July 18, 2009

Colleges shell out €7m for bitter internal staff disputes

Irish colleges have wasted in excess of €7m dealing with bitter and complex internal staff disputes despite the recession, new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.

Several universities have been involved in lengthy disputes with members of staff and new information reveals an alarming number of bullying and harassment claims from within the country's leading colleges.

Well-placed sources have revealed that over 30 complaints of bullying and harassment are being investigated in several of Ireland's colleges.

Fine Gael's education spokesman Brian Hayes has called on Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe to force the colleges to engage in mediation before wasting money on expensive court cases.

Last week, Dublin City University went to the Supreme Court to try to sack one of its professors, despite being told in the High Court that it acted illegally. To date, DCU has spent around €1.5m in costs and legal fees to deal with the case in which it sought to dismiss Professor Paul Cahill, who disputes the college's claims.

Athlone Institute of Technology has spent over €840,000 in dealing with complaints of bullying and harassment since 2000.

A total of €841,190 was spent by the institute since 2000 on costs relating to the handling of allegations of bullying and/or harassment, including one out-of-court settlement amounting to €54,450. The €840,000 was spent on administration of eight formal complaints of bullying/harassment lodged with the institute, meaning an average of €105,000 was spent in dealing with each case. The institute said that no informal complaints of bullying or harassment had been made since 2000.

The total cost included €340,246 on legal fees, €140,778 on investigation and mediation fees, €291,909 on stenography services and €13,357 on the hire of facilities.

Trinity College Dublin has for several years now been embroiled in a costly dispute with one of its most distinguished English academics, Dr Gerald Morgan. To date the college has said that its legal fees on the case amount to over €100,000 but it is thought to have spent more than €300,000 on the Morgan case. Dr Morgan has denied any wrongdoing.

A number of years ago, University College, Dublin, handed out over €40,000 in payments to a staff member who accused one of her male colleagues of harassment.

This money was on top of significant legal and other associated costs racked up in the handling of the case.

Brian Hayes, Fine Gael's education spokesman, said it is no longer acceptable that the taxpayer should have to shell out on these lengthy disputes and called on Mr O'Keeffe to ensure such rows are not allowed to fester.

He said: "The only ones who win are the lawyers and those who get the payouts. Why the hell should taxpayers be expected to pick up the tab for all this mess?"

Mr O'Keeffe's spokesman said that there are considerable processes in place within the colleges to deal with such bitter disputes, but conceded that sometimes they can be costly to deal with.

He told the Sunday Independent: "People have rights and they're entitled to due process. We must always respect and appreciate that. Allegations of bullying and harassment, by their nature, can sometimes be lengthy and costly to investigate.''

"Of course, it would be desirable that any employer, whether public or private sector, would strive to have well developed human resources structures in place in order to avoid such cases arising in the first place," he said.

From: http://www.independent.ie
Does HEFCE, or UCU or any other relevant body for that matter, have any figures on how much money English HEIs have wasted on dealing with complaints of bullying and harassment? The figure is likely to be much higher than €7m...

July 14, 2009

Mobbing and Psychological Terror at Workplaces

In recent years, the existence of a significant problem in workplaces has been documented in Sweden and other countries. It involves employees "ganging up" on a target employee and subjecting him or her to psychological harassment. This "mobbing" behavior results in severe psychological and occupational consequences for the victim...

This phenomena has been called "mobbing," "ganging up on someone" or psychic terror. It occurs as schisms, where the victim is subjected to a systematic stigmatizing through, inter alia, injustices (encroachment of a person's rights), which after a few years can mean that the person in question is unable to find employment in his/her specific trade. Those responsible for this tragic destiny can either be workmates or management...

Psychical terror or mobbing in working life means hostile and unethical communication which is directed in a systematic way by one or a number of persons mainly toward one individual. There are also cases where such mobbing is mutual until one of the participants becomes the underdog. These actions take place often (almost every day) and over a long period (at least for six months) and, because of this frequency and duration, result in considerable psychic, psychosomatic and social misery. This definition eliminates temporary conflicts and focuses on the transition zone where the psychosocial situation starts to result in psychiatric and/or psychosomatic pathological states...

It seems to be a general clinical experience among physicians working in occupational health departments that immediate and grave psychosomatic effects can be observed. I have located the number of suicides having this background as being between 100 and 300; this means that about 10% -15% of the total number of suicides in Sweden each year have this type of background...

My experience, gained from insight into a large number of conflicts, is that legal matters are not usually a hindrance. Often the weaker party, the one threatened with expulsion, wants some sort of honorable rehabilitation or an assurance that s/he was not solely the guilty party in the conflict. It is puzzling that we have never found a single case where the employer, as the other party, could find himself at fault and give the employee some redress for wrongs suffered. Usually, in cases where the conflict has gotten completely out of hand, the employer representative demands some form of .total capitulation to his demands. As I have said, my experience inclines me to think that this kind of experienced violation is the factor which drives the situation to its climax...

From: Heinz Leymann, “Mobbing and Psychological Terror at Workplaces,” Violence and Victims 5 (1990), 119-126, available at: http://www.mobbingportal.com/leymannmain.html

July 11, 2009

Guide for Members of Higher Education Governing Bodies in the UK - Guidance on Whistleblowing

1. Universities and colleges of higher education, like other public bodies, have a duty to conduct their affairs in a responsible and transparent way and to take into account both the requirements of funding bodies (including of course the Funding Councils) and the standards set out in the reports of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. In addition, they are committed to the principles of academic freedom embodied in their own charters, statutes and articles of government, and enshrined in the Education Reform Act 1988.

2. Members of staff are often the first to know when things are going wrong in an institution, whether this concerns financial malpractice, the abrogation of appropriate and agreed procedures, or departures from the statutory or other requirements for good governance. All institutions should establish official channels through which such concerns can be raised, for example through heads of department, at official committees, or through staff representatives, including the accredited trades unions. In the normal course of events, concerns should be raised through these channels. But members of staff often feel, rightly or wrongly, that their own position in the institution will be jeopardised if they raise a particular concern in this way, and sometimes the usual channels may indeed be inappropriate.

3. Good practice would suggest that:

a. Allegations of injustice or discrimination against individuals should be dealt with under established procedures approved by the governing body or, if it is a student grievance, through the machinery established by the institution for this purpose.

b. Allegations about an individual’s financial conduct should normally be made to the head of internal audit. He/she is required to have direct reporting relationships both with the vice-chancellor/principal/chief executive, as the officer designated by the governing body and by the Funding Council to be accountable for the control of the institution’s funds, and with the audit committee established by the governing body. Internal audit should investigate the allegation and report to a higher authority as appropriate. Where, for whatever reason, the person making the allegation considers it inappropriate to make it to the head of internal audit, the provisions of sub-paragraph c apply.

c. Allegations about other issues could concern, for example, the behaviour of a senior officer of the institution, or a lay/independent member of the governing body, or the propriety of committee or other collective decisions. Such allegations should be made, as the person making the allegation deems appropriate, to the vice-chancellor/principal/chief executive, or to the secretary/registrar/clerk to the governing body, or to the chair of the governing body. If for any reason none of these individuals is deemed to be appropriate, the allegation should be made to the chair of the audit committee.

4. In any case where an allegation is made under sub-paragraphs 3b and 3c, the person to whom the allegation is made should make a record of its receipt and of what action is taken. Any allegation made under this procedure shall normally be the subject of a preliminary investigation either by the person to whom the allegation is made or more usually by a person or persons appointed by him/her. Institutions should take steps to ensure that investigations are not carried out by the person who may ultimately have to reach a decision on the matter. Where no investigation is carried out, and the allegation is effectively dismissed, the person making the allegation should be informed and given the opportunity to repeat the allegation to some other person or authority within the institution. This need not be done where an allegation is dismissed after an investigation. The person or persons against whom the allegation is made must also be told of it and the evidence supporting it. They should be allowed to comment before the investigation is concluded and a report made. The results of the investigation shall be reported to the audit committee.

5. Any person making an allegation under sub-paragraphs 3b or 3c should be guaranteed that the allegation will be regarded as confidential to the receiver until a formal investigation is launched. Thereafter, the identity of the person making the allegation may be kept confidential, if requested, unless this is incompatible with a fair investigation, or if there is an overriding reason for disclosure (for example, if police involvement is required). Provided the allegation has been made lawfully, without malice and in the public interest, the employment position of the person should not be disadvantaged because he/she made the allegation.

6. Institutions may wish to consider using the policy checklist proposed by Public Concern at Work so far as it applies to higher education institutions.

March 2009
Lots of wishful thinking above, and assumptions that HEIs can self-govern according to the principles above, nevertheless worth knowing so we can try to hold them accountable.

From: http://www.hefce.ac.uk

July 05, 2009

Open letter

An extract from an open letter to my prestigious research university – prompted by Carl’s death. I apologise to friends and family of Carl for using the space in the way that I have done. I hope you will understand. I think Carl would have done.

…these practices feel relentless and yet you claim there is no evidence of workplace bullying. As teachers we know that until you get the behaviour right it is impossible to achieve any real learning. If you can’t 'get the behaviour right', with the support of some of the governors, then I don’t believe anyone can. The power is in your hands.

We have to address the reality and speak the truth; that requires both courage and trust – a philosophical opportunity to review what is happening. Not just using the jargon without touching real life.

Cases of alleged workplace bullying such as mine (and Carl’s) are very serious. You know that.

I do not know if you are aware of the case at Solent University which is currently being debated on the Times Higher blog. There are some links to my case so you may find it useful to review what is being said.

I can assure both you and the university that I am mentally very strong so I would assure you that there is no danger that I would take my own life as Carl has done. In saying this I do not mean any disrespect to Carl - in some ways his death has helped me. It could so easily have been the other way round. However – I do believe that the university – key members of senior management - have taken completely unacceptable risks with regard to my ability to cope with this situation.

On the Times Higher blog you will see reference to Carl’s university and the kind of debates that his death has prompted in this space that new technology has created. There is also testimony from a close friend of Carl’s – both on this blog and the Times Higher blog. She describes the effects of the long-term humiliation on Carl – crying in his kitchen after yet another meeting where he had been humiliated.

In the end he could no longer cope with the pain and took his own life. We can read about the response of the university – their defence that no one had taken out a grievance against the manager of Carl’s department.

There are others – Diana Winstanly from Kingston – whose death is recorded somewhere on this blog. My pain is also recorded on this blog - over a period of years. This blog has been and continues to be my lifeline in my darkest and bleakest moments… when the bottle of pills seems so tempting.

Carl’s close friend is now under police surveillance and cannot defend herself. The state too colludes it would seem in these cases. She has been threatened 3 times with legal action by the university... 1984 is alive and well.

As you have agreed – cases of workplace bullying are very serious. As is evidenced by Carl’s case they can spiral out of control in ways that cannot be foreseen. – sometimes with a tragic loss of life.

I would agree that spaces such as blogs are not the best place to debate these issues – yet they are the only spaces available for those of us who believe that we are targets of workplace bullying.

Silence and denial is not the way forward. I would ask that the university…


I cannot include any more as that would reveal to my university who I am.

I would urge anyone who is concerned about workplace bullying to speak out in their university - find someone with the power and the courage to help you.

Write a letter to you MP.

Write to anyone who has the power to take this issue forward before we have any more deaths.

In solidarity - and thinking of you Carl - that last walk...

Aphra Behn

July 01, 2009

Bullying and suicide, Part 2

...Some victims of bullying pay the ultimate price by taking their own lives. There have been some attempts to estimate the number of suicides linked to workplace bullying but these attempts have been speculative as few people take their own lives for one single reason. This should not be taken as an indication that we think the numbers insubstantial or not worth worrying about. On the contrary, the seriousness of the problem is expressed in one Norwegian study which concluded that as many as 40 per cent of the most frequently bullied victims admitted to having contemplated suicide at some stage...

From: Workplace Bullying, what we know, who is to blame, and what can we do?

Bullying and suicide

Britain has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe. Each year in the UK over 5000 people take their life. The Samaritans estimate that in the UK there is a suicide every 82 minutes. The charity Depression Alliance estimates that each year there are around 19,000 suicide attempts by UK adolescents whilst more than 2 million children attend GP's surgeries with some kind of psychological or emotional problem.

Each day, two people under the age of 24 commit suicide. In 1997, 1757 young adult males committed suicide whilst only 412 females committed suicide. One reason is thought to be because males choose more lethal (and thus successful) methods of suicide such as hanging, shooting or jumping in front of a train. Around 200 people commit suicide by train every year, with another 50 killing themselves on the London underground. The death of Brian Drysdale at Ufton Nervet in Berkshire in November 2004 was believed to be a suicide. In the UK, suicide has taken over from road accidents as the number one cause of death for young adult males in the age range 18-24.

Suicide statistics show that in the UK at least 16 children kill themselves each year because they are being bullied at school and no-one in authority is doing anything about it. The number of adults who commit suicide because of bullying, harassment and violence is unknown, but my guess is that bullying is a factor in a significant number of these 5000 suicides.

The suicide rate for 18-24-year-old males has jumped from 58 deaths per million of population in 1974 to 170 deaths per million in 1997. In October 1999, the government reported that the number of young males who commit suicide each year in the UK had doubled over the last ten years. With the support of other organisations including the Football Association, the government announced a programme aiming to cut the suicide rate by at least 25% in 10 years. One of the problems of young male suicide identified was men's reluctance to confide their problems in others, even their peers.

In inner city areas, over 43% of children have considered suicide and one in six children under the age of 11 have attempted suicide. Common causes cited include bullying, abuse, poverty, homelessness, and alcohol abuse.

France also has a high suicide rate; each year there are around around 200,000 attempted suicides by 15-25-year-olds, including 40-60,000 suicide attempts serious enough to warrant hospitalisation, and around 800 successful suicides.

A UK Mental Health Foundation survey published in February 2001 revealed that half of university students showed signs of clinical anxiety whilst more than 10% suffered from clinical depression. Although specific causes are hard to identify, those most often cited include student loans and debt, bullying, constant academic expectations through tests and exams, plus the sudden pressures of being away from home.

From: http://www.bullyonline.org

Bullying of lecturers in Higher Education

Callers from the education sector including universities have accounted for around 20% of all calls and enquiries to Bully OnLine since 1996. A survey published in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) on 16 September 2005 found the bullying is common in the academic workplace, with 40% or respondents saying they were currently the target of bullying. Lead researcher Petra Boynton, a University College London psychologist, uncovered 800 almost identical cases of bullying.

The survey revealed that those most likely to report being bullied were in the caring or support professions, such as social sciences - particularly psychology - health and medicine and academic support or human resources. It also indicated that senior academic staff - senior lecturers and professors - are as likely to be bullied as junior or contract staff. University HR departments, rather than helping victims, were seen by respondents as protecting institutions and bullies.

From: http://www.bullyonline.org