Faculty incivility can rear its ugly head at various levels within
higher education institutions. It can surface at any one of the many
administrative levels with administrators being the bullies, or it can
be found within the faculty ranks with faculty members bullying each
other. Interestingly, students can also be victims of uncivil behavior.
Administrators, faculty, and students can play different roles in the
bully culture: perpetrator, victim, or mediator. This article focuses on
faculty incivility with the department chair as mediator, as well as
faculty incivility to students, particularly graduate students. The Chair as Mediator
Although chairs can be involved in bullying as the bully, as the one
bullied, or as the mediator in a departmental bullying situation, this
section will focus on the chair as a mediator between faculty members.
This job responsibility often creates consternation in department
chairs. At the same time they are trying to build camaraderie among
faculty, they are also facilitators who are responsible for carrying out
the institution's mission, liaising between the department faculty and
higher administration, and making merit and promotion and tenure
recommendations. These tasks can often be in conflict with one another.
Because chairs have a major impact on the future of individual faculty
members, they must be able to recognize when a faculty member is being
bullied and intervene to stop the bully while simultaneously respecting
the privacy, professionalism, and integrity of the faculty member
involved. Recognizing a bullying situation means chairs must be aware of
the indications of a bullied faculty member as well as the traits of a
Indicators of a bully include showing disrespect
toward a faculty member and continually promoting him or herself.
Chairs should also be aware of a faculty member who makes a habit of
"secretly" informing them of departmental matters, be they manufactured
or bona fide. That is, the bully will repeatedly initiate and/or
perpetuate rumors. He or she may continually break the confidences of
other faculty members and reveal highly classified committee
proceedings. The chair must recognize this for what it often is: the
bully's attempt to ingratiate him or herself to the chair in order to
continue bullying without reprimands from the chair. It's an
situation. A bully is also difficult to recognize because his or her
behavior is frequently disguised as concern for the department in some
way while it is actually promoting the bully's own personal agenda.
Aside from ignoring the rumors and confidences shared by the bully, the
chair must avoid contributing to the sharing of confidences. This will
essentially "grant permission" to the bully to continue his or her
inappropriate behavior. The chair must learn to recognize such behavior
and not succumb to it. Not supporting the bully ultimately renders him
or her ineffective.
The chair must learn not only to recognize
bullying behavior but to discern the indications of a bullied faculty
member as well. If a faculty member approaches the chair with
assertions of being bullied, the chair must not ignore the individual.
Bullying is frequently very subtle, and bullies are good at disguising
their behavior in public settings. Often, the chair believes that the
bullied faculty member is being paranoid, when, in fact, there is a
genuine problem. If the chair is uncertain, he or she should avoid
immediately dismissing the claim, but rather carefully watch for other
indications that the faculty member is being bullied. The chair must
recognize behavioral changes in the faculty member. Bullied faculty
members frequently isolate themselves. They remain in their offices and
talk with no one during the day. Because they often feel marginalized
(and, in fact, may actually be marginalized) they rarely volunteer for
service opportunities, be they departmental committees or other
activities, and seldom engage in departmental discussions. They rarely
participate in social activities with colleagues, even when sponsored
by the department or institution. The work effort of previously
productive faculty who are bullied may suffer. Research productivity
may noticeably decrease, and once above-average student evaluations of
teaching may suddenly drop. The constant pressure of being bullied
might manifest itself as aggression by the bullied. The aggressive
behavior will be misdirected, and this will be the clue for the chair
that some- thing is amiss. Bullied faculty members are likely to avoid
the office and work at home more than usual. Any one or all of these
changes should be an indication to the chair that something is wrong.
Among many other responsibilities, the chair must address bullying issues in the department. All faculty must be able to trust the chair, believe that their work will speak for
them, and that rewards will be allocated based solely on productive
work, evaluated both for quality and quantity. To prevent or minimize
bullying, chairs must be focused on their department, not on themselves
or on matters outside the department or institution. Chairs must be
very careful not to inadvertently reward bullying behavior. At the
beginning of each academic year the chair should establish a code of
behavior encouraging courtesy and respect and discouraging yelling and
arguing and promulgating rumors. If rumors do circulate, the chair is
responsible for seeking the truth and thwarting the gossip. The bully
must be confronted and reprimanded.
The chair must be
knowledgeable about internal grievance procedures and share workplace
harassment policy with new faculty. The chair's job is to ensure that
faculty work together to understand the institution's policies and
procedures and to develop departmental policies and procedures. This
cannot be done without establishing common ground within the
department. If bullies in the department are only concerned with their
own welfare, the goal of common ground or community will be impossible.
The chair must protect the tenured as well as nontenured faculty. It
is a mistake to believe that bullies go after only nontenured faculty.
Faculty members who have only their self-interests in mind and are not
concerned with the successes or accomplishments of other faculty will
bully anyone they feel is in their way, be the person tenured or not.
Above all, the chair must be cognizant of the signs of bullying and be
willing to address the behavior as a problem. Faculty Incivility and Graduate Students
Faculty incivility does not contain itself just to faculty and
administrative ranks. It often spills over to involve graduate students
and, more often, graduate teaching and research assistants. Faculty
cannot only take advantage of their colleagues but their students as
well. A power relationship that faculty have over students makes it easy
to control them overtly and covertly for several reasons.
Graduate students are reluctant to speak up about faculty who fail to
meet minimal obligations to them in terms of teaching, job supervision,
or directing doctoral research. Power imbalances of faculty over
students coupled with the student's desire to complete the degree
typically silence the acts and the student. Furthermore, because
students are in this precarious position, they avoid complaining or
confronting and instead retreat as a coping strategy and means of
survival. Meanwhile, the student's inaction can be seen as an invitation
for perhaps another encounter.
A culture of silence explains
why other faculty, administrators, and student peers tend to be unaware
of or oblivious to these problems. Some are unable or unwilling to
intervene on be- half of a student based on the perception that no one
would know how to remedy the situation. Considered unprofessional,
faculty would be unlikely to criticize colleagues' judgment regarding
the oversight of graduate students or their dissertation research. It
is possible that the administration knows of certain faculty who poorly
supervise and advise their graduate students, and yet they do nothing.
What is worse, they tend to cover it up, find plausible excuses for
it, and disregard further complaining by disgruntled students. Thus,
anything untoward that faculty supervisors and advisors do becomes
acceptable by default, supports an insular, protective stratum, and
perpetuates the culture of silence.
Few departments and chairs,
however, prepare themselves to sanction faculty over this potential
form of control or manipulation. If a star professor has already been
placed on such a pedestal (or placed him or herself there),the
professor may choose to further self-aggrandize to the detriment of the
student. Should the student choose to complain, the department would
be unlikely to reprimand the professor and more likely to cast
dispersions on the student. The faculty member remains above reproach
and, furthermore, regards his or her behavior as appropriate.
To overcome this culture of silence, students may benefit from an open
forum conducted periodically by a neutral party, such as an ombudsman or
human resources manager, especially if the department is unwilling to
intervene. Students would be permitted to express problems in oral or
written form, whichever is more comfortable, and know that their
concerns are being heard.
Graduate students evaluate faculty
teaching in the aggregate, but typically students seldom rate faculty
supervision of their assistantship or dissertation research. This
supports the realization that graduate students are not recognized as
part of a community of learners or a community of scholars.
Furthermore, at no time is feedback from this supervisory aspect of
academic life factored into faculty promotion, tenure, or post-tenure
review. Without a feedback loop, some students will encounter or be
assigned to faculty members who exploit their student labor and/or fail
to socialize and usher them effectively into the profession. Because
some students expect faculty to initiate contact and professors rarely
do, students perceive faculty as unsupportive, intimidating, and/or
uncaring. An opportunity for the department chair to inquire into the
one-on-one relationship between student and faculty member, either
separately or as a dyad during a performance appraisal, is essential.
Maintaining the sanctity of a strong advisor/mentor/ supervisor
relationship between faculty and student should be a top priority.
Educating faculty formally in the supervision of students and academic
work and research should be considered a professional development
necessity. Discussing the expectations of the faculty/student
relationship could begin the graduate student socialization process.
Consider a stated contract of ground rules and expectations between
student and supervisor, student and dissertation chair, student and
advisor, and so on, explaining the duties and responsibilities of each
party to the other, the time to be allotted, and the outcomes to be
realized, instead of relying on unstated implications. This approach
would be helpful to both parties and should be initiated by the
department chair. Colleagues seldom choose to police boundaries with
another colleague and often decline to condemn, sanction, or remedy the
situation; a contract stating expectations may avert that uncomfortable
Without a clear policy statement that reaches beyond a
stated or implied ethical code of conduct, little can be done to break
the silence. Policy discussions may begin with initial research
obtained from student exit interviews, alumni interviews, and separate
focus groups of current students and faculty and proceed to subsequent
drafts from a policy formulation committee that is comprised of faculty
and students. Without recognizing that problems exist, there will be
no first step toward averting them. This undertaking may be perceived
as an arduous task by the chair, but it is one that is worth the
Although we have discussed two
different levels of incivility in this article, the indicators of
victimization and the solutions for the prevention of bullying are the
same regardless of who is being bullied and who is doing the bullying.
Victims of bullying, be they faculty members or graduate students,
generally retreat into their own world. They become silent, fearful of
repercussions or being seen as a whiner or troublemaker. Providing an
environment in which the victim feels comfortable to share what is
happening is the first step toward minimizing bullying behavior.
Another major step is to establish formal policies against bullying,
including the actions to be taken to eliminate the behavior. The policy
must also include a process by which the bullied can seek help without
fear of retribution by the bully. Finally, the policies and processes
contained therein must be made available to everyone, even discussed
with new faculty and graduate students, so they feel comfortable in the
environment and confident that someone will intervene if incivility
occurs. The department chair plays a pivotal role in facilitating this