May 25, 2007

Here you have it: 'Beware Big Brother paranoia 1'

From the Times Higher Education Supplement. Letter to the Editors, published 25 May 2007.

'The tone of your story "Staff see red over online policing" (May 18) was alarmist and misdirected, as it gave the impression that higher education managers, administrators, personnel and marketing staff have nothing better to do than trawl through e-mails, blogs and discussion groups looking for evidence of dissent.

Anyone would think that we are run by the
Staatssicherheitsdienst. On the contrary, these important workers simply do not have the time for that sort of thing, even if they wanted to.

If criticism does come to the attention of the authorities, then it has probably been reported to them by academic colleagues. The motives are not hard to fathom: envy, score-settling, career advancement, or a wish to appear compliant to power. These passions exist in all societies, so why should academe be any different?

Stoking paranoid fantasies of the omnipotent gaze of power simply encourages narcissism. Why not "out" academics who perpetuate it - as a prelude to some warm and fuzzy truth and reconciliation, of course.

Jeremy Valentine
, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh'
So there you have it... All you targets/victims of workplace bullying that dare to imply that managers and other important persons in academic hierarchies have nothing better to do than trawl through emails, do so because of 'envy, score-settling, career advancement, or a wish to appear compliant to power'. So there you go...

And if this is not enough, if you have lost your job under tragic circumstances, if you suffer from PTSD or work-related stress due to workplace bullying - and you dare to complain - oh, well, you should be 'outted' because you are perpetuating a fantasy!

My dear lovely Dr Jeremy, perhaps you should become a bit more familiar with the literature on workplace bullying, for you may discover that it is the competent, committed and efficient academics who fall victims of workplace bullying. The bullies tend to be insecure, incompetent and inefficient. It is the latter that undermine the former and not the other way around.

And while you are at it, you may also want to read a recent publication titled: 'Good Practice Guide for Higher Education Institutions on Dealing with Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace'. Why the need for this guide?

And if you are still in the mood, read the following interesting story about 'important' persons checking emails. Paranoia or ignorance?


Anonymous said...

Someone wrote "Se Maometto non va alla montagna, la montagna va da Maometto" (if Mohammed will not come to the mountain, then the mountain must come to Mohammed) in a private email discussion between two colleagues about a burdensome HR directive. The individual was then reprimanded for insulting the head of HR and all staff (at a university!) were ordered not to communicate in any language other than English. We have, incidentally, two national languages of which English is officially the second. Equally incidentally, the two miscreants were employed to study and teach Romance literature.

Big brother certainly does have time to pry, and forewarns of prying in the campus email Acceptable Usage Policy - find yours and post it - e.g. "While network traffic is not normally monitored, it may be necessary if there is reason to suspect that this Acceptable Use Policy is being breached, or for the purposes of backup or problem-solving. You must therefore be aware that such monitoring may occur."

Anonymous said...

I can understand that Jeremy Valentine finds it hard to believe that practices such as trawling through staff emails looking for signs of dissent exist.

I work in a faculty where I find it hard to believe the practices that I see with my own eyes. I sometimes have to pinch myself to check that I am not dreaming....that I have not slipped into some Orwellian nightmare...some dystopian science fiction.

For example....staff who have been the targets of workplace bullying in other universities have moved to the university that I work in and then (I believe) have joined in the mobbing against me...such is the power of the culture of mobbing in my faculty....

It is hard to believe that some academics will resort to such disgusting the name of naked ambition...

I am sure that there are universities where such practices do not exist...where there is integrity...maybe Queen Margaret University is such a university... where bullying is not condoned... (the burgeoning research literature on wpb has started to explore cultures of bullying)

But sadly Jeremy there are some of us working in prestigious research universities who have to rub our eyes daily in disbelief at the playground politics that are the stuff of our daily lives....

(It could of course be that I am just a troublemaker who deserves to be bullied..... )

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

Good Jeremy,

now you've got your 5 minutes of fame!

Anonymous said...

It may well be that not all HEIs are run like the Staatssicherheitsdienst (Stasi), but some are.

To ignore this reality and call for the outting of those who suffer, is not right.

It may well be - as Jeremy states - that these passions exist in all societies, but does this justify them? Why should academia be any different? I don't know Jeremy, perhaps you can think about it...