Academic bullying and discrimination round-up, yee-haw!

There have been a number of good posts ’round these parts recently that have continued discussing bullying and harrassment in academic work environments, especially as they affect women faculty members.  (Not so happy trails today, friends–but be good to your horse anyway.)  See for example Clio Bluestocking’s appalling stories of harrassment:  part I, part II, and part III.  She makes the observation in Part III that “[T]he focus in harassment cases is upon the “sexual,” which is not the source of the abuse. The source of the abuse is in the “harassment,” which is not always sexual in nature. While most universities and workplaces have a policy against sexual harassment, they do not have policies dealing with simple harassment or bullying. . . . unless provable damage had been done, and unless the hostile work environment rested upon sex, the subordinates had few options for recourse.”  The result of this failure to police or prevent harrassment is that in her case, “the colleagues of these [harrassers] did not see objections to their behavior as anything other than a personality conflict. When I brought my problem to the chair of the department in the third case, he told me, ‘you can’t file a complaint against someone for being an a**hole.'” 

Why not?  Isn’t creating a “hostile work environment” part and parcel of being an a**hole?  (I wouldn’t have minded working with a**holes so much if they left it at home.)  Tenured Radical posted last year about a book by Robert I. Sutton that argues that keeping a**holes out is an important precondition to creating a healthy and happy work environment.  She writes, “What is great about The No A**hole Rule is that Sutton’s examples help identify the a**hole behavior that is particular to one’s own workplace, how to identify it in oneself, and how to resist it. He also demonstrates the damage caused by a**holes, several of which seem particularly relevant to academic institutions, in my experience. One is that a**hole behavior is contagious: if effective interventions are not made, people who are not certified a**holes become more prone to temporary a**hole behaviors as they try to resist domination and seizures of power.”  (By the way, go ahead and type in the esses if you’re looking for Sutton’s book–Historiann doesn’t like to work blue.)

Prof. Zero makes a related point about abusive environments in her recent post, I Object, in which she meditates on domestic violence and victim-blaming.  She writes, “I find it very interesting that [women] are expected to escape physical abuse and are heavily criticized if we do not, but [we are expected] to absorb verbal and emotional abuse. We are to say it is happening because we have a ‘communication problem.’ Had we phrased things just right, we would have avoided ‘misunderstandings’ and would not have been abused. Now that we have been, we must be quiet and wait for the next episode. In the meantime we must still function at a high level.”  She’s absolutely right–why do we blame the victims if they don’t leave after being physically abused, and then blame victims again if they don’t just shut up and take it when being bullied and abused emotionally?  If we accept that victims of physical violence have no control over their abusers’ behavior, why do we tell people who are being bullied that they should “try to get to know people better,” and suggest that if they took people out to lunch more often, the harrassment would end?

Finally, Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Profs has put together some useful links in Data on Women and Men in Academia.  Note in particular the link to “Women, Work, and the Academy:  Strategies for Responding to ‘Post-Civil Rights Era’ Gender Discrimination,” a report by Alison Wylie, Janet R. Jakobsen and Gisela Fosado at the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

Whew.  Historiann has got quite a few stables to muck out now, doesn’t she?  Giddyup.

0 thoughts on “Academic bullying and discrimination round-up, yee-haw!

  1. “Why not? Isn’t creating a “hostile work environment” part and parcel of being an a**hole?” and “If we accept that victims of physical violence have no control over their abusers’ behavior, why do we tell people who are being bullied that they should “try to get to know people better,” and suggest that if they took people out to lunch more often, the harrassment would end?”: THANK YOU!

    (Also, thank you for your comments on my blog and the links here!)


  2. On this subject generally, I’d recommend Cynthia L. Estlund, _Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy_ (Oxford U. Press, 2004), and the various law review articles by her on which it stands in part. Estlund teaches at NYU Law School, and before that Columbia and the U. of Texas Law School, and has written about the rights of labor, workplace civility issues, and free expression issues, all of which intersect in these questions. In a brief foray outside the history business many years ago I worked with her briefly, and would highly recommend her perspectives, which are both subtle and trenchant.


  3. OK, I need to study all of this. It is very hard to unravel and name these situations – let alone describe them to people who don’t think they are real

    It was even hard to get my immediate supervisor to invoke the sexual harrassment policy: he said, but what if you decide you *do* want to be with this colleague? I don’t want to come between him and you [sic].

    It took a letter from a really scary labor lawyer to get the university to follow the faculty handbook on that matter!


  4. Thanks for all of your comments. Prof. Z, how many workplace issues could be solved if people actually RTFM’d? (Read the F.. Manual!) And Clio B., thanks for sharing your problems–like Susan said (I think it was on your blog), if we actually told all of these stories it would really fry people’s tiny little brains…

    Indyanna–thanks for the reference. Good idea!


  5. Check out the gaggle of Weekend movie reviews in today’s New York Times grouped under the first Entertainment page teaser-blurb: “Raining Tenured Men.” Interesting fantasy scenarios for that virtually inevitable post-third book midlife crisis. Can you really “keep” an apartment in Manhattan that you “almost never visit” on anything less than a MacArthur Fellowship?

    (Also relevant to the recent post on the Bryn Mawr shoot, but I forgot to post it there…)


  6. Pingback: A la cabeza de mis propios actos… « Seminario Permanente de Teoría y Crítica

  7. Hey there Historiann, have you followed the Abu El-Haj tenure case at Barnard? This isn’t entirely related to your post above, but I know in the past you’ve chimed in on the perils of the tenure process. The New Yorker (April 14, 2008) has a great piece on El-Haj, but unfortunately it’s not available free on-line: Jane Kramer, “The Petition: Israel, Palestine, and a tenure battle at Barnard.”


  8. Hi Candy Man–thanks for stopping by and commenting! I saw that story about El-Haj that you cite, and have contemplated doing a post on it. It strikes me that there are some interesting parallels (as well as significant differences) with her case and the case of historian Michael Bellesiles, who was drummed out of the profession as a result of the same kind of mob from outside the academy. However, I need to think about this a bit more–any advice/ideas for me? (Plus, the fact that as you say, the article isn’t available on-line, makes it rather difficult to blog about. As Historiann and a historian, I like to make sure my readers can find the original sources…)

    I thought Mayer’s article was well done, although it was far from unbiased. I got the impression that Mayer thought that the mob was crazy and unfair, and that El-Haj was a brave scholar. (Of course, that’s my bias too, so I didn’t mind so much.) I thought that it was clear that the mob was trying to get El-Haj as revenge for their never having been able to purge Columbia of the late Edward Said. What did you think? (Anyone?)


  9. Pingback: Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » Robert I. Sutton, “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.”

  10. Pingback: ¡Adentro! « Professor Zero

  11. So I now have the no a**hole rule book, and I speed read it. It’s good, or good enough as far as it goes, although at least in this first, fast reading it still assumes more rationality than I’ve experienced in problematic workplaces.

    At the moment my problem is this: we’re hiring for a position which like mine is always discriminated against by default, for structural reasons, not because of who occupies it. If we weren’t, I’d be following the I don’t give a damn recommendation of the book: listen to no crap, work to rule, focus on my teaching, my research, my friends, do requested service but take no initiative there and do no favors. But we’re getting an enthusiastic assistant professor with big plans which are in fact good ones. In any normal place they’d be welcomed but he’s going to get hit on the head for having them … and if I warn him I will be called his oppressor (for saying no) and I will also be effectively speaking ill of us … yet if I don’t, I’ll be sending him like a lamb to the slaughter … and if I don’t actively support, I’ll be passively aggressively or else directly obstructing, and if I passively support by advising, then I’ll just create us both as problems. And if I enlist the support of the group, I’ll be seen as unduly exerting influence. And finally, if I say look let’s just do nothing and teach service courses, he’ll get disanimated, not get to develop, etc. etc. It’s a real bind in about 12 ways. ?


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

  13. Pingback: Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven? « Minding the Workplace

  14. Pingback: Academic Unfreedom « Like a Whisper

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