February 09, 2023

Confronting Nontraditional Bullies in Academe

...Sadly, academe is well populated by individuals who behave similarly to my former colleague, seeking opportunity wherever they find it and taking what was never offered. I refer to this manipulative meddler as an “opportunist bully,” characterized by individuals who prey on the generosity, ingenuity and collegiality of other academics.

They may appear to be congenial colleagues who are interested in you and your work. They may seek you out for information, disappearing when they have found the key to their own grant proposal or article. They may even wish to partner with you on a collaborative project or a grant, sometimes even offering necessary expertise. It is only when the collaborative project begins to reap tangible rewards, in the form of funding, accolades or publications, that the opportunist bully’s agenda becomes clear. In maneuvering to steal the idea, claim the spotlight or dominate the funds, their bullying tendencies are revealed—particularly as they work to justify centering themselves at the expense of their collaborators.

In my experience, the opportunist bully can be difficult to spot. Many people who exhibit this type of behavior seem to be collegial and engaged, not necessarily pursuing conversations with colleagues in order to hijack their research projects. In fact, in some regards the opportunist bully may actually be collegial and engaged. But when scarce academic rewards are at stake, these otherwise seemingly congenial individuals become inappropriately territorial and manipulative.

While the opportunist bully may appear to be a less dangerous category of academic bully than other more easily recognizable bullies, the damage they do is significant. When a colleague hoards resources, steals an original idea or otherwise preys upon another colleague’s work—most often that of a junior faculty member—the person whose work has been pilfered is likely to question their own role in allowing their work to be compromised. That can result in a sense of shame, guilt, fear and mistrust—all emotions connected with more traditional bullying behavior.

Ultimately, once the rank of full professor is achieved, certain individuals can become so emboldened by their positions that it is relatively easy to maintain power over those whom they outrank—and sometimes even administrators who try to rein in their unbridled egos. And the segregation and uneven support that various disciplines receive can lead to a more insidious hierarchy that is internalized by the individuals within areas or programs that perceive themselves as ranking “lower” within that hierarchy.

In such an environment, a form of bullying can arise that is described as “victim bullying” by C. K. Gunsalus in The College Administrator’s Survival Guide. As the name suggests, in this instance, the person attempts to turn their own bullying behavior upside down, positioning themselves as the victim. Victim bullying occurs when an individual uses a position of relative power to convince others that they are treated unfairly, work harder or are the target of disrespect. Yet while these individuals insist that their work is unappreciated, they often enjoy the most resources, the least external control over their workloads and the highest academic ranks.

A kinder term for this bully might be “the squeaky wheel.” While we may consider the squeaky wheel to be someone who’s simply persistent in expressing a need, the resolute steward who continues to speak up for the benefit of all differs markedly from the academic who uses manipulation for their own self-interest. Victim bullies may insist that their concern is for students or the greater good, but when this type of bully’s demands are pinpointed, it becomes clear that theirs is largely a narcissistic project.

Perhaps the most disturbing instances of academic bullying involve small groups of empowered faculty members who band together in an attempt to control, punish or even push out any individual whom they see as a threat to their agenda. In their book, Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to Do About It, Darla J. Twale and Barbara M. De Luca describe a relentless and insidious form of bullying known as “mobbing.” Similar to schoolyard bullying, this form of abuse typically involves a small group of people who align in the interest of achieving or maintaining power, often in order to protect the status quo—and sometimes even when their independent agendas don’t align.

For example, I am aware of an academic administrator who was taken to task by a small group of faculty members after that person’s first year in a leadership position. When the administrator failed to comply with the “mob’s” self-interested agenda, through deceit and manipulation they managed to push the administrator out...

From: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2023/01/20/two-types-bullies-academe-can-go-unrecognized-opinion

January 08, 2023

Addressing instrumental bullying — stopping the Schemer...

 ...To prevent instrumental, indirect, and covert bullying, organizations should ensure transparent, fair, equitable, and legitimate ways to obtain rewards. Promotions, resource allocation, and other crucial decisions should be made based on transparent and accurately measured performance outcomes. “Eyeballing” performance rewards bragging, credit-taking, and possessing external markers of privilege.

Moreover, ensuring justice in organizational decision making requires a mechanism for correcting high-stakes decisions when necessary (such as if the information they were based on was incomplete or false, as in Noor’s case). For example, an independent group (e.g., a committee of ombudspeople) could verify the evidence supporting demotions or progressive discipline. Specific mechanisms
 differ based on the type of organization (state, private, unionized, etc.) and employment, often taking the form of grievance committees serving a specific type of employees (e.g., classified or unclassified, salaried or hourly). In any case, grievance and check-and-balance mechanisms may help disincentivize the reliance on instrumental bullying to get ahead.

Asynchronous work tools like taskboards and shared documents may also help prevent instrumental bullying in the form of credit-taking or unfair evaluations. Beyond their purpose as productivity tools, they serve an additional function of documenting performance and contributions.

Valid and well-designed recruitment,
 selection, and talent-management mechanisms that focus on demonstrated skills, results, and the ability to support others (rather than the ability to talk oneself up) also play a significant role in establishing a positive organizational climate. These can help prevent the hiring and promotion of takers and overconfident but incompetent individuals by identifying early signals of someone’s potential bullying behavior. For example, asking candidates to describe their experiences of failure or of enabling others to succeed will reveal degrees of humility, self-awareness, and orientation toward others...