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Author Topic: Just curious: Bullies on the faculty?  (Read 30767 times)
sinatra
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« on: December 24, 2009, 9:23:53 AM »

I was thumbing my way through Faculty Incivility in our bookstore last week and was wondering how prevalent bullying is in your experience, O Wise Forumites. When I was coming up through the system in the 1980's, I remember a lot of full professors using their status to "protect" certain faculty from all harm and to alienate any young faculty member who dared question the "established order." Frankly, I have not seen too much of that phenomenon in the last five years or so, only heard about it once in a while from friends. What I see more of today is the "victim bully" approach: "I am acting with hostility toward (target person) because I perceive (target) to be a bully." No proof can support the claim because the target has not engaged in the behaviors that the (real) bully claims s/he has. So I am just curious, what is your experience? And what can a department chair realistically do about the bully, especially the new "victim bully"?
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digger
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« Reply #1 on: December 24, 2009, 10:09:17 AM »

We are going through a similar situation. Non-collegial behavior is simply non-collegial behavior. Hopefully you have a passage in your governance and P&T documents that covers collegiality.

It may appear to be more PC to frame their actions by protecting a person, attacking the author of a new policy, or somehow saving your program from itself. That approach also gives the bully the bonus of a self-righteous inner dialog.  In the end, its simply is bad behavior that needs a good airing.

Beyond that, the problem becomes more localized and you would need to reveal more details than you might be willing to divulge on the forum.

In general

Mentor your target to keep good notes (you keep good notes as well) keep a dialog between the two of them (and yourself) open if possible and try to settle issues at the lowest and least formal level possible.  Get them talking and listen-listen-listen.

Analyze the political makeup of your program does everyone agree with the bully? Can you simple ask the bully to back off or are they a hammer looking for anything to nail? 

If all fails, the target (and you) should know your grievance policy inside and out AND already have discussed possible scenarios with your Dean & HR. Most importantly, know how will the administration back up any actions you decide to make. Experience shows they talk a good fight until someone throws the first punch, then their backbones go for a vacation leaving you in a horrible situation.

YMMV
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losemygrip
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« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2009, 11:34:53 PM »

I have a genuine, grade-A, sociopathic bully in my department.  S/he has so many neuroses and has committed so many transgressions, it's impossible to list them all.  (The down side of tenure.)  Particularly notable is the open announcement that s/he would "gaslight" my predecessor to the bitter end, and explicitly telling untentured faculty that if s/he did not do EXACTLY as the bully said, said untenured faculty member would not be receiving tenure.

So they DO still exist.  Don't be so quick to dismiss bullying charges.  However, what you describe is not some kind of "reverse" bullying.  It's a standard passive-aggressive bullying technique.
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takapa
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« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2010, 11:30:19 AM »

Oh good lord, this sounds like something children would do....  Since they are the bully, treat them as such just as if they were acting in the traditional bully mode.  I like Digger's response.  Acting badly should be covered by the faculty handbook or other similiar document.  What is wrong with people????
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onion
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« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2010, 2:37:41 PM »

I left my former university because of persistent bullying by both of the chairs I had worked for.  They hated each other, but each had their own small cult of personality.  In my case, bullying took the form of both public and private denigration of my research and teaching; nearly weekly "closed door" meeting where the chair would lecture me on my allegedly poor performance; calling me by someone else's name; making fun of my hair, clothing, general appearance; re-assigning me to an office that was formerly a restroom and was in the farthest reach of the building (and giving my office with a window to a new VAP with no explanation); horrible teaching schedules (in terms of teaching times, classrooms, selection of classes, and number of days teaching.  In fact, if I were there this semester, I'd be teaching 4 classes and 4 preps spread out over six days a week, including a late Friday afternoon class and an early Saturday morning class); sending me to the Dean's office and/or HR for disciplinary lectures; and repeatedly telling me and filling out annual reports that indicated I would not get tenure.  I was so reviled by the chair, and the chair was so mean and petty and vindictive that the other faculty stopped talking to me.  Associating with me in public meant that you would start to get bad teaching schedules and other things.  It was a miserable experience, and I started to believe it was me (the gaslighting worked).

I tried to talk to HR, other Deans, other faculty, and the AAUP (this was a non-union school, but had a small, powerless AAUP chapter).  No one would intervene on my behalf even though I was not the first woman in the department to whom this had happened; in fact, this department has a history of bullying women and denying them tenure for "uncollegiality", backed by bad annual reports that misrepresented basic facts (miscalculating your teaching load or teaching evaluations and refusing to correct the error and "losing" or refusing to accept your rebuttal to the annual report).

Fortunately, I got a new job at a better school with a better teaching load and I'm on track to tenure here.  However, while this solved things for me, it did nothing for the vacuum that my departure created.  I've heard from folks there that the chair has turned on a woman he had previously treated quite well.  The problem is systemic and endemic, but the administration won't nut up and take care of the problem.  I hope that my former university is sucked back into hell, where it belongs. 
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alleyoxenfree
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« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2010, 4:25:50 PM »

It is common.  Bad deans, bad chairs, cliques of "locals" vs. the new kid.  The relative difficulty of leaving an academic job emboldens those groups.  The only way to protect yourself is to have mobility and enough consulting or professional ability on the side so as to be able to go whenever - to call their bluff.  Or to have a well-heeled spouse to support you and live in an area where you could obviously find another academic job or other job.

This is rarely discussed when we tell grad students to take that 5-5 job at Remote Corner College or the seemingly great 3-2 at Prestigious U. that seems to have a string of people passing through.

And unfortunately, we have still not seemed to figure out, as a profession, how to have a bathroom wall sufficient to warn job-seekers about these places beforehand.
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onion
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« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2010, 4:31:45 PM »

It is common.  Bad deans, bad chairs, cliques of "locals" vs. the new kid.  The relative difficulty of leaving an academic job emboldens those groups. 
<snip>

This is an excellent point.  I'm a historian, and my evil colleagues were all too aware of how difficult the market is, and how rare or difficult gainful employment outside the academy is as well.  The same thing happened in the English department at this university.  I don't think that's mere coincidence.
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #7 on: January 09, 2010, 4:40:01 PM »

It is common.  Bad deans, bad chairs, cliques of "locals" vs. the new kid.  The relative difficulty of leaving an academic job emboldens those groups. 
<snip>

This is an excellent point.  I'm a historian, and my evil colleagues were all too aware of how difficult the market is, and how rare or difficult gainful employment outside the academy is as well.  The same thing happened in the English department at this university.  I don't think that's mere coincidence.

...although it does make one wonder just why some of these same people voted to hire New Kid in the first place.  What were they thinking?

The only way to protect yourself is to have mobility and enough consulting or professional ability on the side so as to be able to go whenever - to call their bluff.

This is the truth--for any bad employment situation, not just the one described by the OP.
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It is, of course, possible that what I remember as terror was only a love too great to bear.
onion
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« Reply #8 on: January 09, 2010, 4:44:37 PM »

It is common.  Bad deans, bad chairs, cliques of "locals" vs. the new kid.  The relative difficulty of leaving an academic job emboldens those groups. 
<snip>

This is an excellent point.  I'm a historian, and my evil colleagues were all too aware of how difficult the market is, and how rare or difficult gainful employment outside the academy is as well.  The same thing happened in the English department at this university.  I don't think that's mere coincidence.

...although it does make one wonder just why some of these same people voted to hire New Kid in the first place.  What were they thinking?


I often found myself thinking that when I was at Craptacular State.  I found out, about a year into the job, that I was a diversity hire, "forced" on the department by the administration.  Therefore, many of my senior colleagues had conlcuded that I wasn't qualified and had merely been an "affirmative action hire."  So they hazed me and tormented me until I left.  Rinse and repeat.

Alleyoxenfree and YT, you're right about keeping oneself employable.  In my case, I wrote my ass off.  But I still feel like the fact that I got out of there was equal measures luck and serendipity.
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #9 on: January 09, 2010, 4:51:19 PM »

It is common.  Bad deans, bad chairs, cliques of "locals" vs. the new kid.  The relative difficulty of leaving an academic job emboldens those groups. 
<snip>

This is an excellent point.  I'm a historian, and my evil colleagues were all too aware of how difficult the market is, and how rare or difficult gainful employment outside the academy is as well.  The same thing happened in the English department at this university.  I don't think that's mere coincidence.

...although it does make one wonder just why some of these same people voted to hire New Kid in the first place.  What were they thinking?


I often found myself thinking that when I was at Craptacular State.  I found out, about a year into the job, that I was a diversity hire, "forced" on the department by the administration.  Therefore, many of my senior colleagues had conlcuded that I wasn't qualified and had merely been an "affirmative action hire."  So they hazed me and tormented me until I left.  Rinse and repeat.

Alleyoxenfree and YT, you're right about keeping oneself employable.  In my case, I wrote my ass off.  But I still feel like the fact that I got out of there was equal measures luck and serendipity.

If you have equal measures of luck and serendipity, then you are a contender indeed.  (grin)
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It is, of course, possible that what I remember as terror was only a love too great to bear.
alleyoxenfree
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« Reply #10 on: January 09, 2010, 4:52:34 PM »

It is common.  Bad deans, bad chairs, cliques of "locals" vs. the new kid.  The relative difficulty of leaving an academic job emboldens those groups. 
<snip>

This is an excellent point.  I'm a historian, and my evil colleagues were all too aware of how difficult the market is, and how rare or difficult gainful employment outside the academy is as well.  The same thing happened in the English department at this university.  I don't think that's mere coincidence.

...although it does make one wonder just why some of these same people voted to hire New Kid in the first place.  What were they thinking?


I often found myself thinking that when I was at Craptacular State.  I found out, about a year into the job, that I was a diversity hire, "forced" on the department by the administration.  Therefore, many of my senior colleagues had conlcuded that I wasn't qualified and had merely been an "affirmative action hire."  So they hazed me and tormented me until I left.  Rinse and repeat.

Alleyoxenfree and YT, you're right about keeping oneself employable.  In my case, I wrote my ass off.  But I still feel like the fact that I got out of there was equal measures luck and serendipity.

That's awful.  There is a variation on this, which is to be hated because you were the diversity hire that, although they grudgingly admit you to be qualified, were foisted upon them, so they think, by those "other people" on the faculty, whom they hate.  So your face represents all they can't stand in their colleagues they hate.  Each side hates you because they hate the other.  Lunch with either one to try to build colleagues and the hate is freshened up on each side.  You are right that they repeat it with the next person - who walks into it with no idea.
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #11 on: January 09, 2010, 4:58:53 PM »

Alley, that variation is playing out right now in a dispiriting serial performance at Branch State U., not far from Tractorville.  They've had three people in four years in that position (one of whom was an old friend of mine).  When I saw the job ad again earlier this week, I almost cried.

Another variation:  older vs. younger faculty at SLAC's and 2nd-tier comprehensive u.'s that have recently upped their hiring and/or tenure requirements.  Those with tenure find themselves, suddenly and after many years of service, among the least "qualified" members of their departments.  One can call it "growing pains"; one can even construe it as necessary.  But it's never pretty.
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It is, of course, possible that what I remember as terror was only a love too great to bear.
alleyoxenfree
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« Reply #12 on: January 09, 2010, 5:06:40 PM »

Alley, that variation is playing out right now in a dispiriting serial performance at Branch State U., not far from Tractorville.  They've had three people in four years in that position (one of whom was an old friend of mine).  When I saw the job ad again earlier this week, I almost cried.

Another variation:  older vs. younger faculty at SLAC's and 2nd-tier comprehensive u.'s that have recently upped their hiring and/or tenure requirements.  Those with tenure find themselves, suddenly and after many years of service, among the least "qualified" members of their departments.  One can call it "growing pains"; one can even construe it as necessary.  But it's never pretty.

There is a wiki, IIRC, that collects "bad universities," but it's never been specific enough or updated enough to be helpful to me. 

What is really needed is a ratemyadministrator.com, where people could post anonymously.  Admins could respond but I imagine it would quickly put the kibosh on some of the behavior we see posted about on the fora.

And another thing that would help would be a wiki that listed jobs by positions, so that it was easy to see that a job has turned over again and again.  Or at least collecting department turnover rates could be very enlightening. 

If those turnover rates were linked to the rates for admins supervising those positions, it would be fantastically helpful - especially for the grad students coming after us.

Since I have no expertise sufficient to do this, the idea is thrown out there to grad students, unions, tech-savvy SOs of job seekers.
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sinatra
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« Reply #13 on: January 10, 2010, 10:16:01 AM »

I stand corrected. It appears that bullying is alive and well. Onion, a long time ago when I was just out of grad school, a "colleague" took me out to lunch. We shared our respective research plans and tried to find ways to collaborate on future research, and I thought all was well. The very next day, this "colleague" invited me to hu's class. An alum was guest lecturing. Hu asked the alum what the alum thought of x idea, and the alum trashed it. Of course, x idea was my current line of research. This same "colleague" went after some of my advisees, giving them low grades and then sending out mass e-mailings to the faculty who staffed the grade complaint committee. These same students were earning A's and B's in other courses on campus, but were mysteriously earning D's and F's in hu's course. When I complained, I was called to the carpet by the department chair. So I picked up and left. Three more people cycled through the institution before they hired a senior-level faculty member to fill the slot. All the nonsense stopped immediately.

Lizzy, I agree with your concern over the use of the word "bullying." In fact, that concern is what was keeping me from having a discussion about the "bully" on my faculty with my dean. Hu's assertion is that hu is acting that way justifiedly because another faculty member is bullying hu. When pressed for proof, hu can provide none because said faculty member is not engaged in any bullying behavior, only disagreeing with positions hu takes on issues. But, given the comments shared in this thread, I have asked for a meeting with the dean next week. I still wonder from other forumites how prevalent this phenomenon is and what we as department chairs can do to derail it?
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onion
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« Reply #14 on: January 10, 2010, 11:29:05 AM »

I agree that the word "bully" doesn't quite cover it.  The people I dealt with, and, Sinatra, that you dealt with, were sociopaths.  I wish that my chair(s) had been able to rise above the petty bull in the department and functioned as a more neutral party, one who was an advocate for the faculty as a whole and as individuals.  I think that if you are chair and you are speaking to your dean about someone who may be bullying another of your faculty, that's a great start.  I think making sure that they're not on committees with each other for a while, or not putting them on the other's T&P committee, or on the personnel committee, is a way to protect the vulnerable party. 

In my current department there are a couple of people with bullying tendencies and the current chair has made sure they don't have power over other faculty's futures (not on mid-tenure review or T&P committees), but that they are on other committees that they care about, so they don't feel or perceive alienation.  I think that, at times, bullies act out when they feel that their positions or power or the direction of the department is threatened by that other--usually new and junior--person.  I think that's what academic/workplace bullying boils down to: one person has tenure, the other doesn't, and the one with tenure exploits the other person's STFU tendencies, or desire to just get along.  That's not to say that bullying doesn't happen among people of the same power level, but I think that's more of a personality difference, with one person not agreeing with the other's position (as Sinatra described above) and each hanging on to the bitter end.

Just my 2 cents.
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