August 31, 2008

Epidemic proportions - does the minister have an opinion on this?

As a foreigner working in UK academe I must say that I am stupified by the level of bullying and denial that goes on in UK academe. In my own field of research alone, I know of three individuals (all of them foreign, as it happens) who have been mobbed in three different UK departments, two of them Russell Group universities. One has been dismissed, another has managed to remain in post, but seconded out of the home department, and a third is currently undergoing an elimination ritual.

From what I am learning at this wonderful blogsite, the problem seems almost epidemic in the UK. And yet everyone--governors, senior management, HR depts, and above all academic staff--remain in the most appalling states of denial and/or intimidation into silence. I have never seen anything like this in my previous 20+ years of teaching in another country, nor have I heard of (nor read about) so many problems as in the UK.

I am beginning to wonder if there is something endemic to UK institutions of higher education that encourages this kind of rampant mobbing. I would be interested to have the thoughts of others on this subject

Anonymous academic
Does the Minister of State, Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education the Honourable Mr Bill Rammell have anything to say about this situation? If not, feel free to inform him.

Bill Rammell MP

August 29, 2008

More elimination rituals...

I found your website some time ago and I've recently had opportunities to read some of the items.

A great deal of what was described was familiar to me. I taught at a technical institute for several years and, for much of that time, I endured bullying, persecution, and harassment from certain administrators. That place could well qualify for membership in the Hall of Shame.

The only solution for me was to escape and I resigned on my own terms, but, I've been unable to find employment since then. Fortunately, I had some investments and I've made my living from them, though they are no substitute for a proper pay cheque.

It is my hope that websites such as yours bring about an end to this shameful practice. Too much talent and intellect has been squandered due to cheap office politics

In the vast majority of cases the offending institutions get away with it because they are allowed to be 'self-regulated'. Read about the sham of self-regulation, and contribute your experience to the elimination rituals happening all the time...

A high price to pay for failing a form-filling test...

People often say, "It's not the money, it's the principle", without really meaning it. In fact, they generally mean the opposite. But the further education college where I teach has recently put me in the unusual position of being able to make this claim with absolute sincerity.

Earlier this year, after protracted wrangling with the University and College Union (UCU), the college management finally agreed to allow suitably qualified lecturers to move up to the top of the pay scale – Spine Point 41, for those who follow these things. But there was a catch. The pay award was discretionary. Only those lecturers who could demonstrate their eligibility would receive the award. And the way we were required to demonstrate eligibility was... to fill in a form.

Like most teachers and lecturers, in the last few years I have had to fill in an ever-thickening blizzard of forms. Forms to enrol students; forms to monitor students' progress (complete with "Smart" targets); forms to record achievement and retention data; survey forms and questionnaires galore, not to mention the Ucas forms I help students fill in – and now a brand-new four-page form to demonstrate that I merit a pay award which, considering that I have worked at the institution for 18 years, I might reasonably expect should be granted as of right.

It is often said, dismissively, that forms are merely hoops to jump through. This is perhaps truer than is realised. Making someone jump through a hoop is a graphic image of exercising power. Forms demand time, effort and concentration – and there are penalties for getting them wrong. It is rare in educational institutions for power to be exercised in its cruder forms; those at the top of the hierarchy do not usually harangue, abuse or bully the toilers at the chalk face. But making us fill in forms is a subtler exercise in power. The form-filler is nearly always acting under duress, and is often, as in this case, a supplicant.

As must already be apparent, on this occasion my form-filling skills were adjudged deficient – along with some 30 of my colleagues. My form failed on two counts: using IT skills in my teaching, and enhancing students' educational experiences. Swallowing my outrage, I lodged an appeal (this necessitated filling in another form, naturally), and in due course was brought face-to-face with two stern-faced stooges who proceeded to grill me as if I had attempted to file a false insurance claim.

Staunchly supported by a union representative, I pointed out that I had used IT in a variety of ways, as detailed on my form, including use of the college electronic system blackboard. But the fact that I had not posted a course outline (even though it was nowhere stipulated on the form that this was the only admissible kind of IT use) counted against me. On the enhancing learning point, my form stated that I'd arranged theatre trips for students – but owing to a deficiency of imbecilic literal-mindedness, I had omitted to explain exactly how literature students who were studying King Lear might benefit from a trip to the theatre to see King Lear. At the hearing I duly spelt this out – only to be told that new evidence was inadmissible as it was not included on the original form.

So my appeal was turned down – although I am allowed to fill out another form to reapply next year. At the end of the hearing, one of the stooges unbent sufficiently to reassure me that the college did indeed appreciate my work, but that the application for the pay award was "form-driven". At the time I was too gobsmacked to reply. But the only appropriate response would have been: "Well, it shouldn't be form-driven, should it?" If a form does not sufficiently demonstrate the applicant's eligibility, then they should be allowed to re-fill it until it does (provided they don't write lies on it). Assuming, that is, that the college is serious about giving the pay award to all the lecturers who deserve it.

Management must have known when they made it a form-driven process that there would be some lecturers who'd fail to make it through that particular hoop – leading to the invidious consequence of lecturers with the same or superior qualifications, capabilities and length of service as their colleagues being paid at a lesser rate (around £2,000 a year pro rata) for doing the same job. It's evident that this is not the way to produce a loyal or contented workforce. On the other hand, it does save money.

Of course, I am not saying that the college is more interested in saving money than in the principle of the thing. But if that were the plan, a form-driven process would be a neat way to accomplish it, wouldn't it?

Useful things, forms.

The writer is a lecturer at Westminster Kingsway College.


August 27, 2008

High Principals and public money

The above from Private Eye.

"...It is hard to see how the public can have confidence in such exercises when potentially crucial paperwork has been destroyed and important witnesses have been gagged through confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements paid for with public money."

Indeed... There should be no doubt, in case this is of interest to the National Audit Office, that the above college is not the only offender, and that HEIs make it a regular practice to silence descent through gagging clauses, thus wasting significant amounts of public money while hiding their wrong-doings. One would have thought that this would also be of interest to the relevant government department... But, hey...

August 26, 2008 exhaust complainants...

"It is increasingly clear that the purpose of Oxford University's current method of handling ethnic minority complaints is to exhaust complainants in order to force them, for the sake of Oxford's brand name, to withdraw their grievances."

Letter from an Oxford academic to Kofi Annan prior to Annan's acceptance of an honorary Oxford degree in July 2001

It is not just Oxford University's current method - it is the method employed by all serial bully universities. Shameful, gutless, disgraceful... It is true that the possibility of recourse to an external court exists. Regrettably, it is a deeply unpleasant, soul-destroying and expensive route which should be avoided if at all possible. However, it can only be avoided if all those who are in a position to stand up for the fundamental values of a university do indeed stand up for them.

Total Destruction...

...certainly for the academics who have been bullied and mobbed out of their positions and careers from these universities.

August 24, 2008

Injustice destroys justice...

'...When fairness is flouted, the universe is at risk. Injustice is always unacceptable... Being the recipient of such an injustice is more than emotion. It is excrutiatingly visceral. It invades the human psyche with the most lancing cut. Depending on the severity of the injustice, life may ever after be divided mentally between the time before and after the injust event.'

'The experience of injustice alters the percpetion of oneself, off the safety of the world, the security of life, and the belief that wrongs inflicted will be put right. Injustice destroys justice because it destroys belief in justice. It destroys the notion of justice as something more than an activity or an act but as a powerful principal at work in the universe...'

'For some what is perceived as judicial injustice is a crime upon the crime: a further defilement after rape and an insult that exceeds the original assault...'

'Clinically, the emotions and behaviours consequent upon persception of grave injustice are many... It is all action and immobility, all words and silence, all reality and illusory. Sometimes it chokes in indignation...'

From: Dealing with injustice, by Marie Murray

August 22, 2008

The academy has progressed...

...Most of the mobbing targets I have studied were dumbstruck that such impassioned collective opprobrium could be heaped on them. They thought they were doing good work – as indeed they were, by standards broader than those locally in force. They trusted overmuch in reason, truth, goodness, and written guarantees of academic freedom and tenure. They missed the cue for when to shut up...

Professors and other workers will continue to be mobbed from time to time. Most will be idealistic high achievers with loyalties higher than the local powers that be. Targets will be humiliated and punished – though less harshly than Socrates was. The academy has in some ways progressed...

Kenneth Westhues

August 21, 2008

Tribunal backs professor's stand

A professor who resigned in protest after his university overruled his decision to fail more than a dozen of his students has won an Employment Tribunal case for unfair dismissal.

Times Higher Education reported exclusively in March 2007 that Paul Buckland, professor of archaeology at Bournemouth University, had judged that 14 BSc students should fail a resit exam.

His marks were confirmed by a second marker and were officially approved by the examination board. But after the board had signed off his marks, the papers were re-marked and the number of fails dropped to three.

Last week, the Southampton tribunal ruled that Professor Buckland "had been put in an impossible position ... in which his views and his position as a senior academic were disregarded in a manner that he was entitled to regard as insulting". This represented a "fundamental breach" of his contract.

After the August resits, 14 out of 16 students failed Professor Buckland's "Reconstruction of environment and economy" course in 2006, the tribunal said.

The exam board was chaired by Brian Astin, dean of the School of Conservation Sciences, who is also now acting pro vice-chancellor responsible for the university's "academic performance". During the meeting, Professor Buckland described the failing students as "thick, knuckle-draggingly thick" and the board "checked and confirmed" the fail marks.

But after the meeting, Miles Russell, programme leader for the archaeology BSc, "intermeddled (sic) in the exam process" when he had "no business" doing so and remarked the papers. He raised concerns with Dr Astin that the marks were harsh and that there was a lack of comments from the second marker, so a third marker was asked to look at the work.

The judgment of the new marker was "broadly in line" with Professor Buckland's, and he increased marks by "between 2 and 6 per cent overall", the tribunal said. But the effect was to push some students "from a clear fail into ... the compensatable range where students can be awarded a pass". The new marks were approved by Dr Astin "by chairman's action".

Professor Buckland "made the strongest possible complaint" that Dr Astin's action "represented an insult to his integrity", the tribunal said. "We are in no doubt that (his) sense of grievance was fully justified."

"We find that it was an act calculated to destroy the relationship of trust and confidence between (Professor Buckland) and the university and was a repudiatory breach of contract."

A Bournemouth spokesperson said the university was "very disappointed with the outcome" and was studying the detailed judgment before commenting further.

He said that a review of the scripts by three independent external examiners had shown "all students marked as passing the examination should have those passes confirmed". He added: "We are absolutely committed to maintaining the high standards of our academic programmes. There is nothing in the judgment that would support a contrary view."

We are very encouraged by the decision of the Employment Tribunal. Often what happens under "chairman's action" in Exam Boards is inexplicable and insults the intelligence of good academics whose only priority is quality of education as opposed to bureaucrats who are interested in bums on seats.

Backfire basics - The keys to backfire

Backfire basics - The keys to backfire

• Reveal: expose the injustice, challenge cover-up

• Redeem: validate the target, challenge devaluation
• Reframe: emphasise the injustice, counter reinterpretation
• Redirect: mobilise support, be wary of official channels
• Resist: stand up to intimidation and bribery

The backfire model is about tactics to oppose injustice

Backfire: an attack can be said to backfire when it creates more support for or attention to whatever is attacked. Any injustice or norm violation can backfire on the perpetrator. Backfire can be apparent in adverse public opinion or greater activity by opponents. Even when a perpetrator seems to get away with an injustice, it can be counterproductive in the long term. Most injustices by powerful groups do not backfire, because they are able to inhibit outrage.

Five methods for inhibiting outrage over injustice

1. Cover up the action
2. Devalue the target
3. Reinterpret what happened
4. Use formal procedures to give the appearance of justice
5. Intimidate or bribe people involved

Two conditions for backfire

1. An action is perceived as unjust, unfair, excessive or disproportional.

2. Information about the action is communicated to relevant audiences.

Five approaches for increasing outrage over injustice

1. Expose the action

2. Validate the target
3. Emphasise interpretation of the action as an injustice
4. Mobilise public concern (and avoid formal procedures)
5. Resist and expose intimidation and bribery

An additional consideration: the timing of communication is vital.

Three relevant factors that affect reception of a message are

1. Receptivity: baseline sensitivity to injustice; meaning systems. If people are
already concerned about a type of abuse, their reaction to a new case will be stronger. Social movements can create or increase receptivity.

2. The information environment: visibility, salience (compared with other stories). What else is happening? If other important items are on the news, an injustice may receive little media attention.

3. Actionability: existence of social movements, opportunities for action. When
activists are prepared to act, a sudden injustice is more likely to backfire.

The five Rs of revealing, redeeming, reframing, redirecting and resisting can be
used in reaction to an injustice or as a way of preventing it.

For example, to help prevent police attacks, be prepared by having witnesses and
cameras ready, dressing and behaving in an image-enhancing fashion, etc.

From:, by Brian Martin,

August 17, 2008

Elimination rituals...

The University of Strathclyde

The University of Leicester

The University of Nottingham

It has come to our attention that the above three UK universities - due to their actions, fall into the checklist of mobbing indicators as described by Kenneth Westhues, and subsequently they are all awarded the Divestors of People Standard and are now listed in the Hall of Shame.

August 16, 2008


This omission of proper procedures and standards is at the heart of my complaint and subsequent sacking from my College. My contract states that I am to work 37 hours a week Monday to Friday. But there is another clause that says that I am expected to work flexibly and efficiently.

I've been doing this for years. At first I loved my job so much that I willingly put in many hours overtime unpaid. Then as the years progressed and I begin to feel increasingly disenfranchised I began to flex my hours to enable me to keep my unpaid overtime to a minimum.

Now, because I was seen on a Monday morning by a colleague who subsequently reported it. I have been sacked because the college 'owns' those hours so they have me down as a thief.

The point I have made is that you cannot flex 37 hours Monday to Friday, your either in, or your out. So that contract appears to give the college the right to expect us to work long hours on a promise that you might be able to arrange time off in lieu. Yes!! If your not too busy, or there isn't a meeting coming up or your face fits

This is just one of the gripes made by many of the personnel employed in this centre. I'll show a list of what I think are transgressions below.

I did speak to PCAW about this. The response I got is that at this present time they would advise that whistleblowing could affect my
employment tribunal and to try again after all that is over. This seems to me to be a rather redundant statement but there you go.

Here's my list of gripes.

Trainers are expected to spend in excess of 30 hours per week in contact with students. This leaves little time for paperwork.

Myself was given extra duties because I was on a lecturer pay scale and therefore earning more and receiving longer holidays.

Paperwork is legion and complicated and subject to the variations of human error and availability, therefore being regularly inaccessible.

An large amount of pressure is put onto this unavailable paperwork because failure to 'fill out the forms' (and properly) could result in sanctions from the LSC, which amounts to money, which amounts to jobs.

There is little training and training is inadequate for the complexity of the paperwork.

Huge amounts of resources, papers etc are generated by each trainer during any one academic year. Apart from time wasting this is also an environmental issue.

There is no storage for resources, therefore trainers are accustomed to carrying work around with them in their car or hold it in their house.

There are four computers between 32 people, which results in tensions over usage. Therefore large numbers of trainers have installed computers and internet access to their homes.

Peripatetic trainers are often asked to drive long distances, driving for up 6/8 hours per day. Trainers are often asked to drive long distances, deliver training and then return again, creating 12 or more hour working days. Or are asked to source a cheap form of overnight stay. Pay out of their own pockets and wait for the money to be reimbursed.

There are few procedures written down and those that are are subject to change without consultation usually resulting in email notification and a change electronically to the document.

There are no saving protocols so documents held electronically are duplicated in locations and type. Some have been inadvertently saved over.

These are just few of the many trap doors laid down by this employer, and while I'm the first to say that you would have to live with it to know just exactly how stressful it is. I'm hoping that somewhere someone will see the sense that this particular educational establishment is out of control and responsible for the strain it is putting onto it's staff because this department is an accident waiting to happen.

I've just completed my final appeal with the governors. If they turn me down (and I expect they will) hopefully (it is not clear yet) my Union will get behind me and go to tribunal. I'm not sure whether or not I expect to win that either, but at least then it will be out in the public domain.

People have to know. Education has gone mad. It has lost it's morals along with it's marbles and for me that is a very serious matter. If we are all fish in a big pond then colleges are the barracudas of the pond, universities are the sharks. How can we possibly trust these people to be in charge of educating our young? It is too sinister for words.


August 15, 2008

HSE report following investigation on work related stress and bullying in Leeds Metropolitan University

The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) released a report dated 28 July 2008, on the high levels of work-related stress at Leeds Metropolitan University. This report is addressed to the Vice Chancellor Simon Lee, the Director of HR Steve Pashley and the Registrar Steve Denton.

You can download the complete report from:
(After you click the above link, go to the bottom of the page and press 'click here to download')

Below we provide you with segments of the report:

In September/October 2007 HSE received allegations of unacceptable levels of work-related stress (WRS) being experienced by staff employed at the University, by bullying behaviour. Bullying is recognised as a stressor under the management standards... As a matter of policy HSE does not investiagte individuals cases of alleged WRS or specifically allegations of bullying, but undertook to investigate the University's overall policy and arrangements for managing WRS as the duty on the employer is to have systems in place to deal with these type of instances.

...The University has had a written policy since 2002, but we found examples of inconsistent application acros faculties and it is now apparent that the policy no longer reflects the arrangements the SET want to follow...

We conclude that the existing policy, while still relevant to some aspects of your risk control system, should be reviewed and re-launched in line with your current thinking nd your related policy developments...

...The proactive elements we were looking for, to enable the University to produce suitable and sufficient WRS risk assessments, were not in place. Fr4om our interviews we identified weaknesses in the information, instruction and training given to personnel identified in the WRS policy, a lack of suitable performance standards and a lack of clarity on responsibilities. As a result of this suitable and sufficient proactive WRS risk assessments were not being carried out...

...The majority of our interviewees held the perception that the University system for handling WRS issues was predominantly reactive.

...preventative risk assessments for WRS have not been carried out to evaluate risk, identify solutions and generate action plans. We did not identify any overall strategic plans to imrpove the managements of WRS, and employees we spoke to were unaware of one...

...We conclude that the University should develop an overall strategic and coherent plan for dealing with WRS.

...There are no arrangements in place to review the University's performance due to the lack of clear risk control system for the management of WRS, and the lack of longer term strategic plan.

David R Green, HM Inspector of Health and Safety
Claire Mason, HM Inspector of Health and Safety
First of all, congratulations to the management of Leeds Metropolitan University for all the above, and in particular the Vice Chancellor Simon Lee, the Director of HR Steve Pashley and the Registrar Steve Denton.

Secondly, Leeds Metropolitan University is not the only HEI with unacceptable high levels of work-related stress and bullying. You can report offending HEIs to the HSE.

Thirdly, it is good news that the above report is now public knowledge. We must not continue to suffer in silence for change will never happen.
Anonymous said:

My son has recently completed a degree at the university and believes students were affected by the bullying culture - either as a direct result of lecturers leaving/ being on sick leave and no alternatives found in time to complete lecturer's module commitments or seriously inconsistent marking of coursework with little to no feedback. The university is keen to accept the fees but in many cases does not give value for money. Some departments are worse than others - with the Educational teaching department being one of the worse. There's been a lot of activity over the past year in an attempt to resolve the problem. However, by the end of the year there were still some modules being assessed that did not have a lecturer to take all planned lectures for certain modules. I suspect the problem is taking so long to resolve because the main perpetrators of the bullying culture are still in place. The people who have left appear to be those who were affected by the bullying - whilst those who cause the toxic environment stay to reign another day.
Anonymous said:

Wow, I hope this gives Leeds Met the shot in the arm they obviously need. I went for an interview there 6 months ago and had to refuse the invite to a second interview because the interview panel from the 1st interview were so obviously stressed to the eyeballs. I figured no
matter how much I wanted to get away from my current university there was no point jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

August 14, 2008

Despair, anguish, pain...

Bullying of academics... exclusion, discrimination, envy (small dick syndrome), incompetent managers, lack of meritocracy, favoritism, mobbing, ganging-up, isolation... health, career, security, family... UCU where are you?

August 12, 2008

The cost of bullying in academia

The tolerance of administrative bullying is costly to every aspect of an organization. The cost for the academy and society is exponential. The reason is the pivotal role in the development and advancement of knowledge projected onto the academy. This role is hindered when its implementation is under the guidance of administrative bullying.

Almost 200 academic staff fight against RAE exclusion

At least 190 academics who were told their work would not be submitted to the research assessment exercise mounted a formal challenge against their exclusion, Times Higher Education has discovered. And about one in three of those who appealed was successful in overturning the decision, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The RAE, a periodic assessment of research quality in university departments, is used to determine more than £1 billion worth of grants each year. Any academic omitted from it is, in effect, branded "research inactive", which can prove a blow to their prestige.

The data, which are not officially collated, were compiled by Times Higher Education using information received from 145 universities. In total, 159 higher education institutions are known to have made RAE submissions.

The show that of at least 190 academics who lodged appeals against exclusion, 58 (30.5 per cent) were upheld. Across the sector, six appeals were taken by individuals beyond universities' RAE appeals procedures and became formal grievances. It is not known yet how many academics were excluded from this year's exercise. In 2001, more than 32,500 research-active staff (40.4 per cent) were excluded.

The institution to receive the most appeals was Queen's University Belfast, where 37 academics challenged their exclusion. Of these, 11 were upheld, 26 rejected and two proceeded to formal grievance.

Queen's was followed by the University of Glasgow (21 appeals), Swansea University (17), Queen Mary, University of London (15) and Kingston University, which had 11 appeals. The rest of the sector either did not receive any appeals or received mostly only one or two.

This year's RAE is the first in which universities have had to have an internal code of practice for preparing submissions, including selecting staff for inclusion. An appeals provision is standard. Decisions about which staff to include are at the university's discretion, but they need to be defensible and must not contravene equal opportunities legislation.

Reasons for appeal were wide-ranging. They included: claims that the university was not following its own procedures correctly; that due account had not been taken of special personal circumstances such as maternity leave that affected research volume; that research quality had not been judged correctly; and that new evidence of research output had not been originally considered.

Trevor Newsom, director of research at Queen's, said the reason for the relatively high number of appeals there was that the university had been upfront with academics about why they were excluded. "We made it easy to appeal and that was in keeping with the spirit the Higher Education Funding Council for England had requested," he said.

But Jimmy Donaghey, the local issues secretary of the University and College Union, cited a different reason: "(There was a) lack of transparency in the Queen's RAE selection process and, in some areas, Queen's decision-makers did not use the same weightings for the various measures as will be used by the (RAE) subject panels," he told Times Higher Education.

A spokesman for the University of Glasgow said an appeals rate of "less than 2 per cent" testified to the "robustness of its process". He added that a "substantial number" of appeals were upheld because the academics provided evidence that their publications would appear in time for the RAE deadline.

The vice-chancellor of Swansea University, Richard Davies, said a "major factor" behind the number of their appeals was that the university had applied "stricter criteria" than previously, excluding more academics. He said 92 per cent were submitted in 2001 compared with approximately 80 per cent in 2008. Queen Mary said in a statement that it was "satisfied that the processes used in its RAE decision-making were fair and thorough". A Kingston University official said that although 11 staff had complained, only two submissions were eligible for consideration and one of those had been upheld.

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank, said the fact that so few academics had appealed meant they either did not disagree with the judgments or did not think it was worth arguing against.

A spokesman for Universities UK said the low number of appeals suggested that institutions had "robust procedures" in place for selecting staff for inclusion.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said it had lobbied for a "less selective" RAE and would analyse the data on exclusions, particularly in relation to equality issues. "We do not accept that the relatively low numbers (of appeals) vindicates the current system," she said. "Lodging an appeal is a stressful process and a wholly unsatisfactory one for the two thirds of staff who had their appeals rejected."

A spokesman for Universities UK said the low number of appeals suggested that institutions had "robust procedures" in place for selecting staff for inclusion!!!

August 11, 2008

Research Assessment Exercise: Guidance on producing equality profiles

Under RAE 03/2005, institutions were instructed to provide an equality profile of staff who are eligible for submission to the RAE, and indicate those who are submitted and those who are not.

Under equality legislation , institutions are required to monitor the progression of their staff according to racial group, disability status and gender. In addition, HEIs are encouraged to submit the work of all their excellent researchers, including those whose volume of research output has been limited for reasons covered by equal opportunities guidelines, for example disability or absence from work due to maternity leave.

Equality profiles, therefore, provide the evidence base necessary to identify differential submission to the RAE with regard to different equality groups. If any apparent imbalance is found relative to the total potential pool, then the HEI may be required to account for it, and to provide objective, non-discriminatory reasons for the impact, taking into account the factors above.

In order to meet their obligations under equality legislation, HEIs must monitor the submission of eligible staff to the RAE according to race, disability status and gender. They must therefore collect statistics in these three regards for the group of eligible staff and for those selected. ‘Eligible staff’ in this case refers to all academic staff, whose contract lists research and/or teaching as their primary function.

From: Equality Challenge Unit

Institutional racism in UK universities?

Universities have become the latest institutions to be accused of harbouring racism. A professor at Manchester University has lashed out with claims of racial discrimination. Dr Aneez Esmail, a leading medical academic said, "I do think that as an organisation Manchester University, like so many British universities, is institutionally racist."

The most high profile case to face Oxford in recent years has been that of Nadeem Ahmed, a student at the Oriental Institute, who was asked to leave the university in June 1999 having been made to sit unofficial 'flawed' exams by his tutor. Although he was unsuccessful in his legal action, Ahmed has been widely backed by anti-racist groups, including the Oxford Majlis Asian Association.

A recent survey by the Association of University Teachers has revealed racial tensions and prejudices. Out of 10,000 interviewed, 25% of ethnic minority staff felt that they had been unfairly treated in interviews, and worryingly, ethnic minorities make up less than 4% of the student body, in traditional universities. Similarly, not one academic in any of the top 3 positions at a UK University is from an ethnic minority, and out of 11,000 university professors, only 208 are black or Asian. - 24th Jan 2002


Is Oxford University racist?

"It is increasingly clear that the purpose of Oxford University's current method of handling ethnic minority complaints is to exhaust complainants in order to force them, for the sake of Oxford's brand name, to withdraw their grievances."
Letter from an Oxford academic to Kofi Annan prior to Annan's acceptance of an honorary Oxford degree in July 2001

Keble College has been labelled institutionally racist by an employment tribunal after being found guilty of unfair dismissal and racial discrimination.

College accountant Diamond Versi accused bursar Roger Boden of forcing him out of his job due to his race. Mr Versi, who is of Asian origin, left Keble College following a reorganisation of the accounts department instigated by the Bursar in January last year. Versi had worked for the college for 14 years.

In a written ruling, the tribunal said: "The whole process was a sham and the tribunal takes a most unfavourable view of a prestigious Oxford college."

Versi told The Oxford Student he felt the reorganisation of the accounts department, which led to his resignation, had been designed to shunt him out. "They have around 600 students and now they say they don't need an accountant. Can you believe that?"

Versi described how the ordeal had caused a great deal of stress and he had received medication from the doctor due to high blood pressure and sleepless nights. "I am thoroughly surprised that he [Boden] kept his job," said Versi. "His position is untenable. I saved the college millions of pounds. He should have gone, not me. I blame not only Roger Boden, but the whole Keble College system. The Warden would not talk to me, nobody would talk to me."

However, staff and students of Keble have defended Boden, refuting the conclusions drawn by the tribunal. Keble Warden Professor Averil Cameron expressed her dismay at the verdict. "The college is very shocked and upset by the tribunal; we don't recognise its findings and we are looking into an appeal very carefully. There are a lot of mistakes in the tribunal's findings. We have explanations for every alleged incident and they were not recognised. We lost because the tribunal was unfair, they only listened to Mr Versi's case."

Versi's case was based on proving he had been unfairly dismissed by Keble. If this was proved, it was then up to Boden to prove he was not racially prejudiced against Versi. James Stuart, representing Versi, built a picture of conflict between his client and Boden, which led to his dismissal. This was accepted by the tribunal. It was described how the bursar launched an internal investigation against Versi in December 2002 with his only motivation being Versi's purchase of a new BMW and his taking his wife on holiday to Sri Lanka.

During 2003 the relationship between the two men worsened and the claimant described how he felt he was sidelined from decision-making by Boden. In January 2004 the bursar submitted a review of the accounts department which recommended the posts of accountant and assistant accountant be scrapped and replaced by a new post of financial controller. Mr Versi claimed this was designed to force him out of the office and that his assistant, Julie Hernandez, was assured the position. Hernandez did not appear as a witness.

Versi refused to apply for the new post and issued a formal grievance of racial discrimination to the Finance Committee in January 2004, the first instance where his official racial discrimination complaint was made. The claimant felt he was not given a fair hearing by the college, who rejected his claims as without merit and felt the case for the proposed re-structuring was entirely workable. The tribunal said Boden had undue influence on the complaint and appeal process.

A number of examples were submitted by the claimant as evidence for Boden's alleged racism. In March 2003 Boden refused to provide a £4,000 loan to a Keble employee of Pakistani origin. In October 2001 he had agreed to grant a £5,000 loan to a white employee.

Cameron pic
Keble College's Warden, Professor Averil Cameron,
who believes the ruling was unfair

The claimant also cited how Mr Boden had blocked the transfer of a member of the Hall staff of Vietnamese origin, Hien Le, from moving to the accounts department in April 2003. Le, who now works in the accounts department, was not called as a witness by either the college or Mr Versi, but she told The Oxford Student she did not support Diamond Versi's assertion that Mr Boden had been racially prejudiced against her. "It was not until I read The Oxford Mail that I heard I had been discriminated against. I didn't get the impression they didn't want me because I was Vietnamese."

Professor Cameron suggested Keble had made a mistake by deciding not to provide Le as a witness. "Perhaps we were advised in the wrong direction," she said.

However, the tribunal felt Boden and Keble College did not provide adequate evidence that he had not acted in a racist manner. Professor Cameron refutes that there was any evidence of racial discrimination.

During an interview with The Oxford Student, Versi was questioned on his evidence of Boden's alleged racial discrimination. He described the conflict with the Bursar over staff loans. "It was total racism," said Versi. However, when Versi was challenged over the nature of the two loans in question, one needed to pay off a credit card debt and the other to help purchase a house, he said: "Stop arguing with me. It bloody well was racism. I don't need to justify myself to you, you're not the tribunal." Versi then said he would not answer further questions.

He had earlier expressed his unhappiness with the nature of coverage of the tribunal by Oxford University's two student newspapers. "I was extremely upset with the articles in The Oxford Student and the Cherwell. It was very upsetting for me. Roger Boden should never have spoken to the press during the tribunal."

Meanwhile, Keble JCR President Mohsin Zaidi expressed his surprise at the findings. "My relations with the Bursar have been amazing. I can say that he's not a racist because I know him and speak to him every day. I hope the Keble student body can trust my, the JCR treasurer's and the vice-president's judgement in our support for Mr Boden because we deal with him and they elected us to do so," he said. Zaidi was not surprised at Mr Versi's reaction to being questioned over the evidence in the tribunal. "It shows he doesn't have any basis to claim the Bursar was racist," he said.

Late in 2004, to celebrate the fact that no legal action alleging racial discrimination had ever successfully been brought against any Oxford college or the University, Akme assembled the special Oxford Is Not Racist subindex of reported incidents and failed lawsuits. Now with the dramatic conclusion of the case Versi vs Keble College & Roger Boden, in which both the college and its bursar have been found guilty of racial discrimination and unfair dismissal, Oxford's blameless record and reputation have irrevocably been shattered. For the benefit of scholars Akme has collated the papers in this important, fascinating and at times comical case, and here posted them in a new linked series. Note too the Warden's 'under payment'.

The whole process was a sham and the Tribunal takes a most unfavourable view of a prestigious Oxford college who through its Finance Committee and Governing Body failed to apply appropriate checks and balances and allowed a situation to prevail where there were no effective or operable policies in relation to equal opportunities at the college. Much has been canvassed regarding equal opportunities as to admissions to Oxford colleges and no doubt Keble College takes such issues seriously. In the Tribunal's view it should also pay significantly more attention to the matter of equal opportunities in relation to its workforce. The claimant with distinguished service of 15 years in a senior position deserved a lot more from the college in the unfair and prejudicial process that led to his departure.


August 10, 2008

Injustice anywhere...

Studies of bully victims found increased risk of suicidal behavior, with victims being up to 5.6 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts...

When it comes to workplace bullying there are distinct stances adopted by HR Departments

When it comes to workplace bullying and its attendant issues – because it never arrives in the workplace alone – there are distinct stances adopted by HR Departments. Like yoga positions, they can be categorized.

1. The Mafioso:

Perhaps the worst stance, the Mafioso HR Department knows there is a problem with workplace bullying and actively participates or supports the abuse by bringing false, fabricated or unnecessary proceedings against the targets of bullying, supporting the culprits, joining in “the fun”. Their typical way is to issue threats to targets and abuse procedure. They are the harbingers of doom to any firm and and they ride in on the pale horse.

Oh, yes, you know who you are. And so do we. We can tell by the attrition rates, the number of lawsuits, and the fact that you can smell the fear and tension the moment you walk through the door.

2. The Ostrich:

Identified by somewhat sandy and muffled responses to questions on respect at work with.“We don’t have a problems with workplace bullying, nor are we ever going to have one” or even “We take respect at work seriously”. The muffled responses get all the fainter when one tried to identify how, exactly, they are taking it seriously. They achieve the same result as the Mafioso except passively, not actively.

3. The Firefighter:

This HR position involves leaping from crisis to crisis, from formal discipline/grievance proceeding to proceeding, from court room to court room. There’s no time to implement good practice – they are too busy putting out fires.

4. The Bureaucrat:

This HR team loves writing policies that look good on paper and then stuffing them in a drawer, and scheduling expensive training which doesn’t tackle the problems. Failure to monitor and audit procedures lead to a failure in implantation. But hey, they look good, even if you don’t achieve much. Often accompanied by Firefighters or Ostriches.

5. The Tinker:

The Tinker is perhaps the least glamorous respondent to the challenge of workplace bullying. They might not look good, patching here and there, but they only step in occasionally when a rare crisis emerges. For the most part, their conflict resolution and workplace harassment policies and procedures work so well they can get on with other stuff – like hiring, succession planning, and increasing the firm’s knowledge base. They do this by practicing preventative medicine in the work place, continually, monitoring and checking for signs of bullying and workplace toxicity. They actively work to reduce the number of grievance and disciplinary proceedings, and attrition due to mental ill health. They keep their stats in order. Quietly.

You know the burning question, don’t you? Which one of the five positions is YOUR firm’s HR adopting in response to Workplace Harassment?


August 08, 2008

An Open memo to Baroness Ann Gibson – Chair of the Dignity at Work Project

Baroness I understand that you have been quoted as saying: ‘Employers who choose to ignore bullying do so at huge costs to society."

I would like you to know, Baroness Gibson, that my university – a prestigious research university – which claims to be a centre of excellence - has in my view behaved disgracefully and unprofessionally in relation to its Dignity at Work policy.

From my experience there is little evidence that the policy has been taken seriously. I believe that since the policy was implemented in my university there has been no impact assessment of the policy.

When a meeting was held to discuss issues in relation to the policy many staff openly ignored requests to attend the meeting.

The Dignity at Work project that you chair has indicated that the costs to the economy of work place bullying run into billions – almost 14 billion pounds a year. Yet there appears to be no ‘moral panic’ about this – whipped up by the media.

Why might this be? Has debate about this been silenced?

I have worked tirelessly at my university to raise issues in relation to alleged workplace bullying. The university carried out an internal survey which has indicated the scale of the problem.

However it is difficult to see what action has been taken to effectively address these issues. Those of us who freely give of our time to raise issues in relation to workplace bullying are often faced with ‘character assassination’; these and other strategies are used by our colleagues whose aim is to discredit us.

In my university I believe that the strategy of ‘character assassination’ against me has been and continues to be very effective. The issues that I raise are ignored as my university tries to brazen out the uncomfortable facts of workplace bullying that inform out working culture.

This blog is the only outlet for my concerns. It has been a lifeline and has undoubtedly contributed to the fact that I have not taken my life.

It is probably impossible for you to understand the effects of prolonged and intense workplace bullying. Talk of suicide suggests an unstable character and very soon one is in a position where the target of workplace bullying is gently ushered into counselling. My university have suggested that I go for counselling.

Currently I am still very much alive… if you saw my smiling face in the street you would have no idea of the suffering that is hidden beneath my smile. If you saw my colleagues from the university you would see charming people…

We have learnt from stories of abusive relationships in domestic violence that bullies are not easy to spot. Targets of workplace bullying can be easier to identify when they are dead as they are no longer a threat.

In writing this memo to you I am exercising my right under parliamentary privilege to draw attention to defects within my university - specifically in relation to work place bullying. I have worked tirelessly to address these issues myself.

I understand that, if I am threatened by my employer as a result of this memo, I can raise the matter with my MP and it will be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

Even so – I use a pseudonym – and construct this memo so that I cannot be traced. I am fearful of the consequences. You see despite everything I love my work with the students in my university and I want to remain there working with them.

I just want the alleged workplace bullying to stop

Aphra Behn
Send a polite email to Baroness Gibson to highlight the issue of workplace bullying in higher education.

The Waterloo Anti - Mobbing Instruments

Name the process

Workplace mobbing is an impassioned, collective movement by managers and/or co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker. A desperate urge to crush and eliminate the target spreads through the work unit, infecting one person after another like a contagious disease. The target comes to be seen as absolutely abhorrent, outside the circle of respectability, deserving only of contempt. A steadily broader range of hostile words and actions toward the target are to be deployed.

About 5 percent of workers are targets of mobbing sometime during their working lives. Most workers see the process from the other side: as instigator, chief eliminator, collaborator, or bystander, or as the target’s guardian or rescuer. The same individual may play different roles in different cases. Mobbing is a drama performed on a real-life stage; workmates make their respective exits and entrances, and play their varied parts.

Mobbing is distinct from penalizing or firing a worker who, on the basis of evidence, does not measure up job requirements. The latter is a reasoned, routine managerial procedure, normally directed with regret at an underachiever. Mobbing is a furious collective attack made with undisguised glee on an overachiever or someone seen as threatening to good and decent employees.

Workplace mobbing is like bullying, in that the object is to rob the target of dignity and self-respect. Here, however, it is not a single swaggering bully that the target is up against, but the juggernaut of collective will. The message to the target is that everybody wants you out of here. Bullies often play leading roles in mobbing cases, whether as targets or perpetrators.

Understand the stages of the process

No two cases are alike, but mobbing typically proceeds from subtle, informal techniques of humiliation and exclusion to overt and formal measures. Five stages are commonly distinguished:

1. Avoidance and ostracization of the target.
2. Petty harassment: making the target’s life difficult.
3. A critical incident that triggers formal sanctions: “something has to be done.
4. Aftermath of the incident: hearings, appeals, mediation.
5. Elimination: target quits, retires,, is fired, becomes disabled, dies of stress-induced illness, or commits suicide.

Recognize the signs of ganging up

The first step toward prevention and remedy of workplace mobbing is to recognize the behaviours that constitute it and call the process by its name. Here are signs to look for:

1. By standard criteria of job performance, the target is at least average, probably above average.
2. Rumours and gossip circulate about the target’s misdeeds: “Did you hear what she did last week?”
3. The target is not invited to meetings or voted onto committees, is excluded or excludes self.
4. Collective focus on a critical incident that “shows what kind of man he really is.”
5. Shared conviction that the target needs some kind of formal punishment, “to be taught a lesson.”
6. Unusual timing of the decision to punish, e. g., apart from the annual performance review.
7. Emotion-laden, defamatory rhetoric about the target in oral and written communications.
8. Formal expressions of collective negative sentiment toward the target, e. g. a vote of censure, signatures on a petition, meeting to discuss what to do about the target.
9. High value on secrecy, confidentiality, and collegial solidarity among the mobbers.
10. Loss of diversity of argument, so that it becomes dangerous to “speak up for”or defend the target.
11. The adding up of the target’s real or imagined venial sins to make a mortal sin that cries for action
12. The target is seen as personally abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities; stigmatizing, exclusionary labels are applied.
13. Disregard of established procedures, as mobbers take matters into their own hands.
14. Resistance to independent, outside review of sanctions imposed on the target.
15. Outraged response to any appeals for outside help the target may make.
16. Mobbers’ fear of violence from target, target’s fear of violence from mobbers, or both.

Question what is going on

What does the evidence show? Has the target really committed an unpardonable sin? Or might this war of all against one be merely a cruel way of trying to avert a war of all against all?

Educate yourself about humans in mobs

Workplace mobbing springs from elemental impulses common to many mammals. The term pecking order comes from what chickens routinely do: gang up on one of their number (often a new arrival), each pecking the target and keeping it away from food and water. Although individual pecks do little harm, their cumulative effect is to kill the targeted bird.

There is no quick fix for something so instinctive and primordial. Reducing the incidence of mobbing and healing its effects require not just training but education: critical reflection on the human project, insight into the complexity of life, knowledge of right and wrong, self-knowledge above all.


Classic novels like these shed light on mobbing:

• Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of Seven Gables (1851). The hunt for witches, Hawthorne writes, “should teach us, among its other morals, that the influential classes, and those that take upon themselves to be leaders of the people, are fully liable to all the passionate error that has ever characterized the maddest mob.”
• Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Foretopman (1924).


In many movies, ganging up is a basic theme. Six examples:

• The Crucible (Arthur Miller play; Daniel Day-Lewis; 1996);
• Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir, dir.; Robin Williams; 1989);
• Dogville (Lars von Trier, dir.; Nicole Kidman; 2003);
• The Human Stain (P. Roth novel; Anthony Hopkins; 2003);
• Joan of Arc (Roberto Rossellini, dir.; Ingrid Bergman; 1948);
• Malena (Giuseppe Tornatore, dir.; Monica Bellucci; 2000).

Research summaries

In the early 1980s, the late Swedish psychologist Heinz Leymann spearheaded the research effort on psychological terror in the workplace. Here are three practical summaries:

• Noa Davenport et al., Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace (Ames, IA: Civil Society, 1999). Engaging.
• Gary and Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job (Benicia, CA: DoubleDoc, 2000). Well-researched, helpful.
• Judith Wyatt and Chauncey Hare, Work Abuse: How to Recognize It and Survive It (Rochester, VT: Schenkman, 1997). Key concept is shame. Profound, easy to read.


Do Google searches for “workplace mobbing” or “bullying,” or for Australian researchers like Charmaine Hockley, Brian Martin, Linda Shallcross, Michael Sheehan. Look at

Be at once kind and careful

Lying low, keeping your head down, following the crowd, and kowtowing to the boss are poor defenses against being mobbed. Nobody is safe in workplaces of chronic scapegoating, mobbing, and nastiness. This year’s mobber may be next year’s target.

Practical suggestions researchers commonly offer for personal conduct include the following:

• Keep your mind on the job. Mobs form when people lose sight of the organization’s purposes, turn their attention inward, get caught up in power struggles and one-upmanship.
• Plan carefully before blowing the whistle on managerial misconduct. Managers tend to go after whistleblowers, and elites close ranks. See Brian Martin, The Whistleblower’s Handbook (Annandale, NSW: Envirobook, 1999).
• Get a life away from work. Cultivate social relations in many different groups – family, school, church, community. If managers and workmates turn on a person who lacks alternative sources of social support, the target is easily destroyed.
• Show kindness to the target. Instead of joining mobbers or bystanders, find ways to affirm the target’s humanity. The mob may then turn on you, but you may possibly save another’s life.
• Nietzsche said it best: “Distrust all those in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.”

Promote workplace decency

Keeping a workplace free of scapegoating and terror takes more than good intentions on the part of the managers and workers involved. Some organizational structures and procedures work better than others, for getting work done well and for discouraging people from ganging up. Here are possibilities:

• Spread power around. Pluralism, countervailing power, checks and balances, bring out the best in people. Concentration of power in a single hierarchy brings out the worst.
• Minimize adversarial, zero-sum proceedings. Quasi-judicial tribunals unleash groupthink and the impulse to scapegoat. Productivity, truth, and justice are better served by open administration and straight talk, with cards on the table.
• Discourage a culture of grievance and legalism. Given the choice, wasting hours in occasional arguments is less costly and stressful than wasting years in arbitration or in court.
• Avoid “neutral” mediators. They usually side with whoever has the upper hand. An effective mediator is committed to truth, fairness, give and take, productivity, quality, efficiency.
• Provide opportunities for dialogue. If people have the chance to voice concerns, air differences, listen to one another, and seek common ground, the threat of mobbing is reduced – see Daniel Yankelovich, The Magic of Dialogue (New York, 1999).


Academic Bullies

I received a call from a former client this afternoon. This morning, a senior faculty member, who teaches the same subject matter as her, "summoned" her into his office where he proceeded to berate her, call her names and threatened her. He repeatedly screamed that he was tenured and she was still untenured and that she had to answer to him.

Over the phone, she still sounded very shaken and wanted to double check that her reaction and plan of action were on target. She was fighting the urge to simply withdraw from the world and quit her job on the spot. She told me that she never wants to be alone with him again. I was proud of her. Her plans were right on target. This bully had already been warned about his behavior before. She is reporting his behavior to the appropriate people, documenting his bullying, and reaching out to other senior faculty women on her campus for the best ways to deal with him. In essence, she is calling upon her inner warrior princess to shore up her boundaries and is drawing a line in the sand by stating that she refuses to be bullied.

Hazing and bullying have gone on for far too long. Afraid of the bully, colleagues and administrators look the other way as women, especially, are subjected to an extremely hostile environment. Too often, the bully relies on the knowledge that the junior faculty member is too afraid of jeopardizing their chances for tenure and promotion to say anything. But, if you read discussion forums, the end result is that the environment becomes so unbearable that the faculty member ends up leaving for what she hopes are greener and kinder pastures (after all sense of self-confidence in one's abilities have been destroyed).

Bullying has been the elephant in the room. But I am hopeful that people are starting to finally address it. Lately, I have seen a lot of conversations about "faculty incivility" on professional forums for faculty development specialists as well as timid forays into the subject by the Chronicle of Higher Education (Click here for an interesting op-ed about tenure that states that tenure encourages bullying). Let's hope that these conversations develop legs and are the beginning of real change.

I have not had the chance to read Twale and DeLuca's book Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to Do About It that was released earlier this year, but my colleagues are all giving it a thumbs up on how to deal with bullying and how to deal with a culture that encourages the chewing up and spitting out of junior faculty.

Let's join my former client in drawing the line in the sand. Let's conjure up our warrior princesses and remind the bullies that we expect to be treated with respect.


August 06, 2008

Informal complaints: handle with care

Statutory grievance procedures continue to plague employers. For example, in Procek v Oakford Farms Limited, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that a grievance which had been labelled by Mr Procek, a Polish farm worker, as "informal" did satisfy the requirements of the statutory grievance procedures. Consequently, the tribunal was able, not just to hear Procek's claims, but also to slap a punitive 50% uplift on any award of compensation it made against his employer.

This case shows that although the statutory grievance procedures have been with us now for more than four years, the basics of their application continue to be debated at tribunal.

Past case law tells us that grievances can be "minimal" in terms of content do not need to refer to the statutory procedures nor even indicate that the sender requires the complaint to be dealt with. Now with the decision in Procek, a grievance that the employee had labelled as being informal, and which specifically indicated that it was not intended to satisfy the statutory procedures, has been determined as being sufficient to satisfy the statutory requirements.

Some may see this ruling as unsurprising, but the statutory procedures have real bite, and failure to comply with them has serious consequences for both the employee and the employer. From an employee's perspective, they can be prevented from having their claim heard from an employer's perspective, they can face an uplift in the damages that have to be paid if they are unsuccessful in defending a claim.

This may seem like a fair quid pro quo. However, the link between an employer's failure to comply and the potential award a claimant could receive has been the source of much discontent among employers. The volume of cases on this issue is testament in itself to the difficulty the procedures have caused for them. When an employer's failure to comply hinges on its inability to recognise a grievance (rather than from inadequate internal procedures, a disregard for the law, or behaviour in any way culpable), an uplift of up to 50% hardly seems proportionate.

In Procek, the EAT considered this point but found that since the uplift was determined at the tribunal's discretion, rather than being an inevitable outcome, the argument was insufficient to dissuade them from finding that the grievance did not satisfy the statutory requirements.

So how should employers react to this decision? Most employers' grievance policies provide for a grievance to be dealt with informally. Arguably, this is the best way to resolve employment disputes, nipping them in the bud at an early stage before the parties' positions become entrenched. If the position cannot be satisfactorily resolved, then the grievance procedure will go on to suggest that the employee raises their concern in a more formal way.

Following Procek, the era of the informal grievance is over: any employee who writes an e-mail to HR raising a complaint should expect the response to set in motion the full force of the statutory procedures, whether they like it or not. The message for employers is clear: any written complaint must be dealt with in accordance with the statutory procedure, or a 50% uplift in compensation may result.

It would seem the informal grievance has breathed its last breath.


August 04, 2008

Don’t sue–run for your lives! Part II

This post is a follow-up to yesterday’s post, which was about workplace bullies and the ways in which they can come to dominate a work environment by driving away some people while turning those who remain into bullies themselves. According to Robert Sutton, “[R]esearch on emotional contagion, and on abusive supervision in particular, finds that if you work with or around a bunch of nasty and demeaning people, odds are you will become one of them.” This describes many of the people I worked with in my first tenure-track job, which I resigned seven years ago.

My major foe at my former university was someone who was tenured but simultaneously (and humiliatingly) denied her promotion to Associate Professor. She had published a book after all in a department that didn’t require a book, whereas men in the department had recently been promoted to Associate Professor before tenure and, in one case, without a book at all. (That’s right: men without books? Can’t wait to promote you! Women with books? Wait a year or two, then apply again.) There was a whole class of women assistant professors who got that treatment right around the time I was hired, either within their department or at the college review level. Need I point out that the curious creature known as the tenured Assistant Professor was a pink-collar only rank? Unfortunately, this individual’s experience resulted not in anger and radicalization, but in shame and internalization, which was then directed outward not at the people who caused her misery, but at other targets below her on the hierarchy.

This was a pattern that repeated itself many times in that department. People were filled with ressentiment about the way they were treated, and most of them either became bullies or apologists, explaining that “don’t worry, you’ll still be tenured. That’s just the way we do things. Everyone goes through it, so you’ll just have to suck it up.” There were a few good people who tried to make changes–but they have been easily defeated by the others. Those who were my friends and allies were valiant in their optimism and their commitment to change, but in the meantime, what a life: stomping out flaming bags of poop that someone else is leaving on yet someone else’s doorstep.

One of the effects of this kind of work culture is that it stifles new ideas, fresh methodologies, and innovative research and pedagogy, because of the rate of turnover among those who leave, and the inner turmoil suffered by those who stay. (Bullying academic departments tend not to allow Assistant Professors to follow their own bliss, either in the classroom or in their research agendas. This is sometimes the very motive for the bullying: many departments really don’t want anything–or anyone–new or innovative around. And, scrutinizing other people’s work to belittle it is one of the pleasures of academic bullying!) Unsurprisingly, women’s history and histories of other not-dominant groups and historically marginalized perspectives have a hard time gaining purchase in an environment like that. For example: Historiann was hired to be the American women’s historian in that department, a position that had been a tenure track line for thirteen years but one that had never seen anyone progress to tenure. (Historiann was number five in the long line of historians who had held that position.) And guess what, girls and boys? Twenty-four years later, no one yet has been tenured in that line! That’s right: success beyond anyone’s wildest antifeminist dreams in 1984, when the position was first established. Of course, the fact that that position was the only line dedicated to women’s history was doubtless a major factor behind the abuse and harassment suffered by all of the historians who hopped on and off that merry-go-round.

So, who says cheaters never prosper? Bullies may not be happy people, but it seems to me that they get what they want, and that really sucks. (The woman described above is probably one of the unhappiest people I’ve ever had the misfortune to know–a truly wretched creature.) But what might suck more is staying in an abusive job because you’re determined to be SuperProf who’s going to vindicate herself and save her department of its destructive culture. We don’t encourage people in abusive relationships to believe they can make the abuser change–why should we expect people in bullying work environments to stick around and try to change the culture, when they have little if any power or influence to force reform?

The million-dollar question is, of course, how can anyone turn a bad department into a good one? Who can get control over bullying work environments and force change upon them? My sense is that it takes a strong-willed dean who’s not afraid of the bullies and who’s got a healthy budget to clean house with brutal post-tenure reviews (including perhaps buyouts), and to support lots of new hires. But–in the arts and humanities–what deans have that kind of time or money, outside of elite universities and SLACs, where the humanities are central rather than marginal to the identity of the institution? My guess is that most departments have to shift for themselves, so how do good people leverage their goodness to isolate, marginalize, and/or drive out the bad?