Speaking of academic workplace bullying, today we find an interesting story at Inside Higher Ed about a (now former) Dean at the University of Louisville who sounds like a real piece of work. Go read, shudder, and thank your lucky stars that this guy is now unemployed and no longer in a position to do harm to faculty, students, or any other institutions of higher learning. (For now, anyway).
The story has it all–an allegation of sexual harassment, a dodgy doctorate awarded to a crony after only one semester of work at the university, alleged misappropriation of federal grant money, and (of course!) retaliation against anyone who tried to do hir duty and stop this guy. As one former UL faculty member who worked there for 32 years said, “He did the Russian mafia thing: If I can’t kill you, I’m going to kill everybody you care about.”
What also piqued my interest was the angle of the story, which is that harassment policies focus on sexual harassment and ethnic intimidation. If someone is an equal opportunity creep, it’s very hard to take action against hir:
Felner, whom the university provided with legal counsel, always fared well in the faculty grievance process. Of the four cases that came before the University Faculty Grievance Committee, which is made up of faculty members selected by their units, the dean was never found to be at fault. But a number of the complaints about Felner never made it into the grievance process, in part because faculty members said they felt intimidated or were told their concerns couldn’t be handled in a process designed to address policy or procedure violations.
“The grievance process, as it stands, doesn’t have room for [addressing] people being jerks,” says Beth Boehm, the outgoing Faculty Senate chair, who is working with a committee to revise the process.
This is a point made in the comments to the previous post by D. A. Xue and Shaz. As Shaz said, “people who are asses to everyone are often not breaking any rules, other than civility. Much easier to take official action against a sexist/racist/etc. than an equal-opportunity bully.” Or, as Mary Ellen McIntyre, one of the UL faculty who complained about the “environment of fear and retaliation” that Felner created, said: “It’s more about ethics than policies. It’s more about morale, and respect — the kind of stuff that you really can’t grieve.”
Another issue in this story is the way in which institutions always maneuver to protect administrators. Could this be because it’s other administrators who have elevated the jerks to their position of authority in the first place, and then it’s also the other administrators’ call as to whether or not to defend them? Hmmm? (This is something I saw at my former institution: once someone is made a chair of a department, unless ze kills someone with hir bare hands in full view of the Dean, the Dean and other administrators are very unlikely to take action against the offending Chair. For taking action against a department chair would be a tacit admission that one’s judgment was flawed in permitting that person to become a department chair in the first place.) I should note that the IHE story points out that the president and provost of UL have apologized for supporting Felner and keeping him in his position as long as they did.
Good for UL for seizing the opportunity to revise their grievance process. Perhaps UL will craft new grievance criteria that other institutions can use as a template to draft policies that will allow them to weed out the bullies.