February 24, 2010

The science of bullying

It was only a matter of time before accusations of bullying would surface from Number 10 Downing Street, targeting even the Prime Minister. Buckingham Palace may be next. Over the past two decades, articles about bullying in The Times have leapt from about 200 to about 1300 per year. The increase is similar in other British and American newspapers.

Bullying is an ancient word, but today's anti-bullying movement is just a few decades old. The schoolyard was its initial focus. Policies designed to make children play nice are now widespread. Workplace bullying is the more recent concern. Has anybody not seen "The Devil Wears Prada"? A "Respectful Workplace Policy" is all the rage these days in universities, hospitals, and the public service.

What does the current preoccupation with bullying have to do with science? Not much. Like harassment, psychological violence, intimidation, and abuse, bullying is an epithet of office politics. What it means is mainly in the eye of the accuser. Calling someone a bully is often a way of speaking power to truth. If the label can be made to stick, the accuser's stock rises and that of the accused plunges in the economy of workplace rewards.

Yet evidence abounds of degradation in schools and workplaces so real, extreme and indefensible as to offend even a cynic's sense of right and wrong. Humiliation at work can and does lead to suicide, depression, heart attack, stroke, family breakdown, and many lesser ills. Targets may even lash back, go postal, shoot the place up, but this is very rare.

Next June in Cardiff, hundreds of social scientists will gather for the Seventh International Conference on Workplace Bullying and Harassment. To judge by the earlier conferences, many attendees will bring mainly the good intentions with which the road to hell is paved. Many others will report on disciplined efforts to make scientific sense of why people at work sometimes act cruelly toward superiors, subordinates, or peers.

I am among the specialists on nastiness in the academic workplace, an area of study for which one needs a wide-angle lens. Bullying flourishes in universities, as the UK blogspot, bulliedacademics, routinely documents. Criteria for distinguishing good work from bad are ambiguous. Most professors are personally invested in their work. On account of tenure and union protections, few targets of collegial hostility can be quickly fired; they must instead be slowly tortured out of their jobs. Despite nominal adherence to rules of reason and evidence, academics feel the same elemental preference as other mortals for people of their own kind - in ethnicity, race, language, social class, sex, age, and sexual orientation.

I am also among those researchers who avoid the word bullying, finding it too vague and imprecise for scientific purposes. Following the Swedish psychologist, Heinz Leymann, I study "workplace mobbing," the ganging up of managers and/or coworkers against a target, toward the end of shunning, ridiculing, punishing, and eventually eliminating him or her. This dire form of collective aggression, found in nature as well as the human realm, is clearly identifiable, and a reasonably coherent body of knowledge about it has by now been amassed.

Despite our many stumbles, disputes, false starts, and dead ends, the researchers who meet in Cardiff will keep soldiering on toward an empirically sound science of workplace conflict. To the extent we build that little science, we can then apply it effectively for keeping the larger scientific enterprise from being undermined by meanness and chicanery.

We are not at that point yet. Without conclusive evidence one way or another, scholars and activists will continue to argue about how the incidence of mobbing and bullying can be reduced. Some will press for "healthy workplace laws". Others will promote grass-roots interpersonal techniques.

Meanwhile, in workplaces as different as No. 10 and your local university, the name-calling and recriminations will go on.

Kenneth Westhues is a professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

From: http://timesonline.typepad.com

February 21, 2010

University of Sheffield does it again!

An academic has risked the wrath of her university by submitting results to a forthcoming conference without permission. The University of Sheffield has claimed that the submission has been made in breach of a contract it has with a pharmaceutical company, which funds work in the scholar's field.

Guirong Jiang, a research radiologist who has worked at Sheffield for 13 years, is due to face a disciplinary hearing over her actions this week.

Her findings - submitted to a symposium of the European Calcified Tissue Society (ECTS), to be held in Glasgow in June - add to the debate over what some have claimed is a distortion in the field of osteoporosis caused by the over-diagnosis of vertebral fractures. This is the main way in which the condition is diagnosed.

Sheffield has censured her for making the submission without the consent of her supervisor, Richard Eastell, head of Sheffield's Academic Unit of Bone Metabolism.

It said her actions breached the terms of a 2007 contract the unit has with pharmaceutical manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis to conduct studies relating to the osteoporosis treatment risedronate, which is sold as the drug Actonel.

It also said Dr Jiang failed to follow "reasonable requests" to withdraw the submission.

Dr Jiang said she believed her results should be published as they had not been reflected in the unit's previous output.

She added that last December she was informed that her contract would not be renewed when it came to an end this March, which she said had prompted her to throw caution to the wind and publish without permission.

She has queried whether her work is bound by Sheffield's Sanofi-Aventis contract, which stipulates that the company must be allowed to review manuscripts and abstracts prior to publication.

She pointed out that the work was carried out in 2002 when the unit's risedronate work was funded by Procter & Gamble in partnership with Aventis. Dr Jiang added that she had not seen or signed the full Sanofi-Aventis contract.

Last week, she received an email from her head of department, Peter Croucher, in which he says he has "reflected on the submission of the abstract to the ECTS, and on balance am happy for this to proceed", although he adds that he needs to inform the sponsor.

However, he says that he "still has considerable concerns over (Dr Jiang's) conduct in this matter, and will consider the most appropriate way forward".

The disciplinary hearing, scheduled to take place on 18 February, will consider the allegation that Dr Jiang "acted inappropriately in making a direct submission of an abstract to a journal outside unit protocol and in contravention of the terms of the research contract".

It will also consider the charge that she "failed to follow a request by her head of unit and head of department to rectify her actions", which "aggravated a situation which otherwise could have been quickly resolved".

From: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk

February 20, 2010

It is endemic...

I posted here about a year ago to say that I had been bullied in two workplaces, but had now moved on to a new workplace where my manager was supportive and I was treated with respect. I was. For about six months. Then there was a change in the upper management. My team were deemed to be trouble-makers, our academic credibility has been publicly challenged, we have been marginalised, stigmatised, the pot of innuendo has been stirred about us and we have been told we cost too much. This isn't pure bullying. It is about the use of bullying tactics by a bad and insecure manager who is scared of people who might challenge him (i.e. the fine line between neoliberal managerialism and bullying). But it has the same effect - fear, unhappiness, decreased performance, etc. Bullying is now part of the culture of universities. It isn't isolated to occasional instances - It is endemic.

One more reason to sign the petition at: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Justice-Bullying/

February 19, 2010

Blog Confidential: The bully has landed

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: The bully has landed

We have a new academic team leader. He is head of the social sciences department, but his credentials are dubious: he comes from the private sector and has limited knowledge of the academy. A number of staff members expressed concerns about his appointment, but I stayed well out of it. However, he recently acted in a manner that is tantamount to bullying.

I am 55 and decided to go part-time and access my pension. I had spoken to the previous head of department about this and she agreed to the move in principle. But then she left, so I needed to confirm the details with the new team leader.

I repeatedly attempted to see him to sort out my schedule, but was left frustrated by the lack of response. Finally, I received a belated reply: "Dear William, you will need to cover all your existing work within the reduced hours. As you know, these are difficult times. I trust this won't be a problem."

I feel a fool for not settling this before, but the team leader was on leave for two weeks over the Christmas period.

I contacted the union and it suggested I clarify matters with the dean. The dean said I needed to settle things with my line manager, so I went to see him last week.

He invited me in and immediately accused me of being a "moaner" and a bad influence on the department. He said I needed to "refocus", roll up my sleeves and get some work done. He added there was no place in his team for those who wanted an "easy time".

I told him I was shocked and astonished by his response and would be making a complaint about it. As I attempted to leave he blocked the door, saying: "You need to take care, or you will get into a lot of trouble."

I explained I had some teaching to do and requested he move out of the way. He begrudgingly did so. I left his office dazed and confused. I think he may be unstable.

I have received little support from the rest of my team in the aftermath of the incident. They are looking out for themselves in this harsh new departmental order: everyone is rushed off their feet and burnt out. The team leader is full of bravado and has the backing of the dean.

I recall reading The Bullied Blogger and realise that when you confront managers in the workplace, you can lose out. What should I do?

Your team leader's threatening behaviour is symptomatic of someone who is not coping in his new post. Hopefully, the bosses will realise that his management style is archaic and has no place in the modern university.

I would imagine he has treated others in your department equally badly, although he may be setting you up as an example so others won't challenge him.

Here's my advice:

  • Do not attend meetings with him alone; take a colleague along to back you up;
  • Consider an approach to HR;
  • Get the union involved.
From: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk

February 18, 2010

Stress levels exceed safety parameters

Scholars are experiencing levels of stress at work that exceed standards laid down by the Heath and Safety Executive, a study reveals.

The research, published in the current issue of Higher Education Quarterly, is based on a survey of nearly 10,000 people working in academic or academic-related jobs in the UK. They were questioned about seven job-related "psychosocial hazards", with the results "benchmarked" for the first time against HSE guidelines.

The results reveal that "the majority of health and safety standards for managing work-related stress are not being met" by the sector.

The demands of academic careers, including growing workloads, are pushing stress up beyond recommended levels, the study says.

Scholars are also experiencing higher than recommended stress levels over the way "change" is managed and communicated, with universities failing to properly consult employees and inform them about how new regimes will work.

The survey also identified a "considerable shortfall" in support from managers and peers.

"The perceived quality of interpersonal relationships at work failed to meet minimum standards," notes the study, "Psychosocial hazards in UK universities: Adopting a risk assessment approach".

There was one area in which universities performed well: the academics questioned felt they had control over their work.

"Wellbeing in the higher education sector in relation to job autonomy is higher than average," the study says, adding that the proportion of academics who say they can work flexible hours and decide when to take a break is high.

The research was conducted by Gail Kinman, professor of occupational health psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, in conjunction with the University and College Union.

Professor Kinman said that while higher education was not the only sector with high stress levels, it should be doing better. She pointed out that the survey was conducted 18 months ago, "at a time of relative calm".

"What would happen if it was redone today, with all the job insecurity in the sector?" she asked.

From: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk

February 15, 2010

Killed by a culture of institutional zealotry - Part 2

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post:

It is a sad day when someone can forge your signature 11 times and you end up the aggresor. I would suggest that before you post on a blog you read the relevant reports, engage your brain, and ask the correct questions. Sadly you have done none of the above and are barking up the wrong tree.

Reply: The point is not whether the victim did or did not forge the signatures. We accept that this happened. The point is how the matter was handled - obviously wrongly for it did cost his life! When the finger points to the moon, the idiot looks at the finger - Chinese proverb. Do 11 forged signatures cost one life? Do you not have any remorse for your actions Mrs Starkie? It is called 'emotional intelligence' my dear, or rather the lack of it... Now let us talk about brain transplants...

Pierre Joseph Proudhon

Please Sign The Petition

Take action against workplace bullying. Management will not solve this problem. They are the problem. Politicians and lawmakers have to take action.

We are collecting signatures for a petition against workplace bullying in higher education. If you are a UK citizen /resident please sign this petition:



February 11, 2010

Killed by a culture of institutional zealotry...

[Not related to academia, but can happen to anyone of us]

Sometimes it’s the stories about the little people that, more accurately than any number of polls or policy research papers, illustrate exactly the kind of society we live in.

So let me tell you the desperately sad tale of a man named Brian Gilfillan, a 36-year-old medical records supervisor. Mr Gilfillan, a quiet, blameless soul, who lived with his parents, worked all his adult life in the records department of NHS Fife.

He cared about his job and the smooth running of the department, to the extent that he regularly worked extra hours and took work home to correct errors made by others. In other words, he was one of the sons of Martha — those who toil as anonymous, dedicated backstops for the rest of us.

One of his jobs was to ensure that there was sufficient stationery, even when his line manager, Anne Starkie, was absent. One day, however, Mrs Starkie discovered that, while she was away, he had signed her name on an order for maternity forms.

Time, surely, for a mild rebuke, an apology and an end to the matter. But oh, no, not Mrs Starkie. It was time for a witch-hunt. She decided that his actions were fraudulent, although there was no question of personal gain. The hearings continued, and her own line manager decreed that, since it had taken “a lot of probing” to get Mr Gilfillan to accept fraud, his actions amounted to serious misconduct.

Perhaps, with a sinking heart, you can guess the rest. The wheels of the NHS disciplinary juggernaut began to turn. The hearings — during which Mrs Starkie was, variously, a complainer, a judge and a prosecutor within a short space of time — increased. Six months later Mr Gilfillan received a letter that, for the first time, raised the possibility that he could be dismissed and asked him to attend another hearing.

The day before the hearing, he gave his parents money for his digs and left for work. He never arrived. The next day, October 28, 2008, his body was found hanging from a tree in the hospital grounds in Kirkcaldy. Killed, one is entitled to conclude, at least in part, by a culture of institutional zealotry within an organisation colonised by some insensitive people.

At the inquiry into his death, NHS Fife was accused by the Crown of acting “shoddily” — which I suspect may yet prove the understatement of the year. If the matter had been dealt with rationally and proportionately, the Crown said, none of this would have happened.

Under questioning, the NHS jobsworths conceded that if Mr Gilfillan had signed his own name, or placed the letters “pp” before his lamentable line manager’s name, he would not have broken any rules. They also conceded that there was no written protocol for ordering stationery when Mrs Starkie was absent, nor had they taken legal advice on whether Mr Gilfillan’s actions constituted fraud.

In a judgment this week, after the inquiry, the presiding sheriff spoke caustically of procedural failings, fundamental errors by managers and lack of training. Mr Gilfillan’s actions, the sheriff said, were neither serious misconduct nor fraudulent, and a first warning should have sufficed.

So what does this story tell us? A depressing amount, for a start, about the NHS where bullying is prevalent — according to figures in the Health Service Journal, the problem costs the organisation more than £325 million a year — but rarely exposed like this. Many of us will know people employed in some capacity by the NHS who have been fingered by Stalin.

If Britain is broken — and I’m not altogether sure that it is, not in the way that the Conservatives would have it — then part of the fracture is because we have created a world so full of systems and structures that these things have taken on a life far more important than the people who inhabit them. We have become locked into doing process and utterly rubbish at doing humanity.

Even more worrying is that rules disempower people to the point where the human race becomes genetically weakened. The ambition is no longer to get the job done; it is to make sure that the ten commandments of management are not defiled. Stupid people can do this, so stupid people are hired.

Such attitudes are toxic to any kind of entrepreneurialism, and probably the reason why few good brains go into the public sector and too few young people, raised in such a culture, start their own businesses. In the private sector, where journalists are among millions who spend their lives “forging” line managers’ signatures to obtain stationery or short-circuit trivial red tape, we would not last ten minutes if we did everything by the rules.

But we must watch out. Mr Gilfillan’s fate should serve as warning that initiative is now officially rated as a dangerous vice.

From: http://www.timesonline.co.uk

And: http://news.stv.tv/scotland/east-central/156719-dad-vows-to-clear-name-of-suicide-worker/

February 06, 2010

How to get rid of good professors

The following description is a condensation of informal discussions with other professors over the years, and is not in any way a report of the findings of systematic research. Nevertheless, it is a formalized description of a method that some ( and likely many) have experienced. It is presented as information that may provide support to those professors who have been attacked by their peers. By understanding both the nature of the methods used by their attackers, and the biological consequences they themselves are experiencing, faculty members, especially new faculty, can make better decisions as to how to respond to such attacks. What follows is a description of the basic method of attack, written from the perspective of the attackers. This manner of presentation is selected because it more effectively serves as an early warning device for those being attacked or who are candidates for such attacks.

Why do some want to drive away good professors?

It may seem a mistake to target these professors, because they are the ones who are the most effective at producing student learning. But if the faculty members in a given department are not motivated to teach well, and are not interested in the mastery of academic subject matter, they will find that good professors disrupt the harmony of the faculty by raising performance expectations. Moreover, students will come to expect more of all their teachers. If merit pay is involved, they know who should receive it. However, with the right counter-measures, it is possible to keep good teachers from receiving merit pay, or any other recognitions or benefits.

There is the old aphorism that when all is said and done, everyone, in schools at every level, knows the names of the good and poor teachers. This social fact is further highlighted when a teacher is given some award or is publically honored. Some conclude that such institutional facts require that good teachers be removed from the faculty. To accomplish this, it is necessary to form a power group—or to activate it, if one already exists.

Who are the candidates for membership in the power group?

1. Some have spent time and money studying to become professors, but when they begin to teach, they find that they do not like teaching. They do, however, like the money and the small amount of time and effort that seems to be required of them. Besides that, there are summer vacations and sabbaticals. Some are intellectually and physically lazy, but they desire a job that gives them social status.

2. Some faculty members actually try to teach well, but discover that the students do not like them, give them poor evaluations, and avoid them as much as possible. Of course, the students’ poor attitudes are to blame for these low evaluations. Such faculty members are excellent candidates because they have an intrinsic dislike of the good teachers; moreover, they require the protection of the power group for their own survival.

3. The point of being a professor is to teach well and publish, but some seek other means of holding on to their positions. Look for the professors who have no books in their office. They are not drawn to academic journals and books, because their interests lie elsewhere. In addition, reading takes away from their leisure time, or from their time schmoozing with others as a survival technique.

4. Some people are in teaching positions for which they are poorly prepared. These are excellent candidates. For example, in some schools of education, there are faculty members who had never taught before they began to teach teachers how to teach. Imagine how experienced teachers relate to them in graduate courses.

5. Any teachers who are reluctant to join the power group are told they are uncooperative and not team players; this is to be pointed out as often as possible. When they see that they may be targeted, they will seek protection.

6. It is probable that the relevant chairperson or dean will not interfere with the activities of the power group. Management researchers report that in many cases managers feel vulnerable and anxious that some initially small event could turn into a disaster that damages or ends their careers. Administrators who see their positions as solely a matter of local politics, as opposed to those who strongly identify with an academic field, will be reluctant to intervene with the activities of the power group.

What is the best method of driving away good teachers?

Step One: Target Selection
Identify professors who are enthusiastic about teaching, have received teaching awards or other kinds of public recognition, those who publish in major academic journals or present papers at respected academic meetings, are widely recognized as good teachers by other faculty and administrators, or are popular with students. Note that those professors who identify with an academic field are not easily influenced by the power group, because they judge themselves in comparisons with national and international peers. It is possible to use this identification against them.

Step Two: Dirt Alert
Be warm and accepting toward targeted colleagues. When they seem to be comfortable with the attackers (or better still, trust them), become more invasive. In discussions, press them as to how they feel about anything, but especially matters relating to teaching and school politics. Show up uninvited at their homes or apartments as this will often provide information about them that they would not mention in a university context. Be especially aware of possible boilerplate criticisms--sexism, racism, elitism, and incorrect ideology.

Step Three: Initiate Whisper Campaign
Report to other faculty members anything the targeted professor has said about them that can be interpreted as negative or critical. Point out how the target thinks differently about policies than do the other faculty members. The goal is to isolate the target from other faculty by creating feelings of distrust in the target’s peers. This prevents the target from correcting the misperceptions that the whisper campaign is creating. Mention how the targeted teachers only care about publishing and not relationships with their colleagues.

Step Four: Bullying
In public contexts, directly and vehemently challenge anything the target has said or done. It is important that others see that it is not a good idea to come to the target’s defense, as that would serve to make them a target themselves. If everything the target says is challenged, the target will eventually become non-responsive and withdraw from discussions. Especially important is the fact that they do not defend themselves.

Step Five: Blame the Victim
In occasions when bullying is not possible because there is no one else around, take on an “I’m being helpful” demeanor, and inform the target that it is their fault that the other faculty members are shunning them—even if they are not. The goal is to have the target believe that everything would be going smoothly if they would just not be such a know-it-all, or have such a superior attitude.

Step Six: Watch for Renegotiation
When humans and other animals realize they are in danger, they have three options: fight back against their attackers, take flight and escape their attackers, or freeze and endure the attack. For those animals that freeze, nature protects them from pain by putting them into a catatonic state so that in the event that they are seriously injured or killed, they do not feel the pain. This is sometimes referred to as nature’s anesthesia. Because they possess reflective intelligence, humans suffer a different consequence of serious attacks.

The energy required to fight or take flight is generated by the adrenalin produced by the realization of the attack. If the only option is to freeze, the energy generated must be absorbed by the body itself. In place of the catatonic state, humans have panic attacks. The mind is sending a message, to the effect, “wake up and do something—you are in danger!” But, being frozen, there is nothing that can be done beyond endurance.

Some researchers report that people who experience panic attacks feel that their own body “has let them down” at the very time when they need to be strong and stable. This serves to make the targeted teacher feel even less confident. When experiencing severe panic attacks, some may try to fight back in various feeble ways; this can be used to make them seem more uncooperative, and will further isolate them.

Researchers, such as Peter A. Levine, point out that people who are attacked try to renegotiate their relationships with their attackers. Since they believe that either they have been misunderstood, or that it is their fault that they are being attacked, they hope they can take action to improve their relationships with their colleagues. This effort can be used against them, because in this endeavor, they will invariably make themselves vulnerable by admitting that they regret something, or have done something or the other wrong. These feelings and admissions can be exploited in future attacks, thereby increasing their anxiety to the point that they will resign.

Russian proverb: The tallest blade is first cut by the scythe.
Chinese proverb: The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.
American proverb: Good teaching never goes unpunished.

Peter A, Levine’s Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma (North Atlantic Books, 1997), may be helpful to those who have experienced such attacks.

The concept of academic freedom suggests that professors have the right to freedom of inquiry, which is a negative right in that others have the obligation not to interfere with that right or freedom. For a recent discussion of rights, see John Searle’s, Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization (Oxford University Press, 2010). Following Searle’s analysis of social institutions, we have to ask: Who has the obligation to protect this right?

Note that the existence of power groups indicates the presence of ineffective or incompetent academic administration.

Jerome Popp, Professor Emeritus
Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville

February 01, 2010

Sign the petition - Spread the word

Sign the petition:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to instigate an open enquiry into allegations of workplace bullying / harassment in institutions of higher education and concerns about the way the judicial system has dealt with complaints about such bullying and with those who protest (publicly or otherwise) about wrongdoing by their employers; the enquiry to be conducted with a view to addressing issues of concern that it may uncover.

Workplace bullying is a widespread problem wrecking health and careers and costing billions to the taxpayer. This problem is particularly serious in higher education. A recent survey by the Universities Colleges Union showed that as few as 45.1% of the participants were fortunate enough to never experience bullying.

Existing legislation addresses some aspects of workplace bullying, but does not deal with this problem comprehensively. There is also a perception that the judicial system does not always enforce the existing legislation fairly. Dissatisfaction with the way bullying is dealt with has led some to go public.

In response to the handling of a recent case by the courts, many academics and others expressed their indignation about the bullying that prevails in institutions of higher education, as well as the failure of the judicial system to deal with these problems satisfactorily. Similar concerns have been voiced before.

In addition to the obvious non-pecuniary benefits, addressing the problem of workplace bullying will bring about substantial pecuniary benefits in the form of improvements in the economy and cost savings to the taxpayer.

Sign the petition: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Justice-Bullying