College faculty members who are bullied or abused by coworkers often feel they must either suffer through it or quit. Soon, however, colleges may be pressed to give them a third option: requesting the intervention of a mediator or arbitrator to try to turn their workplace situation around.
What is unclear is whether such interventions will make life more tolerable for bullies' victims or leave them feeling more beat up than they were before.
Colleges already frequently use various forms of third-party intervention, broadly known as alternative dispute resolution, to try to keep complaints of unlawful discrimination from turning into costly legal battles. Noting that such disputes often involve allegations of bullying or other forms for workplace abuse, two prominent organizations that provide alternative dispute resolution plan in the coming months to undertake a national campaign to urge colleges to use that same approach in handling complaints of mistreatment that do not necessarily violate any civil-rights laws.
The effort is being led by the American Arbitration Association, a nonprofit provider of alternative dispute resolution based in New York, and by the ADR Consortium, which consists of companies and individuals that offer such services. Also involved is the Institute of Human Resources and Industrial Relations at Loyola University Chicago, which plans to do research on the effectiveness of the approach.
In a paper scheduled for presentation Wednesday at the annual conference of the American Association of University Professors, Lamont E. Stallworth, a professor of human resources and employment relations at the Loyola institute and a founder of the ADR Consortium, and Myrna C. Adams, an organizational consultant who formerly served as Duke University's vice president for institutional equity, argue that alternative dispute resolution offers an "ethical, professional, and cost-effective" way to deal with bullying and other forms of workplace incivility.
By handling bullying complaints confidentially in such a manner, the paper by Mr. Stallworth and Ms. Adams says, colleges can help keep the victims of bullies from developing psychological or health problems as a result of their stress, and can avoid the costs associated with having to replace faculty members who otherwise might quit their jobs in response to the bullying they have experienced or witnessed.
Mr. Stallworth and Ms. Adams acknowledge, however, that they cannot point to any research showing alternative dispute resolution to be an effective means of dealing with bullying. And many experts on bullying argue that what research actually shows is that mediation by some third party is an ineffective means of dealing with bullying, and may even leave the victims worse off.
"There is great consensus about the futility of [alternative dispute resolution] to work with bullying," Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, said in an e-mail message.
In a September 2009 article in Consulting Psychology Journal, Mr. Namie and Ruth Namie, his wife and partner in running the Workplace Bullying Institute, wrote, "Traditional conflict mediation ignores the targeted worker's need for justice and acknowledgment of the harm" and "focuses only on current and future circumstances, ignoring the past."
"If there is a power imbalance between target and bully, as there often is, mediation can harm the target," they said.
Bully for You
Kenneth Westhues, a professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, has devoted much of his career to studying "mobbing"—the type of bullying that occurs when a bunch of people gang up on someone—and has found academe to be rife with such behavior. Mobbing, he says, occurs most in workplaces where workers have high job security, where there are few objective measures of performance, and where there is frequent tension between loyalty to the institution and loyalty to some higher purpose. Colleges fit that bill.
The AAUP's annual conference this week has three sessions devoted specifically to faculty bullying. In their paper, Mr. Stallworth and Ms. Adams describe how bullying in academe can take forms other than mobbing, including "regulation bullying," where the victim is forced to comply with unnecessary rules; "legal bullying," which involves using legal action to control or punish a person; "pressure bullying," which involves making unreasonable time demands; and "corporate bullying," in which an employer abuses a worker who cannot easily find another job.
They blame three common features of academic environments—big egos, an individualistic ethic, and tolerance for behaviors not accepted elsewhere—for the prevalence of bullying behavior in such settings.
Bullies and Victims
In a paper scheduled to be presented on Thursday, three researchers from Wilkes University, in Pennsylvania, will discuss the results of a survey that asked faculty members in economics and business about bullying behavior. They found that among such academics, men are more likely to be bullies than women, both genders are about equally likely to be victims, and older faculty members are more likely to be bullies and younger ones to be victims.
The most common type of bullying behavior faculty members engage in, the Wilkes researchers found, is discounting another person's accomplishments, followed by turning other people against their victim, or subjecting their victim to public criticism or constant scrutiny.
The researchers—Jennifer Edmonds, associate professor of statistics and operations management; Dean Frear, assistant professor of organizational behavior; and Ellen Raineri, assistant professor of business—caution that their survey had a low response rate. Just 60, or 2.7 percent, of the 2,200 faculty members they contacted via e-mail responded to their questions, they said, and thus their findings may be skewed by sampling bias.
But a 2007 online survey of more than 7,700 adults conducted by Zogby International for the Workplace Bullying Institute similarly found that, among workplaces in general, men and bosses are disproportionately represented among bullies, and women and people in nonsupervisory roles account for a disproportionate share of victims.
Other survey research by the institute has found that only a small fraction of workers who complain about bullying to their employers feel that a fair investigation was conducted, that they were protected from further bullying, and that their bully suffered consequences. The far more common outcome was for the employer to do nothing and for the victims to be retaliated against and eventually lose their jobs.
The institute's 2007 survey found that workplace bullying was four times as prevalent as discriminatory harassment that is prohibited by law. The organization has been urging states to adopt what it calls the Healthy Workplace Bill, a measure that gives workers who have been subjected to an abusive work environment the right to sue their employers. Since 2003, 17 states have considered such legislation, but none has yet passed it into law. The New York Senate passed such a measure last month, but the State Assembly has yet to vote on it. The bill's opponents include many business leaders and the mayor of New York City, Michael R. Bloomberg.
Among the other nations that have passed laws intended to curb workplace bullying are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Quebec adopted such a law, called the Quebec Psychological Harassment Act, in 2004.
A key element of the campaign planned by the American Arbitration Association and the ADR Consortium is persuading colleges to adopt anti-bullying policies and codes of civility. That way, although alternative dispute resolution would not be used unless both sides agreed to it, the alleged perpetrator would have an incentive to enter into the resolution process, to avoid facing disciplinary action.
Christine L. Newhall, senior vice president of the American Arbitration Association, said in an interview on Tuesday that many types of dispute resolution could be used in such situations, including fact-finding, binding or nonbinding arbitration, or mediation in which a facilitator tries to bring together both sides. She is confident that well-trained providers of such services can resolve many bullying-related conflicts in academe, just as they settle many other workplace disputes.
"Sometimes the bully does not even know they are a bully," Ms. Newhall said.
Mr. Stallworth is playing a central role in the effort as both a faculty member at the Loyola institute and program director of the ADR Consortium, which he established in 1995. A veteran user of alternative dispute resolution to settle complaints of illegal discrimination, he says he became interested in research on workplace bullying several years ago and has been considering how to apply the expertise of those like him to such conflicts.
If mediation can be used to resolve disputes over equal-employment opportunity, Mr. Stallworth said in an interview this month, "then there is no reason why we cannot structure mediation protocols—or, for that matter, arbitration protocols—to deal with any issues of power imbalance in workplace bullying disputes."
Martin F. Scheinman, a prominent professional arbitrator and mediator who helped set up the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution at Cornell University, said in an interview Tuesday that he similarly sees the potential of alternative dispute resolution to defuse such workplace conflicts in academe, especially in situations where one side may not even be entertaining the perspective of the other.
"When people don't get what they want, they don't say, 'Maybe it has something to do with me,'" Mr. Scheinman said.
Mr. Stallworth said that he and other leaders of the effort plan to invite higher-education associations to join it, and to offer local and regional training to colleges in dealing with bullying and incivility. When problems crop up on campuses, the American Arbitration Association and the ADR Consortium will provide referrals to people affiliated with or trained by them who can provide conflict-resolution services.
The groups involved with the effort plan next year to host a national summit on alternative dispute resolution in Washington. They intend to devote much of the conference to discussions of bullying and incivility at colleges, and plan to invite various higher-education associations to participate.
"I go for anything that works," Mr. Westhues, the mobbing expert at the University of Waterloo, said this month. He cautioned, however, that even the best-intentioned approaches to bullying can backfire. For example, many colleges have been adopting "respectful workplace" or "dignity at work" policies calling for people to be civil to their fellow employees, but he has watched bullies bring frivolous complaints under such policies as just one more means of tormenting their victims.
"From my research, the bottom line that I come to is that there is no substitute in the workplace for adroit, fair management or administration," Mr. Westhues said. If a college embraces alternative dispute resolution but "you have an administration that is basically incompetent or lacks imagination in working out ways for people to live with each other, what you are going to have is an endless series of disputes going to some formal dispute-resolution mechanism."
In an article published in August 2004 in the British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, Patricia Ferris, then a doctoral student in industrial organizational psychology at the University of Calgary, studied organizations' responses to bullying and found that "mediation was frequently unsuccessful due to power differentials between the employee and the bully, inexperience on the part of the person conducting the mediation, and lack of understanding of the differences between bullying and interpersonal conflict." In fact, she said, mediation "was the most damaging response to employees" because they often felt betrayed by organizations that did not provide the help they sought, and ended up seeking more psychological counseling, on average, than people who worked for organizations that either did nothing about bullying behavior or had policies against bullying which they rigidly enforced.
Mr. Stallworth argues, however, that there are many types of bullying behavior and many approaches to alternative dispute resolution, and some forms of mediation do not require the two sides to even have any contact with each other. He said he is confident that the approaches he advocates will be effective in a variety of situations involving bullying in academe, and that they are preferable to the choices the victims of faculty bullies now face.
"So many people have dealt with the consequences of being bullied," Mr. Stallworth said. "We all know how terrible it is to be treated in that fashion."