Workplace bullying in academia
Bullying in academia is a form of workplace bullying which takes places in the institutions of higher education, such as colleges and universities. It is believed to be common, although has not received as much attention from researchers as bullying in some other contexts. Academia is highly competitive and has a well defined hierarchy, with junior staff being particularly vulnerable. Although most universities have policies on workplace bullying, individual campuses develop and implement their own protocols. This often leaves victims with no recourse.
Academic mobbing is a sophisticated form of bullying where academicians gang up to diminish the intended victim through intimidation, unjustified accusations, humiliation, and general harassment. These behaviors are often invisible to others and difficult to prove. Victims of academic mobbing may suffer from stress, depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as posttraumatic stress disorder.
Bullying is the longstanding violence, physical or psychological, conducted by an individual or group and directed against an individual who is not able to defend himself in the actual situation, with a conscious desire to hurt, threaten, or frighten that individual or put him under stress.
Workplace bullying ranges into the following categories.
- Threat to professional status, such as, public professional humiliation, accusation of lack of effort and belittling.
- Threat to social status, such as, teasing and name calling.
- Isolation, such as, withholding information and preventing access to opportunities, such as training workshops, attendance and deadlines.
- Overwork, such as setting impossible deadlines and making unnecessary disruptions
- Destabilization, for example, setting meaningless tasks, not giving credit where credit is due, removal from positions of authority.
Bullying and academic culture
Several aspects of academia lend themselves to the practice and discourage its reporting and mitigation. Its leadership is usually drawn from the ranks of faculty, most of whom have not received the management training that could enable an effective response to such situations. The perpetrators may possess tenure—a high-status and protected position—or the victims may belong to the increasing number of adjunct professors, who are often part-time employees.
The generally decentralized nature of academic institutions can make it difficult for victims to seek recourse, and appeals to outside authority have been described as "the kiss of death." Therefore, academics who are subject to bullying in workplace are often cautious about reporting any problems. Social media has recently been used to expose or allege bullying in academia anonymously. Bullying research credits an organizational rift in two interdependent and adversarial systems that comprise a larger structure of nearly all colleges and universities worldwide: faculty and administration. While both systems distribute employee power across standardized bureaucracies, administrations favor an ascription-oriented business model with a standardized criteria determining employee rank.
Faculty depend on greater open-ended and improvised standards that determine rank and job retention. The leveraged intradepartmental peer reviews (although often at a later time, these three reviews are believed to be leveraged by the fact the peers determine promotions of one another at later times) of faculty for annual reappointment of tenure-track, tenure, and post-tenure review is believed to offer "unregulated gray area" that nurture the origin of bullying cases in academia. Although tenure and post-tenure review lead to interdepartmental evaluation, and all three culminate in an administrative decision, bullying is commonly a function of administrative input before or during the early stages of intradepartmental review.
Kenneth Westhues' study of mobbing in academia found that vulnerability was increased by personal differences such as being a foreigner or of a different sex; by working in a post-modern field such as music or literature; financial pressure; or having an aggressive superior. Other factors included envy, heresy and campus politics.
The bullying in this workplace has been described as somewhat more subtle than usual. Its recipients may be the target of unwanted physical contact, violence, obscene or loud language during meetings, be disparaged among their colleagues in venues they are not aware of, and face difficulties when seeking promotion. It may also be manifested by undue demands for compliance with regulations.
Victims of academic mobbing may suffer from "stress, depression and suicidal thoughts" as well as posttraumatic stress disorder. The psychological scars have been described as potentially worse than with sexual harassment, and they may not heal for many years.
In 2008 the United Kingdom's University and College Union released the results of a survey taken among its 9,700 members. 51% of respondents said they had never been bullied, 16.7% that they had occasionally experienced it, and 6.7% that they were "always" or "often" subjected to bullying. The results varied by member institutions, with respondents from the University of East London reporting the highest incidence.
The Times Higher Education commissioned a survey in 2005 and received 843 responses. Over 40% reported they had been bullied, with 33% reporting "unwanted physical contact" and 10% reporting physical violence; about 75% reported they were aware that co-workers had been bullied. The incidence rate found in this survey was higher than that usually found via internal polling (12 to 24 percent).
Author C. K. Gunsalus describes the problem as "low incidence, high severity", analogous to research misconduct. She identifies the aggressors' misuse of the concepts of academic freedom and collegiality as a commonly used strategy.
Bullying of medical students
In a 2005 British study, around 35% of medical students reported having been bullied. Around one in four of the 1,000 students questioned said they had been bullied by a doctor, while one in six had been bullied by a nurse. Manifestations of bullying included:
- being humiliated by teachers in front of patients
- been victimised for not having come from a "medical family"
- being put under pressure to carry out a procedure without supervision.
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