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November 24, 2023

UNESCO: Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel

• Institutional accountability

(h) ensuring that higher education personnel are not impeded in their work in the classroom or in their research capacity by violence, intimidation or harassment;

(k) the creation, through the collegial process and/or through negotiation with organizations representing higher-education teaching personnel, consistent with the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech, of statements or codes of ethics to guide higher education personnel in their teaching, scholarship, research and extension work;

• Rights and freedoms of higher-education teaching personnel

26. Higher-education teaching personnel, like all other groups and individuals, should enjoy those internationally recognized civil, political, social and cultural rights applicable to all citizens. Therefore, all higher-education teaching personnel should enjoy freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly and association as well as the right to liberty and security of the person and liberty of movement. They should not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinion of state policies and of policies affecting higher education. They should not suffer any penalties simply because of the exercise of such rights. Higher-education teaching personnel should not be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention, nor to torture, nor to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In cases of gross violation of their rights, higher-education teaching personnel should have the right to appeal to the relevant national, regional or international bodies such as the agencies of the United Nations, and organizations representing higher-education teaching personnel should extend full support in such cases.

28. Higher-education teaching personnel have the right to teach without any interference, subject to accepted professional principles including professional responsibility and intellectual rigour with regard to standards and methods of teaching. Higher-education teaching personnel should not be forced to instruct against their own best knowledge and conscience or be forced to use curricula and methods contrary to national and international human rights standards. Higher education teaching personnel should play a significant role in determining the curriculum.

29. Higher-education teaching personnel have a right to carry out research work without any interference, or any suppression, in accordance with their professional responsibility and subject to nationally and internationally recognized professional principles of intellectual rigour, scientific inquiry and research ethics. They should also have the right to publish and communicate the conclusions of the research of which they are authors or co-authors, as stated in paragraph 12 of this Recommendation.

30. Higher-education teaching personnel have a right to undertake professional activities outside of their employment, particularly those that enhance their professional skills or allow for the application of knowledge to the problems of the community, provided such activities do not interfere with their primary commitments to their home institutions in accordance with institutional policies and regulations or national laws and practice where they exist.

• Self-governance and collegiality

31. Higher-education teaching personnel should have the right and opportunity, without discrimination of any kind, according to their abilities, to take part in the governing bodies and to criticize the functioning of higher education institutions, including their own, while respecting the right of other sections of the academic community to participate, and they should also have the right to elect a majority of representatives to academic bodies within the higher education institution.

32. The principles of collegiality include academic freedom, shared responsibility, the policy of participation of all concerned in internal decision making structures and practices, and the development of consultative mechanisms. Collegial decision-making should encompass decisions regarding the administration and determination of policies of higher education, curricula, research, extension work, the allocation of resources and other related activities, in order to improve academic excellence and quality for the benefit of society at large.

• Discipline and dismissal

48. No member of the academic community should be subject to discipline, including dismissal, except for just and sufficient cause demonstrable before an independent third-party hearing of peers, and/or before an impartial body such as arbitrators or the courts.

49. All members of higher-education teaching personnel should enjoy equitable safeguards at each stage of any disciplinary procedure, including dismissal, in accordance with the international standards set out in the appendix.

50. Dismissal as a disciplinary measure should only be for just and sufficient cause related to professional conduct, for example: persistent neglect of duties, gross incompetence, fabrication or falsification of research results, serious financial irregularities, sexual or other misconduct with students, colleagues, or other members of the academic community or serious threats thereof, or corruption of the educational process such as by falsifying grades, diplomas or degrees in return for money, sexual or other favours or by demanding sexual, financial or other material favours from subordinate employees or colleagues in return for continuing employment.

51. Individuals should have the right to appeal against the decision to dismiss them before independent, external bodies such as arbitrators or the courts, with final and binding powers...


November 23, 2023

The fight to end bullying in academia: UK researchers launch nationwide campaign

A group of academics and other staff members at several UK universities have launched an independent initiative to combat bullying and harassment in higher education. One of the group’s goals is to advocate for the establishment of an independent ombudsperson to which people who have been bullied can turn if they feel that their institution does not deal with a complaint adequately.

“We’ve become increasingly concerned about the prevalence of bullying in UK universities, and the fact that most universities seem to accept a very high level of bullying,” says Wyn Evans, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge, UK, and a leader of the group. It is called the 21 Group, after the reported 21% of staff members at Cambridge who described experiencing bullying or harassment in a 2018 survey.

Surveys of various UK university departments and academic disciplines indicate that roughly 30–40% of students, scholars and other members of staff experience bullying or harassment by someone in their department or field, Evans says. Bullying can have pernicious and long-lasting effects on a person’s work and mental health.

The 21 Group, which launched on 1 November, has two initial goals. One is to gather broader data on bullying at UK universities by asking people to collect and share information on the number of bullying complaints received, and investigations done, by their institutions. The second is to advocate for an independent ombudsperson’s office to be set up for the UK higher-education system, giving people someone to turn to if institutions handle complaints about bullying badly. Such a body exists for undergraduate students — the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education — but not for others within the university system.

Internal investigations by universities often exonerate the subject of the complaint, who might be a senior professor or other person in a position of power, says Evans. “Far too many UK universities prioritize limiting reputational damage to the institution over doing the right thing for their staff and students.”

More info at:

November 18, 2023

...a special circle of hell...

"There is a special circle of hell for university administrators who reduce anti-bullying to a glossy public relations exercise."

November 17, 2023

Bullying support network launched due to universities’ ‘inaction’

UK university staff who have been the victim of bullying are being offered support by a new network amid repeated evidence that the problem is “endemic” in higher education.

Those behind the 21 Group – named after the percentage of staff members at the University of Cambridge who reported experiencing bullying in a 2020 survey – said it was needed because of a failure of universities to tackle the issue beyond “sloganising”.

It aims to conduct research to establish the true extent of bullying in UK universities and campaign for the creation of an independent ombudsman position that would take the handling of complaints away from being the sole domain of the internal processes of institutions.

Wyn Evans, professor of astrophysics at Cambridge – and one of the founders of the network – said it has its roots in a Times Higher Education article in which he claimed that bullying was “a feature of UK research universities, not a bug”, which prompted several people to come forward to share their own experiences.

The network consists of both university staff who have experienced bullying and those who have witnessed the “pain and hurt” it causes, according to Professor Evans.

He said despite ample evidence of the scale of bullying within universities – with many surveys putting the figure higher than the Cambridge poll – it is too often tolerated.

“The main obstacle is that senior management of universities come under pressure to hush things up – which clearly happens very often now,” Professor Evans said.

“Far too many UK universities prioritise limiting reputational damage to the institution over doing the right thing for their staff and students.

“This is because the bully is normally a senior professor or head of department. They are normally much more valuable to the university than the victim, who is often a student or a member of the professional services support staff.”

Professor Evans said a new body was needed to look at complaints because “organisations that investigate themselves exonerate themselves; they look for rugs enormous enough to sweep everything under”.

He pointed out that undergraduate students are able to take grievances to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education if they are unhappy with how they are dealt with internally, but there was no similar mechanism in place for staff or postgraduates.

As well as its more policy-focused work, the 21 Group aims to offer peer-to-peer support for the victims of bullying via informal advice and the chance to share experiences.

Because of the need to maintain confidentiality as bullying complaints are investigated, individuals are often left “feeling lonely, forsaken and with mental health problems” for months – or even years, Professor Evans said...