August 26, 2009

Elimination ritual...

Dear Madam or Sir,

I have spent two and half years as an Assistant Professor of English at XXX University in Northern XXX. My first year at XXX was challenging and pleasant, while the remaining year and half was a living hell, complete with harassment, sexual harassment, physical intimidation, false charges, false testimony, perjury and the obstruction of justice. It has been a long process, with some triumphs and some defeats. Eventually, as in all bullying stories, I was forced to leave. A year and a half after leaving XXX I am still trying to come to terms with my horrible experience there.

I am appending my story in the hope that it might be of use to other people who undergoing similar experiences. I would also be happy to communicate with other victims in order to share experiences and offer comfort and motivation:

In summer 2005, I was hired as an Assistant Professor at the department of English Literature and humanities in XXX. I arrived in XXX in August 2005 and worked hard and with great expense to relocate my family to Northern XXX while preparing well in advance for the coming school year. The school year began with great turmoil on campus resulting from a fierce labor dispute. A number of promises that were made to me in a hiring letter were not kept, and I was unable to receive a working contract until February 2006. As soon as the school year began, one faculty member in my department resigned and left immediately, and the number of students that I was teaching doubled. At the same time the department chair announced that she was resigning as well, sending the department into a perpetual crisis. Instead of complaining and looking for a different job, I was grateful to work at XXX and had said so at every opportunity.

I volunteered to serve my department at every opportunity and did my best to be a helpful, friendly and supportive colleague. I volunteered for every committee (including a conference and a hiring committee for which I prepared the call-for-papers and job announcement respectively), and when the chair wanted to restructure the MA program I was happy to conduct research for this project as well as to contribute my experience and ideas, most of which have been incorporated into the restructured program proposal. When the chair asked for urgent faculty help in coordinating a large proposal for a translation laboratory that was due within four days I volunteered to accomplish the task and had a good report on her desk before the deadline. When the department was desperate to produce on-campus events I volunteered to give a poetry reading. At the chair’s request, I prepared two new versions for the departmental web page.

I maintained good professional relationship with both faculty and students, and I continuously received good students’ evaluations as well as occasional notes from students thanking me for my work and for my help. When students sometime complained, I worked closely with the chair to solve their problems and have always deferred to the chair’s judgment.

I have also done well at XXX academically. During my time there, I added a number of academic publications to my CV. I presented new research at the ACLA conference in Mexico in April 2006, and I was recommended by XXX as an expert in English Language and Humanities for the European Union’s FP7 project. I was nominated as an advisory board member of the University’s Women Studies Center and associate editor of the journal, Women 2000. In Spring 2007 I have organized a campus visit and lecture by a renowned scholar.

During my first year at XXX I approached the chair periodically to ask how I am doing and if there is any area in which I should improve. Without exception, the response was always positive. I was complemented for the quick way in which I adapted to living in Northern XXX and working at XXX. The chair observed one of my classes towards the end of the fall semester and complemented my teaching. The chair has found me a devoted employee and supportive colleague and included me, not only in professional activities, but also in social activities in the department. Sometime in April I was recommended for a continued two-year contract.

It was within a month since that recommendation that the tables turned. Sometime in May 2006, and for reasons that are completely unknown to me, the department chair and my colleagues in the department began to hate me with a passion. From that point on I was continuously harassed, my work was being continuously sabotaged and I was even physically intimated at one time. I was “punished” with a “silence treatment” and barred from departmental activities, faculty meetings, equipment, important memos and even the department’s Christmas party. At one point, the entire faculty (except me) was asked to submit a list of courses that they would like to teach in the following semester. At some point, the chair announced again that she is “resigning” but in fact did not leave her post. As a “perpetual non-Chair,” she has been using the ambivalence of her position to persecute me with renewed vigor. I was no longer allowed to say “hello” to the chair, and have been verbally and physically abused when I tried to do so. I had no access to the department’s office, and could only enter the department's mail room, using my key and avoiding the secretary desk. The Chair had also organized students, asking them to sign a petition against me. When I complained about that, the petition was simply put away, placed secretly in my personal file to be used against me at a later time. The chair also asked the faculty members in the department to sign a petition to have me removed from the department. Six men, whom I have never hurt, some who have been my friends, and who have absolutely no reason to hate me, signed this document without thinking twice.

On December 28, 2006 I had to lodge a formal complaint at the XXX police station after the chair’s husband physically threatened me in my office. I complained bitterly to the university’s administration about the Chair’s treatment and her behavior against me. Eventually, the Chair did leave the department and I believed that my difficulties were over. A new chair and a new faculty Dean were appointed, and I was told that the slate was cleaned, that all of the Chair’s previous complaints against me were dismissed, and that everyone will now strive to work together harmoniously. I was delighted and have again done everything to contribute to the department in faculty meetings, committee work, and socially, as I was now able to talk with colleagues, join them for lunch, etc. I was extremely careful to avoid any misunderstandings, and when I thought that I erroneously hurt someone, I apologized immediately. I was determined to patch things up and put past trouble behind me. I went to an international conference in Mexico in April where representation from Northern XXX was highly appreciated, and at the conference, I arranged for a renowned scholar to come and give a talk at the department. I published another book review and sent an article for publication.

Unfortunately, these efforts were neither appreciated nor reciprocated. My situation in the department remained consistently intolerable. I was still isolated and unable to receive basic services from the department. I did not have a working university computer since November 2006, and I could not receive professional collaboration from my colleagues. And my colleagues used every opportunity, either in committee work, exam invigilation or other professional opportunities, to create altercations and disrupt any possible working relationship.

In fact, as I found out on April 30, while I was trying to be professional, courteous and helpful, my colleagues have been keeping a close watch and reporting through gossip, innuendos and semi-official complaints on my "behavior." I was confronted by the new department chair by a list of silly, petty, and sometime simply untrue complaints. I told the chair that if harmony is to be achieved in the department, the effort should be made on both sides. I asked him to communicate this to my colleagues and try and affect some peace in the department. When he failed to do so, I wrote a letter to my colleagues, urging them to put last semester’s events behind them and to make an effort to work together harmoniously.

But the chair had done nothing to assist me, and in fact turned my complaints against me. I was harassed again. A student who attended two of my classes “suddenly” began to disrupt and sabotage classes, as well as harassing me through emails and phone calls. My complaints to the Chair, the Dean and the University's Disciplinary Committee were “strangely” ignored, and I was even presented with a list of “students’ complaints:” that I was looking at my watch during the lesson, that I was penalizing students when they are late for class, and that I was “forcing” them to buy the reading materials for the course. It was laughable, but again, for “strange” reasons taken very seriously.

In May 2007, I finally complained again to the university’s administration about being harassed by my colleagues. I was first told by the vice rector that the problem should be solved “in discussion with the chair and the dean of the faculty.” I told him that I welcomed such a discussion, but no conversation ever took place. One day later, the chair of the department filed disciplinary action against me.

My complaint was completely ignored. The Chair’s complaint, however, was a thing of beauty. The students’ complaint that they were forced to come to class on time and buy class materials disappeared. Instead, alongside a number of petty accusations (some completely false) were finally the contents of the student petition that the former chair organized in November 2006: The former chair had organized the students in my gender studies class to complain that I have been discussing sexual content! The charge was not only completely ridiculous (why does the university have gender studies classes in its curriculum if it forbids sexual context? Why wasn’t I ever notified of such prohibition (which does not exist)? Why wasn’t I ever consulted with while teaching the class?). It also smacked of bad faith and was illegal according to university rules. Any complaint must, according to university rules, be dealt with within 60 days. This complaint was lying in wait for six months (!). It was prepared in November and presented to me in May. There wasn’t a disciplinary committee in the world that could find me guilty. That is, none other than the disciplinary committee of XXX University, which was set to convict at all costs.

The charges, presented to me on June 18, were made by an investigator who never discussed them with me, and on the basis of evidence that I have never seen and testimony by witnesses that I do not know and whom I did not have an opportunity to ask any questions. The date of the hearing was set for June 21, only three days (!) later. My requests to have legal and/or union representative present, to meet and question witnesses and see the documents on which the charges are based, and specific dates and necessary details for understanding the charges were flatly denied. Only after my lawyer's intervention, I was given more time to prepare a defense.

But the committee had no interest in hearing (or reading) my defense. The committee members first refused to listen to my defense, and when I insisted on presenting it, they interrupted me, made deprecating comments about my arguments, and expressed disinterest and impatience with a response to the charges that I worked very hard to prepare. When I rose from my sit to hand out documents to the committee, I was reprimanded for standing up and ordered to sit down again. Afterwards, the chair of the disciplinary committee rose from his sit and stood next my chair, close enough to touch me, and disrupted me while I was talking. I was forced to ask him to sit down and keep an appropriate distance from me. I had to ask the committee repeatedly and sometime forcibly to “be quiet” and listen to me. I needed to raise my voice and fight hard to present my defense. Even so, I was only able to deliver a part of my defense, and the disciplinary committee seemed disinterested in the parts that I was able to make them listen to.

The committee, not having heard, read or considered any of my arguments, sentenced me to six months suspension without pay, throwing my family and me into poverty at a moment's notice and at the end of the summer when the prospects of finding academic employment are nil. My wife, our four-year-old daughter and I found ourselves in an impossible situation, with nowhere to go and no immediate prospects of income or employment.

To prevent me from complaining further, it was communicated to me unofficially that the disciplinary committee had also access to further complaints, which I have not seen or heard. When I was told of some of these complaints, I found that I could answer them and provide documents and witnesses to prove that they are not true. But since I was never asked about them (and since the disciplinary committee had never listened to any of my arguments), I was unable to defend myself. Furthermore, these complaints were still kept as a threat against me, as they are kept in stock to be pulled out later in the same way that the complaint from November 2006 was used in May 2007.

Nevertheless, I appealed the committee’s decision, as I was preparing to take the university to court. I decided that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by fighting back against an institution towards which I have shown nothing but good faith, and received none in return. In August 2007 I had also sent letters to the Higher Education Council and the Ministry of Education in XXX, the Union of European Universities, UNESCO and the Embassy of my country in XXX and in XXX. I asked for their advice and opinion on the ridiculous charges that the university made against me – which I was not embarrassed to quote. In fact, it was the university that should have been embarrassed, and it certainly was! The same officials who dismissed me like a piece of trash were now in panic. Even though I stopped short of fully denouncing the university or writing to newspapers, the university's vice rector was outraged. He had also made a quick deal to clear my name, refund the money that was already deducted from my salary, and put me back to work until the end of the semester, at which point I agreed to leave XXX. If I was to be left to work in peace until the end of the semester and to leave XXX without further hassles at that time, I agreed to write no more letters, and not to embarrass the university further by telling the truth about the way it behaved towards me.

I was quickly cleared of all the charges and was put back to work, this time teaching different courses in a different department. My colleagues also asked that I will be moved to another office. As I was told, their feelings against me were so strong that they could not bear to look at me. I wasn't surprised. How could they look me in the face after what they have done? On my part, I certainly had no intention of packing all my books and moving to another office only to move again after four months. As to the fact that seeing me reminded my colleagues of their crimes and unethical conduct, I was only sorry to realize that they will forget all about it as soon as my back is turned. I simply ignored them and carried on with my work.

Nevertheless, this was a difficult semester. My wife and daughter left XXX in the summer. They settled in with my mother in law, in my wife's childhood bedroom, sleeping on a double-bed on the floor. Unprepared, my wife was now a single mother, working full time and taking care of our child by herself. Her mother, helping as much as she can, is old and needs some attention herself. They managed bravely. But it was hard. As for me, I was missing them, living by myself, teaching classes that are not in my field, and spending time in a criminal university that continued to treat me horribly.

I was denied a standard pay raise that is given to all faculty members at the beginning of each school year for no other reason than that the chair of my department "doesn't want to give it to me." I was continuously pushed by the administration to move to another office… even one month before the semester was over. And although an agreement with the university has been reached in September, the vice rector just couldn't help himself from trying to trick and cheat me further. I was asked to place a resignation letter in trust, which would go into affect as soon as I receive everything that was promised me by the university. This included no compensations or special privileges. Merely a letter of reference, a letter of clear record, and everything that all exiting faculty receive: paid leave, airline ticket and assistance in receiving the money accrued in a trust fund throughout one's time at XXX. But the trust was broken. The faculty member who was supposed to hold on to the letter betrayed me and gave it to the administration. They, on their part, had no intention of treating me fairly even for a second. Two weeks before I was supposed to leave XXX forever, I received no cooperation on any of the things that I deserved merely by virtue of being someone who had worked in the university for two and a half years.

I realized that this was indicative of only one thing. That the vice rector who persecuted me forgot the temporary rage and embarrassment that he felt in August 2007, as I was telling the entire world of his and the university's unprofessional, unethical, criminal and disgusting behavior. A few days before I left XXX, I simply walked into his office and reminded him that I am still capable of sending letters to international newspapers and the press. I have certainly said the magic words. Within hours, checks were cut, letters were written and forms were signed. I received everything that I have asked for, and have left through XXX airport with an unimaginable sense of relief. Certainly, fairness, good management or even legality mean nothing to XXX officials. However, the prospects of public embarrassment obviously mean everything to them.

My story with XXX is not completely over. Even though I am back with my family, teaching elsewhere, and enjoying a life without hate, racism and corruption, I am still angry with XXX. My colleagues, who believe that their crimes of harassment, sexual harassment, physical intimidation, false charges, false testimony, perjury and the obstruction of justice are expunged as soon as my back is turned, are wrong. Their crimes do not disappear merely because they are not punished for them. Their crimes remain crimes, and they remain criminals.



Anonymous said...

I have a similar situation. My students have been co-opted into being distruptors, with a few of them (who complained about me) behaving very badly, and making my attempts to teach the class futile. The remaining students found it an impossible atmosphere to learn in. As a result, the students used this as evidence that I am in "incompetent" instructor. I've explained my situation to the Dean, and luckily she took my side instead of the students. The same students complaining about my teaching are the ones refusing to show up for class. Maybe I should should just tell the disruptors they can skip class and turn in the assignments.

It's so ridiculous... I got fucked out of being able to teach class, and used that as evidence they can't learn from me or that I'm a bad teacher. Of course, when your students are skipping an entire section on a regular business, and I'm forced to play catch-up, you can't win.

So you see the students can play a role too. The other class I'm teaching has disruptors too, but at least they have the decency to remove themselves in the middle of the lecture.

Anonymous said...

Another tactic (in addition to refusal to attend some required lecture time) is to have students refuse to buy books for the course, on the premise they are too expensive, unnecessary, etc., making it very difficult for me to teach the course. As a result, the lectures don't go to well, and this is more "evidence" that I "can't teach". It's odd that other professors aren't having the same problems. I was accused of not being able to maintain discipline in the class. It sounds like sabotage. The other college I teach at doesn't have nearly the magnitude of problems. Perhaps it's my current crop of students and their manipulators. Perhaps I haven't been teaching at the other place long enough for the sabotage to reach a peak.

I refuse to quit. I can only do what I can do. If they won't do the work, they will have to suffer gradewise.

Anonymous said...

These kinds of stories need to be publicized with NAMES included. Until and unless the universities pay the ultimate PR price, they will not change their behavior.

Anonymous said...

These kinds of stories are everywhere... our society currently colludes with work place bullying.

It is very difficult to find anyone with power and the integrity and strength of character to address these issues.

The message I believe that is given - loudly and clearly - in my university- is carry on bullying. We do not have the courage to address it.

From my experience... the role of UCU is a scandal.

In solidarity.

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

But are the rich and powerful elite behind all of this? I believe this is just yet another sickness that has invaded all of society. The "elite" would care nothing about carrying out such misdeeds.

If there is someone "rich and powerful" carrying out these relentless attacks against me, I sure wish he or she would stand up and tell me. I think all of this gangstalking (and related) bullying is just all of society trying to keep others down and conforming to this new social ill.

Anonymous said...

As the August 23rd post says it is the insidious nature of workplace bullying that makes it so difficult to deal with.

But things will change... maybe not in our lifetime... we build on the work of those who have gone before us as we try to understand why society colludes with this behaviour.

Workplace bullying has been described in many places - we know what it looks like... sounds like...feels like... its existence is no longer denied...even though it might be denied by the individual institutions.

Even though the law is very weak with respect to workplace bullying.

We know it and can name it.

I am about to face another year of the battle. I know I am not alone...that there are other people out there fighting the same battle. That helps so much.

In solidarity

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

Dear Sue Blackwell (letters page - times Higher)

You suggest that universities are being held back by the 'reluctance of university management to address the long-ingrained habits of bullying and harassment, cronyism and institutional discrimination' - I would agree with this...

However you also suggest that trade unions are energetically trying to challenge this culture... not in my university... my university UCU have colluded with management to create a grievance/dignity at work policy which makes it even more difficult for members to successfully raise claims of workplace bullying... plus a host of other actions...

... UCU's actions are almost as shocking as the culture of workplace bullying that I believe thrives in my prestigious research university...

... so maybe it is no bad thing that 'Western domination of education is under threat' - as THE reports in the same edition.

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

You might also read Melanie Newman's article -same edition) about Malcom Higgs' research on the superheroes in our universities who are ...

grandiose... intolerant of criticism... unwilling to compromise... arrogant... self-absorbed...and have a need to be admired...

... Higgs suggests that leaders who are more likely to be effective are those who ''tend to be quiet people with a great deal of humility'...

Professor Higgs suggests that we need to have a greater understanding of management- for example- how the careers of narcissistic managers develop

... as someone who battles against arrogance on an unimaginable scale - I couldn't agree more. ...our universities were supposed to be contributing to the good of society - not to be used as a springboard for even greater self promotion...

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

I too work for a university that engages in criminal behaviour. Your story is appallingly similar to mine, only mine has had an unforeseen and shocking ending. I don't have the wherewithal to recount it yet here, but I expect I will do so in due course.

I am curious about a few things: a) were you a foreigner in your university; b) are you in the UK and c) do you think your work in gender studies had anything to do with your treatment (and shall I assume you are a man, i.e. with reference to a wife and child?). I am concerned, based on at least a half dozen cases of which I am personally aware, about a pattern of victimisation towards academics who work in Gender Studies (though all of these cases have involved women).

I would like to be in touch with you if possible. If you are willing to do so, please would you get in touch with the owner of this website (Pierre Joseph-Proudhon) and I will ask him to give you my email address.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I would be happy to be in touch. I will also write to the manager of the web-site and ask for their help in exchanging addresses. Good Luck!!!