June 26, 2008

Comments contributed to blog: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Faculty and staff who are bullied need to confront the bully and file the appropriate charges and grievances. I know of such bullies. Their tenure is seldom broken but they are often compelled to report directly to the dean’s office and their departmental relationships (as necessary) are suspended. Relocation to other buildings is a useful strategy. Stand up. Bullies are generally cowards who have not been confronted successfully. There is no reason to tolerate their behavior.

BeenThereDoneThat Jun 25, 02:58 PM #

Yeah, sure. I confronted the male bullies at my employment (Kentucky small community college), and my contract wasn’t renewed, and the dean broke into my office, and I was put on Administrative Leave, and blacklisted (I’m still unemployed after three years) – no, people need to just leave the bullies alone. They’ll destroy your life. The school administration and courts don’t give a crap about defending the rights of women in the workplace. It’s all about the insurance lawyers destroying your career to protect the institution.

Muap Conners Jun 25, 07:22 PM

The dean broke into your office? (Must have been a slow day when s/he had a lot of time to kill.) You’re blacklisted (where—throughout the cosmos?) The school administration and courts don’t give a crap about defending the rights of women in the workplace? Not where I live.

BeenThereDoneThat Jun 25, 08:19 PM

C’mon don’t attack someone’s experience just because you are lucky to have never experienced bullying. Conners isn’t blacklisted everywhere, but not everyone can pack their bags and leave town.

— jenny Jun 26, 07:37 AM #

I confronted a bully who was made Chair after our beloved Chair passed away. This was a faculty member with scores to settle. And she used the position to do just that. Teachers were given early morning or late evening classes (her adjunct friends secured the day classes), we were spied on and reported to the Dean (her partner in crime) for letting classes out 5 minutes early, our reviews were mean spirited & ultimately, because I had enough, I filed a grievance, only to lose my position. It was such a great department until the bully arrived!

— Barb Jun 26, 08:49 AM

Workplace bullying takes many forms and exists at all levels in every type of organization. At my university, one senior administrator consistently diminishes the contributions of her targets, whispering into the ears of administrators and regents about the incompetence of this or that person, excluding her targets from key meetings or withholding important information, etc. This is tolerated, and we are advised by HR that grievances will only make matters worse. When there is truly no recourse except to leave, there’s something very wrong with the organization that will ultimately bring grief to the university. I agree about confronting bullies, though, if for no other reason than the satisfaction brought by letting someone know that you’re onto them.

UnderHerThumb Jun 26, 09:30 AM

Confronted by a senior female colleague known for her rash, often verbally abusive treatment of junior faculty, I went first to my chair. He laughed at my concerns, even though the woman was taking every opportunity, including faculty meetings, to humiliate me. Examples? She complained that my record of faculty meetings were too detailed and that I was always talking about African history (my field—well, duh). I received no help from the chair, nor did he ever take steps to at least check her mean spiritedness. As chair of the Department PRC, she saw to it that any request I made to be on a committee was denied and criticized to my face and behind my back any outreach efforts I headed up. I received more support from other departments and programs across the University than I did in my own department. I finally committeed myself to two years of talk therapy with a psychologist experienced in the academic workplace in order to try to turn around a situation that was increasingly threatening my career and always undermining my work. The upshot? She became chair inspite of serious objections on the part of other department members, put her best friend in place as chair of the PRC the year I came up for tenure and saw to it that my tenure bid was denied. My teaching evaluations were stellar, my service—inspite of her constant undermining—strong and my book was in press with a major publisher in my field. What was the problem? PRC Chair/thug called my editor and reported that the book was in press, but not yet actually published—and that was not enough for my department. My union would do nothing to help me. The university did not allow faculty to go up for tenure a second time, even when the book was out. The result of bullying? She ruined my career.

— Mary Bivins Jun 26, 10:37 AM

There is no universal rule — sometimes fighting back is the right choice, sometimes avoiding it or even fleeing is better. You have to decide in each case individually. But one thing is for sure — always fleeing is bad for the society, always fighting back is bad for yourself.

— Mark de Goz Jun 26, 11:42 AM

There’s a bully in our department that constantly pitches temper tantrums and is rude and obnoxious to everyone who works in our group — except the boss. We all walk on eggshells around this person, and it does affect morale and productivity because we dread having to deal with this person on a daily basis. In this case, fighting back is out of the question. You either learn to deal with it or move on.

— Callie Jun 26, 11:53 AM

Academic bullying, or “mobbing,” is common at Columbia University — especially in the “pink collar” departments (e.g. social work, education). It’s impossible to fight because it’s completely a part of the culture here. The sad thing is that we lose the best doctoral students as a result because they see this nonsense for what it is. If they fight it, we get rid of them. Or, if they’re tired, they just leave.

It’s a crime of epic proportions and very few people are talking about it.

— Columbia Prof Jun 26, 11:55 AM

As someone who was a subject of a previous Chronicle of Higher Ed article that was related to bullying in the workplace, I know something about it. But the article understates the true costs. Bullies only try to hire, and they only tolerate, their own kind. When the unfit are hired and retained, there are direct costs with the damages they do and the costs of removing them, but there are also lost opportunity costs in terms of all the good that could have been done not being done because the non-bullies and competent were not hired.

As Plato put it: “Those who seek power are invariably the least fit to hold and wield it.” Indeed it seems that personality disorders such as narcisism, megalomania, bullying and others are requisite for management positions in academia, business, government and even non-profits.

— James Craven Jun 26, 11:58 AM

I experienced bullying from a collegue in the form of him screaming profanities at me in the hallway, with several other collegues and the chair there. The most unforunate part, is that this bully has “the ear of the chair,” so much so, that my evaluation was negatively impacted, and full of language almost identical to the bully’s. I agree that there may not be much a person can do to change the culture of a department, but a person can take steps to protect him/herself both personally and professionally. For me, I confronted the bully calmly and professionally, and was able to walk away feeling like the bigger person. I dealt with the chair by documenting everything and addressing what I felt was unjustified or unfair in writing. Knowing that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, keeps me focused on producing what I need to produce to get the next job, so that I’m not powerless to leave an unpleasant situation.

ForwardFocus Jun 26, 12:06 PM

Okay, I never blog but had to. I was a postdoc at a R1 research institute and saw and was the victim of bullying first hand. And you feel completely helpless. Since it was a post-doc at the bully’s own research institute my only choice seemed to be to leave (no other faculty members to work with there) which was not an option. I was humiliated, yelled at (publicly and privately), things picked up off my desk and thrown back, told i was a disaster repeatedly, almost prevented from using the bathroom on one occasion (i am not kidding or exaggerating), and was questioned about my eating habits (seriously.). Yes, the person was off her rocker. At first, friends and colleagues would encourage me to speak up or suggest that maybe she was being tough on me in order to help me improve my work. But everyone soon realized that this wasn’t a mentor who is light on the praise, but a crazy person with a little bit of power. Since she was out of her mind and as the head of a research center where there was no one witnessing what was going on except postdocs and graduate students in similar situations. I almost had to be medicated by the end of it. I have had a person or two say – well, aren’t you proud of your self for sticking it out? The fact that I had to stay because I would have been homeless otherwise and allowed someone to treat in a way that I would not have allowed in any other area of my life was not an accomplishment. And like any good serial abuser, after a bad episode – I was was told how smart and pretty I was and promised trips to conferences literally all over the world. Sick. I actually get chills thinking about it. Worst year and a half of my life. Have even taken it off my c.v.

— post-abilify Jun 26, 12:27 PM

A recent publication in the Academy of Management Journal (2007) addresses this topic directly. The researchers find that in the long-term, directly confronting abusive supervisors buffers the effect of exposure on depression and anxiety. The use of avoidance strategies has the opposite effect. The authors acknowledge that confrontation may produce unfavorable outcomes such as termination and escalation of hostility (on the part of the perpetrator), but that for the long-term sake of the victim’s mental health, confrontation may be appropriate.

— William Jun 26, 01:29 PM

Remarkable how the on-line bullies emerge to ridicule individual’s experiences. Sad we have to share air with them, so ignore them. Bullies can literally destroy a Department, I have seen it happen.

— Jon Jun 26, 01:47 PM

Academic bullying is yet another example of what happens when you combine massive egos with puny salaries. I’d be bitter and want to take it out on subordinates too.

gollum Jun 26, 03:07 PM

Eventually the bully or bully club does something totally outrageous and enough people are incensed. That is the precise time to rally the troops who have been abused and others who are horrified at the abuse, ban together and stick it to the bully at every corner – faculty meetings, elections, dean’s reports, private meetings, etc. Propose some good-hearted committee, or one that wants to collaborate or cooperate and you will see that the bullies do not want to play anymore. Creating enough situations where they are on display for their lack of cooperation and their outrageous behavior is public to others with good nature and balance and eventually their power dissipates. They will retreat to their caves, licking their wounds.

Do not be deceived, however, they are only plotting their return. They are quietly trying to get to new faculty members and others who express a negative POV at a meeting. They wil try to become their best friends. They will prey on those with low self-esteem or those who are prone to flattery. Therefore, the “new majority” of cooperative people must be steadfast in welcoming the new faculty member, mentoring the junior professor and quickly coming to the side of one who expresses something negative so that they can express their reservations to those who will hear them, but not suck them into an even larger whirlwind of negativity.

DrFunZ Jun 26, 03:26 PM

Academic bullying must never be tolerated in higher education.

William Allan Kritsonis, PhD
From: http://chronicle.com/jobs/blogs/onhiring/603/academic-bullies

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