September 28, 2009

Intimidation at work

When Ravi Raj accepted a position at the Harvard-MIT Data Center, he was thrilled to have the opportunity to work for a university that he believed would be a progressive and prestigious employer. Yet, to his surprise, Raj received warnings early on from his managers to never take part in union activity at his new job—although he was a member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. He was even more disturbed when a new supervisor began to subject him to racial slurs, mocking his Indian accent in front of other staff. The incidents that followed are not just an embarrassing, and as yet unresolved, incident for the Harvard community; they demonstrate a troubling lack of accountability in protecting union rights on campus.

Raj immigrated to the United States from India in 1986. Receiving a master’s degree in Management Information Systems, he worked at Hewlett-Packard, Anderson Consulting and Tufts University before accepting his job here at Harvard. When Raj stood up for his rights and complained to administrators about his poor treatment, he faced the consequences of a flawed system: Raj’s boss took away his office, criticized his work, and gave him a mediocre evaluation while Raj waited for assistance that never came.

Though Harvard provides official avenues for employees to voice complaints of discrimination, Raj has hit several roadblocks and in the meantime has faced threats and intimidation. Last April, on the day of Raj’s scheduled meeting between his union representative, his supervisor at HMDC, and Human Resources, a stranger approached Raj inside a building where he was working and threatened him by name. According to Raj, the man said, “Ravi Raj, you have chosen the wrong path and the wrong union. You should watch out.” Such an action is despicable for its cowardly and bullying nature.

Harvard University cannot tolerate discrimination and the intimidation of its workers. As appalling as the racial slurs against Raj may be, more disturbing is his experience when he decided to speak up. While Raj has filed complaints with the Harvard University Police Department and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Raj currently must work under the same supervisor and has received threats of being fired—even though clients often write compliments about his efficient work. The mechanisms in place at Harvard to deal with discrimination and intimidation in the workplace have failed Ravi Raj.

Raj has pursued conflict resolution with management at HMDC, HR, and even the office of the University Ombudsman without success. When contacted, HR and the office of the Ombudsman declined to comment, citing employee confidentiality. While this may be simply their policy, someone needs to step in and speak up on Raj’s behalf. One of the mechanisms in place must be broken—if not the whole system—as it appears Raj’s case has been lost without resolution. Even if there is a reason that Raj’s superiors, HR and the office of the Ombudsman have not pursued his complaints, their official silence has not allowed for resolution of Raj’s unfortunate situation. Regardless of whether the people able to bring about a positive change for Raj believe his story, they still should recognize that an employee feels seriously threatened in his workplace. It is inexcusable that no one has moved to resolve this situation for Raj on humane grounds alone.

In this challenging economic time it is even more important that we remain vigilant about cases of discrimination and intimidation in the workplace. With jobs more scarce, such cases are more likely to go unreported as people are afraid of being laid off. For his part, Raj works in fear that he will be fired because of the animosity that exists between him and his supervisor, and he believes that his co-workers are too afraid to stick up for him because of fears for their own jobs. Do we have a good enough system in place to ensure that Harvard employees are safe to defend their rights, whether on their own or as a member of any union? It would be difficult to look Raj in the eye and say, “Yes.”

Ideally the avenues in place to deal with complaints of discrimination would have worked, and Raj would have been placed elsewhere immediately, the supervisor punished, and the situation resolved. For Raj, still working in an environment that feels unsafe, a fair solution would be for management to place him in a different office with a new supervisor. Union members, students and concerned community members have held several demonstrations on Raj’s behalf. These should continue. More broadly, though, the University must look closely at the mechanisms that are currently failing to protect workers.


September 25, 2009

Kenneth Westhues: Correction of Mobbing Episodes in Higher Education

The insight in Schneider’s analysis of the “ineducability of administrators,” their common reluctance to rescue mobbing targets or even to grasp the concept, derives from his use of Max Weber’s favoured method of social research, verstehen, his stepping into administrators’ shoes and looking at things from their point of view. Schneider’s similar insight into the peril faculty associations put themselves in if they support the target has the same origin: understanding from the inside the political constraints on the association leadership.

Schneider is right that mobbing is a “loaded characterization” and mobber a “stigmatizing term.” By definition, the mere application of the term mobbing to a sequence of events in a university (or any other organization) is going to be contested by the instigators and the main participants, since it implies that reason and evidence do not support what they are doing, that in mobilizing for a colleague’s humiliation and eventual elimination, they have been “carried away” by collective passion into wreaking unwarranted harm on their scapegoat (another loaded term), as well as on the values underlying academic life.

This problem in the scientific study of mobbing is so fundamental one is tempted to switch to some other specialty. Why make trouble for yourself? All the social scientist has to say is, “By standard measures, it looks to me that so-and-so has been mobbed.” The beleaguered target may say thanks, but the great majority of those involved will do all in their power to keep this diagnosis off the table, and if they feel obliged to respond, they may well ratchet up their attack on the target, or even broaden it to include the scholar who has called it mobbing.

To whom, then, can one look for acknowledgement that a mobbing has indeed occurred, and for action toward turning back the mob and rescuing its target? Who will take the risk of disagreeing with an angry crowd?

There is no formulaic answer. A mob is sometimes stopped by a single person – a dean, a professor, maybe a secretary – with strength of character enough to stand up and say, “Cut it out. Lay off. There will be no ganging up in this workplace.” Far more mobbings than ever make the news are nipped in the bud by one man or woman who has guts. A famous example occurred long ago in the Middle East. A brave, charismatic rescuer shamed mobbers into slinking away by saying, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” That rescuer, of course, was himself mobbed sometime later, fatally.

To the question of how to correct a mobbing, a further answer is that if the mobbing has reached an advanced stage, the odds of full correction are close to nil. Leymann could not cite a single case from all his years of research, in which the mobbing target was given an apology and fully reintegrated into the workgroup. Once you’ve been collectively expelled, you can never quite go home again. The most one can hope for is mitigation of the target’s losses, in terms of reputation, respect, position, income, health, friendships, family. The realistic question is how to achieve as much mitigation as possible – the difference, for instance, between departing with a large buyout or with nothing but life and the chance to start over somewhere else.

Regardless of how much correction is won, the correcting agent is generally from outside the organization in which the conflict has occurred. Mobbing comes into clearest focus at a certain distance. Outsiders’ vision is less clouded by mobbers’ passion. Once informed of the evidence, outsiders can more easily see what has gone on and label it accurately. Further, outsiders are less vulnerable to the mobbers’ wrath. They face fewer penalties than insiders do for framing the events (to use Schneider’s term) in a way that transfers some blame from the target to the righteous enforcers of virtue...


September 23, 2009

Achtung Kingston University Staff Members

By order of the management of Kingston University, staff are not permitted to access this site from University computers. But what are they afraid of? Could it be that independent thought has become dangerous to the interests of the University?


The world of the sociopath...

...People with this disorder appear to be charming at times, and make relationships, but to them, these are relationships in name only. They are ended whenever necessary or when it suits them, and the relationships are without depth or meaning, including marriages. They seem to have an innate ability to find the weakness in people, and are ready to use these weaknesses to their own ends through deceit, manipulation, or intimidation, and gain pleasure from doing so.

They appear to be incapable of any true emotions, from love to shame to guilt. They are quick to anger, but just as quick to let it go, without holding grudges. No matter what emotion they state they have, it has no bearing on their future actions or attitudes...

...Despite this emotional deficiency, most psychopaths learn to mimic the appearance of normal emotion well enough to fit into ordinary society, not unlike the way that the hearing impaired or illiterate learn to use other cues to compensate for their disabilities. As Hare describes it, psychopaths “know the words but not the music.” One might imagine that such a false and superficial front would be easily penetrated, but such is rarely the case, probably because of the assumption we all tend to make that others think and feel essentially the same way as ourselves. Differences in culture, gender, personality, and social status all create empathy gaps that can seem almost unfathomable, but none of these is as fundamental a divide as the one that exists between an individual with a conscience and one without. The psychopath’s psychology is so profoundly alien to most people that we are unable to comprehend their motives, or recognize one when we see one. Naturally, the industrious psychopath will find this to his advantage...

The serial bully:
  • is emotionally retarded with an arrested level of emotional development; whilst language and intellect may appear to be that of an adult, the bully displays the emotional age of a five-year-old
  • is emotionally immature and emotionally untrustworthy
  • exhibits unusual and inappropriate attitudes to sexual matters, sexual behaviour and bodily functions; underneath the charming exterior there are often suspicions or hints of sex discrimination and sexual harassment, perhaps also sexual dysfunction, sexual inadequacy, sexual perversion, sexual violence or sexual abuse
  • in a relationship, is incapable of initiating or sustaining intimacy
  • holds deep prejudices (eg against the opposite gender, people of a different sexual orientation, other cultures and religious beliefs, foreigners, etc - prejudiced people are unvaryingly unimaginative) but goes to great lengths to keep this prejudicial aspect of their personality secret...

September 21, 2009

Up to tenth of workers victims of bullying - study (New Zealand)

Up to 200,000 employees - one in 10 - are victims of workplace bullying, new research suggests.

The two-year research project undertaken by academics at three universities surveyed 1600 employees from 20 organisations in the hospitality, health and education sectors.

Preliminary results showed one in 10 workers had been bullied by a colleague in the past six months, the Sunday Star Times reported. Figures extrapolated to the full working population suggested as many as 200,000 people were being bullied at work.

Waikato University organisational psychologist Michael O'Driscoll said workers were asked if they had been intimidated or abused at work, if their efforts had been sabotaged and what, if anything, was done about it.

The researchers defined bullying as a situation in which a person felt they had been repeatedly subjected to the negative actions of co-workers.

The research aimed to show how workplace bullying affected workers' health, wellbeing and job performance. "There are definite negative effects for individuals and for organisations," Mr O'Driscoll said. "People being bullied are experiencing high levels of work-based stress which you would then expect to flow on into physical symptoms."

Final results will not be available until the end of the year.




September 20, 2009

Unresolved complaint against Keele University

This unresolved complaint against Keele University regarding inadequate supervision and numerous instances of disability discrimination, has been going on for over ten years, during which time I have been thrust into the deepest emotional and psychological distress and turmoil. What started out as an academic dispute rapidly turned into a whistle blowing situation as the University spent more and more resources on covering up their initial, and then further inept decisions. My consultant psychiatrist sister told me once that I was the most stable person she had ever met – I’d certainly never before suffered from any illnesses that would have come within her sphere of expertise. But during this desperately long and painful process I have been prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication for years.

My tale is convoluted and at first sight seems inextricably complicated. But like many such stories, upon examination it tends to have the same few common strands, coalescing into a relatively simple narrative about some of the basest of human interactions – vanity, greed, power. It also encompasses the mindless knee-jerk self preservation of a large and wealthy organization at the expense of individuals.

September 19, 2009

Some readings...

Len Sperry, WORKPLACE MOBBING AND BULLYING: A CONSULTING PSYCHOLOGY PERSPECTIVE AND OVERVIEW. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2009 American Psychological Association, Vol. 61, No. 3, 165–168


Mobbing and bullying are forms of abusiveness that are of increasing concerns in the workplace. This special issue overviews various issues and interventions relevant for the practice of consulting psychology. The articles describe theoretical issues including prevalence, definitional clarity, and the influence of individual, work group, and organizational dynamics; they also describe various organizational interventions, including alternative dispute resolution, antimobbing training, and antibullying policy development. These articles and commentaries are intended to inform, provide strategies, and foster discussion of how consulting psychologists can best serve clients and client organizations that are experiencing mobbing and bullying.


Patricia A. Ferris, THE ROLE OF THE CONSULTING PSYCHOLOGIST IN THE PREVENTION, DETECTION, AND CORRECTION OF BULLYING AND MOBBING IN THE WORKPLACE. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2009 American Psychological Association 2009, Vol. 61, No. 3, 165–168


It is clear that psychological aggression is both common in workplaces and harmful to individuals and organizations. An emerging line of research examines organizational responses to allegations of bullying and mobbing. As a result, some researchers now identify processes for detecting, correcting, and preventing bullying and mobbing. Strategies to improve the quality of working life such as surveillance, policy development, training, coaching, and the development of selection, performance management, and reward systems that set standards for collaborative and supportive behavior at work are all necessary to move organizations toward eliminating tolerance of bullying and mobbing. Consulting psychologists have the expertise to provide such interventions because of their in-depth understanding of personality, testing, and assessment, and the application of these concepts to selection, coaching, and performance management. The consulting psychologist brings an attention to human factors that humanize the workplace. The author reviews research on bullying and mobbing, adds practitioner insights based on 13 years of practice in this area, and discusses interventions applied in practice settings.


Maureen Duffy, PREVENTING WORKPLACE MOBBING AND BULLYING WITH EFFECTIVE ORGANIZATIONAL CONSULTATION, POLICIES, AND LEGISLATION. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2009 American Psychological Association 2009, Vol. 61, No. 3, 242–262


Workplace mobbing or workplace bullying has only recently entered the lexicon of the American workplace. Although its impact is devastating to the health and well-being of individuals, organizations also experience its effects in terms of loss of productivity, absenteeism, turnover, legal costs, and negative publicity. Legislation and policy development are 2 key initiatives that, used wisely, can help prevent such mobbing and bullying. Although the United States currently
has no legislation addressing workplace abuse, it is anticipated that bullying and mobbing will be the next legislative front for the protection of workers and the improvement of workplace culture. Today, many organizations are working with consultants to develop policies to prevent bulling/mobbing and to foster high-care work environments. A template for developing effective antimobbing/ antibullying organizational policies is provided.

September 12, 2009

Ottawa's Dismissal of Denis Rancourt

Commentary by Kenneth Westhues, University of Waterloo, August 2009

A good five years of conflict between administrators at the University of Ottawa and senior tenured physics professor Denis Rancourt came to a head on December 10, 2008. Dean of Science André Lalonde formally recommended to the Board of Governors that Rancourt be dismissed from the faculty. That same day, Provost Robert Major suspended Rancourt, closed his lab, and forbade him to set foot on campus.

The Ottawa administration's decision to fire Rancourt, imposing on him the "capital punishment" of labor relations, was even more vigorously opposed than were the lesser punishments dealt to him in preceding years. In a factual, reasoned letter to the Board of Governors dated 5 January 2009, Rancourt defended himself. Well over a hundred professors and students from Ottawa and elsewhere sent individual letters protesting Rancourt's elimination. Even before the axe fell, the Canadian Association of University Teachers had appointed a three-person Committee of Inquiry to investigate the long series of run-ins, dating back at least to the fall of 2005, between the Ottawa administration and Rancourt.

Is this a case of workplace mobbing in academe? Yes — and more precisely, administrative mobbing. (Click here for the standard checklist of indicators, here for the mainpage of the relevant website, and here for a short, basic article.)

What allows so unqualified a diagnosis is that Rancourt has made comprehensive documentation on the conflict (letters, emails, press reports, videos) publicly available on his blog and at For want of adequate information pro and con about a professor's dismissal or humiliation, it is often impossible to make more than a tentative assessment of whether it is a case of mobbing or merely a hard but measured and warranted response to some betrayal of academic purpose. In this case, Rancourt has laid bare to the public the actions that got him into trouble, the sanctions imposed, and what is most important, documentary evidence of both his own and his adversaries' views. Thereby he has bolstered his own credibility. Let other aggrieved academics take a lesson: only in so far as full information is publicly available, the cards all on the table, can outside observers make confident judgments and say things worth listening to.

It is plain from the material online that over time, administrators at Ottawa coalesced in the view that Rancourt, despite his stellar research record and the respect given him by very many students, is an utterly unworthy and abhorrent man, fit only for expulsion from respectable academic company. While administrators appear front and centre in this mobbing case, they are joined by dozens, even hundreds of students and faculty who are after Rancourt's neck. According to Karen Pinchin's trenchant article in Maclean's, "nearly one-third of Rancourt’s colleagues at the school have signed a petition of complaint against him." (Click here to read the petition, unambiguous evidence of ganging up.) Even distant pundits like Stanley Fish and Margaret Soltan piled on.

An email from Chemistry Chair Alain St-Amant is telling. Shortly after Rancourt's suspension, with his dismissal pending, St-Amant apparently agreed to debate him on a TV talk show, but then cancelled out. Rancourt sent him an email asking why, and suggesting that administrative or peer pressure was the reason. St-Amant emailed back, "I refuse to enter a battle of wits with an unarmed man. ... This will be the last you will hear from me on this matter. Enjoy the paycheques while they last." The contempt in these sentences is total. With a clever turn of phrase, St-Amant gives Rancourt the ultimate academic insult, that he has no wits, that is to say no intelligence. Then he cuts off communication and gloats that Rancourt will soon be off the payroll. St-Amant would not likely have felt free to send such a message had he not felt himself part of a campus crowd united by scorn for Rancourt.

From the available documents, Rancourt appears to exemplify a type of professor I described in my first book on academic mobbing, a professor I called "Dr. PITA" — acronym for pain-in-the-ass, or in politer terms, a thorn in administrators' sides, the one who makes them see red. Being a team player is not Dr. PITA's priority. Administrative demands that most professors comply with uncomplainingly are occasions for Dr. PITA to raise questions — and more questions.

Real-life professors can become Dr. PITA for any number of reasons. Administrators usually chalk it up to a personality defect. The documentary record suggests that the reason in Rancourt's case, as in many mobbing cases I have studied, is that he has thought deeply enough about education and the search for truth, to realize how much these noble purposes are subverted by the academic structures established to serve them. During his first dozen years of university teaching, he seems to have not only lengthened his vita but actually developed his mind, gaining awareness that institutionalizing the process of learning (that means creating a formal organization with a policy manual, chain of command, course credits, degree programs, human resources office, and so on), even though it facilitates learning in some ways (not least by providing teachers with a stable livelihood), cheapens and diminishes learning in many other ways. A student's working life easily becomes a matter of memorizing things and jumping the hoops of standardized tests, without personal engagement or independent thought. Indeed, one of the things students learn is not to learn about power, nor to question the structure of power in place, since the organization depends on this structure for funding and public legitimacy. Awareness of this downside of institutionalization is a common theme of the varied authors Rancourt cites in support of his own brand of anarchism — Paolo Freire, Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault, Herbert Marcuse, Ward Churchill, among others.

It was apparently Rancourt's deepening understanding of and commitment to what learning actually involves, that led him to refuse to rank and grade his students in the established, expected way. Since grading is central to the institutionalization of learning, he felt obliged to renounce it. This was the sticking point, the offense that became the main official reason for his termination. As Rancourt plaintively wrote in his letter to the Board, "Socrates did not give grades to his students."

Rancourt's revulsion at assigning marks is not common among professors, but neither is it rare. Over the past four decades, I have known dozens of professors who, in the course of their intellectual maturation, became exceedingly uncomfortable with assigning grades. A few of them met the same fate as Rancourt. One of the offenses that led to the dismissal of theologian Herbert Richardson from the University of Toronto in 1994 (a case of administrative mobbing to which I have devoted a substantial book), was that he and his students in a graduate seminar agreed that all of them should receive the same final grade.

More often, however, administrators and colleagues find ways to accommodate, sometimes even to honor and reward, the brilliant, unusually effective researcher and teacher whose process of growth has led to reluctance to give grades. Three professors of this kind have written letters of support for Rancourt: John McMurtry, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, John Southin, retired Professor of Biology at McGill University, and David Noble, Professor of Social and Political Thought at York University. These respected academics report that their universities managed to put up with them for decades, albeit sometimes grudgingly, despite their own dissent from conventional systems of student grading. McMurtry wrote that he "almost got fired for challenging the grading system at my university 35 years ago. The V-P Academic, the Dean and the Chair all went on the record as deciding to dismiss me, but many faculty and students successfully defended me." Noble told Maclean's that "he hasn’t given grades for more than 35 years."

It is worth remembering, moreover, that Ivan Illich, dean of educational iconoclasts and author of the 1971 classic, Deschooling Society, was recruited to the faculties of Pennsylvania State University and the University of Bremen in the last decades of his life. Those universities were apparently pleased to have Illich around for students and colleagues to learn from, despite his congenital lack of docility and institutional loyalty.

Why do some university administrations mobilize collective resources to eliminate professors of the Dr. PITA type, professors like Rancourt or McMurtry or Illich, while others somehow make room for them? One key difference is whether the administrators, despite all the bureaucratic pressures upon them, continue to have a feel for what searching for truth actually means. If they still hear that search as a personal call, they cannot bring themselves to demonize, harass, and try to get rid of one who embodies truth-seeking in a pristine way, despite the administrative challenges such a professor poses. They are able to recognize in Dr. PITA not just bothersomeness and impracticality but successful engagement with inquiry and learning, the fundamental goals of a university. Their own commitment to education obliges them to show respect for the dissenter, in much the same way as commitment to the basics of Christianity obliged Joseph Ratzinger, an organization man if ever there was one, to invite the dissident theologian Hans Küng to dine with him at the Vatican, a few months after Ratzinger was elected pope.

The complete commentary:

September 11, 2009

7th International Conference on Workplace Bullying

The Centre for Research on Workplace Behaviours at the University of Glamorgan will be hosting the 7th International Conference on Workplace Bullying and Harassment between the 2nd and 4th June 2010, for more information on this please see the website:

September 08, 2009

Conference Announcement / Call for papers

1st Global Conference - Bullying and the Abuse of Power: From the Playground to International Relations 6-8 November 2009 - Salzburg, Austria

Call for Papers

This inter- and multi-disciplinary conference aims to explore the phenomenon of bullying as it manifests and has manifested itself in a wide range of contexts in the personal, social and global spheres. Bullying is a multi-faceted phenomenon, of interest and concern to academics and professionals of all kinds, including psychologists, sociologists, teachers, ethicists, politicians, social workers, philosophers, theologians, historians, physicians and human rights lawyers. It is present in every sphere of life and consists, essentially, of the abuse of power. It can involve psychological cruelty; cultural and personal insults; religious and sexual intolerance. Anyone can be bullied,anyone can bully. It goes on in schools, workplaces, and on the street. It can occur in any context in which people meet people. Bullying damages society; it produces human misery and corrupts societal values. It can ruin lives, and it can end lives. Most of us have experienced bullying, whether as a victim or as a perpetrator, or as one who has stood by while bullying went on before our eyes. Like other enduring cultural phenomena it has an ability to mutate into new forms – for example, the invasive use of email to intimidate people, or the use of text messaging and social networking sites which have claimed lives through the suicide of victims.

Abstracts are invited for papers that discuss bullying from any of the perspectives and in any of the contexts mentioned above. They are also invited for papers that address bullying as it manifests itself in other contexts at a societal and global level, including the abuse of political and economic power and ultimately physical force, by repressive political regimes that suppress dissent, through, for example, torture and 'disappearances'. Submissions are welcomed from people who view other phenomena in the modern world as manifestations of bullying, including the ways that powerful nations exert power over and interfere in the affairs of less powerful ones, or the ways in which some multi-national companies do business with suppliers of produce, and manage to exert their influence over the shopping habits of consumers, to the detriment of local retailers. Bullying is perhaps the most important ethical problem in the modern world, because it is arguably present everywhere.

The following list of themes and sub-themes may be helpful. Abstracts which illuminate and comment on more than one sphere in which bullying manifests itself will be especially welcomed, as will abstracts that draw together insights from more than one academic, professional or vocational area. As a result, abstracts may fall into more than one of the themes outlined. The conference programme will thus be organised with a view to producing the most vigorous and helpful debate.

* Bullying in everyday contexts
Bullying in school/in the workplace
Bullying of older people/disabled people
Sexual bullying
Racial bullying
Religious intolerance

* From playground bullying to genocide/Bullying:
How far can it go?
Human Rights abuses
The Holocaust
Human trafficking

* International relations
Cultural intolerance
Terrorism as a means of persuasion
Imposition of the wishes of the developed
world on developing countries
Bullying of Indigenous people

* Multinationals, impoverished nations and corner shops
The effects of globalisation on business
Changing patterns of shopping: corner shops vs superstores
Advertising and vulnerable consumers
Cut price goods and low pay for workers

Papers will be considered on any related theme. 300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 12th June 2009. If your paper is accepted for presentation at the conference, an 8 page draft paper should be submitted by Friday 9th October 2009.

300 word abstracts should be submitted simultaneously to both Organising Chairs.
Abstracts may be in Word, WordPerfect, or RTF formats with the following information and in this order:

a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, d)title of abstract, e) body of abstract.

Please use plain text (Times Roman 12) and abstain from using footnotes and any special formatting, characters or emphasis (such as bold, italics or underline). We acknowledge receipt and answer to all paper proposals submitted. If you do not receive a reply from us in a week you should assume we did not receive your proposal; it might be lost in cyberspace! We suggest, then, to look for an alternative electronic route or resend.

Organising Chairs

Gavin J Fairbairn
Professor of Ethics and Language
Leeds Metropolitan University
United Kingdom

Rob Fisher
Priory House, Wroslyn Road
Freeland, Oxfordshire OX29 8HR

The conference is part of the Ethos Hub series of ongoing research and publications projects conferences, run within the Critical Issues domain which aims to bring together people from different areas and interests to share ideas and explore innovative and challenging routes of intellectual and academic exploration.

All papers accepted for and presented at the conference will be eligible for publication in an ISBN eBook. Selected papers may be developed for publication in a themed hard copy volume.

For further details about the project please visit:

For further details about the conference please visit:

September 06, 2009

Checklist of 16 mobbing indicators

1. By standard criteria of job performance, the target is at least average, probably above average.

2. Rumours and gossip circulate about the target’s misdeeds: “Did you hear what she did last week?”

3. The target is not invited to meetings or voted onto committees, is excluded or excludes self.

4. Collective focus on a critical incident that “shows what kind of man he really is.”

5. Shared conviction that the target needs some kind of formal punishment, “to be taught a lesson.”

6. Unusual timing of the decision to punish, e. g., apart from the annual performance review.

7. Emotion-laden, defamatory rhetoric about the target in oral and written communications.

8. Formal expressions of collective negative sentiment toward the target, e. g. a vote of censure, signatures on a petition, meeting to discuss what to do about the target.

9. High value on secrecy, confidentiality, and collegial solidarity among the mobbers.

10. Loss of diversity of argument, so that it becomes dangerous to “speak up for”or defend the target.

11. The adding up of the target’s real or imagined venial sins to make a mortal sin that cries for action.

12. The target is seen as personally abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities; stigmatizing, exclusionary labels are applied.

13. Disregard of established procedures, as mobbers take matters into their own hands.

14. Resistance to independent, outside review of sanctions imposed on the target.

15. Outraged response to any appeals for outside help the target may make.

16. Mobbers’ fear of violence from target, target’s fear of violence from mobbers, or both.


September 05, 2009

University of Ottawa dismisses Professor Denis Rancourt over grading dispute

I was fired by the University of Ottawa on March 31, 2009. I was fired under the false pretext of having arbitrarily assigned high grades in one course in the winter 2008 semester. All relevant documents have been made public at

In order to fire me the university had to dispense with due process. In the words of the professors’ union’s lawyer, my dismissal was “both a denial of substantive and procedural rights […] and a contravention of the basic principles of natural justice.”

Until my firing I was for the whole of my 23 year career, a professor of physics at the University of Ottawa. I was tenured and had occupied the highest academic rank of Full Professor since 1997. I am recognized as an expert in my profession and have taught over 2000 students.

Throughout my tenure, my overriding goal has been to give my students the highest quality of education, affording them the best possible means of learning and understanding a sometimes difficult and daunting subject. To achieve this I have researched pedagogy, conferred with professional physics education researchers, and implemented many new teaching techniques. I have developed several unique and very popular undergraduate and graduate courses, including the Physics and the Environment (Physique et environement) course, the Science in Society course, and a graduate interdisciplinary course in measurement and characterization methods in science. The Science in Society elective course had to be given in the largest auditorium on campus to accommodate the registered and community participants.

The Physics and the Environment required course was considered one of the most motivating courses in the Environmental Studies (ES) program: The executive members of the ES Student Association have referred to me as a “phenomenal teacher” and to the course as “extremely enriching … individualized … empower[ing]” and as “creat[ing] a positive learning environment where inspired students gained confidence and courage” (Letter to the dean of science dated March 15, 2007).

I have paired this teaching profile with a strong research effort, receiving throughout my entire career some of the largest research grants in the Faculty of Science. I have one of the highest scientific impact factors (h-index) in the entire Faculty, with an h-index of 25. To put this in perspective, my present scientific impact factor is more than twice that of the dean of the Faculty of Science, 40% higher than that of the present chairman of the physics department, 80% higher than that of the present chairman of chemistry, and more than twice that of the previous chairman of physics. In 2008, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) reviewed my research and renewed my grant through 2013. Such research success had been expected, because I started my university career under the prestigious NSERC University Research Fellow program, following a national competition among newly sponsored university professors.

In 2001, after I obtained the largest NSERC Strategic Project Grant ever obtained in the Faculty of Science, to study boreal forest lakes for five years, the university put out full-page-width advertisements [click to see in English / French] in the Globe and Mail, The Ottawa Citizen, Le Droit, and Silicon Valley North featuring me and my research group and entitled "Can you recognize Canada's university of the 21st century? Denis Rancourt, LSSE group" (LSSE = Lake Sediment Structure and Evolution). I have supervised more than 80 junior research terms or degrees at all levels from post-doctoral fellow to graduate students to NSERC undergraduate researchers. I have been an invited plenary, keynote, or special session speaker at major conferences nearly 40 times, an exceptional number by Faculty of Science standards. To put this in perspective, many past and present science department chairs and deans have never been a plenary or keynote speaker at an international scientific conference.

No reasonable person, and in fact so far not a single person or organization who has examined the background of my dismissal, lends any credibility to the university's claim that my grading in one course, one year ago, is the real reason for its recent actions. How can a disagreement about grading possibly justify ordering the university police to remove a tenured professor from campus, banning him from campus, assigning his graduate students to other faculty, firing his postdoctoral research fellow, and summarily firing him without due process?

The university’s pretext for firing me is particularly ironic given its Vision 2010 strategic plan, which states that the university will “Support and recognize initiatives designed to implement a range of new and diversified strategies for learning and evaluation.”

The lack of due process in the university’s recent actions is also alarming and is a threat to the principle of tenure. The dean simply asserted that my grading was not part of my teaching method and thereby circumvented a formal evaluation of my teaching without my ever being heard by a committee of my peers, as foreseen by the due process rules in place...

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September 03, 2009

Institutions slap down those who speak up, argues campaigning scholar

Scholars who embrace the role of the "public academic" are not only insufficiently rewarded for their efforts, they are often punished for them, too.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, an American professor who campaigns against human trafficking for the illegal trade in vital organs, has said that the reward system for publicly engaged intellectuals is "a fallacy". Her comments come as UK academics face growing pressure to take on a public role, with plans in the pipeline for research funding to be linked to public engagement.

The proposals mooted for the forthcoming research excellence framework could lead to funding being allocated on the strength of television or newspaper work.

Writing in the journal Anthropology Today, the professor of medical anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, says: "Scholars who want to reach diverse publics - through popular writing, speaking or participating in social activism - are not only under-rewarded by their universities, they are often penalised for 'dumbing down' anthropological thinking, cutting social theory into 'soundbites', 'vulgarising' anthropology, sacrificing academic standards or (in the US) for playing to the anti-intellectual, illiberal American popular classes."

Professor Scheper-Hughes says her engagement with the media and her participation in parliamentary hearings and on United Nations and World Health Organisation panels is counted by her university as "community outreach", "on a par with giving a lecture on the cultural origins of Hallowe'en to local primary school students".

"This academic reward system is based ... on a fallacy," she says.

Professor Scheper-Hughes is one of the founders of Organs Watch, a project that aims to make the global trade in human organs a pressing social issue.

She said her involvement with the organisation had led to her being excluded from meetings, ridiculed, called a liar and branded, among other things, a "medically unsophisticated naif caught up in urban legends of blood-sucking, organ-stealing monsters" and an "organs terrorist". But, she says, her interventions "eventually bore fruit".

She argues that the goal of public anthropology is to make issues public, rather than simply respond to issues publicly. Academics who are politically engaged with their work are "very much like the first generation of working mothers", forced to do "double time", she says.

This includes "keeping up with the expected home-front duties, with the expected rate of scholarly productions of books, articles and graduate students, participating in academic meetings etc, while simultaneously doing human rights work, serving on international panels, giving keynote speeches in places and at events that don't matter a hoot to one's peers".

Despite the difficulties, Professor Scheper-Hughes warns against academics waiting until they are "safely tenured" before jumping into the "public fray".

"If you do, you may find you have lost what I call 'the habit of courage'.

"But protect yourself by keeping up with the expectations of the academic home front. And don't complain about being overworked and underpaid. Just be glad they don't pull you off the stage and haul you off to jail for speaking your mind, and for being what academic administrators sometimes call a 'loose cannon'," she advises...

From: Times Higher Education