January 29, 2015

University of Ulster Victims Association

We are a group of current and former staff members or students of the University of Ulster who have been treated in the most unacceptable manner by the UU management. We come from different areas and levels of the university, and while our cases are separate from each other, we all have been targeted and systematically victimised by UU in very similar ways.

Methods employed by the management include lack of documentation (e.g. no minutes are kept at meetings), violating its own charter and Statutes and regulations (eg. probation guidelines, deadlines for appeal hearings or grievances), violating the Data Protection Act (not responding to FOI requests, responding past the 40 day deadline, or withholding vital information), using UKBA guidelinse and visa rules to harass or get rid of staff, searching email and expense accounts, inventing evidence that is used against staff members in disciplinary hearings, deleting records, threats and character assassination.

If you have had similar experiences at UU, please contact us at: UUVictims.association@gmail.com

Our aims and demands:

1. the cases of victimisation by UU presented here need to be investigated by an external, independent organisation;

2. the people responsible for violation of the law or the rules and regulations of UU need to be brought to justice;

3. staff members and students that have suffered detriment because of this unlawful treatment need to be compensated for their losses.

More info: https://www.facebook.com/pages/University-of-Ulster-Victims-Association/1614149405477420

January 21, 2015

Bullying, hollow men, complicity, and hope

When I reflect on this issue of bullying one thought returns time and time again. How is it that a person can take the time and dedication to drum another person out of their job, by (frequently) finding points of vulnerability, lying and destroying their reputation, invoking procedures against them, and all the other array of small mechanisms of power with which we are all now familiar with in academia and indeed society. The process whereby one individual is bullied by another has of course been written about by the wonderful (and deceased) Tim Field and others. This blog site also looks at changing institutional contexts. Yet sometime I wonder whether the constant focus on victimisation is depressing and locates one in a downward narrative of loss - loss of jobs, loss of security, loss of mental health, even, as this blog points out, loss of life. Further, I have also been forced to consider whether the focus on the term ‘bullying’ compounds this narrative?

What are we really looking at when we use the term bullying? One fruitful way of thinking about it is recent literature on psychopathy. Critics often like to criticise Robert Hare (author of Without Conscience and Snakes in Suits) for pathologising so-called psychopathic behaviours, yet he performed an exceptionally useful task of highlighting an archetype and pointing out their capacity for destruction. Psychopaths aren’t the American Psycho; rather they are that person who, in sometimes a very low key way, plots, lies and cuts a swathe through peoples lives and emotional security without being burdened by a conscience about it. They do it because they can, because you get in their way, because you threaten them in some way. They are the person that makes the hairs rise up on the back of your neck, who you unconsciously perhaps try to avoid because you get a creepy feeling whenever you see them. Again, Tim Field has been great at highlighting the spectre of the workplace psychopathic bully.

Yet does it explain how so many seem to be involved, as currently seems to be the case in academia? Is it that somehow universities are ideal stalking grounds for psychopaths currently? Possibly, given that they are drawn to places of turmoil, over-bureaucracy and punitivity, as Hare points out. However not every bully is the archetypal psychopathic bully. Most of them seem quite normal in all other respects. Many people are a bit messed up, of course, but that’s not the same as being a psychopath. Another way of looking at this is how do people as a group get drawn into bullying behaviours, despite otherwise being pleasant and reasonable? Janice Harper’s brilliant account of mobbing, understood through a close examination of genocidal behaviours, reveals a process whereby people who are on the margins of bullying behaviour (for example, being in a department where bullying takes place) are encouraged by the bully to betray themselves and thereby begin a process in which their conscience is compromised. I think this goes some way to explain how others are drawn into the psychodynamic of bullying, how it becomes ingrained. Moreover, how it can be so brutal. She points out that in genocides, the main function of the mass killing is to stop people who you have expropriated ever showing their face again.

I was recently drawn to read more about the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, famously reported in 1961 by Hannah Arendt though articles in the New York Times and her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt makes the point that Eichmann was nothing, he was a bureaucrat. He was unable to think about what he was doing intentionally, and a person who doesn’t think is unable to act with conscience. Martha Gellhorn, writing for the Atlantic Monthly in 1962, uses the phrase ‘hollow man’ to describe Eichmann. These descriptions of the person without conscience as nothing, as hollow, are powerful because they point out the dangers of not inhabiting your self, instead handing over all responsibility to another. Eichmann’s depictions himself as ‘simply following orders’ inspired a generation of social theorists, too countless to name here, to investigate this ‘organisational man’ potentially at the heart of us all, unless we force ourselves, as Arendt says, to think and therefore be human. It is also powerful because applied as an understanding of power and how it operates in the university, it is possible to say that your average bully is indeed a ‘hollow man’ (or woman). There is simply nothing there. However it also implies an imperative for all to speak out; the alternative being that we all become unable to think, to be ‘hollow’.

There has been some good writing recently on the marketisation and commercialisation of high education, McGettigan’s book (The Great University Gamble) being one of them. Yet sometimes, good economic analyses can unwittingly become part of the ‘done to us’ narrative rather than serve as a basis for resistance. Sometimes a simpler message suffices and one that spoke to me recently (and to many others apparently, as it went viral) was ‘On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs’ by LSE Professor David Graeber (http://strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/). Applied to academia, the message is simply this: they (and by they I mean the senior managers, politicians, middle management, and their ilk) hate you because you think, produce, teach, that your job isn’t about pushing paper, sending emails, or creating fake and pointless structural changes. Academics downplay what they do, but they can be hugely influential. Just look at Howard Becker, Erving Goffman and others, who engaged with or worked alongside the 1960s counterculture and played their part in changing how we think.

So is it in fact not true to say that management and politicians are engaging in a very long war of attrition against academics and the concept of the university itself. Further, if it is a war, then one has to study the mechanics of the war. One of those mechanisms of war is bullying, which serves several functions: it gets rid of particular individuals who somehow more resistant or speak out, it spreads fear amongst the others who see the individual crumbling under the weight of personal and reputational attack, and finally it encourages people to morally compromise themselves by turning on the target. Looked at from this perspective, the victim and perpetrator are engaged in a battle. So what weapons does the ‘victim’ have, when they are confined in the enemy camp?

So where does the issue of the failure of the moral imperative, of will, and as Arendt says, a failure to think, lie in this war? In response to the obliteration of academic freedom through the RAE/REF, because that is what it is, we academics (and I’ve done this myself, so I’m not casting stones) duly comply and fret about out citation count. Isn’t it ironic that, despite the fact that academics are assessed by citation count, we don’t allow readers to vote with their feet; rather we are subject to the phenomenon of the anonymous review, the gatekeeper of intellectual production?

Do any of us ever complain about the overproduction of research and ideas in academia, particularly in journals, time that could be better spend educating, writing thoughtful and groundbreaking books developed through a decade of scholarship, making creative use of social media, forming alliances between society’s growing but marginalised intellectual class? Privately, perhaps, but it has no consequence, because failure to produce is internalised as a private failure and shame.

Do we ever complain, really complain, about the treatment of students as cash cows who are then disposed of in a criminally negligent way by universities who do not teach them properly, thus destroying the whole principle of a degree; no, we shrug, often turn our ire on the students, and bury our heads in research that no-one will ever read. I will say it again, was there ever a more pointless way to expend one’s creative and emotional energy than writing a journal article?

We don’t complain or speak out, because we are complicit in it. All these issues, and more besides, are the source of the power the mindless bureaucracy has over thinking people, the weapons they attack us with.

The point of this is of course not to castigate academics, nor to add to that already ingrained and institutionally imposed private shame. As this site shows people want to speak up, yet they feel they have to do so anonymously. Isn’t it ironic that the traditional ‘guardians of enlightenment’ cannot speak up openly about what is happening lest they be forced out of their jobs? Further, as Doris Lessing says in her essay ‘Prisons we Choose to Live Inside’, it’s hard to see the prison bars when you are locked within its reality. When you become an academic, you are compelled on a path reinforced by continual stress, in which you never have the time or mental space to ask, is this what I wanted, or this this right?

No, the purpose of saying all of this is a call to arms (metaphorically, of course…); it is time to shrug off reputational shame or the (rapidly diminishing) status drug, call the institution, in the words of RD Laing, mad and point out that it wants to make us mad, stop following the lead of those hollow men and women, and start saying no. It’s tempting to quote Marx here and say that there is nothing to lose but your chains, but that’s not exactly true. The point is, it’s worthwhile consciously calculating the various losses – financial, yes, but also emotional and intellectual - of sticking around to be tortured, but it’s also useful to calculate the gains of leaving in those terms. The point is, if you truly care about the importance of ideas to the self and to society, then there are many people outside of academia are trying to find ways of writing and conveying ideas with integrity. There is hope. Maybe it’s time to join them.


January 08, 2015

There will be no resignations at Imperial...

There will be no resignations at Imperial over the passing of Prof Grimm and his managers are so tied into the system that they will not, I can assure you, even at this moment, be feeling any personal guilt.

These creatures are so committed to the processes which they managed, and so utterly lacking in any personal principles or self-respect they simply regard us, sniping from the outside, as the deviants.

I refer to two recent high profile suicides at Ulster- Prof Stephen Livingstone, a brilliant lawyer at QUB who was bullied over grant income- and Prof Jim Bell, a superb business teacher at UU- tortured by management during a long sick-leave with clinical depression.

In Jim's case, Jim had shared an office with President Dicky when they were both junior staff... which shows how little Dicky cares even about his own buddies. No-one officially from the university even attended Jim's funeral and his wife was further annoyed by UU a week later to clear out Jim's office...

This managerial cadre does not have a heart... more staff suicides will come...

Academics are a high risk group as there are so many good people in the academic community who take it too seriously.


January 06, 2015

Imperial College London: Why has no one resigned? Possibly because we are all culpable?

There has been a lot of coverage of the suicide of Professor Stefan Grimm of Imperial College London and the pressure he was under to fulfill the expectations of being a professor. These expectations were NOT about publishing, teaching, mentoring, invention, creativity or new intellectual frontiers. Instead they were about raising money for the University. In fact, they seemed to have very little to do with what a traditional understanding of a professorial role might involve.

Although there is quite a lot of published correspondence on this case (from and to Professor Grimm, and about him), it is unlikely that we will ever know the full story. Corridor conversations and backroom chats leave a scant evidential trail.

If a member of staff commits suicide because of pressure of work one would expect that workplace to ask serious questions about its practices and culture. One might even, from the point of view of human decency, expect a few resignations. After all, a human life has been finished and the suicide victim makes a direct link between his impending suicide and pressure from work. But, to the best of my knowledge, no one has resigned. A human being is dead. The blame lies at the door of the University. The University … well … continues as normal. So how can this be the case?

The primary answer lies in the fiction that Universities manage to create that they are systems rather than amalgams of people. Universities, through the prioritisation of a set of bureaucratic norms and officer-holders, have normalised the view that they are top-down corporate entities. A managerial class has always played a role in modern universities, but this class has grown in size and influence as universities have been forced to compete in a series of markets. By competing for students, research income, high achieving staff, and ‘impact stories’ a series of pernicious political economies have been created. Rather than collegiate environments based on scholarship, learning and creating space for innovation and thinking, many universities are being reduced to sales offices with academics serving as clerks for a new managerial class who wield coercive metrics.

The complex structure of universities – multiple committees and chains of command – means that very many of us are implicated in a coercive bureaucracy that is based on incentives and threats (that are often veiled but nonetheless real). By complying with very basic activities (such as uploading lists of our publications on University databases) we are fuelling the metrics that are then used to govern us. That is the pernicious thing about the system – we are all part of it. In the case of Stefan Grimm, it is convenient to look for individuals to blame (and I still hold out hope that human decency might spark a few resignations) but the real aggressor here is a system that we have all contributed to. We probably have bitched about it and groaned, but we have contributed to its construction and maintenance. We have been far too meek in pointing out the irrelevance of committees, metrics and placeholders to the real business of teaching, research and sharing creativity.

I have heard a few horror stories in recent weeks (from other universities) about how younger members of staff have been shouted at for not bringing in research income, and about how some staff members’ time has been bought out by 250% (surely illegal!). In cases like this, we can point to shoddy practice by individual managers – and hopefully they can be faced down as bullies. But the wider problem seems to be the system. We may not like the system, but we maintain it.

So what to do? I do not have a grand manifesto (but am all ears if anyone has one). Instead, I look at my own practice and the very small acts of resistance that I carry out. The first is not to take too seriously the managerial class and the narrative they perpetuate. Yes, we all have responsibilities in a collegiate environment, but my primary responsibility is to students and research – not necessarily to corporate goals. I will avoid listing the precise everyday resistance strategies that I use with the bureaucracy (I don’t want to get into trouble) but the general approach of not taking bureaucracy and bureaucrats too seriously seems to work. The second very small act of resistance is to try to encourage younger scholars to follow their own intellectual curiosity. Grants and publications will follow more readily than if they try to game the system by mechanistically targeting grants and ‘prestige’ journals. The third is to call undue pressure by one colleague on another what it is: bullying.

From: http://rogermacginty.com/2014/12/09/imperial-college-london-why-has-no-one-resigned-possibly-because-we-are-all-culpable/

January 02, 2015

Who Gets Targeted

...research findings from our year 2000 study and conversations with thousands of targets have confirmed that targets appear to be the veteran and most skilled person in the workgroup.

Targets are independent. They refuse to be subservient. Bullies seek to enslave targets. When targets take steps to preserve their dignity, their right to be treated with respect, bullies escalate their campaigns of hatred and intimidation to wrest control of the target's work from the target.
Targets are more technically skilled than their bullies. They are the "go-to" veteran workers to whom new employees turn for guidance. Insecure bosses and co-workers can't stand to share credit for the recognition of talent. Bully bosses steal credit from skilled targets.

Targets are better liked, they have more social skills, and quite likely possess greater emotional intelligence. They have empathy (even for their bullies). Colleagues, customers, and management (with exception to the bullies and their sponsors) appreciate the warmth that the targets bring to the workplace.

Targets are ethical and honest. Some targets are whistleblowers who expose fraudulent practices. Every whistleblower is bullied. Targets are not schemers or slimy con artists. They tend to be guileless. The most easily exploited targets are people with personalities founded on a prosocial orientation -- a desire to help, heal, teach, develop, nurture others.

Targets are non-confrontive. They do not respond to aggression with aggression. (They are thus morally superior.) But the price paid for apparent submissiveness is that the bully can act with impunity (as long as the employer also does nothing)...

From: http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/who-gets-targeted/

January 01, 2015

Typical... As for UCU...

I would just like to add here my own experience.

Recently I won an unfair dismissal case against the University of Essex. I was dismissed, because I submitted a claim for permanency having worked there for over 5 years continuously on a sequence of 19 fixed-term contracts.

No procedure was followed, I was not granted any right during dismissal. I was not even informed about the reason for it. This made my dismissal unfair already. Regarding the reason, the key evidence was an email in which an HR Officer advised the Head of my Department as follows:

"X is pursuing her case for permanency... Was the intention that she would teach modules in the next academic year? I would advise against this if possible as ongoing teaching of modules each academic year can lead to claims for permanent employment."

This advice on its own is a clear cut breach of the law (Fixed-term Regulations). I represented myself in the case, since UCU recommended that I should settle with the University, i.e. accept their bribe.

Since the University lost this case at the Employment Tribunal, the HR Officer sending the above email has been promoted to become an HR Manager. I have not heard anything and have not met anyone from the University since. It seems that I have been wiped out of history from their point of view.