies they enact and the way they are implemented...

More at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/01/27/eu-academics-britain-told-to-leave/