September 28, 2021

Students and staff at Durham University complain of ‘apathy’ over bullying...

Students and staff at the University of Durham have accused management of showing a “culture of apathy” towards bullying and harassment. They said the university’s leaders had allowed “abuses of power, bullying or harassment to continue” and that they no longer trust that the executives value their safety.

The open letter came after the Guardian revealed that a college principal had been allowed to remain in post despite complaints of intimidating behaviour towards colleagues.

Prof Adekunle Adeyeye, the head of Trevelyan College, is alleged to have reduced colleagues to tears and made sexist remarks. Two people had filed formal grievances against him in 16 months and three have departed because of concerns about his manner.

He stepped down from the university’s bullying policy committee after the Guardian approached him in August, but he remains in post as college principal.

The letter, signed by 100 staff, alumni and group leaders representing nearly 8,000 students, said the Adeyeye matter was “just one example of a culture that has been seen time and time again among both staff and students”.

Anya Chuykov, president of the university’s Intersectional Feminism Society, accused management of an “unacceptable” complacency in tackling bullying and misogyny.

“The university should be setting an example at an administrative level,” she said. “Instead, it is showing both students and staff that poor behaviour can be excused and that their safety and concerns are not worthy of attention.

“This is not an isolated incident, and the behaviour of Durham University speaks to the toxic atmosphere that so many students and staff must live with at universities and schools up and down the country. Students and staff must join forces to dismantle this culture of permissiveness towards bullying, harassment and misogyny.”

Durham University said it does not accept any form of prejudice or discrimination on campus and said it condemned any incidents of bullying, harassment or misogyny “in the strongest possible terms”.

It added: “We are always open to hearing directly from students or staff regarding concerns or suggestions, and would welcome the opportunity to meet the organisers of the open letter to understand their experiences as well as the evidence.

“We have recently taken measures to promote openness and transparency on student conduct cases through publicly communicating outcomes and we are working with students to rebuild confidence that that we will listen, investigate promptly and take decisive action.”

Adeyeye was contacted for comment.


September 22, 2021

Colleges using public funds to ‘silence’ sexual harassment victims, Seanad told

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”.

Prevent healing

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

How to blow the whistle on an academic bully

...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.); 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

Durham University keeps college head in post despite alleged intimidating conduct

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

Bullies Spread Rumors to Gain Flying Monkey Supporters...

...Cindy starts by making negative comments about the target and seeing who is supportive or indifferent to her beliefs. Its starts small but over many months others start to listen. She begins to weave a web in the truest sense of social psychological manipulation by trying to create a wedge between the target victim and potential supporters. She gets others emotional involved by highlighting differences and making up stories to encourage others to lie, snub, attack or hurt the victim...

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...

 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).

 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.

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.

 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.

 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.

Academic bullying is too often ignored. Here are some targets’ stories...

 “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...

May 08, 2021

The “Friends” the Narcissist Assembled Around You are Part of Their Manipulation (Sorry)


 ...The narcissist often recruits a group of enablers and confederates called a “harem” to serve their needs. They sometimes install this group around a target, usually under the guise of friendship that transmutes into the harem becoming “family!” very quickly. They crowd out, undermine and eventually supplant the target’s other important relationships. The target is being manipulated, not only by the narcissist, but by members of the harem. The most important thing to remember when trying to parse through these relationships is that every member of the harem the narcissist allows access to the target is someone the narcissist is confident they can control.

If a harem member’s relationship with the narcissist pre-dates the target’s (particularly by a very long stretch), it is almost certain they are aware of the narcissist’s deficient character and help to cover it up to keep the narcissist attractive to their targets. Long-term harem members often aren’t as charming as the narcissist and need their relationship with the narcissist to have access to the benefits the narcissist’s targets provide. They also often participate in helping the narcissist love bomb, gaslight, isolate, and hoover their targets. They form a constant praise and worship circle around the target that boxes out sensible people by painting people who won’t behave that way as “haters.” They also subtly devalue the target and make them doubt their judgment, so they can take over important responsibilities in the target’s life…

The harem member who is the narcissist’s right hand nearly always shares the narcissist’s sociopathic traits — it’s why they’re in every plot and scheme with the narcissist. TAKE NOTE: Because this person usually lacks the narcissist’s charm and good looks, if they are attached to a high-functioning narcissist, they will almost always be a highly skilled manipulator whose mask rarely slips, because they won’t be forgiven as easily as someone with the narcissist’s social capital. They are less volatile than the narcissist and often present as even-keeled and reasonable…

…The titles they give themselves are often literally grandiose and pretentious. If a group of people around you are ironically demanding to be called “exemplary” or “iconoclastic” or “visionary” or something similarly nonsensical instead of just getting on with whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing, you’re probably dealing with a narcissist and their harem…

…The harem members often reveal themselves as manipulators when a target’s relationship with the narcissist seems like it will end. They fight the boundaries the target tries to set with the narcissist tooth and nail, because the target strengthening their boundaries weakens manipulators’ influence. The harem will guilt the target mercilessly, and, if that fails, they’ll often frame their concerns and delay tactics as giving the “devastated” narcissist time to adjust or save face and not be humiliated. The break-up can’t happen until it’s the “right time.” There is no right time. They’re stalling to try to figure out how to keep the con going.

…These entanglements are deliberately engineered to make getting the narcissist out of your life so tedious that you give in to the exhaustion. Businesses, charities, etc. (any group where the narcissist can set and enforce rules and demand and extract loyalty) are also a way to recruit and groom new harem members. In addition, those arrangements are how the narcissist and the harem ensure someone reinforcing their point of view is nearly always with the target and surveilling them to report back.

Narcissists poison group culture wherever they go, particularly if they are in leadership positions. That also has to be dealt with in the aftermath and is why identifying and clearing out the harem is necessary — they share the narcissist’s warped values.

…after a target leaves them, narcissists always (yes, always) run a smear campaign and use their harem and other confederates as “flying monkeys” to spread lies about how horrible the target was to the narcissist, when it’s the reverse that’s true. These flying monkeys also bully and harass former targets in other ways.

…Narcissists’ entitlement will extend to the organization’s resources, and it’s deeper and wider than money. For example, an organization’s social media and communications infrastructure are incredibly valuable to narcissists. They also like to play favorites and reward their harem members with jobs, contracts, etc. You need to look out for self-dealing, unethical self-promotion, etc.

It’s painful and overwhelming to extricate yourself from messes like this. People will think you’re overreacting when you excise the narcissist and the harem from your life completely. The narcissist and the harem will have done everything in their power to cultivate this response. That’s why it’s important to find resources and take advice and support from people who understand the dynamics, who know that you’re not crazy or ungrateful or disloyal or whatever the narcissist and the harem are gaslighting you into believing when you refuse to sacrifice yourself to them and their unreasonable demands. Every cult is an extreme expression of the narcissist/harem dynamic…


March 19, 2021

Faculty Experiences with Bullying in Higher Education

 "...When bullying/mobbing occurs, it tends to be long-standing. McKay et al. (2008) found that 21% of their sample reported bullying that had persisted for more than five years in duration. In our 2008 study, 32% of the overall sample (faculty, staff, administrators, etc.) reported bullying lasting for more than three years. This percentage increased to 49% when we focused on faculty. 

It may be that academia is a particularly vulnerable setting for such persistent aggression as a result of tenure, which has faculty and some staff in very long-term relationships with one another. Both conflict (Holton, 1998) and aggression (Jawahar, 2002) research note that the longer and more interactive the relationship, the greater the opportunity for conflict and potential for aggression. 

Further, while ensuring a “job for life,” tenure may also restrict mobility so that once a situation goes bad, there are few options for leaving. Zapf and Gross (2001) observed that the number of actors was linked to the duration of bullying. They found that the more people who joined in the situation, the longer it went on, concluding that it may become increasingly difficult for witnesses/bystanders to remain neutral as bullying proceeds and intensifies. 

Given the preceding discussion, once bullying begins, and the longer it is permitted to continue, the more likely it is that other colleagues will be drawn into the situation—possibly accounting for the higher incidence of rates of mobbing among faculty (Westhues, 2006)...

Cultures that “breed” bullying and hostility are variously characterized as competitive, adversarial, and highly politicized, with autocratic or authoritarian leadership that does not tolerate nonconformity (Hoel & Salin, 2003). These are conditions that appear contrary to the academy’s espoused notions of collegiality and civility, grounded in the “sacred” values of academic freedom and autonomy..."


March 03, 2021

Leaders who yammer “transparency”: The more we hear it, the less we see it...


...So many senior managers and executives, public officials, and non-profit directors yammer endlessly about their commitment to transparency, especially when they assume their new positions...

Often much sooner than later, a certain dissonance creeps into the rank-and-file. Hmm, our Great Leader keeps talking about transparency, but why don’t we know the details about what’s going on? The reality doesn’t seem to be matching the rhetoric.

Maybe someone has the temerity to raise this discomfort at a staff meeting, town hall forum, or coffee hour. More often than not, the response will be a defensive one, perhaps with an explanation that would make George Orwell’s head spin. I’m being transparent by telling you that I choose not to share this with you!

Eventually, the Great Leader stops using the T word. It’s passé, a term of the past (i.e., beyond a year after the Great Leader’s arrival), and at this point unnecessary. Business as usual is once again the norm, except it’s possible that there’s even less transparency than ever before. That truth will become, uh, transparent to most, but by then the options for doing anything about it will be limited.

February 23, 2021

The Psychopath in the C Suite: Redefining the SOB [Seductive Operational Bully—or psychopath]


"...What really puzzled those who had the measure of Richard was that the people caught in his web usually described their initial encounter with him as like finding a soul mate, typically claiming, “We have so much in common,” “We’re so much alike.” They seemed to delude themselves into thinking that they had initiated an instant friendship. They failed to recognize that Richard had really been engaging in an exercise in mimicry, reflecting their own persona back on the person he was talking to, a talent that is sure to be endearing—it’s nice and easy to fall in love with yourself...

...a serious concern for some people in the office was the confusion about Richard’s background. Some began to question whether he was an imposter citing impressive but fictitious credentials. Suspicion circulated about his previous activities and the opacity of his career timeline. Some whispered that there were some gaping holes. What was Richard trying to hide?

...Feelings of shame and guilt are quite alien to these people. They have no understanding of empathy; they are unable to see beyond their narrow self-interest; and they only care about what is good for number one. They also have no moral code or understanding of what is right or wrong. Expediency is all that matters. It is not conscience that enables them to control their antisocial impulses, but convenience...

The question remains, what can be viewed as developmental and what genetic in the creation of psychopathy? Given the lack of consistency about causality, most research about psychopaths has taken a genetic or neurological direction. The biological relationship between the brain and psychopathy is at the center of most of these studies. For example, many intriguing, consistent correlates of psychopathy (affective, semantic, and physiological differences) have been established in the laboratory. Usually, these tests suggest that psychopaths are prone to neurological (probably genetic) anomalies—that is, faulty wiring can be blamed for their condition (Livesley et al, 1992; Harris et al, 2001). 

According to some of these studies, biogenetic deficiencies (neurological abnormalities, mainly in the frontal lobe of the brain) prevent psychopaths from processing complex emotional experiences. The cause of the non-typical anatomy or chemical activity within this area of the brain may be abnormal growth (possibly genetic), brain disease, or injury..."

Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries