August 05, 2022
May 12, 2022
April 11, 2022
One of Britain’s leading universities is failing to stamp out bullying and harassment, some of its staff have said, after a college principal was allowed to remain in post despite complaints of intimidating behaviour towards colleagues.
Britain’s highest-paid university chief and another senior executive created a culture of favouritism and exclusion at Imperial College, according to damning details of a report released after she had attempted to suppress its publication.
Imperial’s president, Alice Gast, last year apologised after an independent report found that she and the college’s chief financial officer had bullied members of staff. However, they have resisted calls by student and academic representatives to resign, while she attempted to block the report’s release under freedom of information.
But redacted details were published on Thursday after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) rejected Gast’s arguments against the release and disagreed with her attempts to downplay the findings against her as “relatively minor”.
They include accounts of Gast and Muir Sanderson’s behaviour and its impact on victims who were bullied in 2019 and 2020. Jane McNeill QC, who carried out the investigation, said some witnesses had expressed a fear of retaliation.
McNeill found that Gast and Sanderson had “created or contributed to a culture which involves and tolerates favouritism, exclusion, the making of disparaging comments about others and at times a lack of respect for others”.
Referring to Gast and Sanderson by their initials, the report goes on to state: “In relation to both AG and MS, several witnesses described a culture of favouritism: you are ‘in or out’; ‘the favourite child’; ‘a hero or zero’; or in the ‘in gang or out gang’. One witness said that there were a lot of employees at any one time ‘in the rubbish pot’.”
McNeill’s report found that Gast had bullied a colleague, which she has apologised for, but that her treatment of some others did not amount to bullying. Sanderson has apologised for bullying two colleagues. The report found he had bullied one person and said it made no finding that he had bullied others.
Barry Jones, the London regional official for the University College Union, said: “It is shameful that President Alice Gast and CFO Muir Sanderson still remain in post after being found to have bullied staff and treated them with such disrespect. UCU members report an endemic culture of bullying at Imperial, a culture which hits marginalised staff the hardest.”
Imperial is subject to an investigation by the universities watchdog, the Office for Students, over the bullying allegations. It was announced last year that Gast – the highest-paid university chief among the elite Russell Group – is to step down from her £554,000 role when her contract expires this year.
Sanderson’s behaviour to one victim was described as “aggressive and intimidating”. She was undermined and spoken to in a condescending and offensive way, with “stark examples” such as being addresses as “young lady” and being told to “watch her tone”...
September 28, 2021
September 22, 2021
Irish third-level institutions are using public money in non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) “to silence victims of discrimination and sexual harassment”, the Seanad has been told.
Independent Senator Lynn Ruane, who in June introduced legislation to ban the use of such confidentiality agreements, has conducted research including a survey which, she said, confirmed the use of NDAs in third-level institutions.
Opening a Seanad debate on sexual harassment and bullying in third-level institutions, the Trinity College Senator said that in almost two-thirds of cases perpetrators were members of academic staff and 30 per cent of victims were forced to sign NDAs, which “represented a bully and abuser free to walk away to another college and a victim being silenced”.
An NDA is a “binding and contractual agreement that prevents one or more parties from disclosing knowledge designated by the institution as confidential” even if they relate to bullying or sexual harassment complaints.
Originally introduced to protect business and industry secrets, she said, “they are increasingly being used in the third-level sector to silence victims of bullying, discrimination and sexual assault”.
“And it is public money that is often used to silence victims of discrimination and sexual abuse,” she said, adding that in the UK more than £90 million (€105 million) had been paid since 2017 to silence victims. She said there was no similar research on Irish payouts but she asked how much Irish institutions were paying.
She added that “some NDAs that have been signed in the university sector have been reframed in language” and not listed as sexual harassment but as a “clash of personalities” or “breakdown in working relationships”.
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said such agreements have absolutely no place when cases such as these arise within institutions and workplaces”.
The Minister said they “have the effect of silencing victims and in doing so they can prevent healing and recovery, and damage the prospect of accountability for perpetrators”.
He pointed to the impact of such NDAs where the victim cannot speak to anyone about their experience or tell their story to assist their healing or help other survivors.
“I will not be standing over the silencing of any victims of sexual harassment or bullying in Irish higher education institutions,” he said.
The Minister will next month introduce legislation through which universities and other third-level institutions that fail to comply with policies on bullying and sexual harassment will be sanctioned. The legislation will “modernise governance law in higher education”, he said...
August 14, 2021
...To give a sense of the size of the problem, in any 12-month period, on average, 25% of faculty members self-identify as being bullied, while 40–50% say they have witnessed others being bullied, according to a synthesis of studies published in 2019 (L. Keashly in Special Topics and Particular Occupations, Professions and Sectors (eds P. D’Cruz et al.) https://doi.org/gbgn; Springer, 2019).
A survey that year of 9,000 staff at the Max Planck Society, the German research organization, found that 10% had experienced bullying behaviour in the past 12 months, and 17.5% reported bullying events over a longer time frame (see Nature 571, 14–15; 2019). One in five of the graduate students who responded to Nature’s 2019 global PhD survey reported experiencing bullying, and 57% of those reported feeling unable to discuss their situation without fear of personal repercussions (see Nature 575, 403–406; 2019).
As universities around the world grapple with pandemic-related stressors, including cutbacks, layoffs and furloughs, an environment could emerge in which bullying behaviours increase, says Loraleigh Keashly, a researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, who studies academic bullying.
Step 1: Confirm that it is bullying
In 2016, the PhD student mentioned above witnessed his adviser’s extreme response to a fellow graduate student. Two years later, he himself was the focus of his supervisor’s ire. The abuse “was always for little mistakes — for example, submitting a paper to a journal with a typo”, he says. It was always disproportionate, including yelling, ostracization and threats, such as removing his name from the authorship of a paper or discontinuing supervision, he adds...
Step 2: Seek support
Keashly encourages those who have been bullied to check their institution’s formal policies and procedures for raising concerns about hostile, unfair treatment. This can be done either by asking human-resources colleagues or by checking the university website to see whether there are workplace discrimination, harassment or anti-bullying policies in place.
Leah Hollis, a workplace-bullying researcher based at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, recommends checking whether the institution has a grievance policy or faculty senate (or similar faculty governing body) that can offer support to those who have been bullied. Unions can also offer advice, she adds...
Step 3: Consider informal and formal complaint routes
Following a spate of high-profile investigations at prominent institutions (see Nature 563, 616–618; 2018), a growing number of universities, mindful of the financial and reputational cost of bullying, are introducing reporting mechanisms alongside anti-bullying policies.
Alexandra Olaya-Castro, vice-dean for equality, diversity and inclusion in the faculty of mathematical and physical sciences at University College London (UCL), says her institution established a ‘Report + Support’ tool in 2019. It walks users through both informal and formal resolution processes for addressing bullying claims, and allows problems to be reported anonymously...
Step 4: Know what to expect after filing a complaint
As soon as someone lodges a formal complaint, everything changes, says Mahmoudi. It’s a decision that requires a good deal of consideration, and people should think about how strong their support network is and their personal fortitude before deciding whether to go through what will probably be a gruelling experience...
...Mahmoudi has amassed 2,000 responses to a survey about satisfaction with investigations of bullying. Only 7% reported that they experienced a fair and unbiased process, he says of his as-yet unpublished work. “International students will have a much rougher time than national ones,” he says, given that their PI might have the power to cancel their appointment, which could impact their visa status, and they might find it hard to access support resources because of cultural or language barriers.
Still, if a university has policies and procedures around bullying, Keashly says, it is legally obligated to follow them, including taking appropriate action in the event that charges of bullying are confirmed. And the more policies and procedures there are, the greater the recognition that this is a significant problem, she adds...
August 01, 2021
A leading British university has been accused of turning a blind eye to bullying after a college principal was allowed to remain in post despite complaints of intimidating behaviour towards colleagues.
Prof Adekunle Adeyeye, who was responsible for helping to reform Durham University’s much-criticised approach to bullying, is alleged to have frequently reduced colleagues to tears and made sexist remarks.
The Guardian has spoken to five former members of staff who say they experienced intimidating behaviour or misogynistic comments by Adeyeye, who joined the university as head of Trevelyan College in January 2020.
In only 16 months, two people had filed formal grievances against him and three have left the college amid concerns about his manner.
Adeyeye has not responded to requests to comment but stepped down from his role on the university’s bullying policy committee on Wednesday after being approached by the Guardian.
Durham University, one of the UK’s leading academic institutions, has been under scrutiny over its approach to bullying after a damning report last year found that nearly one in five of its employees, and 30% of students, had suffered some form of bullying or harassment.
The commission said there had been a failure to tackle the issue at different levels of the university and that it was “often poorly addressed” and “sometimes even tolerated and accepted”. It emerged last week that nearly 100 Durham students and staff had reported bullying complaints between October 2019 and June 2021. Of the 76 that mentioned the gender of the complainant, three-quarters were women.
Durham University Woman’s Association said the university was failing to tackle a “certain culture” that “inspires and encourages condescension, belittlement, and mockery of women”.
A Durham University spokeswoman said everyone has the right to work and study in a safe and respectful environment, and that all staff and students are expected to follow the university’s regulations on conduct and values on behaviour.
She said Adeyeye had now stepped down from the university’s “respect oversight group”, which is responsible for reforming its bullying policies, and added: “Where behaviour falls below expected standards, we take robust and decisive action. These matters are being fully and fairly addressed in line with our published policies and procedures and have yet to be concluded. We do not comment on individual cases.”
A disciplinary investigation last month upheld several complaints against Adeyeye, including some of possible misconduct or gross misconduct...
June 17, 2021
...She turns normally reasonable people into co-conspirators in the abuse. Almost none of them have the capacity to step above the rhetoric to see that perhaps it is they who are now guilty of the same behaviors. As they begin to act on the victim they also blame the victim for defending him/herself. This is where things can begin to escalate without taking direct action. The reaction of the victim now becomes a reason for more abuse because the context has been distorted...
1. Rumors to Manipulate and Proxy Others: Add a word, take a word, share only part of the information, expand things, tell people "juicy" information nuggets that get them upset. Rumors and lies are designed to do damage and are a form of aggression. Bullies spread rumors to get people to "gang" up on someone and punish them for perceived wrong doings. The actual wrong doings may have nothing to do with what the bully says. The inflammatory and often delusional stories are designed to excite and anger others to get them to act.
2. Covers Feelings of Powerlessness: Bullies feel powerless. Somewhere in their life they were left damaged and traumatized. Lying, bullying, and manipulating others seeks to create a sense of power. That power comes from influencing others through manufactured crisis. You can tell the passive-aggressive powerlessness by watching how they have made a habit talking negatively about others. There is constant comparisons. Its a pattern of feeling powerless and then trying to control others through anti-social behavior (clinical definition).
3. It Lowers Feelings of Guilt: When you have friends and people agree with you, even if they were provided with lies, you don't feel as guilty. The inner turmoil the bully feels is mitigated by their support network who doesn't question the logic being offered. Most of us know from experience that people just sort of agree with us if we don't give all of the information or are not making it explicitly clear that we want "honest" feedback. Thus our friends and family members help us feel as though we are "right" thereby reducing the cognitive dissonance associated with guilt.
4. Groups Take Less Responsibility: We have all watched shocking videos on YouTube, News, or the Web where groups have brutalized someone; even killing victims in plain sight. Sometimes that person has done nothing wrong except try and avoid being in a conflict. If you are a police officer, or sheriff, much of their job is dealing with issues related to the inability of people to take responsibility. Even criminals that have been convicted through evidence and a court of law scream it wasn't their fault all the way to prison! The more people a bully can get involved, the more damage they cause and the less responsibility the bully takes. Sometimes groups become so destructive they openly attack people in public in front of a crowd of bystanders.
5. It Hides Painful Secrets: Bullies are all about hiding their pain. Bullying is a form of aggression based on trauma. This is one of the reasons why aggression is so pathological. As the bully projects onto a target, he/she takes the spotlight off of themselves and puts it on the victim. The bully no longer needs to deal with their issues because the target is forced to take responsibility for them. This is one reason why much of what bullies say are more a reflection of the bully's issues. Targets are not chosen randomly. Usually they are people the bully envies and often are intelligent, sensitive, and caring.
6. Bullies Need Validation: Bullies need validation that they are important. Somewhere in their life they were made to feel unwanted. This is the tragedy that bullying creates more bullies. Their boundaries were often violated by parents, uncles, and others. When they get people to support their behavior they feel a sense of validation that they are important. Attacking others puts them somewhere above the victim. Proxies help validate the "worthiness" of the bully and the "worthlessness" of the victim.
“I frequently vomit before going to the lab.”
“I wanted to become a professor, but after the treatment and behavior of my PI [principal investigator] and department, I do not want to ever be involved with academia again.”
“It was ~ 1 year before I realized that being told by my PI that I had 45 seconds to go to the toilet was inappropriate and an invasion of my privacy.”
These are just a few of the 1904 anonymous responses that poured in when Sherry Moss and Morteza Mahmoudi invited scientists to describe their experiences with academic bullying. The vast majority—71%—of respondents who experienced bullying did not report the behavior to their institution, mostly for fear of retaliation. Of those who did report, only 8% found the process to be fair and unbiased, according to a preprint posted online this week.
The findings lay bare the inadequacy of the reporting process at many institutions, says Mahmoudi, an assistant professor at Michigan State University who experienced bullying earlier in his career and co-founded an antibullying nonprofit called the Academic Parity Movement. “All of the investigations happen inside the institutions—there’s no accountability.”
He notes that institutions may want to protect top-performing academics, especially those who bring in a lot of money, and have a vested interest in preventing complaints from becoming public. One possible solution, he adds, would be to establish a national or global committee on academic behavior ethics, which could investigate allegations of abuse more impartially.
Many of the survey responses were hard to read, say Mahmoudi and Moss, a professor at Wake Forest University—especially those that described serious mental health challenges. But sharing them is an important step toward changing culture. To that end, Science Careers compiled a sample of responses from the survey, with a focus on those who reported or confronted bullying behavior—sometimes resulting in positive outcomes, but more frequently not.
The responses have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
I complained to our department chair. An investigation committee was created. Through their investigation they found most of my allegations valid, but they gave me two options: 1) continue working under my supervisor and report if additional bad behavior happened, or 2) leave the institution.
I first spoke up, but this made the situation worse. Then, I reported to higher level people in my department and then to the dean’s office. They destroyed my life and my scientific identity as well as my dignity. They crushed my entire career.
I complained to the university. They did not follow their own prescribed guidelines for resolving complaints and allowed my PI to remove me from the lab and take away funding.
I spoke to the dean of the graduate school and she helped me get out of the situation. But she made it really clear that if I formally reported nothing good would happen to me or my co-workers.
I complained after graduation, which was a very painful process, since this PI required 15 (!) papers in order to graduate. The university seemed to take it seriously, but 6 months later nothing has changed.
I went to HR [human resources] of the department and of the institution; I discussed it with [a] disability adviser; I discussed it with the international office adviser; I filed a formal complaint with the dean; I consulted with the ombudsperson. The outcome of all of this was zero.
It took me a long time before I reported; I had to be seriously into depression. The outcome felt that it was seen as a problem in communication between us and a cultural difference—not a genuine issue.
I talked to the ombudsman and the dean who both supported me and [took steps to ensure] my appointment wasn’t canceled. It was cut short but not as much as initially threatened. I got therapy hours from the institute to help cope (10 hours) and meetings with the ombudsman to keep contact and let me know they hadn’t forgotten about me.
I complained to the HR representative, who raised the issue to the head of the department, who then spoke to the bully without giving my identity. The bully then emailed the entire group about it, asking the person who had complained to come forward. Nothing changed, and I resigned a few months later.
I complained to the head of the department, the head of faculty, and the university legal department. All were only concerned with protecting the university. I told them research is suffering and somebody is going to commit suicide if they don’t fix the problem. It was terrible. Nobody cared...