March 27, 2009

UCU clarifies staff pay rises as vice-chancellors go on defensive over their exorbitant rises - UK

In an article in the Times Higher Education it was stated that the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) figures used to calculate staff pay rises do not include the annual 3 per cent increment most academic staff would have received in that year and Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association (UCEA), says that once this increment is taken into account, the average annual pay rise for an academic would increase to 9 per cent.

That is not the case. The HESA average salary figures do include incremental increases.

As the joint union-UCEA Review of Higher Education Finance and Pay Data of December 2008 said about HESA pay data: 'It will include the effect of any annual uplift in pay scales and additional increments or promotion increases but excludes certain additional payments.' (para 319). Therefore the average annual pay rise for an academic was in fact 5.7%. The annual rise for vice-chancellors was 9%, which took their pay, on average, up to almost £200,000.

Key figures from the survey:

  • The overall increase in vice-chancellors' pay was 9 per cent from 2006/7 to 2007/8, up from the 8 per cent increase enjoyed the previous year
  • The average pension contribution for a vice-chancellor was £26,129, a 16 per cent increase on the previous year
  • The average vice-chancellor pay was £193,970
  • Academics earned an average of £43,486 - a 5.7 per cent increase on the previous year
  • Seventy-one vice-chancellors enjoyed a salary bigger than the prime minister
  • Sixty-three vice-chancellors earned more than £200,000 and four earned more than £300,000
  • In total, the UK's heads of universities were paid over £30 million

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'As some universities call for higher university fees and staff are being warned that any pay increases may lead to redundancies, it is quite incredible and rather distasteful that vice-chancellors again enjoyed such exorbitant pay rises.

'These staff pay rises date from the middle of a three-year pay deal that we were told was at the brink of affordability. That vice-chancellors were pocketing close to twice the pay rise they begrudged staff at the time is extraordinary. It is even more disappointing that instead of trying to justify their pay they are spending their time trying to mislead the public over the figures.'


Download the full chart of Vice-Chancellors annual salaries for 2008-09, and note that some of these VCs received increases from 10-80% at at time when their institutions are implementing massive staff cuts.

March 25, 2009

Causes for Concern - published outcomes Kingston University

In July 2008, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) received a communication from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) raising a concern about an alleged irregularity in external examining at Kingston University. HEFCE forwarded a redacted version of a public interest disclosure that they had received on 8 July 2008. This included an allegation that, following examinations in summer 2004, pressure had been placed on an external examiner in the School of Music to alter the conclusions to her report. The disclosure also alleged that suggestions had been made within the School of Music that, in future, external examiners should be selected who would be '…more sympathetic to the challenges faced by the School in terms of widening participation issues and who would be more understanding of the type of students that enrol on the course'.

QAA investigated the matter within the terms of its published Causes for Concern procedure. A preliminary enquiry was conducted by a senior member of staff from QAA. The investigation included: a review of documentation submitted with the public interest disclosure; interviews at the University with the Vice-Chancellor, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and the Academic Registrar; a telephone interview with the external examiner concerned; and a review of documentation provided by the University.

The preliminary enquiry confirmed that the external examiner had been asked to change a judgement in her report and that a revised version of the report had been submitted to the University. A summary of the revised report had subsequently been placed on the national Teaching Quality Information website (now Unistats). In addition, the external examiner had commented on a number of other matters in her report, including examples of over-generous marking and the need for more support for less experienced students. The enquiry also looked at the way these matters had been considered and dealt with by the University.

Following its preliminary enquiry, QAA considered that sufficient evidence had been forthcoming to permit an assessment of the circumstances of the case to be made without the need for a full inspection, and that there was therefore little justification for conducting such an inspection.

The case refers to one external examiner's report among the several hundred that are received and reviewed by the University each year. No other evidence has been forthcoming to suggest a more widespread problem. The QAA Institutional audit of the university in 2005 found that the external examiner system at Kingston was working effectively. Nevertheless, the case has raised some questions about the University's practices and procedures. To address these concerns QAA has recommended that:

  • a public statement be made available on the QAA website to show that the alleged incident has been investigated and an appropriate course of action has been identified
  • if it has not already done so, the University reviews the assessment procedures in the School of Music to assure itself that its current external examining arrangements are working effectively
  • the issues identified by the external examiner, regarding the capabilities of students and the perceived over-generous award of marks for students' work, are discussed at the appropriate levels within the University to provide assurance that the standards of awards are not being compromised
  • the University reviews and, if necessary, amends its academic regulations in respect of the required independence of external examiners
  • the outcomes of the above recommendations and the more general effectiveness of external examining arrangements be subject to specific scrutiny by the audit team at the time of the next QAA Institutional audit in autumn 2010.

The University has responded to the preliminary enquiry report, informing QAA that the School of Music was restructured in 2004 and is now part of a larger School of Performance, located within a different faculty structure. The faculty has looked closely at the issues raised by this case and are confident that external examiner processes are now working effectively and in accordance with normal good practice. In addition, the University has introduced stronger oversight of external examiner arrangements by senior management and the central University quality and standards team. A procedure of early alerts at senior level, in respect of concerns raised by external examiners in their reports, has been introduced. The University will also consider the issue of over-generous marking at the appropriate university-level board in the context of feedback on this matter from all external examiners.

QAA believes that the University has taken all reasonable measures to address the concerns raised, but will review progress at the next scheduled Institutional audit, in 2010. The University remains in good standing with QAA.

QAA March 2009

Also: Kingston showed ‘lack of regard’ for external examiner’s role, says QAA

March 21, 2009

VCs stand together in tribunal

The acting and former vice-chancellors at Leeds Metropolitan University are due to give evidence at an employment tribunal this month. Simon Lee, who resigned as vice-chancellor after he was told to leave or face suspension while concerns about his treatment of colleagues were investigated, is due to give evidence alongside Geoff Hitchins, acting vice-chancellor, and Keith Ramsay, deputy chair of governors. They will fight a claim of race discrimination brought by a former academic at Leeds Met, who said he was bullied by his line manager. The case was due to start on 16 March.


March 19, 2009

Bradford failed to confront bullying and racism, inquiry finds

A "systemic, institutional failure to confront bullying, harassment and racism" at the University of Bradford has been uncovered by an independent review.

A report by the review panel, which examined allegations made in the School of Health, found a "denial of the existence of racism" among management. The report says it "found clear evidence of a systemic, institutional failure to confront bullying, harassment, racism and racial discrimination against black and minority ethnic (BME) staff within the division of nursing, and at the School of Health Studies, between late 2001 and autumn 2007".

The review was commissioned in July 2008 after Bradford issued apologies to two academics in the nursing division who had lodged race-related grievances.

Two internal grievance panels found that, while there had been poor management, there had been no discrimination in either case. These findings were later reversed, with conclusions that discrimination had occurred. Two other grievances were settled.

The review panel, headed by Peter Herbert, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, said management failure to apply or adhere to equality policies or deal with inappropriate behaviour led to the grievances.

"The culture of the university was to regard any finding of race discrimination as being significantly worse than any other form of discrimination," the report says.

The fear was based on the city of Bradford's history of racial divisions, possible damage to the university brand and "a moral denial of the existence of racism being a characteristic of the university management", the report suggests.

Out of 12 university disciplinary hearings conducted in recent years, ten were made against BME staff. Of the nine grievances lodged by staff, seven came from BME employees, with one raising three grievances over two years.

"The records kept were poor and inaccurate," the review panel said.

In the division of nursing, 12 complaints were made between 2001 and 2006 by white and BME staff. The complaints were dealt with individually and the dean of health and Bradford's human resources department were unaware of the problems until a race grievance was lodged.

"There was a collective failure of leadership ... in recognising the extent of the problem," the report says.

Uduak Archibong, Bradford's diversity and race champion, was implicitly criticised in the report, which referred to a "lack of competence" around race and diversity issues in the HR department and the school's management, "including the dean and the diversity/race equality champion".

The review also criticises the University and College Union branch at Bradford, saying it "did not properly represent the needs and concerns of its BME members". It claims the union became effective only after help was sought from regional and national officials.

The review concludes that procedures and practices at Bradford remain flawed and leave it at risk of future employment tribunal claims.

A School of Health staff survey carried out by the panel in 2008 found that most staff felt they "did not fit in". Most highlighted BME staff as the group of employees most likely to be treated unfairly. The staff picked "equality champions" as the university initiative that had the least positive impact on equality.

Another BME employee in the School of Health is understood to have lodged a legal claim against Bradford for bullying and harassment. The case will be heard by an employment tribunal in June.


March 16, 2009

Unexcpected departure and a demotion

Announcing the latest news from Kingston University:

Following the recent National Student Survey and External Examiner scandals, Prof Gail Cunningham, Dean of FASS, has 'retired' rather unexpectedly, effective July 2009.

Similarly, Dr Fiona-Barlow Brown, Field Leader of Psychology and the infamous voice heard telling students that their degrees would be 'worth s*&t' unless they falsified their responses to the National Student Survey, has been demoted back to her previous post as Senior Lecturer.

These events correspond with the series of recent reports to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Standards in British HE and the imminent publication of the results of the QAA commissioned investigation of alleged wrongdoing at Kingston.

From an anonymous source.

March 14, 2009

Hope you die soon...

My father was bullied out of his job as a Law Professor because he has Aspergers. When he went into hospital for a heart operation someone in the department wrote on his 'get well card': "It's so nice here without you. Hope you die soon."


March 10, 2009

Kingston University has engaged the services of a London Top 50 law firm to press its complaint to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) against a former staff member, Dr Howard Fredrics, after he registered the domain name, Although the domain has been in active use for more than two years, the University has only recently taken action to wrest control of the domain name from its owner, after the website, posted documentary evidence of alleged wrongdoing by the University and a number of staff members, including, Sir Peter Scott.

The site, which has received over 300,000 hits, was the first to reveal recorded evidence of senior staff members in the Psychology Department at the University presurizing students to falsify their 2008 responses to the National Student Survey in order to raise Kingston University's standing in the League Tables, a ranking system developed by the UK Government that is linked with levels of funding and which has become an important public relations and marketing tool for many UK universities.

Despite confirmed reports that University officials, including its Vice-Chancellor, were informed of this widespread practice at the University, Sir Peter Scott issued repeated public denials that he was aware that this incident was anything more than a one-off. The Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) later found Kingston guilty of the alleged offense and ordered the University's Psychology Department removed from the 2008-09 League Table results.

The site was also the first source to reveal efforts by the now defunct School of Music at the University to pressurize one of its External Examiners into changing her damning 2004 report of the School's standards. The Surrey Comet and BBC have both since reported the fact that the Examiner did, indeed, change her report to be less critical in response to efforts by the School's administration, including BMus Course Director, Gloria Toplis, MA Course Director, Mike Searby and then Acting Head of School, Carol Gartrell to convince her that the School's survival would be placed in jeopardy if an accurate report were to be published.

Dr Fredrics reported this clear breach of ethics to the HEFCE, who then forwarded the complaint to the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). The QAA conducted an investigation into the allegations under its Cause for Concern procedures and concluded that the allegations should be upheld in full. In October, 2008, Chief Executive, Peter Williams released details of QAA's findings to a Parliamentary Select Committee as part of its inquiry into standards in British higher education.

Although Dr Fredrics presented and published substantial documentary evidence of the hatching and actioning of a plan to presurize the External Examiner, Kingston University has continued to deny the authenticity of the evidence, despite the fact that press accounts by the BBC report that the Examiner, herself, confirmed the facts cited in the allegations.

The site also refers to allegations of witness intimidation and harassment by the University, its senior officials, and its lawyers, Charles Russell Solicitors, with evidence suggesting, among other things, that Sir Peter Scott authorized or was aware of efforts to send threatening letters to Dr Fredrics, his wife and his solicitor in connection with efforts to suppress recorded evidence gathered by Mrs Fredrics that suggested improper conduct by the University's Board of Governors and Vice-Chancellor during an internal University grievance appeal process. According to Court documents published on the site, the University Secretary, Donald Beaton sent a series of threatening and intimidating letters demanding that Dr and Mrs Fredrics turn over all existing copies of the evidence under threat of criminal prosecution and civil penalties.

The complaint to WIPO refers to Dr Fredrics' site as containing 'defamatory' and 'insulting' material, however the University has not filed Court action alleging defamation, copyright or trademark infringement. Dr Fredrics maintains that the material on the site, which is drawn principally from documentary evidence, including audio recordings, published press accounts, court documents, and witness statements, is not defamatory, that it contains 'Fair Use' parodies, and that it represents an effort to present vital information in the public interest.

The complaint by Kingston University represents the opening of a new battlefront in the ongoing war between employers, who want to defend their ability to silence 'rogue' employees, and whistleblowers, who continue to strive to defend their right to expose wrongdoing without fear of reprisal. A decision by WIPO is pending and could result in the forced shut down of the website and seizure of its domain name.

March 09, 2009

Criminal Behavior

I was targeted at 2 universities in the U.S. as a graduate student: the first time at the university where I was pursuing my PhD in clinical psychology--in this instance, the bullying grew into mobbing; the second time in a research division of a medical department at a university in the same state (near my home), where I was severely targeted by my supervisor, whose data I had planned to use for my dissertation.

The emotional fallout and threat to my workplace reputation was so severe during the second experience, I was forced to choose between my mental health/reputation and the completion of my degree.

I am now ABD (permanently) and am blacklisted at the only university near my home where I can seek employment as a research assistant. As a result, I am working as a low-paid administrative assistant. The years of scholarly work have come to naught, and my career was completely destroyed. And all I did was perform my work at a very high level--so high that apparently, I was a threat to those who supervised me and whom I at first thought would mentor me.

The grief I have felt over my losses (including severe financial losses) has been profound. I hope to someday work to make this type of unacknowledged (in the U.S.) criminal behavior illegal in the states.


March 06, 2009

Statement on Current State of British Higher Education

The following statement was forwarded to the Department of Innovation, Universities, Science & Skills Committee (DIUS):

…I began my employment as a Senior Lecturer at Kingston University in September 2002. My job description included performing research as well as teaching lectures, individual tutorials, and providing module leadership and route leadership of the Creative Music Technologies and Composing for New Media programmes in the now former School of Music. In addition to my teaching and research duties, I was also expected to participate in Quality Assurance procedures, including attending Module Assessment Boards and Programme Assessment Boards.

My experience at Kingston University, which lasted until July 2006, when I was dismissed from my position for allegedly causing a breakdown in working relationships with my colleagues, was most surprising to me, having come from a background of teaching at high level American institutions, including Brown University, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and Texas A&M University.

Plagiarism and Collusion

I was shocked and dismayed to discover quite early in my tenure at Kingston University, that acts of student plagiarism were routinely swept under the carpet, even those where the evidence of academic misconduct was incontrovertible. For example, on a number of occasions, groups of students handed in identical discs containing assessments. These discs were date and time stamped, so there can be no doubt that the discs were, indeed, identical copies. Two junior part-time staff members brought the fact of these acts of collusion by students to my attention on multiple occasions.

I was instructed by our BMus Course Director, Ms Gloria Toplis to bring to her attention any cases of suspected plagiarism and/or collusion. In January 2004, I did just that. I also brought further cases to Ms Toplis’ attention later that spring in around May 2004. I was led to believe by Ms Toplis that these cases would be investigated and appropriate penalties meted out if they were found to be substantiated.

In June 2004, I attended our Module Assessment Board Meeting. Having asked for but not having received a reply to previous queries to Ms Toplis concerning the status of the plagiarism investigations, I was unable to complete the final list of marks for the Module Assessment Board meeting for the modules in question. I therefore raised a question with Ms Toplis at the meeting in order to obtain clarification on the outcome of the investigation so that I could then finalize the list of marks. Ms Toplis and my other colleagues seemed extremely taken aback by my question, which was raised in the presence of External Examiners. She informed me at the time that although students were found to have colluded, they did so inadvertently, and that therefore, there would be no penalty assessed. I was quite surprised by this response, since the evidence was overwhelming that these acts could not have been committed inadvertently.

Following me having raised this question, I was then subjected to disciplinary action for having allegedly failed to present my marks in a timely fashion. Similarly, one of my colleagues, who was also a PhD student, wrote an e-mail to me in which he stated that he experienced a ‘distinct chill’ in the School towards him after having made this report of student academic misconduct. Later, he also reported to me that he was given an inordinately difficult time in relation to his PhD viva by the School’s internal examiner, a fact which he attributed to his having raised concerns about plagiarism.

Pressurising of External Examiner

During the 2003-04 Academic Year, one of our External Examiners, Dr Nicky Losseff of York University, attended performance examinations and reviewed student assessments at Kingston University as part of her Quality Assurance duties. Dr Losseff wrote a report in late June or early July 2004 in which she identified both positive and negative aspects of our programme. I found the report to be quite balanced, constructive and helpful, and urged my colleagues to take Dr Losseff’s comments to heart in order to develop a strategy for making needed improvements in the programme, particularly as it related to academic standards.

On 5 July 2004, shortly after Dr Losseff submitted her report, I received an email from our Acting Head of School, Dr Carol Gartrell, in which she wrote, “I think that it is important that the Examiner is sympathetic to and familiar with the challenges we face with regard to WP, Retention etc. and would be constructive in their feedback.” This email was sent in the context of a discussion of replacing Dr Losseff with a new External Examiner, one who would, according to my interpretation of Dr Gartrell’s intent, be less inclined to uphold academic standards, in order for us to be viewed more favourably in the public eye.

Following the submission of Dr Losseff’s report, our MA Course Director, Mr Mike Searby sent an e-mail to Music staff in which he stated, “I feel that Nicky’s report is both unfair and very damaging- especially the part which is to be published publicly. Can we ask her to amend that so it is less damning? It could really hit our recruitment badly and probably mean the quality of students coming would sink further…We must avoid externals with these attitudes in future – we cannot afford this type of bad publicity.”

I was utterly shocked by this e-mail, and raised my concerns accordingly to my colleagues that we ought instead to actually use Dr Losseff’s report to guide us in making improvements to our programme. My colleagues greeted that suggestion with disdain.

I recall during the early fall of 2004, attending a staff meeting in the School of Music where a discussion was held concerning a School response to External Examiner reports. I remember that my colleagues, especially Ms Toplis, Dr Gartrell and Mr Searby, strongly advocated that instead of responding to Dr Losseff’s report with a plan for making improvements to the quality of our programme, that we instead ask her to change her report to be less critical. Although I voiced my dissenting view on this matter, I was overruled and it was decided by a majority to ask Dr Losseff to change her report.

On 25 October 2004, I received an email from Ms Toplis in which she attached a revised report from Dr Losseff. Ms Toplis wrote, “Colleagues will probably know that the last section of Nicky’s report, the part which is made public, has been changed to our favour.”

Following my dismissal, after reading various press reports concerning the decline in academic standards in British HE and after considering the implications of making such a public disclosure, I decided in June 2008 to present evidence of what I believed to be wrongdoing by the University in connection with Dr Losseff’s report. I therefore sent copies of the relevant documents to Sean Coughlan of BBC Online. In an article published on 25 June 2008, Mr Coughlan wrote about the events surrounding the pressurising of Dr Losseff. According to the article, Dr Losseff confirmed the facts, which I presented and told the BBC that “the kind of pressure that was applied was that it would have dire consequences for the music school if I didn’t change the report.”

Similarly, I provided copies of the same documentation to Ms Alita Howe of the Surrey Comet. The Comet then published an article shortly thereafter in which Ms Howe reported that Kingston University “categorically denied the authenticity of the emails.” The article goes on to state, “further emails seemingly asking for a more favourable examiner to be appointed are bogus, according to the university.”

I will leave it to the Committee to decide whether or not the emails are genuine, but I would hope and trust that it would give due consideration to the fact that the accounts are corroborated by Dr Losseff, herself. I must say, for the record, that it troubles me greatly that the University would have the audacity to issue such denials in the face of overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing.

National Student Survey Scandal

In approximately early May 2008, I received a copy of an audio recording purporting to have been made simultaneously by a number of students enrolled in a large class in the Department of Psychology at Kingston University. As I understand it, the recording was made several months previously, but was not disseminated publicly out of fear of reprisals from the University’s administration. Ultimately, however, the students were persuaded to turn over the recording, and it eventually made its way to me.

After listening to the recording, I was shocked to discover that the staff members heard speaking in the recording, Dr Fiona Barlow-Brown, Field Leader of Psychology, and Dr Fred Vallee-Tourangeau, Deputy Field Leader of Psychology, had issued instructions to students to falsify their responses to the National Student Survey in order to raise the outcomes. Students were told by Dr Barlow-Brown that their degrees would be “worth s**t” if they did not do as they were told. Specifically, they were told that if they genuinely felt that the course deserved a 4 out of 5, they should raise their response to a 5 out of 5. Similarly, Dr Tourangeau instructed students to refrain from voicing their complaints about the course in this context, and to instead, voice them through internal module evaluation questionnaires, which would not be made public.

Following the receipt of this recording, I decided that it would be in the public interest to disseminate the recording to various press agencies and I forwarded copies to a range of publications, including the BBC and The Surrey Comet. I also arranged for the recording to be placed on a website that could be downloaded by members of the public. This led to it being further disseminated on the student news website at Imperial College and eventually, to press reports in major national and international publications. I also forwarded a copy of the recording to HEFCE, along with a formal complaint against the University, and engaged in various correspondences with them in relation to my public interest disclosure.

Eventually, I learned that HEFCE had taken the action of removing Kingston’s Psychology Department from the current year’s League Table results as its chosen sanction for the fraudulent pressurizing of students by the University.

Yet, I was surprised to learn from press reports that the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Sir Peter Scott, denied having any advance knowledge of this course of events, and insisted that this was a one-off incident without precedent. I also learned from a reliable source that staff members and students had complained previously to the Vice-Chancellor about this practice, well before the incident became public, and as long ago as the previous academic year. They were apparently rebuffed by the Vice-Chancellor, and no remedial action was taken or proposed in response to the complaints. I have also since learned that no disciplinary action has been taken by the University against either Dr Barlow-Brown and/or Dr Vallee-Tourangeau. What sort of message does this send to students and staff alike about engaging in such unethical practices, especially when it involves a Department such as Psychology, which is supposed to teach students to become ethical practitioners?

Subsequent to the press reports, in around June 2008, I received a copy of minutes of a Psychology Training Event held on 3 June 2008 in the Department of Psychology at Kingston University. According to the minutes, Prof Gail Cunningham, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, made a surprise visit to the meeting and gave statements to the staff, which I was told amounted to a haranguing, not in relation to the conduct of Dr Barlow-Brown and Dr Vallee-Tourangeau, but in relation to the manner in which the information about the events in question had been released. Dr Cunningham went as far as to suggest that there had been “collusion with students in ways that are inappropriate.” The tone of Dr Cunningham’s statements was, I am told, rather ominous and threatening in nature, sending a strong message that such reporting of public interest disclosures would be met with harsh punishment by the University against any staff member who dared to do so in the future. Her main concern appears to have been the damage to the image and reputation of the Department and University rather than the actual conduct of Dr Barlow-Brown and Dr Vallee-Tourangeau.

Concluding Thoughts

These separate but not entirely unrelated events strongly point to a culture of fraud and deception in British Higher Education, as evidenced by the practices at Kingston University. Of particular note are the strong denials of wrongdoing by the University’s Vice-Chancellor and his failure to accept personal responsibility for the events taking place under his watch. Moreover, it appears that no sanctions whatsoever have been meted out against staff members engaged in improper conduct. Instead, staff have been bullied into silence by administrators. Staff members who dare to make reports in relation to misconduct and/or ‘dumping down’ of standards are quickly rooted out for disciplinary action and/or other detriments.

What does this suggest in terms of an explanation for the lack of strong action by the University’s Vice-Chancellor? I wonder whether or not the incidents described in this statement have, in fact, been directed from high levels of the University’s administration, possibly as high as the Vice-Chancellor, and at least as high as the level of Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Could it be that the University values public relations more than it values academic integrity?

5 March 2009, Dr Howard Fredrics

March 03, 2009

Are Dysfunctional Managers a Necessary Part of the Business Cycle? Suggested Approaches to Address Dysfunctional Management


They cannot manage their own lives, yet they may bully to manage yours. These are the dysfunctional managers. They are focused on managing, even micro-managing, the details, getting things done, accomplishing the strategic business plan and meeting the financial goals of the businesses that pay them, but not relating to the people they supervise. While the success of the business is an admirable goal, during that process dysfunctional managers tend to alienate employees and business partners and may lose their connection with their families.

Traits of the Dysfunctional Manager

Their personal backgrounds and experiences may have included separation or divorce, strained family relationships or alienation from children, smoking and or battling obesity or anorexia; yet, they have been successful in business. It is an interesting paradox that demands exploration. How can individuals who are not focused on the people they manage, the opposite of the servant leaders who preceded them, succeed in the 21st Century? The answer appears to lie in their business successes, the short-term financial and strategic results they can engender, often at the cost of employee or associate engagement, the watchword of the later 20th Century.

A 2007 study released by the San Francisco-based Employment Law Alliance, as reported by the Society for Human Resource Management in an HRMagazine May 1, 2007 article, “Study: Bully Bosses Prevalent in U.S.,” “found that bullying in U.S. workplaces is alive and well. And, in many cases, managers and supervisors are the bullies: Nearly 45 percent of the respondents reported that they have worked for an abusive boss.”

In a September 25, 2000 article by Sarah A. Klein in Crain’s Chicago Business, “Take that you big, bad corporate bully! More firms seek ways to tame uncivil bosses, workers,” reported that “in one national survey, 53% of workers who reported themselves the target of incivility said they lost time worrying about incidents at work, from receiving a nasty or demeaning note to enduring a supervisor’s temper tantrum. Almost half of the group in the University of North Carolina’s ‘Workplace Incivility Study’ said they contemplated changing jobs to avoid the offender, and 12% actually followed through.”

An earlier recognition of problems associated with dysfunctional managers was addressed in a November 1, 1991 American Management Association article “Coping with Dysfunctional Managers,” in “Supervisory Management.” That article early in the last decade began to recognize the dysfunctional managers as “adults who grew up in dysfunctional families” and learned special coping skills, not as those adults who became dysfunctional based upon their later life experiences. Yet that summary, citing an article by Francine S. Hall in the Summer 1991 issue of “Organizational Dynamics,” has some applicability today in its observation that, “frequently, says Hall, the organizational culture unwillingly contributes to a dysfunctional manager’s destructive behavior. If control, for instance, is valued within the company, the dysfunctional manger might fit all too well into the framework.”

In a June 10, 2008 op-ed piece for “Business Wire” by Stephen Xavier, CEO of Cornerstone Executive Development Group, “Micro-Managing CEOs Are a Danger Sign in This Economy,” Xavier observed “there are also micro-managers who will jump from one large company to another. Given his record at Home Depot, one would have thought that Bob Nardelli would have had trouble getting hired as CEO of any major corporation. Yet, this old-school authoritarian CEO has found a home as CEO at Chrysler which unsurprisingly has the same history of poor labor relations, shoddy products and eroding market share.”

In The Dumbest Moments in Business History: Useless Products, Ruinous Deals, Clueless Bosses and other Signs of Unintelligent Life in the Workplace, Adam Horowitz, editor, Portfolio, the Penguin Group, New York, 2004, relates the January 2003, statement of Goldman Sachs Group CEO Henry Paulson concerning the investment banking firm’s employee layoffs for which he apologized to employees by voicemail a week later. “I don’t want to sound heartless, but in almost every one of our businesses, there are 15 to 20 percent of the people that really add 80 percent of the value. Although we have a lot of good people, you can cut a fair amount and still be well positioned for the upturn.” (p.21)

Richard Farson in Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership, Simon & Shuster, Inc., New York, 1996, wrote “many of us have the idea that as managers we can use our skills to shape our employees as if we were shaping clay, molding them into what we want them to become. But that isn’t the way it really works. It’s more as if our employees are piles of clay into which we fall—leaving an impression, all right, and that impression is distinctly us, but it may not be the impression we intended to leave.” (p. 41)

Although there has been a wealth of academic research on dysfunctional workplaces and the people who manage them, there has been a noticeable absence of material in the popular literature on the subject of dysfunctional managers. Some popular management books have addressed the “boss from hell,” such as Managing Your Boss, by Sandi Mann, Barron’s, 2001. In the section on “dealing with the boss from hell,” Sandi Mann characterizes bosses as bullies if they are continually abusive and arrogant, exploding angrily, constantly criticizing, belittling, ridiculing employees. Mann suggests that while such bosses, similar to impatient or stressed bosses, achieve their desired results, there are serious consequences to employees due to chronic workplace bullying including serious health problems for employees and lost time to the business.

A few books, such as When Smart People Work for Dumb Bosses, by William and Kathleen Lundin, McGraw-Hill, 1998, and Crazy Bosses, by Stanley Bing, HarperCollins Publishers, 2007, address the demoralizing short-sighted management decisions, thoughtless actions and rude behaviors of managers and the obnoxious and dangerous insanity of managers, respectively. The Lundins wrote, “Dysfunction can be the outcome of dumb (inept, misguided, insensitive, power-driven, unfeeling) leadership or dumb (tradition-bound, blind-sided, arrogant) organizational thinking.” (p. 117) They further wrote, “we predict more and more of what this paradigm example shows as organizations, out of competitive anxiety, dash toward ‘technological fixes’ without considering how the people who have to adapt to those ‘fixes’ need to be helped to do so.” (p. 117) Stanley Bing writes “bully management is perhaps the most difficult of all tasks for those who wish to survive in a world filled with the impressive variety of sick senior officers.” (Crazy Bosses, p. 75) He noted the inconsistent nature of the bully manager with “vast emotional swings depending on mood, often seemingly unrelated to external circumstances,” (p. 75) further noting that “management by terror has been a time-honored technique because it works.” (p. 76)

The Paradox Businesses Face with the Dysfunctional Manager

Many organizations adopted a family style culture during the latter part of the 20th Century. However, some quickly became dysfunctional family styled organizations, focused on a few functional details that yielded to the short-term success of the organization and its leaders rather than the engagement and empowerment of employees or associates. Communication, sensitivity and caring, which are at the heart of a fully functioning and competitive organization are hazy or lost in dysfunctional management styles. After relating many interviews with a variety of employees the Lundins observed “the most compelling observation is how people in power—from those who manage a small department to leaders of multinational corporations—believe they have the right to manipulate and play with the emotions of their employees.” (p. 173)

An example of the bully as a dysfunctional manager is one who appears in a temper at the employee’s office questioning the status of activity or demanding a status report when it was previously provided, but the manager did not take them time to save it or look for it. Or in the mean spirit of another example, demeaning an employee with years of published and very successful writing experience with the statement “you sometimes write as though English is your second language.”

The Dilbert cartoon strip by Scott Adams has popularly and perhaps now properly characterized the dysfunctional bullying boss. In The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle’s-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions, HarperBusiness, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1996, Adams described the change in the management selection process from the Peter Principle of workers being promoted to bosses beyond their levels of competence to the Dilbert Principle of the most ineffective workers being “systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.” (p. 14)

In The Dilbert Principle Scott Adams shares an email submission that is similar to the statement of the Goldman Sachs Group CEO previously identified in The Dumbest Moments in Business History.

“A newly appointed VP of my company, in an interview printed in the internal company news rag, made the following comment when asked whether existing employees would be relocated if the company won an upcoming contract, or if the company would instead hire local people:

‘Engineers are basically a commodity. It doesn’t make economic sense for the company to pay for moves when we can buy the same commodity on site.’

Naturally, this disturbed some individuals in the workforce and a number of them showed up at an all-hands meeting held by this VP a few days later and sat in the front row plastered with signs labeling themselves as ‘Bananas,’ ‘Pork Bellies,’ etc.” (pp. 295, 296)

Yet, these dysfunctional managers are frequently successful, in a financial sense both as individuals and for their organizations. In the Human Resource Management article describing the 2007 study by Employment Law Alliance, its CEO Stephen J. Hirschfeld was quoted, that “changing the behavior of workplace bullies could be problematic for employers, Hirschfeld concedes, because workplace bullies can be high performers. Aggressive or ‘type A’ behaviors tend to be rewarded in the workplace, but Hirschfeld contends that employers need to draw the line and make sure aggressive workers don’t become abusive managers.” A Wall Street Journal article viewing the recruitment of chief executive officers observed that the characteristics of recent CEO hires have been focused on specific financial talents, details and successes rather than on the broader team leader or coach models of the past. A September 1, 1996 article on “Making it, CEO style,” in “Executive Female by D. A. Benton stated that among five personality traits of chief executive officers ”“the higher you go, the more exposure to the big picture you have, the more you might think being detail-oriented is unnecessary. Wrong. It’s just the opposite. According to near-perfect chefs, the higher you go, the more critical it is to be aware of details.”

In Management, a Revised Edition by Peter F. Drucker with Joseph A. Maciariello, HarperCollins Publishers, 1973, 1974, in the introduction to management and managers, Drucker observes “there is tremendous stress these days on liking people, helping people, getting along with people, as qualifications for a manager. These alone are never enough. In every successful organization there are bosses who do not like people, who do not help them, and who do not get along with them. Cold, unpleasant, demanding, they often teach and develop more people than anyone else. They command more respect that the most likable person ever could. They demand exacting workmanship of themselves and other people. They set high standards and expect that they will be lived up to. They consider only what is right and never who is right. And though often themselves persons of brilliance, they never rate intellectual brilliance above integrity in others. The manger who lacks these qualities of character—no matter how likable, helpful, or amiable, no matter, even, how competent or brilliant–is a menace who is unfit to be a manager.” (p. 10) Drucker concludes, “Organizations are far from perfect. As every manger knows, they are very difficult; full of frustration, tension, and friction; clumsy and unwieldy. But they are the only tools we have to accomplish such social purposes as economic production and distribution, health care, governance, and education. And there is not the slightest reason to expect society to be willing to do without these services that only performing organizations can provide. Indeed, there is every reason to expect society to demand more performance from all its institutions, and to become more dependent upon their performance. And it is the managers who make institutions perform.” (p. 526)

Reforming or Reassigning the Dysfunctional Manager

Returning to the American Management Association’s article, “Coping with Dysfunctional Managers,” cited earlier in this article, efforts a decade and a half ago to solve problems related to the behaviors of dysfunctional managers were in their infancy. That article stated that in solving the problem, “often supervisors of dysfunctional managers mistake behavior problems for management skills problems. But for the true dysfunctional manager, attending seminars on improving management will have only short-term success. Once a manager has accepted the fact that he or she is dysfunctional, Hall advises, a recovery program should be sought. As for organizations, how companies both recognize the problem and effect solutions will be one of the most difficult challenges for managements in the next decade.”

One method to identify the dysfunctional manager to senior management is to allow the manager to demonstrate dysfunctional incompetence in the forum it most frequently appears. For example, if it occurs in meetings find an appropriate opportunity to invite the dysfunctional manager’s supervisor to a meeting or if it occurs in written or verbal communications seek witnesses. This may, however, be a long-term effort that may not have a desirable short-term result. Another approach may be to identify documented problems seeking solutions from appropriate sources. Still another approach may be to a peer or three level review.

Rather than providing seminars and additional training for dysfunctional managers, the solution may include intensive efforts to identify dysfunctional managers and provide coaching or reassignment when those follow-ups are needed. One-on-one coaching, engaging a mentor relationship or even peer networking groups with other managers focused on identifying issues adversely impacting the dysfunctional manager’s style may lead to behavior modification techniques.

If the Problem is Not Addressed: Potential for Legislation

Some articles, such as the 2007 Human Resource Management summary of the Employment Law Alliance study on bullying in the workplace, suggest that a growing awareness of the problem could result in the potential for legislation if employers fail to remedy the situation. That article reported, “There are proposals in about a dozen states for some form of workplace bullying legislation.” It also referenced “a recent anti-bullying law enacted in the Canadian province of Quebec that gives workers the right to file suit against their employers and to recover damages for ‘any vexatious behavior that affects an employee’s dignity or their psychological or physical integrity.”


The inevitable conclusion, however, is that the cycle of the dysfunctional non-abusive manager may be the right type of manager for the current competitive business environment, facing cost-cutting efficiency, financial challenges and economic declines domestically and internationally. Since dysfunctional managers may have difficulty self-identifying their need to transition their management style, organizations must be prepared to assist them in that transition through coaching and mentor or peer networking opportunities. If the dysfunctional manager cannot to adapt hardened characteristics to the amiable and servant leader model of management, reassignment or termination may be the course an organization should consider.

There is hope, however, that in the foreseeable future effective managers with the hardened characteristics of the qualified manager that Drucker proposed, and who remain for the longer term, can adapt those characteristics to the amiable and servant leader model. That combined model appears to have staying power that will bring longer-term success to the organization and the relationship with its employees or associates.