Workplace bullies and the academy

potter.jpgCheck out this brief article in the New York Times about bullies in the workplace, their strategies and the toll they take on individuals and the productivity of the organizations they work for.  In response to this article’s request to hear stories of workplace bullying, there are 466 comments, and they’re still being posted this morning as I write.  (Don’t miss comment #53 from Liz, an attorney and Army Reservist who said she has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder not from her tour of duty in Iraq, but rather from her civililan job!)  I read the first one hundred comments, and have noticed some interesting themes:

  1. While careers in medicine and the law are heavily represented in the incidents reported here, the academic workplace is specifically mentioned in ten out of the first 100 complaints:  see comments 2, 17, 25, 30, 44, 55, 64, 70, 86, and 96.  Yep, folks, read ’em and weep:  Chairs bullying junior faculty, Deans bullying tenured faculty, professors bullying students, and in one case, students bullying a professor, so there’s something for everyone.
  2. The article notes that “a large share of the problem involves women victimizing women. The Zogby survey showed that 40 percent of workplace bullies are women,” and the comments bear this out.  Comment 55 from Dana, a graduate student, writes that the faculty member making her life miserable “was awarded her doctorate in the late 1960s, when women had a tougher go of it in higher education. I’m convinced through my experience with her and others that that generation of feminists approach their careers with a grand chip on their shoulders – and take it out on those of us who came in through the next feminist wave of a decade later.”
  3. Just looking at the syntax and writing style of the comments, you can see the toll that workplace bullying takes on people.  So many of the comments are in all lower-case letters (people reporting bullying seem to refer to themselves as “i” instead of “I”), and they are full of run-on sentences.  I couldn’t read more than 100–my guts were churning and bile was rising in my throat, and there’s only so much rank injustice that a girl can take on a sunny, spring morning!
  4. There are a few commenters who try to jolly the others out of their misery (“try making friends!”), and others who claim that bullying victims are just whiners who can’t take criticism.  But, those reactions seem naive on the one hand, and cruel on the other.  The clear lesson is that people who are being bullied need to leave those jobs in order to preserve whatever’s left of their health and sanity.

On the question of women bullying other women:  I don’t think it’s fair at all to tar a whole generation with that brush–after all, some of the most supportive, nurturing people who have mentored me and many other junior women are from that generation.  Until fairly recently, it was only that generation of women faculty who were senior enough to engage in bullying.  Sadly, Historiann is familiar with women bullying women–it was considered not a bug, but rather a feature of her former department.  The bullying women were “useful idiots” who could be relied on to police junior women; the senior men could then hide behind their skirts and deny that gender bias was an issue.  I don’t think this kind of behavior can be pinned on the generation of women who earned their degrees in the 60s and 70s–I’ve seen it in people whose degrees are from the 1980s and 1990s, too.  The critical issue is power, not generation, and most regular faculty with 1990s Ph.D.’s are tenured now and therefore have at least a small purchase on power and influence in their departments.

The one advantage that academics have over people in other lines of work is that bullies aren’t as able to affect our prospects for other employment the way that bullying bosses in private industry can.  If we keep publishing and maintain connections with supportive scholars outside of our institutions, we can get out of a bad job.  We don’t need letters of recommendation from our department chairs–if you’re an Assistant Professor, a letter from a supportive Associate Professor will do nicely to testify implicitly, if not explicitly, that you’re not a troublemaking malcontent but rather an excellent colleage with limitless potential.  The only exception to this is if your bully happens to be someone of importance in your field–but this is probably unusual:  by definition, people who are important in their field spend their time writing books, working with students, and hobnobbing at conferences with other people important in their field.  In general, they don’t have the time, let alone the inclination, to try to mess with someone else’s career.  In my experience, the bullies weren’t exactly the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, to put it charitably.  They weren’t terribly productive scholars or successful teachers, which is probably why they felt so intimidated by smart young things who were clearly going places.  So, they chose to make their post-tenure careers as hall monitors rather than as scholars.

Et vous, mes amis?  Any thoughts as to why the groves of academe are such fertile fields for bullies?  (Or, conversely, why academics are such thin-skinned, overly sensistive complainers?)  Do you have your own stories to share?  Discuss.

39 thoughts on “Workplace bullies and the academy

  1. Pingback: Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » “Workplace bullies and the academy”

  2. One of my colleagues has been very active in trying to get an anti-bullying in the workplace bill passed her in Connecticut. She was drawn to this cause after her best friend killed herself after years of bullying by a (male) boss.

    My mother had an awful experience as an OR nurse, bullied by a female OR nurse supervisor. Fortunately, she was able to find another job, but it took a tremendous toll on her mental health at the time.

    This is a big problem and deserves serious attention.


  3. It sounded like many of you were subject to some cyber-bullying at work recently (“Gentlemen, pardon our stupidity“), although that’s not the same as having to work with a supervisor or close colleagues who is trying to do one in.

    You (and your mother) might be interested in the medical stories in the NYT discussion–there were several of them, although mostly complaints about doctors bullying nurses or the office staff who work with them.


  4. Wait a minute. I recognize that guy on the right in the picture! He lived right up the hill from me, not a half mile from where I’m typing. I could find his house on a three minute walk. He’s not bullying anybody. He’s telling some rich old coot to take his advice back to Vermont and run for a real job, instead of whoring after the Vice Presidency, which in any case has already been promised to at least thirteen other New Light converts!

    Seriously, with all the workplace bullying going on by the Democratic triumvirs and addled patriarchs this year, some basic legal protections couldn’t come along a minute too soon. Humble citizens hereabouts, like the Building and Loan customers my neighbor in that picture is protecting, will try to restore a little order at the polls in three weeks, if the “end it now” crowd can be held at bay for that much time.


  5. Well, the cyberbullying carries over into real life for some women. One is so upset from constant harrasment by her chair, and zero support from the Dean, that she’s thinking of quitting a tenured associate professor job.


  6. Indyanna–after I posted the photo from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it occured to me that the standing man might be interpreted as the bully, but I think most people know that the necrotic Lionel Barrymore (seated at left) is the bully, and this is the moment when Jimmy Stewart’s charater tells him to p*ss off! To me, that’s the emotional highlight of the movie, not Zuzu’s petals…

    KC: ugh. I know of a department (not my discipline, not my university) that had FOUR tenured profs resign last year, only two of them for other jobs (and one of those accepted an assistant professor job, and so will have to go through tenure all over again.) It’s amazing to me the tendency for Deans to back up bad chairs. I think the tendency is that since they’ve made one bad decision, they’re going to stick with it, damn the costs.


  7. Um, I hate to keep beating the same drum, but…tenure? The ways in which untenured people are accountable to everyone and tenured people to virtually no one?

    Ok — if you don;t like that, how about narcissism?

    Great post, Historiann.



  8. Historiann,

    Yes, I took a few rhetorical and interpretive liberties with the photo, to be sure. After waking up yesterday to the news that they’re going to the neolithic Casey brand to nail down change we can believe in, I figured they must really be desperate up here. Almost felt sorry for them. But the account of Leahy’s muddled ramblings at nightfall send me over the top. To academicize the point a bit, and thus not to tread on the intended sensibility of the thread, I wonder if Sen. Ben N. Jerry concluded his condescending pablum about “she has the makings of a great career as a Senator” with something like, oh maybe, “best wishes for your pursuit of a suitable position in the political industry.”


  9. TR: that’s right–this post is something of a continuation of the tenure debate Tenure means never having to say you’re sorry, and provides excellent cover for bullies.

    Indyanna: Well, the Caseys were never on board with the first President Clinton. Yes, they’re telling that old lie too now about how Bill Clinton denied Bob Casey Sr. an opportunity to address the Democratic Convention of 1992 because he was anti-abortion. The inconvenient fact is that then-Gov. Casey NEVER ENDORSED BILL CLINTON, which would seem to have been a bigger barrier to having a starring role in Bill Clinton’s party. But, historical facts are so inconvenient when you have a more pleasing tale to tell!


  10. TR, I see your point, but you still haven’t suggested a workable alternative to tenure — yes it protects bullies, but it also protects those of us with unpopular ideas. Would you rather be fired on a whim because you’re too radical? Or even because the institution is “right-sizing”? Remember the purges at Bennington College in the 1990s when the Board of Trustees decided to eliminate tenure?


  11. I’m a guy and before I came to academia I spent over 20 years in trucking and still more years in other fields that are still viewed as traditionally “male.” I came to see the endless bullying in these occupations as simply part of masculine culture, a way of establishing and reinforcing the dominance hierarchy that men seem to love so much.

    In other words, bullying was part of an often extended hazing ritual that ended as soon as the new person “passed the test.” Or else it didn’t end. Some never passed the test and were perpetually harassed. Others quit.

    So, here’s my two cents. Since so many of the occupations mentioned on the thread were (or still are) in many ways “masculine (i.e., the law, medicine, academia), is the women-on-women bullying more an institutional thing? A holdover from the past? Are the more senior women just imitating the bullying behavior of the men who first initiated THEM?


  12. As a tenured person, I was bullied for four years straight by an assistant professor. I could get no protection because I had tenure and he didn’t, and because he was disabled, the institution was afraid he would sue if not allowed to continue to bully.

    The institution was so concerned about this that they also would not let *me* say no to his bullying. We had to sit in silence in meetings as he screamed at us, so that he would not have grounds on which to grieve.

    He bullied all faculty and most students.

    [details here changed for purposes of discretion, and end of story not told for same reason]


  13. P.S. Important re bullying in academia: abuse is depressing. When we were being bullied, the productivity of my subdepartment went way down. We had the symptoms of abuse victims, etc. So the response, just keep on publishing and teaching your own classes nicely, wasn’t adequate. I was embarrassed some weeks to talk to colleagues elsewhere because of how I was being treated and because I was being told by the administration I had to take it to protect them.

    Students were being bullied and needed to be patched up all the time. Other colleagues were also being bullied and it was making them freaky. It exhausted me. We’d go home and put cold towels on our heads instead of writing brilliant articles.


  14. “Tenure means never having to say you’re sorry, and provides excellent cover for bullies.”

    Once again – I have not found this to be the case. I just told about one bully in one of my departments, forgetting about another in the other, who didn’t affect me as much since I never had to work closely with her. She was also an assistant professor and caused no end of mayhem, pushing both tenured faculty and graduate students around. That department is a little better run and the person got told to stop – perhaps because she was not disabled and so they were less afraid of a discrimination suit.

    And tenure *does* mean having to say you’re sorry – there are all sorts of entities one is responsible to.

    Once again, in my experience it is mostly white men who don’t have to say they’re sorry, tenured or not!


  15. Prof. Zero–your story is horrible! I’m so sorry you’ve had to work in such dysfunctional environments. But, I have to think that that kind of bullying by assistant professors is the exception rather than the rule. That doesn’t negate your experience, but the vast majority of stories I’ve heard suggest that it’s those in power who can behave abominably without (significant) consequence. Untenured people, like your jerky colleagues, face the prospect of non-renewal. But, I certainly take your point that in the face of bullying, it’s not easy (or even possible, in many cases) to write your way out of a job. The toll on one’s energy and psyche can be too great, so that one doesn’t have the energy to spend evenings and weekends writing. I should have stipulated that.

    And Rob in Hawaii–thanks for commenting, and sharing your experience. What a transition from trucking to teaching! But, as your story suggests, maybe work environments have just as many similarities as differences. To some extent, I think hazing in a variety of different professions was a “guy” thing, because so many of them were dominated by men. (I’ve heard some stories about female-dominated work environments that engaged in similar rituals designed to show who was “in” and who was “out.”) I know for a fact that one of the female bullies I worked with was bullied herself, and I strongly suspect that it was the case for the other one. (And, all of the weak people who were bystanders, who refused to intervene effectively, had been bullied when they were assistant professors). In that case, I think it certainly was a departmental culture that was perpetuating itself, but gender was still a critical factor in what was happening to me. (It was a combination of things, but mostly: I had the only line that was dedicated to women’s history, and the female bullies were most certainly not feminist scholars or individuals.) Most of the stories told in the NYT comments tell a similar story, which is why–as unfair and rotten as it is–the best bet is just to leave the job if you’re the one being bullied. In my case, I had to ask myself: do I really want to be a part of this scene? Even if I resist becoming a bully, do I want to spend my career cleaning up after these asshats?

    Incidentally, I have a male colleague who had a first job even more horrible and filled with bullies than my first job. Until he got a job offer at another university, he was going to resign his faculty position and become a long-haul trucker. And, knowing this guy, I think he really would have done it.


  16. Let me add to Professor Zero’s horrible story. Bullies don’t have to be your supervisors. They can be your direct peers. We had a woman in my department, hired the same time as me, who was, to put it bluntly, an unholy bitch. She got especially mean when I was promoted and tenured before she was (never mind that I had my Ph.D. in hand when hired, while she took her first two years to finish. She also had terrible teaching evaluations, since her students didn’t appreciate her personality either). Her rage shifted to another female professor, who was hired after her, but because was a tenured associate elsewhere, was hired at a higher rank and salary. She made life miserable for all of us, male, female, tenured and not, but mercifully took a job elsewhere.


  17. KC: I’m sorry you had to work with such a jerk. But, I think the not tenured/tenured distinction makes that kind of obnoxiousness even worse. A malevolent untenured colleague can undermine one’s work environment, but ze doesn’t have any authority over the merit raises, promotions, and careers of tenured people.

    But I take your point–and Prof. Zero’s too–that intrarank bullying can be very destructive. I wonder if it’s just as common as overling-underling bullying, in that if bullying stems from insecurities, and if invidious comparisons to peers in one’s department are unavoidable, then one’s immediate age and stage-of-career peers may generate more anxiety than overlings or underlings and so lead to bullying behavior in people who have poorly integrated egos.


  18. I had a committee member who did her PhD in the late 1960s/early 1970s in a very macho field and she scared all of her students – female or male, it didn’t matter. It took a long time for me to understand that she was not bullying us, but especially from the women, she demanded our best because she knew we would face departments that would treat us like crap if we didn’t work at the highest level we could. It took her over a decade to get hired in a tenure-track line and she really had to fight for the position. On the one hand, as a graduate student, dealing with her was traumatic at times. I even refused to speak to her for over a year and she was my second reader! On the other hand, I understand now where she was coming from. I have worked in a very patriarchal environment in previous academic jobs and it was hellish. Because my second reader pushed me so damn hard, I was able to move to another school. All that is to say, that I do think women of a certain generation push their students harder, because they were all pushed harder and anyone who says women don’t have to exceed their male colleaques in publications, teaching evals, etc. is full of it.


  19. Thanks for commenting, Liz–although I would say that many of us are working to ensure that standards are applied fairly! If your second reader had treated men and women students the same, then I’d say she was just a tough old broad, and we’ve all benefited in the long run from having our feet held to the fire by exacting professors. But, you say that she intentionally singled out women students for harsher scrutiny, and that sounds like good old-fashioned sexism to me. (What would you have thought of an older male professor who had dealt with you and your women colleages that way?)

    I had a friend who was frequently told by her (female) department chair, “the reason I’m harder on you is that you’ll have to be twice as good as the men around here.” This was in the late 1990s, and frankly, I thought it was a bullying tactic, even if the chair in question was a woman who was honestly concerned about the representation of women on the faculty, and a feminist ally in most university affairs. My thought was, why don’t you as Chair of your department make sure that the rules and standards are applied fairly, rather than perpetuate the unfair treatment of women around here? WHY is it okay to hold women to different standards than the men? Had she been an advocate for fairness, that would have been much more to the advantage of my friend and all assistant professors behind her (women and men.) Beating up on women just because they’re women, whether out of allegedly feminist motives or not, is just wrong.


  20. As an undergraduate student at Brown, a university often considered to be a liberal place that fosters differing perspectives, I was quite surprised to find some professors who simply couldn’t handle the idea of a student challenging their theories.

    I very recently wrote a paper for a Post Modern Theory class for a professor who seems to be so entrenched in labels and terminology that he rejected my essay as unreadable because it used simpler language. This isn’t what bothered me though- when I approached him in office hours, he continuously interrupted me and got exasperated when I tried to articulate my opinions in a respectful manner. He was so insecure that he couldn’t even stand being challenged- and he took it out through passive aggression.

    What really upsets me in this situation is not being treated like an intellectual equal and being disrespected by a professor simply for having a differing opinion– and not being able to fight back because of his authority. and I have no way of asserting myself without seeming disrespectful. If teachers will not foster discussion in an environment of mutual respect, who will?


  21. Gowri C.–thanks for visiting and posting your comment. Isn’t it funny how people think that academia really is “liberal” because there are more registered Democrats on some campuses? As you’ve discovered, academia is also about power and authority, which ironically is probably something you’ve covered extensively in your Postmodern Theory course.

    If the guy behaved as you say he did, interrupting you and getting visibly agitated when you disagreed with him, then I’d call that active aggression, not passive aggression! But, what you’ve learned is that there are jerks everywhere, just as there are potential friends and allies everywhere. (Unfortunately, earning a Ph.D. in something doesn’t necessarily make us better people, in most cases.) Just because you’ve had a bad experience with one prof. doesn’t make all Brown Univeristy profs. jerks–Brown is full of top-notch scholars who also really care about teaching and their students, and my guess is that you’ll run into more of them than you will profs. like your PoMo Theory Prof. The semester is almost over, and you’ll be rid of him soon.

    But, if you ever aspire to teach or manage other people, you could file this experience away in your mind as an object lesson in how you don’t want to teach/manage/otherwise interact with other people. I had a History teacher in high school who had that old sign over his door that said, “Everyone in this classroom gives joy: some give when they enter, others when they leave.” You can learn a lot from jerks, which is a good thing, since my guess is that he’s not the first one you’ll ever have to work with.


  22. Have any of you stumbled upon this site yet?

    I especially found that the missive from “stressed professor” in March 26, 2008’s post “Short stories” struck home for me.

    I experienced the same sort of tactics from a class of students last Spring that ended up being the “last straw.”

    This, coupled with an incident of being bullied in a grade grievance meeting with other contingent faculty, sparked my decision to quit adjuncting, quit my PhD program, and haven’t been able to find work since July.

    Repeated abuse has its consequences…


  23. Thanks, TM–I suppose I should have done better research before posting on this topic! (It wouldn’t have been that hard to find, with a name like Bullied Academics!)

    I’m sorry you had a bad class. Sadly, I think you made the best decision you could. Adjuncting is too poorly paid and too time-consuming to do if you don’t derive pleasure from it. What a discouraging experience to have as a graduate student.


  24. The bullying of academics follows a pattern of horrendous, Orwellian elimination rituals, often hidden from the public. Despite the anti-bullying policies (often token), bullying is rife across campuses, and the victims (targets) often pay a heavy price. “Nothing strengthens authority as much as silence.” Leonardo da Vinci – “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men [or good women] do nothing.” Winston Churchill.


  25. Dear Historiann, sadly our French is non-existent.

    We like very much your summary above (Workplace bullies and the academy), and we have decided to re-present in our blog, in effect inviting other academics to come to your blog and debate/present their opinons on your timely summary of this tragic situation on academia. We can also recommend books written by prof. Kenneth Westhues (easy to find in Google).

    My friends, our friends… it is exposure time. The tipping point will come one day. What proceeds it is awareness and exposure. These are the stages we are going through right now. With the help of all of you we can carry on down this road, so we ask that you engage in this adventure.


  26. I worked as a lecturer at a large public university in the midwest. We had/have an “administrator” – he is an assistant vice chancellor for academics – who considered himself a faculty member and at the level of a dean, even though he had no PhD, or even a Masters from a credible university, or taught a class, ever.

    He bullied all the faculty, both male and female, that were not tenured or tenure track. If you were not nice to him, gifts, etc., he would “poison you”. As proof, he would point out those he “poisoned”, and ask if you wanted the same treatment, not getting your contract renewed, not asked to informational meetings or campus functions, etc..
    I am not there anymore, but I understand this still continues.


  27. Well, pyou sea, he sounds like a confirmation of my thesis that these people aren’t exactly the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. I guess there are sociopaths in all lines of work. Leaving that institution sounds like it was a good decision, because you have to wonder about an institution that would promote and protect a guy like that.

    This is something of a reoccuring theme on this topic: that not only are there individual bullies, but that more often then not (at least in the stories I hear) their institutions empower them and protect them so that they can continue their bullying. Shameful.


  28. You should know that this happens in other areas of academe as well — like high schools. I know someone who properly reported possibly inappropriate behavior by a popular teacher (told the legally designated authorities only). Somehow the entire staff and many students found out and bullied and ostracized my friend to the point of hospitalization. Ironically, my friend reported it because it is legally required and out of fear that silence would result in job loss.


  29. Hi Historiann,

    Thanks for the post and comments.

    My experience in this area has been extensive. Some recommendations:
    Wise Up!
    1. There have always been bullies and always will be. They come in all sizes, shapes and levels of the academic totem pole. That doesn’t mean that you have to accept it. Some bullies are very bright. Many are what I call “stealth bullies.” They’re covert, sneaky, manipulative, critical, controlling, verbally abuses, emotionally intimidating and backstabbing with a smile.
    2. Use legal protection if you can, but don’t count on it. Most of the bullying passes under the legal radar. And laws still have to be applied by people. Many people won’t. Be grateful when you get help, but don’t count on it and don’t be stopped if you’re on your own.
    3. Change the discussion from “why bullies do it and the nuances of how,” into a discussion of how to stop bullies in their tracks.
    4. Learn to fight; teach your friends and children to deal with the real world. You won’t win every fight, but when you fight back you’ll stop a higher percentage of bullies. You will need to be brave, courageous, determined, persevering and resilient.
    5. Recognize and label bullies as bullies. If you have any doubt, learn the early warning signs. Recognizing and labeling them will reinforce your identification of who’s the problem – they are.
    6. Recognizing and labeling can take you out of “helpless, victim mentality.” Stop asking, “What did I do wrong” or “What did I do to deserve it.” A bully is a bully is a bully.
    7. Ignore the idea of, “Don’t stoop to their level.” Do stoop to using language they understand. Raise the stakes on them if you can.
    8. Administrators are just like principals of elementary, junior high, middle and high schools. Some act, but many look the other way; they tolerate, condone, protect or encourage bullies. You will have to force those administrators to act.

    Stand up!
    1. Stop analyzing all the different forms of bullying, stop examining statistics, stop analyzing why they do it. You know more than enough already. Just look at the comments here and in the original New York Times article. Don’t let predators get you.
    2. Act to protect and defend yourself and your friends and colleagues in your specific situation. Act as rapidly as you can; don’t wait until you have absolute proof. Bullies don’t take passivity (begging, pleading, minimizing, ignoring) as kindness, caring or you taking the high moral ground. Bullies take passivity as an invitation to hit you harder.
    3. Shine a light on it. Get allies; gang up on bullies. Isolate them if you can. Undermine their position and power.
    4. Don’t react with emotional outbursts; stay professional. Get evidence and document. Look for loss of productivity (decreasing publications, grants and awards, or increasing turnover). Look for “smoking guns.” If the bully has power, look to increase your leverage. Administrators hate publicity and scandal. Use their fear as leverage.
    5. Don’t get sucked into a rehabilitation model. Stop bullies first. Kick them off your island or isolate them in a very tiny room with other bullies. Then you can become their therapist (if that’s what you get paid for).
    6. Don’t stay in a hostile workplace you can’t change. Be prepared to leave and make your exit interview public.

    I see more bullies in academia, government offices, non-profits and public service organizations.

    Disclosure: Since I left academia (after about 23 years), I’ve become a coach and consultant, and have written articles and books, and produced CDs about stopping bullies at work and in personal life. My web site and blog are at:

    To Professor Zero: You’re absolutely right. I see co-workers and subordinates bullying just as much as supervisors, tenured profs, department chairs, etc. Iv’e written a lot of columns about them. See the DEnver Business Journal, for example.

    Good luck,


  30. Thanks, Ben, for stopping by and commenting. It’s interesting that you “see more bullies in academia, government offices, non-profits and public service organizations.” I wonder if that’s an argument for working for filthy lucre instead of in our “noble callings?” That is, I wonder if money tends to clarify hierarchies, and in money-poor work environments, people need to invent other means of ranking and enforcing ranks among people? Just a thought.


  31. Pingback: Academic bullying: these boots were made for walkin’ : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  32. What a blessing to find this website/blog! Wish I had seen it 3 years ago. My former dept. chair at a Ga. allied health school was a complete tyrant and only got worse after she got tenure. I think there are misconceptions among Deans that a dept. chairperson’s tenure also protects his/her administrative position: it does not. But consequently, they leave these bullies in charge and look the other way. Unfortunately, the bully witch manages to surround herself with just enough sycophantic kool-aid drinkers who will go to the wall for her (because the “or else” is more potent than principle), she manages to protect herself.

    How can higher administration ignore a department hemorrhaging several faculty members annually, many of them experienced teachers and scholars!? Some of the tricks of this witch’s trade include:
    1) Telling everyone that the Dean had electronic listening devices installed around the department, in the telephones, and could listen in on us.
    2) Forcing faculty members to list her as an author on journal articles they had written, where she had contributed nothing to the research and had no expertise whatsoever in the area of investigation.
    3) Browbeating faculty to “get grants” when she showed no leadership in doing so herself. Historiann’s comment about these people being “hall monitors” instead of scholars was dead-on!
    4) Once grants were awarded to some faculty, she attempted to control the budget, prevent the PI from purchasing items they needed, and in fact took some of the money for her own purposes which had nothing to do with the grant. Although I already had an approved budget, she made me write a new “justification” every time I needed to order something that cost more than 25 cents.
    5) Blabbed confidential information about interviewees, as well as about non-favored faculty members to their more-favored colleagues. On several occasions (when I was initially in-favor), I had to inform her that her divulging private information about my colleagues was very uncomfortable for me, and to please stop. That was the beginning of the end.
    6) Browbeat administrative assistant staff to eavesdrop on faculty conversations and report back to her.
    7) Kicked unfavored faculty scholars out of their nicer offices, into small, cramped offices or even into a different crappy building.
    8) Refused any faculty writing to be done outside of the department. If I went to the Library to work, she sent a staff member to spy and check to see if I was really there.
    9) Claimed that all a faculty member’s prior teaching materials or research data brought with them from prior institutions were now the property of her department.
    10) Faculty or staff who gave notice of resignation were/are harassed until the final day, when she calls Campus Police to escort them out of the building.
    11) I could go on, but don’t wish to depress you further.

    Glad to Have Escaped


  33. Sometimes people bully because they were bullied and it is important to point it out to them- otherwise they may not realize it but it is hard to ignore when someone calls your actions abusive in this day and age of respecting each others humanity-


    I have found that telling someone they are being abusive is very effective-
    You don’t have to say they are being abusive to you, just mumble something about abusive remarks and it will stop them in their tracks-

    They will regroup and come at you again so be prepared-

    -Life is not meant to be lived under the glare of abuse no matter who it is they need to be ‘equalized’

    I have found it is important to watch how much you seek approval as well-
    Learn to seek only your own approval and no one can touch you-
    A bit cold but necessary at first- then reintegrate people into your life if you like-
    As the guru on Youtube says-

    ‘You are not a pet animal that needs to be patted on the head to be cheered-
    This is a world of illusion-
    Know that you are God- do your best and then forget about it-‘


  34. I am a bit late to this thread, but I need to share this story. My ex-husband is in another department, but also the director of an interdisciplinary program on campus and the “boyfriend” of my former grad student who is still in my department. Three members of my department are involved with the program as was I until my ex dropped my affliation with the program and cut me off from research money. This program has a lot of money and faculty affliated with it get a yearly research stipend. That said, once we were divorced and he became head of the program I was effectively erased from the website etc. Since he has become director the three members of my department, all male, and one is the now advisor of the ex’s “girlfriend”, all have engaged in full frontal bullying, and stealth bullying. The worst of the bunch is the asst. prof. — a master at stealth bullying. The other two are full professors. I guess the assistant prof he wants brownie points from the other two…by the way I am tenured. Anything, I do they demean, de-value…if I support a project plan in the department they will make sure it goes down in flames. They have drawn othes into this little game. There are two other women in the department. One older and a bully in her own right who would rather kill herself than ever suport a woman. The other I have supported, helped get through a difficult tenure experience, and befriended her when others thought she was a total loser, not deserving of tenure. Frankly I made the mistake of thinking she was a friend. Since this has started, she never stops by to say hi anymore, makes passive agressive remarks implying that I am stupid, vulgar and low class. If she knows I am in the department she closes her door. I was so profoundly hurt by these actions. All of this has taken a toll on me and rendered me paralyzed on a multiplicity of levels. I have never been treated like this in my life. At least not since junior high. And while the best tactic woukd be to just leave, it is easier said than done. I am 51, and stuck here because of a custody agreement for at least 1 1/2 years more…I am a well published scholar, a good teacher, and fairly easy to get along with…but I am afraid that a woman at 51 does not have a chance in hell. It is so bad that once my kid hits 18, I may leave this job, without the promise of another. I have reached the point where I start having axiety attacks while walking from my car to the department. At this point, being jobless is starting to look good.


  35. Bullying in academia is known now as being a killer–both figuratively and literally.

    Professors who are bullied are “ganged up on” by other professors, almost always in their own department. Reasons are not so important as results.

    Bullied professors become emotionally so stressed that they then become emotionally impaired, and that impairment is followed by various and sundry physical ailments and disabilities.

    Bullied professors often just quit. Or they change jobs and give up tenure or tenure-track, maybe forever.

    Other bullied professors have been known (reality; do the research) to commit suicide.

    Now, ON TO ANOTHER SUB-TOPIC of bullied professors;

    Most professors and former PhD students who may never have gotten to become professors, know that departments in some colleges and some universities where PhD students are “trained” are hotbeds of bullying.

    Again, the reason is not so important as the results.

    Bullying professors reap no personal effects, unless the feeling of power and “They got me [when I was a PhD student], and now it’s my turn to get the new candidates.”

    For those PhD students who are bullied, though, the outcomes are vastly different, never positive, and generally so negative as to sour the victims forever on thoughts of their PhD student experience. Bullied PhD students experience the same levels of stress as bullied professors….or higher–higher, I contend, because while being bullied, they are in the situation of not knowing whether they ever will be allowed to actually complete their studies and completely earn a PhD degree.

    Some PhD students actually do not ever finish their degrees. Some feel drummed out and just walk away, never to return.

    Others quit and try to find ways to move on with their lives and overcome their newly gained emotional and physical illnesses.

    Finally, others–sorry to report–do finish and actually go on to do what I mentioned above in this text: They consider “I was bullied, and I made it. Now it’s the newcomer candidates’ turn, and I will do my share in passing along the tradition under which I came up.”

    How sad is that.

    Bullying begets: More bullying, new bullies, and illness and ruined lives and careers…and even suicide.

    Never underestimate the power of professors over PhD students!


  36. In 1996, I was hired as a Senior Lecturer at a very prestigious university. I build a program that was at the point of becoming self-sustaining and had been awarded continuing term of appointment. At this point I ran into bullying from my male supervisors. They were helped by a female colleague who was a spousal hire. Her husband was a golden boy in a larger, more prominent department. I filed a grievance about this, which I was pursuing, when in 2004 I was offered a position of Associate Professor with tenure at a state school with a growing national reputation in one of my 2 sub-fields.

    I stayed an extra year in my previous position while the tenure review was underway. The result for me at the time was freedom from ambivalence about the move to the new position, which I began in fall, 2005. In 2006 I was recruited to another university that had an entire college devoted to my field and substantial development in both of my subfields. I was recruited unanimously by the division and this was approved by the Provost because of this unanimity in the division in favor of hiring me. I began mid-year in 2007, overlapping one semester at my previous institution so as to complete 2 full years there.

    In 2006, while at my 2nd institution, I was enjoying a big surge in my research area and had transformed my health and fitness, partly due to a Wellness Program in which my 2nd institution had invested. As soon as I made my decision to accept the 3rd position, the bullying began at the 2nd position. To address this, I met with the Chair of the newly formed President’s Council on Women to discuss what was happening and I brought things forward to my supervisor in my exit interview and before. I also met with the university ombuds office. When I was negotiating whether to stay or go, this Council was only just being formed and had not done much outreach in the University.

    When I arrived at my 3rd position, I discovered that, although I was an associate professor with tenure (my 2nd academic position with tenure and my 3rd with security of employment), there were no mechanisms of fairness in my division with regard to student load, scholarship resources, decision-making, peer review, etc. – only sharp elbows, bullying and a hidden, unacknowledged seniority system. Entering at the time of year when intense efforts are underway toward student recruitment adversely impacted my arrival. One female faculty member in the division (associate professor) became angry with me less than 3 weeks into my arrival and has barely spoken with me since. She also retaliated against me via a doctoral student of mine by denying the student an opportunity to petition for cause to make a change in one of her doctoral submissions and by rushing the issue to a committee she chairs without informing the student or me, as the student’s major professor, that this was happening. The Dean obfuscated the issues, and has since promoted her. She and another female faculty member, a full professor with tenure, apparently fought for years until I came. Faculty outside our division jokingly referred to them as Iran and Iraq, and then Israel came (meaning me).

    Now I am up for promotion. This has really stirred the pot because there has been only the one full professor with tenure (female) in my division for quite a few years. Another full professor (male), who was hired at that level, has just been tenured after 7 years of being hazed into virtually absolute silence. Many meetings went by in the past 3 and 1/2 years in which this colleague spoke not a single word. This happened despite his being at the very top of the field. The professor with tenure constantly tries to make the case that strengths in the field equal weaknesses in teaching. Well, it turns out this fellow’s teaching is just fine—as good as anyone else’s if the student in question works hard. Now my teaching is under attack despite 14 years of clear successes. When any of my students, who enter the university with troubled or deficient background in the field, show continuing signs of confusion or weakness, this is increasingly being used as a cudgel to beat me with and as a wedge to sew doubt about me among my students, colleagues, and administrators—in an effort to prevent my promotion in order to retain hegemony. The division chair went up for promotion last year from associate to full and had his materials returned to him with the suggestion that he re-apply later. If this happens to me, I will file a grievance.

    Another program director, who turned out to be an astounding bully (which showed increasingly as he approached retirement), also strongly advocated my initial recruitment because he had brought me in as a guest on two occasions. When I demonstrated independence of thought and research, and objected to his gruff, bossy treatment of me, including co-opting my travel resources, refusal to meet even a single request in exchange for this on an out-of-town trip with students, he stopped speaking to me and retained that stance through the end. He also, through proxies, introduced slander about the most qualified applicant in the search for his replacement, doing so much damage that he nearly destroyed the position itself. It now appears that the slander he was purveying was partly designed to keep eyes off of his own illicit actions.

    One student described my hire as an attempt to “keep people on their pedestals”. My husband, a K-12 teacher after having been a university lecturer, recently retired early. His own very harsh experiences in education led him to believe that teachers far to often work to destroy each other and that one has little recourse but to endure it until one can retire. For 3 and 1/2 years I have used my tenure to stand up against this sort of thing and in so doing am almost always someone’s target. The Dean, who is a gentleman, was once fired from a Deanship because of the machinations of a very powerful bully. Once bitten, twice shy. To top things off, the Chancellor (male) just forced our very popular and effective President (female) to resign. This happened mid-semester. Her Provost (female) finished the year and is now also leaving on her own terms. The whole university is demoralized by this display of inappropriate power politics.

    Despite all of this, it remains my firm belief that if people will determine to work as a team and support each others efforts, recognizing the concepts of enlightened self-interest and the principals of diversity and equity, successes can be achieved beyond one’s wildest dreams. As long as competition is so heightened at the localized level, the environment becomes stagnant and even individual successes (let alone divisional and departmental ones) will be few.


  37. Pingback: It's your misfortune, and none of my own | Historiann

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