February 27, 2024

Counteracting deliberate ignorance of academic bullying and harassment

Understanding ignorance

Psychological motives for deliberate ignorance can depend on the bystander’s status relative to the perpetrator. Strategic motives may be more pronounced in relationships with power asymmetries. For example, junior scientists may anticipate being unfavorably treated by a higher ranked perpetrator and remain deliberately ignorant to protect themselves. Emotion regulation may be a more significant motive when bystanders and perpetrators share a similar rank (e.g., a peer-to-peer relationship between two tenured professors). Witnessing a peer’s unethical behavior can be distressing, and deliberate ignorance can help bystanders to regulate their fear of confrontation with a peer, their guilt for not helping a target, or both.

Perpetrators may choose to ignore the distressing and even traumatizing effects of their behavior on targets in an attempt to escape social or legal accountability. In turn, this can preserve their power and status in academic hierarchies and help them maintain a positive self-image...

The bystander effect has been demonstrated in many studies: The mere presence of bystanders in critical situations can reduce an individual’s probability of helping. Classic explanations are twofold. First, the more people are present, the lower the experienced sense of personal responsibility. Responsibility diffuses. Second, almost all group members can privately reject a norm to help and, at the same time, believe that almost everyone else accepts it. Ignorance can be pluralistic. Recent research suggests that bystander ignorance may also be deliberate, with people having various psychological motives for turning a blind eye to misconduct. For example, consciously choosing not to seek information—one form of deliberate ignorance—can be a way of regulating one’s emotions and deflecting responsibility. Deliberate ignorance can help to avoid distress and the anticipated guilt for not getting involved. Consciously choosing not to act on relevant information—a second form of deliberate ignorance—may be used as a strategic device to eschew responsibility and to avoid possible harm to oneself...

February 19, 2024

Understanding and Preventing Faculty-on-Faculty Bullying


...To some degree globally, the academic profession has moved from a well-defined core of elite scholars to a more peripheral faculty who have for university financial concerns penetrated that gradually declining, highly guarded, elite core... 

... As a result, the academic profession sacrifices some autonomy and academic freedom as university leadership becomes more capitalistic, corporatized, and market driven. A ccording to the labor process theory, incivility and bullying can occur as a result of this market-driven, capitalistic worker relationship...

... ivory towers could not possibly be thought of as harboring toxic work climates with menacing bullies and uncivil tormentors. Furthermore, faculty may no longer have that sense of fit they felt when hired into their academic department. As a result, stress arises. So does uncertainty. New negative behaviors and dormant ones begin to surface in the work setting. Often these shifts become the negative response to unsettling change that manifests itself in incivility and bullying...

... In hiring a new faculty member, Lang recalled, “we cast our votes for either a department that would continue to replicate its current values or one that would head in a new direction, the endpoint of which was not entirely clear” (p. 96). Being the minority supporter for a junior colleague placed Lang in jeopardy among senior faculty majority voters. His ethical beliefs and convictions might interfere with his tenure vote in a few years. As his academic year progressed, he assessed that it at least went well for him in his classroom while he still ruminated over the outcome of his search committee service. Meanwhile, Lang tried to make sense of the “cross- and undercurrents of department intrigue and just to try to take everything at face value” and feared being sucked “back into the vicious cycle of departmental politics”...

...Lang concluded that his best offense in the department entailed proceeding “with my head down, my mouth shut, and my eyes and ears wide open”... In any institution, and the university is no exception, much is veiled purposefully and much operates in the shadows from the consumers who study there, from the taxpayers who indirectly fund the enterprise, and the faculty, staff, and administration who choose not to peek under the veil...

From Understanding and Preventing Faculty-on-Faculty Bullying 

February 13, 2024

Dying to Be Heard?

Leah P. Hollis writes of the need to address workplace bullying after the tragic death of Antoinette Candia-Bailey.

"Many in the higher education community are mourning the untimely loss of a colleague, Antoinette (Bonnie) Candia-Bailey. The former vice president of student affairs at Lincoln University, in Missouri, was only 49 when she died by suicide. In emails sent before she died, she accused the president of Lincoln, a historically Black university, of bullying and harassing her, causing her mental harm.

Black women, in particular, note yet another woman of color, by her account, cut down by her organization, and they are startled that her employer, an HBCU, seemingly allowed this to occur. Unfortunately, scholars of workplace bullying are not surprised because time and again in our research respondents comment that they have considered suicide to escape a bully.

I have been studying workplace bullying for more than a decade. Between 58 and 62 percent of higher education employees face workplace bullying. The percentages are higher for women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. These vulnerable populations often do not have the power to resist organizational aggression and betrayal.

Though several states (CaliforniaMarylandMinnesotaTennessee and Utah) have some type of legislation or policy in place to prohibit workplace bullying, these are penned to protect the powerful employer; only Puerto Rico has strong workplace bullying protections in place. Workplace bullying is still to a large extent legal in the U.S., where under federal laws harassment must be tied to protected class status (race, gender, age, ethnicity, national origin, etc.) for an employee to take independent legal action.

Some organizations dismiss bullying as stemming from personality conflicts or difficult employees. However, workplace bullying is based on a power differential; when someone abuses the power they have over another, that abuse of power leads to emotional and psychological damage for the target. As we reflect on higher education, we know the bastions of power lie in the presidents’, provosts’ and deans’ offices. A close look at American Council on Education data on the college presidency reveals that such powerful positions are held primarily by white men. The power structures in higher education still fall along racial and gendered lines.

While it was once considered a universal, colorblind phenomenon, workplace bullying data confirm that race and gender matter and are statistically significant factors in the higher education workplace when it comes to bullying. Yet across many colleges and universities there appears to be widespread apathy about this problem. In a recent study of more than 200 human resources personnel at four-year institutions, more than 61 percent stated they didn’t know about workplace bullying training and that workplace bullying just isn’t a priority at their institution.

I fear what we are witnessing at Lincoln University may amount to an organizational betrayal that cost a vice president her life. In reviewing the emails, one can see that Candia-Bailey, a 1998 graduate of Lincoln who took the vice president of student affairs job just last spring, submitted complaints about President John Moseley to the institution’s board and to human resources and sought accommodations for “severe depression and anxiety” under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. After receiving a negative performance evaluation this past fall, Candia-Bailey asked for a specific performance plan, but she claimed Moseley sidestepped the request. She received notice of termination Jan. 3 and was warned that if she did not vacate her campus apartment by the time her firing went into effect, in February, campus police “will promptly remove you and your possessions from the apartment.” I imagine her being stunned and appalled, feeling betrayed by her own alma mater. 

If one did not think a Black woman could be abused at an HBCU, reflect on a recent study I conducted in which Black women from HBCUs made up 62 percent of the sample. Over all, the study revealed poor treatment and the abuse they faced while trying to achieve tenure. Between unequal-pay issues, overloaded course assignments and outsize service requirements, Black women are still treated like second-class citizens in the academy..."



February 09, 2024

Academic bullying: Desperate for data and solutions


Q: What is the scope of the problem?

A: We don't have robust and comprehensive data in this field, because the targets of bullying don't feel safe talking about it. There is a fear of retaliation, job loss, visa cancellation, or mobbing and ganging-up behaviors, which results in a code of silence. One survey found that the rate of people who are bullied in academia and report it is less than 2%. One leading researcher on academic bullying pulled together a meta-analysis of studies and found that the prevalence of academic bullying is roughly more than 30% across the globe. The Max Planck Institutes in Europe conducted a survey of more than 9,000 of their employees and reported in 2019 that 10% had experienced bullying in the past year. To me, the fact that Max Planck proudly published that figure means that 10% is a very low number for bullying across academia. Personally, I think the rate is much higher and is probably highly dependent on the type of institution. At highly ranked institutions, where competition for joining labs is high and where lab workers can easily be replaced by another candidate, I would guess the incidence is even higher.

Q: Why do you think bullying thrives in the academic environment?

A: There are several reasons for it, but in my opinion, we have no regulations or laws aimed at preventing academic bullying, and this is why institutions feel they cannot do anything about it. At every institution where I have worked, I have had to take mandatory sexual harassment training, but there has never been a single institution where there was training on how to handle bullying, how to report it, or what to do if you witness it. Typical university general harassment policies cover only people in protected classes from being discriminated against due to aspects such as their ethnicity, gender, age, and religion. There are no structures in place to address harassment that are based on an abuse of power by those ranked more highly in the university system—and especially by those who have already achieved tenure as professors. There's no Title IX–like office for bullying.