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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

University Of Wisconsin Faculty Survey Finds Widespread Bullying: Does Reward System Breed 'Academic Assholes'?


Inside Higher Ed, Madison Faculty Survey Finds Widespread Bullying:

Some 35 percent of faculty members who completed a survey on work-life issues at the University of Wisconsin at Madison reported having been bullied by colleagues within the last three years, The Cap Times reported. “The measure of incidence of hostile and intimidating behavior is rather surprising,” reads a new report on survey results prepared by the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute at Madison.

The same survey found that 91 percent of respondents said major budget cuts due to decreased state funding lowered morale. Some 72 percent of respondents said controversial new tenure policies adopted after changes to the state statute on tenure lowered morale. The survey involved tenured and tenure-track faculty members and saw a 59 percent response rate.

About half of women and faculty members with disabilities said they’d experienced bullying. Professors with tenure and those in the social sciences also were more likely to report having been bullied than participants over all. Some 42 percent of respondents also said they’d witnessed bullying, defined in the survey as “hostile and intimidating behavior.” ...

The No Asshole RuleAcademic bullying isn’t unique to Madison, or even the U.S., as evidenced by the popularity of a 2013 blog post on “academic assholes” by Australian scholar Inger Mewburn, moderator of the Thesis Whisperer blog. Bob Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University and author of The No-Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, said at the time that academe may perpetuate “selfishness” by virtue of its rewards system. He doubted bullying was worse in academe than in many other professions, however, including nursing, where the phenomenon is well documented and comes from a variety of sources.

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Student snowflakes, professor snowflakes? How do you bully someone with tenure?

Women and the handicapped are bullied more. Why can't a liberal enclave behave better? Did any of the 42% who saw a colleague bullied come to their aid? Did they join in the bullying? Lord of the Flies behavior among those educating the leaders of tomorrow.

Posted by: aircav65 | Apr 12, 2017 4:55:58 AM

I used to work in academia and I was accused of bullying when I treated an excuse-making, lazy co-worker with the contempt she deserved. I never yelled at her or was rude to her but she said she was "intimidated" and "felt harassed" by the fact that I ultimately refused to listen to or accept her endless excuses or coddle her wilful ineptitude, and stopped including her in the workflow after numerous fourth of fifth failed attempts to show her how to perform this or that task. The day after I finally went to our supervisor about her chronic tardiness and lack of initiative I was called into supe's office to find my inept colleague in tears, hiccuping the word "bully" between gulped sobs, and my supervisor shoveling tissues at her as if they were two adjacent parts of an assembly line. THAT was the day I finally realized what time it was in academia. I should have run away screaming then and there, but thought I could beat the system with competence and initiative.

Not so.

By kissing the right behind she was able to hang in there until my morale deteriorated to the point where it affected my work performance and I was chosen to be downsized when budget cuts came up. It took years but the fact that that Load was able to hang in there for so long is a reflection on the culture of academia and how it promotes under-achievement. My attitude ultimately deteriorated to the point where I got labeled "not a team player", even while everyone acknowledged my competence and her shortcomings. The cognitive dissonance was deafening. But because she came off as a snowflake victim who always needed help and I came off as competent and able to do things by myself (which is generally seen as arrogant these days), she's still there.

Suffice it to say I'm looking outside of academia for work now.

The point is that I'm almost always suspicious now of people saying they've been bullied. A good portion of the time it's actually crybullies doing the wailing against people who highlight and make them feel bad about their very real shortcomings.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 12, 2017 7:33:48 AM

Unfortunately, academe is a petri dish for bullying, mobbing, and incivility. I'm taking the liberty of linking one of my blog posts, "Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven?," written in 2009 and updated in 2014:

It includes additional resources and links.

David Yamada
Suffolk University Law School, Boston

Posted by: David Yamada | Apr 12, 2017 10:23:50 PM

One of the big problems here is that there is no obvious, commonly accepted definition of “bullying”. While many of us may have an image of the husky kid and his gang pushing around the skinny kid and stealing his milk money, what UW seems to mean by “bullying” is far broader. I was on the UW faculty senate a few years ago when we voted to implement an anti-bullying code. I remember that one of the proponents, in response to free-speech concerns, gave examples of unacceptable bullying behavior. One of her examples was a professor who allegedly kept his office chair higher than the chair provided for visitors. The result was that the professor was physically higher than the guest, implying inappropriately that the guest was inferior to the professor, and thus inappropriately intimidating his guests. This was the kind of bullying that the legislation was meant to address, she said. (She also had other, more obviously egregious, examples).

The UW faculty legislation did attempt a definition in its anti-bullying code. The definition is below. A faculty member who violates the anti-bullying code risks informal and formal disciplinary sanctions, up to dismissal. Whether the respondents to the survey mentioned above had this specific definition in mind is doubtful.

“Unacceptable behavior may include, but is not limited to:
• Abusive expression (including spoken, written, recorded, visual, digital, or nonverbal, etc.) directed at another person in the workplace, such as derogatory remarks or epithets that are outside the range of commonly accepted expressions of disagreement, disapproval, or critique in an academic culture and professional setting that respects free expression;
• Unwarranted physical contact or intimidating gestures;
• Conspicuous exclusion or isolation having the effect of harming another person’s reputation in the workplace and hindering another person’s work;
• Sabotage of another person’s work or impeding another person’s capacity for academic expression, be it oral, written, or other;
• Abuse of authority, such as using threats or retaliation in the exercise of authority, supervision, or guidance, or impeding another person from exercising shared governance rights, etc.
Repeated acts or a pattern of hostile and/or intimidating behaviors are of particular concern. A single act typically will not be sufficient to warrant discipline or dismissal, but an especially severe or egregious act may warrant either.
These standards are to be construed within the context of the University’s historical and enduring commitment to academic freedom, freedom of expression, and the conception of the University as a place that must encourage and foster the free exchange of ideas, beliefs, and opinions, however unpopular. In no case shall a sanction be imposed in response to a complaint solely about the contents of a faculty member’s beliefs, views, or opinions taken in the abstract. The policy is not intended to constitute a general civility code addressing ordinary stresses of the workplace, such as occasionally insensitive language or behavior. Nor is it intended to constrain commonly accepted workplace management practices. Rather, it is intended to address patterns of hostility or intimidation that impede persons from carrying out their duties to the University, ensuring that all, regardless of rank or status, may pursue their work and speak as they see fit.

Posted by: Jason Yackee | Apr 13, 2017 3:17:09 AM