May 30, 2009

Have a nice day… your P45 is in the post

...The thing about having power is never having to say sorry, never feeling you may have been to blame, or implicated in the destruction of another human being. I cannot imagine that their careers will be jeopardised or hindered, and they will not open a bank statement and become very anxious about diminishing reserves of money. I am angry, upset and devastated. I have also been very foolish to think that I could have won… been invited back, given an apology…


May 28, 2009

Lecturer suspended over allegations of defamation - University of Salford

The situation within the School in question is terrible. The staff are aware of the truth and support the lecturer who is suspended for allegedly harassing this PhD student. That is why there were 74 staff signatures supporting him and this would have been greater if all staff were contactable when this petition was making the rounds. There are management cronies who support the incessant nepotism and corruption proliferated by the very top of the School. The VC should be ashamed of himself for implying that race is a factor in the production and dissemination of this material. If the VC or Head of School had any integrity whatsoever they would resign, but being men of low calibre in terms of transparency, fairness and honesty, this could be a step too far.



May 27, 2009

Teachers are 'worst school bullies'

Teachers entrusted with preventing bullying in Australian schools are bullying each other at alarming levels, university researchers have found. The biggest bullies are likely to be the principal or other school executives.

In a national online survey of more than 800 teachers, 99.6 per cent said they had experienced bullying in the workplace.

The Australian Catholic University and the University of New England surveyed state, Catholic and independent school teachers in 2007. The survey found that power imbalance was a factor in staff bullying.

Deidre Duncan, of the ACU, said state school principals received the worst rating for bullying.

"In government schools, the principal receives a significantly higher nomination as a frequent or persistent bully than found in independent or Catholic schools," Professor Duncan said.

"A total of 42 per cent of respondents in government schools said the bully was the principal."

Professor Duncan said such behaviour could be expected in "fairly bureaucratic organisations".

The behaviour most commonly identified by teachers as bullying was the withholding of information that affected performance, followed by the questioning of decisions, procedures and judgment.

Teachers also reported being bullied by parents.

Processor Duncan and co-researcher Dan Riley recommended a bullying ombudsman be appointed for teachers, awareness of staff bullying be raised, and a staff bullying register be established at each school.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Steve Ryan said teacher bullying was not as high as the voluntary on-line survey suggested but "it does represent an issue we are well aware of". He said more state government-funded workplace advisers were needed.

Education Minister Geoff Wilson said the research was a concern and he would ask his department to look into it.


May 15, 2009

A signature trademark of Polytechnics is the bullying of academics at all levels...

Dear Editor,

I recently found an article on the merits of the Polytechnic becoming a University, see website which stated the case against the Polytechnic becoming a University very clearly (although I have some reservations with respect to part of the content). I would add my voice and concerns to those of that author.

Primarily, a University is a place of Higher Education which extols the following values:
• High academic achievement
• Ethical and moral leadership in the academic field
• The value of learning and research to society

To demonstrate the above, a University must clearly show that it behaves in a manner which supports those values. I will show, through several examples, how the Polytechnic, primarily due to lack of senior leadership, fails in all three areas.

It is inexcusable for an institution to claim for itself the title of University or University of Applied Science without justification and without approval.

It is insufficient for an institution to proclaim high academic achievement without proof. No amount of speeches by the Rector nor spurious claims to already being a University of Applied Science can make it so.

For example, in the School of Information Technology (IT), the curriculum owes little to Computer Science and therefore can ‘apply’ little. Practice and profession in the institute are what counts.

Demonstration by example and not by personal ego and photo opportunity are required.

High academic achievement can only come from the efforts of a well qualified and highly motivated staff coupled with capable students who can be nurtured towards a higher level of understanding of their chosen subjects. The nature and style of teaching and learning changes with the higher levels of academic acheivement. In the final undergraduate year, self study and high levels of personal motivation are required; at Masters level we must insist on the individual student seeking ‘new knowledge’ so that the academic staff become guides and no longer ‘givers of facts’.

When the staff themselves do not have this experience and the executive fail to support such approaches to learning and understanding, then improvement towards true University status will not occur. Yes, there are some very good students in the Polytechnic but they are ill-served currently. Yes, there are many excellent academic staff willing to help the students although they are hindered at every turn.

A signature trademark of the Polytechnic is the bullying of academics at all levels by the executive and self-interest groups which is preventing high academic achievement. Staff become afraid to innovate, afraid to challenge the status quo, afraid to advocate change and afraid to address known poor behaviour by students.

If we take the School of IT as an example, how can it produce masters students/graduates when those staff with relevant MSc’s or their equivalent (an absolute minimum qualification at this level) are not allowed to function and teach at that level? How can a Masters programme exist when there are no PhDs in the relevant field capable of supporting it within the school?
How can genuinely senior and experienced staff function when they must report to the inexperienced self-interest group of expatriate non-Africans who dominate the running of the school?

If we look at the composition of the controlling group within the School of IT at the beginning of the year, there was one staff member with a Doctorate which has more claim to social science than IT, two German members of staff who are not qualified to be lecturers by virtue of their lack of a Masters qualification and any experience of teaching in a University external to Namibia. How did they get their work visas? How were their contracts renewed over qualified Namibians?

Two other Germans do not have qualifications in the IT field (this is true of a further member of the IT staff). Yet despite these abysmal qualifications (that lack relevance to the field of IT and to the school of IT at the higher levels of academic challenge) they are allowed to produce a failing Masters programme and talk of introducing Doctoral study. This is not the way to raise academic standards among the students.

However, it is the way to become a laughing stock in the eyes of the academic world. What use is such a PhD to a Namibian or the aspirations of Namibia? This situation cannot be remedied as long as the Rector shows favour to such a group against the advice of those with greater real experience of academia and management of Universities across the globe.

The Polytechnic does not value such people and this is clearly demonstrated by its apparent belief that there is no need for an Academic Vice Rector to replace those forced out by the inappropriate behaviour of senior administrators and the Rector towards them.

Ethical and moral leadership cannot be demonstrated by words alone. Promotions are sought and given to members of self-interest groups regardless of qualification backed by experience.

Why can an African lecturer with years of experience be denied a senior lecturer post because he does not have a PhD, yet a German without a Masters degree or experience beyond that in the school of IT is campaigned for vigorously by his equally poorly qualified friends? Work permits are regularly obtained for the unqualified yet they are not forthcoming in a timely manner for the honest majority.

Posts are given to people who have lied about the level and nature of their qualifications without due process, contracts are renewed on the same basis. These may be matters for the Anti-Corruption Commission but they also fully demonstrate a lack of propriety and ethical behaviour at the highest level in the Polytechnic which is not appropriate to a University.

Much damage is done to the structure and organisation of academic life by the executives’ open-door policy towards dissidents, trouble-makers and self-interest groups who bypass the lines of supervisory responsibility.

The Rector and the leading administrators must stop allowing audiences to, and accepting accusatory letters from, the unethical schemers behind tales of wrongdoing and malicious gossip whilst denying the poor ‘’accused’’ the opportunity to defend themselves.

These fish-wives are only interested in their own self-advancement and that of their friends. On the grounds of ethical and moral leadership in the administrative field and some academic areas, the Polytechnic fails miserably.

The value of learning and research to society is one of those imponderables which is so beset by the supporters of ‘self-evident truths’ as to be almost impossible to accurately quantify.

However, the Polytechnic must demonstrate it believes in such values if it wishes to become a University. Rigorous standards must be maintained by the academics who should be supported in their efforts by the administrators.

Academics must be led academically by the Professors and not by the poorly qualified committee structure currently favoured by the senior administrators.

Professors /Directors must be allowed to lead academically and not find themselves abused and forced to report through unqualified staff and subject to the whims of self-interest groups. Senior administrators who condone student poor behaviour, eg, plagiarism, are sending a clear message to the student about the value of their qualification. Anyone can ‘’cut and paste’’ from Google, whereas it takes true intellectual merit to make a voyage of discovery in science based on your own efforts. The Polytechnic needs to put in place real academic quality standards through an Academic Vice Rector’s office and not through the administration if it is to achieve University standards in this area.

I have shown only a few of the problems with changing the name of the Polytechnic to a University as a way of highlighting major deficiencies, but perhaps the greatest argument against this is the Rector’s own doubts.

Why did he last year bring in from the USA staff from an institution recently granted University status to show the Polytechnic how to become a University, if he genuinely believes that he already runs a University? The drive for a name change has nothing to offer the nation of Namibia and is simply based on the self-interest of a few.

Namibia has two Universities, leave the higher level degrees to them and focus on improving the general standard of education at the levels a Polytechnic was established for.


A trip down memory lane...

November 2006 Academic unions have their heads in the sand...

Pierre-Joseph, I think your cartoon is unfair. As a UCU (formerly AUT) casework officer I deal with cases of workplace bullyng constantly. Union officials and lay activists like myself spend a lot of our time and energy trying to support bullied academics. The main problem has been that until recently, workplace bullying was not in itself illegal: it was only illegal if it was discriminatory or could be shown to cause personal injury (very hard to prove in law). Thanks to the Majrowski ruling in the House of Lords, that should now change.

Sue Blackwell
UCU, University of Birmingham


Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said...

Dear Sue,

I have no doubt that good and active union members like yourself and perhaps many more, are indeed interested to support your academic colleagues and work against workplace bullying. You and the other active members of academic unions, is not the problem.

The problem is with the leadership of the our academic unions (AUT + NATFE = UCU), who for many years remained inactive, and in many cases caused harm. I speak not only from personal experience.

Please do not promise that due to the Majrowski rulling things will improve. What of the many who lost their jobs and their health - like myself? How is the damage repaired? I will never be able to practice my job anymore. This is the end of my academic career.

Our union reaction was and is so formulaic, that it has become predictable sadly.

The case below highlights the normal pattern:

"The behaviour of the AUT and their solicitors (Thompsons of Edinburgh) in relation to my case was abominable. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I felt considerably less stressed once I had decided to represent myself than when I had been represented by the AUT's solicitors. The solicitor who initially handled my case failed to advise me that I could have filed my initial claim under the Public Interest Disclosures Act, 1998. This failure had significant ramifications for the way the case was subsequently brought. The same solicitor failed to pass information from ACAS (the Arbitration and Conciliation Advisory Service) to me or from me to ACAS, thus prejudicing the possibility of a settlement without going to an employment tribunal. He also repeatedly failed to reply to my queries. At one point (when the University submitted a large dossier of papers) the case seemed to become too much for him and he passed it on to a junior colleague. She then sent a report to the AUT which managed to get the reason for my resignation wrong and made so many other misrepresentations that I had to send a nine page list of corrections to the AUT's legal aid committee. It was to no avail. The AUT decided to go with the solicitors misrepresentations, conveniently allowing them to avoid funding a potentially lengthy hearing.

The main thing that I learned from my correspondence with AUT officials and their solicitors was that the union subscriptions I had paid since 1986 were a complete waste of money. I urge all AUT members to think very carefully about why they are subscribing to this union and to consider cancelling their membership. I will make the correspondence available to any AUT member who is interested to consult it in London.

Should either the AUT or Thompsons Solicitors wish to contest what is on this page, I am more than prepared to answer them. If necessary, correspondence can be put up here."

And some more cases:

...After 2-3 years of inaction and no support from my union, with the last few months on medication and receiving mental health councelling, all this while on suspension because I tried to expose institutionalised bullying, and while I watch the serial bully being promoted and taking over my office, I very reluctantly decided to write to the top persons in my union a very polite letter reminding them that I have not receivedthe support I needed. This is the reply I received: "Our union does not
have a specialist on workplace bullying to deal with your case now. We do not normally use any specialist consultant...

...After the TUC (Trades Union Congress) I will be writing to the ILO, and then last I will resign my union membership making sure that the media know why...

...The trade unions already see, realise, understand the plague of bullying in the workplace. They are quite happy with it. That is the way things are meant to be. One man's [or woman's] workplace bullying is another man's [or woman's] strong management / flexible workforce mantra...

...It is one thing to have my employers not understanding bullying, and it is another thing if the union itself is ignorant...

...I have no doubt that unions and TUC are hopeless [with workplace bullying]. I still think it is worthwhile showing the world how hopeless they are - at a cost of a stamp...

...The TUC general secretary will say that he has no powers to intervene in the affairs of an individual trade union. The TUC is simply the trade union's trade union... I would have been relatively happier if my trade union had maintained indifference. They ended up working against me by destroying and delaying documents, passing confidential info to my employers, all sorts of things...

...I have first hand experience of one particular union that has sat on its hands twice, in cases I have seen and been involved in. That union of shame is XXXXXX. No wonder so many health workers live in fear, there is no protection whatsoever...

...The actions of my union have damaged my mental health and sense of trust far worse that the bullying of my employer...

Dear Sue, I have no problem accepting that perhaps - as I stated above - you are indeed very active and very concerned about workplace bullying, and as a UCU activist you are perhaps trying hard, BUT we do have a very long way to go, and I for one have paid a very heavy price for the inaction of my union, which left me with NO representation for over 8 months!

The pain of loosing your job, your colleagues, bullying, intimidation, etc, etc is something I can't describe, and all my union rep did was refer me to a web page...

So Sally that was in 2006. Now it is 2009... Where have UCU got to?

Letter in THE April 23rd 2009 suggests that UCU have not got very far...

Removing the heads won't stem the rot

...The power in my university is in the hands of those whom I believe are driven by their own egos and their own glory. In this I believe they are supported by an obedient board of governors and a sychophantic union. I have spent a number of years challenging practices in my university in relation to Dignity at Work issues. Several grievances later I have got nowhere. In my experience, the university with the support of its governors, uses its power to prevent effective investigation. When that tactic fails it resorts to buying its way out of trouble. The union does nothing...

So Sally what are you going to do about that? To date my local union rep has managed to write a letter...

I think we need more effective action don't you Sally? Have you been reading the bullied blogger in the THE?

Aphra Behn

May 14, 2009

Not in my name - VC loses fight for his domain

A former lecturer at the University of Kingston has won the right to continue using the domain name - the name of Kingston's vice-chancellor.

Howard Fredrics, a senior lecturer at the university between 2002 and 2006, has used the website to air grievances against Sir Peter Scott and the university.

Sir Peter complained to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), arguing that he had built up "substantial and extensive goodwill" in the name "Sir Peter Scott", that it constituted a trademark and that the site contained "insulting and defamatory material".

Sir Peter said: "Dr Fredrics has been posting inaccurate statements about my colleagues on a website that carries my name, is headed by my photograph and is one of the first websites that comes up if you google me.

"The risk of misunderstanding that I'm responsible for these statements is enormous. There's ... no attempt to curb Dr Fredrics' right to criticise Kingston, but he should do so under his own name."

Dr Fredrics denied the claims, arguing that protecting the website was a freedom of speech issue and insisting that he used it for educational and artistic purposes.

The WIPO did not uphold the vice-chancellor's complaint. It said that he had not acquired sufficient goodwill to establish the name as a trademark, and that Dr Fredrics had not commercially exploited it.

"Even though this case would seem to raise an important issue concerning legitimate criticism and free speech, (our) policy simply does not extend to cases in which the complainant has not established the requisite trademark rights," Alistair Payne, a WIPO panellist, said.

He noted that court proceedings were pending, and suggested that this would be the best forum in which to resolve the matter.

Dr Fredrics is suing Kingston for defamation in connection with a newspaper story published last year. He supplied the Surrey Comet with emails suggesting that an external examiner at Kingston had been pressured into changing a report.

The story included a claim that Kingston had "categorically denied the authenticity of the emails", but a subsequent Quality Assurance Agency investigation considered them to be genuine after the examiner confirmed that the exchange had taken place.

A claim filed by Dr Fredrics at Surrey County Court says his name appeared in the articles and it was obvious to readers that he had provided the emails.

"The university therefore committed an unlawful act of libel by knowingly, deliberately and maliciously breaching the Defamation Act of 1996, causing damage to the claimant's professional and personal reputation," the claim states.

He is asking for unspecified damages and a published apology.

A spokeswoman for Kingston said: "The university's solicitors have advised that the claim is unsustainable, both legally and factually. We will apply to court to have it struck out without a full trial at the earliest opportunity. For legal reasons, we can make no further comment."


May 09, 2009

I'm facing the same thing...

I'm facing the same thing and as a first year teacher I have had numerous visits to the doctor and was on a thirty day leave of absence. I filed a formal complaint and no action was taken. Now I'm in the grievance process and the Principal just told me today that she is writing to the superintendent requesting my contract be non-renewal. There goes my entire career and I want to sue the DOE for not doing something months ago before it got this bad. I feel so alone on this journey and am looking for any sort of help and/or ideas.


May 08, 2009

Almost all school teachers have been bullied

Almost all school teachers have been bullied in the workplace, often by senior staff or the principal, a national study reveals.

A University of New England study of 800 school staff members from government and non-government primary and secondary schools found 99.6 per cent of staff had experienced one or more of 44 types of bullying identified in the survey.

In the report, the research team said the results showed bullying of staff "does occur at Australian schools".

"The survey's findings are highly disturbing, as zero tolerance to any form of bullying is the expected norm in Australian schools," Dr Dan Riley from the University of New England, in northern NSW, said.

He said the target of the bullying was usually lower in the staff hierarchy than the perpetrator.

"The report reveals that the most persistent bullies were identified as the school executive staff and then the principal and that the typical victim is a teacher," Dr Riley said.

Some of the 44 types of bullying listed in the survey included tasks set with unreasonable or impossible targets or deadlines, attempts to belittle and undermine a staff member's work and areas of responsibility removed or added without consultation.


May 04, 2009

Defending Collegiality

In his provocatively titled recent book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, Robert I. Sutton argues for zero tolerance of “bullies, creeps, jerks, weasels, tormentors, tyrants, serial slammers, despots, [and] unconstrained egomaniacs” in the workplace. These individuals systematically prey on their co-workers, especially the more vulnerable ones, leaving their victims feeling humiliated, belittled, and demoralized. Their weapons include personal insults, threats and intimidation, hostile e-mails, public ridicule, and scornful interruptions. In the environments that they poison, enthusiasm for work gives way to anxiety, resentment, and a longing to get out.

The importance of a civil workplace struck Sutton more than 15 years ago during a department meeting at Stanford University, where he teaches. As his colleagues debated hiring a candidate for a faculty position, one of them remarked, “Listen, I don’t care if that guy won the Nobel Prize ... I just don’t want any assholes ruining our group.” Sutton describes the group as a collegial and supportive small department, “especially compared to the petty but relentless nastiness that pervades much of academic life.”

Although he goes on to cite many businesses that have the zero tolerance policy that he advocates, he does not return to his bleak characterization of academic life. Neither does he explore the reluctance of universities to hold faculty members to the rules of conduct that many businesses are implementing — rules that supplement standard prohibitions against harassment and discrimination — even while they apply them to staff. At my own university, for example, exempt and non-exempt staff are explicitly required to “cooperate and collaborate with other employees in a spirit of teamwork and collegiality” as a condition of their employment. Faculty members are not.

The reluctance to adopt a code of conduct for faculty members stems in part from a belief also expressed in corporate workplaces: that geniuses must be jerks and that some belligerence, indifference to others, and rudeness are inseparable from the achievements of a Steve Jobs or Bobby Knight. Sutton counters this view by observing that not all successful people are jerks and that jerks succeed despite their cruelty to others, not because of it. I would add that the odds are slim that the professor yelling at the departmental secretary spends the rest of his day bringing about a Copernican revolution in his discipline.

Sutton also argues that even in the extremely unlikely event that the bully is a genius, he still does more harm than good — which is why a Bobby Knight or Michael Eisner eventually wears out his welcome. Making exceptions for seemingly special cases can be damaging, not only in spawning imitators but in depressing the initiative of others. Sutton rightly emphasizes that “negative interactions have five times the effect on mood than positive interactions”: “a few demeaning creeps can overwhelm the warm feelings generated by hoards of civilized people.”

However, the November 1999 American Association of University Professors statement on collegiality as a criterion for faculty evaluation — while conceding the importance of collegiality to teaching, scholarship, and service — favors limiting a faculty member’s evaluation to these three areas on the grounds that vigorous discussions are essential to academic life. Adding collegiality as a yardstick, the AAUP asserts, is not only unnecessary — it risks “ensuring homogeneity,” “chilling faculty debate and discussion,” and curtailing academic freedom by stigmatizing individuals who do not fit in or defer to the group:

In the heat of important decisions regarding promotion or tenure, as well as other matters involving such traditional areas of faculty responsibility as curriculum or academic hiring, collegiality may be confused with the expectation that a faculty member display “enthusiasm” or “dedication,” evince “a constructive attitude” that will “foster harmony,” or display an excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions where these may require reasoned discussion. Such expectations are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom, which protect a faculty member’s right to dissent from the judgments of colleagues and administrations.

Weeding out the gadflies, critics, and malcontents (via the criterion of collegiality), according to the AAUP statement, leaves us with the “genial Babbitts” and casts “a pall of stale uniformity” on what should be a scene of vibrant debate.

“Should be” is the key phrase here. The individuals Sutton is criticizing — the bullies, jerks, and so on — themselves chill debate through personal attacks, intimidation, and invective. One sign of this is the relief felt when they are away. Instead of disappearing, dissent blossoms, as individuals can now express ideas without fear of vicious recrimination and unfounded attack.

Thus, some faculty members have begun exploring codes of conduct, not because they want to squelch free debate but because they want to enable it. They are especially concerned about the most vulnerable faculty members – often newcomers with fresh perspectives and much-needed enthusiasm – who may shy away from departmental deliberations lest they jeopardize their personal futures. The motivation behind codes of conduct is not to make everyone agree but to let everyone feel free to disagree, allowing all voices to be heard.

The literary scholar Linda Hutcheon offers a version of this argument in her recent essay “Saving Collegiality,” in Profession, published by the Modern Language Association. While acknowledging the potential dangers of poorly worded and insensitively enforced codes of conduct, Professor Hutcheon reaffirms the importance of mutual respect, civility, and constructive cooperation to healthy debate: “Harmonious human relations need not stifle the right to dissent that we all so rightly treasure; instead they can make dissent easier, because safer. I fail to see how inclusivity and collaboration would necessarily chill debate.”

I think that this mounting interest in collegiality stems from the intensification of the forces arrayed against it:

  • A star system that widens inequities between the haves and have-nots and equates academic success with a reduction in teaching loads, service commitments, and other work on behalf of the institution.
  • Greater reliance on adjuncts and part-time faculty with little connection to the departments that hire them.
  • Tension between administrators and faculty exacerbated by top-down methods of management and increased demands for narrowly defined measures of accountability.
  • A poor job market that places individuals at institutions where they may not want to be, thereby fostering feelings of estrangement, disdain for colleagues, and single-minded efforts to leave via one’s research.
  • Heightened specialization subdividing already splintered departments.
  • Recourse to e-mail as a substitute for face-to-face collaborative decision-making. Its impersonality unintentionally licenses individuals to fight and distrust one another even more (as Sutton explains, “apparently this happens because people don’t get the complete picture that comes with ‘being there,’ as e-mail and phones provide little information about the demands that people face and the physical setting they work in, and can’t convey things like the facial expressions, verbal intonations, posture, and ‘group mood’ ”); and, finally,
  • Inadequate salaries and benefits at many universities, deepening resentment, stoking competition for increasingly scarce material rewards, and adding new urgency to often longstanding rivalries and feuds.

Add to these forces department chairs who are inadequately prepared for dealing with conflict, and an already fragile community begins to pull apart, giving antisocial behavior even freer rein.

The disintegration of community takes a special toll on academic workplaces. In a chapter of tips for surviving nasty people and hostile workplaces, Sutton mentions developing indifference and emotional detachment, limiting contact with one’s adversaries, and doing the bare minimum required by one’s job — in effect, disengaging. These are not solutions but survival strategies intended to assist individuals stuck a demoralizing job that they cannot change or escape.

So collegiality turns out to be important as well as endangered: important because necessary to the free discussions, voluntary service, and constructive collaborations that universities depend on and endangered because so many institutional developments militate against it. Thinking about the collegial atmosphere of a particular institution, one of the contributors to the Profession symposium wonders if it might not just be “the luck of the draw,” the happy byproduct of a mix of people who just happen to get along, rather than the result of institutional intention.

But other contributors rightly counter that some steps can be taken, especially by department chairs, to foster collegial professional relations: for example, modeling respectful treatment of others, expressing appreciation, hosting social events and lunch meetings, sharing information, informally consulting with and involving colleagues, distributing responsibility, supporting reading groups organized around certain topics, setting up forums where faculty members can discuss teaching or present their research — in short, creating a vibrant social context for decision-making and debate. It can be harder to demonize people you eat lunch with or see at a reception with their children. One contributor to the symposium shrewdly defines a dysfunctional department as “one where the main interactions with the faculty are around tenure decisions.” Embedding difficult discussions in a network of relationships cushions their potentially divisive impact.

At the same time, another contributor to the Profession symposium, Gerald Graff, makes the important point that these “soft” ways of nudging faculty members into collegiality, though necessary, are not sufficient. As “add-ons” or “Friday afternoon solutions,” they must compete with other priorities in a busy professor’s life. When deadlines call and the pace of the semester picks up, attendance drops off and enthusiasm wanes.

Professor Graff argues for supplementing these measures with structural changes in the curriculum such as team teaching, exchanging classes with a colleague at mid-semester, and teaching one another’s books. Overcoming the customary isolation of teaching enables collaboration to be incorporated into what we do every week.

There remains, however, the problem of those admittedly few angry, disruptive individuals whom no one would want to teach or mix with — the “bullies, creeps, jerks, weasels, tormentors, tyrants, serial slammers, despots, [and] unconstrained egomaniacs” that I started out this essay with.

It is always tempting to ignore these individuals, hope they’ll go away, or find some way of excusing them. In “When Good Doctors Go Bad,” Atul Gawande observes the extraordinary lengths physicians will go to look the other way even when one of their colleagues repeatedly botches surgeries, abuses patients, and triggers lawsuits. As with many cases of professorial misconduct, the people in the best position to see the damage being done can be in the worst position to take action against it: junior physicians, nurses, staff members. Meanwhile, senior physicians are held back partly by the tremendous work involved in documenting and substantiating evidence of incompetence and partly by social pressures.

There’s an official line about how the medical profession is supposed to deal with these physicians: Colleagues are expected to join forces promptly to remove them from practice and report them to the medical-licensing authorities, who, in turn, are supposed to discipline them or expel them from the profession. It hardly ever happens, for no tight-knit community can function that way.

As in academic departments, intervention gives way to avoidance but at great cost, in the one case to the incompetent physician’s patients, in the other to the abusive professor’s colleagues and students, who sometimes come into play as prizes to be fought over or enemies to be scorned because they have sided with a rival.

Even so, despite the odds against it, in hospitals and doctors’ practices sometimes the bad physician loses his license or gets sanctioned in some other way.

In universities, here is where a carefully designed faculty code of conduct can become necessary — as a last resort, when other interventions have failed and the behavior in question falls through the cracks of the faculty handbook. The threshold for invoking the code should be high, not just by one isolated outburst. But the expectation of collegial behavior, of cooperating and collaborating with other employees in a spirit of teamwork and collegiality, should be there — not as a distinct criterion for promotion and tenure but as a condition of employment for faculty as well as for staff. Once faculty members make the difficult decision to act against a disruptive colleague, they must have the means of doing so, lest powerlessness and frustration make their demoralization even worse.

After a code of conduct is institutionalized, it becomes everyone’s responsibility to use it. In my experience, most people treat others in the academic workplace with respect, consideration, and care, conduct code or no conduct code. My intent here has not been to legislate collegiality but to make sure that in those rare instances when enough is enough, when egregious behavior persists and reaches a carefully defined tipping point, faculty members and administrators are in a position to do something about it.

Michael Fischer is vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, as well as a professor of English, at Trinity University, in San Antonio. Prior to joining the Trinity administration, he was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of English at the University of New Mexico. A longer version of this essay will appear in Change and is available on the magazine's Web site.