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.

Brother, can you spare $100K? (Oops–$220K?)

Inside Higher Ed reports today on a major study on gender and the pay gap between faculty women and men by Paul D. Umbach, an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Iowa.  It concludes that “even using the most sophisticated possible approach to take into consideration non-sexist reasons for pay differentials–a pay gap remains, based on gender. And while this can’t be definitively tied to sexism, there aren’t a lot of likely alternative explanations.”  That’s an average gap of $3,200 per year, every year–or (Historiann’s arithmetic here, multiplying $3,200 by 30 years, which is dodgy because the gap would almost certainly increase over time) at least a $96,000 career deficit for women compared to their male colleagues.  (UPDATE:  See Susan’s and Nathan’s corrections in the comments below.  The news is even worse than I had been able to comprehend with my tiny deficient non-economist brain!  It looks like at least one man–if Nathan is in fact a man–is earning his unjustly inflated salary!) 

litebrite-tits.jpgPull up a chair and a box of Kleenex, girls and boys, because there’s something for everyone here (but as usual, the bad news is mostly for us girls!)

  1. Controlling for all factors, there is a 4% gap between the salaries of female and male faculty.  (The pay gap goes up to 14% when controlling only discipline and institution type.)
  2. Men as well as women working in the fields that feature more women faculty have lower salaries than those working in male-dominated fields, but even in those fields men are earning 4% more than their female colleagues.
  3. Quoting from the story directly, “Those disciplines [mentioned in #2 above] also tend to be teaching-oriented disciplines. Similarly women were disproportionately employed at teaching-oriented institutions, which also pay less. So professors who are women, teach in a field that cares about teaching and work at a college that really cares about teaching face a ‘triple hit’ on salary, [Umbach] said, ‘and it adds up to real money.'”

Read the whole thing–it’s brief, and the author, Scott Jaschik, has done a remarkably good job analyzing a lot of complex information and squeezing it into a readable article.  Professor Umbach raises some interesting questions for how we assign merit pay, and politely asks us to consider how those “fair rubrics” might perpetuate the pay gap.  Is it really “fair” to effectively penalize Art Historians or Philosophy professors because they aren’t eligible to compete for $500,000 grants from the National Science Foundation?  Since Corporate University (TM) is all about the money, honey, why haven’t colleges and universities figured out that it’s a lot cheaper to have/be an outstanding Liberal Arts college?  Historians and people in English and French departments don’t need half a million dollar labs to do our research–just a little time off, a library card, and perhaps some extra dough for research trips out of town.  That $500,000 for one lab could buy 10 humanities scholars a year of leave to go write their books and burnish their national and international reputations.)

One caveat:  the first comments on the article suggest that this pay gap arises because women allegedly don’t bargain for higher salaries when they’re hired.  False!  Trust me–Historiann has tried, but there’s that icky gender thing that happens then, too.  Whereas men are respected for being assertive and having a high opinion of themselves, women who take the same approach get less, because, well, who the hell do those pushy and obnoxious broads they think they are, anyway?  Mary Ward’s research demonstrates that in some cases, it does hurt to ask for more.  This is all of a piece with Historiann’s theory that across time and space women are expected to volunteer their labor, and only (some) men can expect to get paid for their work.

'Tis a Privilege to Live in Colorado, as long as you don't work in higher ed

colorado_flag.jpgThe Denver Post proclaims, “‘Tis a Privilege to Live in Colorado” on its weather page most mornings.  But, since Historiann moved her entire household here in 2001, Colorado has been the state that keeps on giving in terms of embarassing news in general (Ted HaggardCrazy killersTom TancredoFocus on the Family!), and embarassing news about higher education in particular.  Back in 2001-03, Colorado should have changed its nickname from “The Centennial State” to “The Rape State” (thanks, CU Football rape team, Kobe Bryant, and Air Force Academy cadets, all of whom chose college women as their victims).  2003 was the year too that David Horowitz came to Colorado and met with the (then) Republican Governor and the President of the Colorado Senate to introduce his so-called “Academic Bill of Rights,” and the Governor (unsuccessfully) tried to get a political hack crony appointed President of Colorado State University

Ready for more?  (Take a deep breath!)  2004 was the year that the President of the University of Colorado, in a lawsuit stemming from the rape team’s hijinx, claimed in a deposition that the C-word (yes, that C-word!) wasn’t necessarily a misogynist insult, because in the middle ages it was a term of endearment.  (Nice try, but I don’t think there were too many Middle English scholars on the rape team, do you?)  2004 was also the year that two college students, one at CU and another at CSU famously drank themselves to death.  2005 was the year that Ward Churchill became the gift that kept on giving to Bill O’Reilly and other right-wing bottom-feeders.  Never mind that it’s only losing football coaches who make the big bucks around here–those of us who actually teach don’t have time to indoctrinate our students politically because we’re working so hard to make sure they finally understand the Investiture Controversy, or Dred Scott v. Sanford, or the correct use of apostrophes.  Despite the right-wing screams that conservatives can’t get a job around here, the actual history of faculty abuse in Colorado is that whisper campaigns calling people “Communists” is the only way to get someone dismissed without evidence and without cause. 

Now comes the news, courtesy of Inside Higher Ed, that Colorado now supports its prisons at nearly equal rates as it supports its colleges and universities.  State funding for prisons stands now at 78 cents for every dollar sent to higher education–compared to a rate of 18 cents on the dollar twenty years ago.  You don’t have to be a Marxist feminist to wonder if all of the political attacks on higher education, the absence of penalties for (and thus the perpetuation of) college men’s violent, drunken behavior, and the embarrassing incompetence in higher ed leadership in this state might be part of a conspiracy to undermine people’s willingness to support our institutions of higher learning at anything more than Wal-Mart rates.  Meanwhile, this state imports people with college degrees from everywhere else in the country because we can’t make enough of our own.  (This may not be a bad trend in the short run–perhaps sensible, well-educated people from California, Ohio, Illinois, and New Jersey can knock some sense into the local yokels that run this state.)

Many of you dear readers work in public higher ed in other states.  Tell me you’re all better off where you live.  Tell me how can we turn this thing around, and spend more money helping people here get college degrees instead of felony rap sheets.  (And, once they enroll, please tell me how to ensure that they don’t start their life of crime in college, as so many Colorado men seem to!)

Cue the Wagner: Helicopter Parents

helicopters.jpgHelicopter parents:  are they 1) a media creation hyped by the New York Times?  Are they 2) a regional problem of the New York Times readership basin (i.e. the orange schmear on the map of North America demarcating the urban corridor from Boston to Washington D.C.)?  Or 3) are they everywhere now? 

Historiann has had only a few phone calls or e-mails from parents in the past 11 years.  Usually, they were writing or calling so that they could hear the bad news from me directly–why their daughter wasn’t in fact graduating next weekend, or why their son who swears he had a “B” average before the exam failed the course entirely.  They’ve been uniformly respectful to me although disappointed by their child’s academic failings (which seemed to be not a total surprise to them, in most cases).  It was kind of sad, and I got the impression that they were trying to hold their kids’ feet to the fire rather than to plead their cases or bully me.  While I think Baby Boomer parents have fostered close relationships with their adult children, I haven ‘t seen too much evidence that these relationships are detrimental.  So far, I might vote for option #1 or option #2, but I’d like to hear from the rest of you out there, now that we’re approaching mid-terms and the zero-hour for students to withdraw from your classes.

(Update on Funeral Blogging:  thanks for the condolences–you’re all very kind.  Still light blogging as I’ll be in the ancestral homelands for the rest of the week, and am now poaching a mysterious wi-fi connection. . .)

Patty Limerick's Valentine to Bruce Benson

cowboy-heart.jpgWhat is up with Patricia Limerick these days?  Aside from being the Director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado (CU), she writes occasional op-ed pieces as an advocate for Western issues like water and dirt.  This morning, I cracked open my hard copy of the Denver Post to find her endorsement for right-wing hack Bruce Benson to become the next president of her university.  With apologies to my out-of-state and international readership, I’ve already addressed this foolishness, if only for the realpolitik concept that the ENTIRE STATE IS NOW RUN BY DEMOCRATS.  But, Historiann just can’t let this one go.

So, back to Limerick:  she starts her op-ed with an unconvincing apologia for the fact that Benson is one of one finalists for the job.  She explains, “when news gets out that a top university administrator is a finalist for a job at another institution, that person is in jeopardy. At the very least, the people she works with will look at her with distrust. At the worst, she may end up, in short order, no longer holding that job.  Hence, the idea of announcing a list of several finalists is a dream that cannot find a home in the cutthroat world of our times.”  Really?  Let’s look at comparable searches elsewhere.  I wonder how Colorado State University ever got 2 people with distinguished academic careers to interview publicly just five years ago?  Who knew that the delicate flowers who compete for these jobs were taking such incredible risks?  Back in the reality-based community, they’re not:  it seems more typical than unusual that two to four finalists are named.

Next, she addresses his lack of academic qualifications:  “Others believe that Benson’s lack of a Ph.D. disqualifies him for the presidency.”  Call me an old stick-in-the-mud, but I think it’s only fair that people in the top jobs at universities have to match at least the minimum requirements that our beginning assistant professors must meet.  You know, the people that he’ll be asked either to tenure or fire in 6 years?  Finally, she suggests that his history of partisan hackery and lack of academic qualifications is a net bonus for CU:  “In fact, the very habits of expression that make some faculty and students wince when they listen to Benson are exactly the habits that could persuade a majority of Coloradans to appreciate CU and recognize its need for greater financial support.”  Whaaaaa?  I guess the literal translation of that is, “The majority of Coloradoans are dumb hicks like Benson, and he’ll be better able to pick their pockets on behalf of CU.”  Limerick evidently holds both her fellow Coloradoans and her academic colleagues in such low esteem that she thinks the latter can’t really talk to the former effectively about their pointy-headed schemes, let alone convince anyone that they’re worth supporting.  Pretty patronizing, Professor.

I can’t put it any better than a long-time worker in higher education I know, who says “the fact is that for the past 14 years, at least, Republicans have engaged in a slash-and-burn attack on public institutions of all kinds, including–and perhaps especially–higher education, and in particular colleges of liberal arts.  Now, suddenly, students, professors, staff, and other citizens are to believe that all is forgiven, forgotten, and recanted. . . . .Any clear-headed, clear-eyed historical analysis would suggest that right now, Benson and his ilk are as much captives of a hostile political environment that they created as much as they are victims of mindless, knee-jerk liberal reaction.”  [Historiann would argue moreso.]  “Conservatives–former conservatives?–are running for cover right now, and it appears that Benson has found a pretty good refuge in which to make himself over as a broad-minded, public-spirited citizen.”  What a scam!  You know what they say, though:  IOKIYAR (It’s O.K. if you’re a Republican)!

UPDATE:  Hot off the presses–the CU Boulder Faculty Assembly voted 40-4 tonight against a resolution in support of Benson’s candidacy.  (Warning:  the link is to a Rocky Mountain News story, so skip the comments unless you’ve got a strong stomach.  Those commenters seem to ratify Limerick’s dim view of Coloradoans, sad to say. . . but take a look:  do you think those people are going to open up their checkbooks and vote for tax increases to support CU?  I mean, once they wipe the Chee-to crumbs off of their sweatshirts?)  The vote tonight is only advisory, as the CU Board of Regents has the final say next Wednesday.  The faculty also passed a resolution to ask the Regents to re-open the search for a new president.

Current events and History hiring trends

hourglass.jpgBack in 1998 or 1999 as the end of the twentieth-century approached, all of a sudden Perspectives and the H-Net Job Guide were chocablock with advertisements for twentieth-century historians, particularly U.S. historians.  Beginning in the fall of 2002, in response to the 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, it seemed like most departments with open lines were looking to hire historians of the modern Middle East or of U.S.-Middle East relations.  And, there are still a large number of medieval history job descriptions that state a preference for medieval Europe and Islam in a comparative framework, or medieval Mediterranean history.  Sadly for Historiann’s Russian history friends in graduate school in the early 1990s, interest in that field took a nosedive after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the events in Russia in the summer of 1991.  This influence of current events is hardly surprising, and I think reflects a (mostly) admirable commitment to using the past to open new perspectives on the present. 

In the event of a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton presidency, what will its effects be on History hiring in the fall of 2009 and for the next few years?  Will we see a renewed interest in hiring African American historians and women’s historians, particularly those whose work is in political history?  The rise of the history of the 1960s and 1970s in recent years, which will be big at the Berkshire Conference this year, may mean that historians of very recent U.S. history will be beneficiaries of a Clinton or Obama presidency, too.  Would a John McCain presidency mean a renaissance in military history (or even naval history?)  I can think of a group of people who may be rooting for a  Mike Huckabee presidency, even if mostly for the job, publishing, and punditry opportunities. 

Historiann has already been interviewed by a college journalist in Michigan about this historic election year–and bear in mind that it’s February, and she’s a colonial historian, not a modern U.S. women’s historian or African Americanist, so it strikes me that 2008 will be a historic election if only because it’s generating very strong interest in, well, American history.  Do you think it will influence History department hiring trends in the next few years, depending on the outcome of the November election?  Do you approve or disapprove of current events influencing History hires?  What fields do you think your department needs to hire in?  (And if you’re among Historiann.com’s wide interdisciplinary readership, please chime in from your own perspectives on current events and hiring in your fields.)  Inquiring graduate student lurkers want to know…

Where can I get a high-fashion kevlar vest?

kevlar-vest.jpgTracy McGaugh at Feminist Law Professors points us to an excellent article analyzing threatening, violent, and/or murderous behavior by students.  The article is co-written by three scholars from different disciplines:  Helen Smith, a forensic psychologist, Sandra Thomas, a nursing professor, and Carol Parker, a law professor.  The title of the article is “Anger and Violence on Campus:  Recommendations for Legal Educators,” but their analysis and recommendations seem to me to apply to all college and university faculty and programs, and perhaps to high school faculty as well.  Read it, and consider passing it along to your department Chair or college Dean.

Historiann passes this along to you, gentle reader, because she’s been feeling more than a little vulnerable since the dreadful events at Virginia Tech last year.  My university is the V-Tech of Colorado, and Colorado is a state where almost anyone can obtain a permit to carry a concealed handgun.  And when the state legistlature passed the concealed-carry law in 2003, it specifically excluded college campuses from the list of places one could not bring in a concealed weapon–K-12 schools, and quite conveniently, the Colorado State Capitol building are all on that list, but in universities we’re expected to shift for ourselves.  (In fact, the Capitol building just recently and permanently re-installed metal detectors because a disturbed man with a gun entered and threatened the Governor’s life before being gunned down himself last July 16.)

The only place where I take issue with Smith, Thomas, and Parker is in their conclusion, where they lay the blame on “aggressive role models in television, movies, videogames, and other popular media.”  They cite a persuasive recent longitudinal study, so I see that exposure to violent media is certainly one factor, but where is the discussion of gender and violence?  All school and university killers in the past several years have one thing in common:  they were all boys or men who had access to guns.  Most (but not all) tend to be younger rather than older, and the overwhelming majority of them have been white.  “Anger and Violence on Campus” cites a few examples of women law students who displayed inappropriate behavior to law professors, but it was only verbal aggression cited in the cases involving women students.  So, aggression and violence on campus is overwhelmingly a problem with angry young men who feel entitled to use guns against people they perceive to have wronged them.  Historiann herself has written about the highly gendered aspects of gun ownership in colonial America, so I am amazed that the connection between American masculinity and guns today hasn’t receieved more attention.  (Is the connection between men and guns so naturalized that we don’t question it?  Why doesn’t this alarm us more?)

woman-gun.jpgThe bottom line in this paper is that faculty members are largely on their own when it comes to dealing with crazed students.  Start packing heat, if that’s your style–and if you live in a concealed-carry permit state, then it’s all nice ‘n legal.  (Just be sure to disarm before you go pick up little Emma and Cody at school.)  If administrators at your school don’t take advice from Smith and Wesson, Thomas, and Parker, this article will at least arm you with a little more knowledge about identifying disturbed students.  Have you had any experience with dangerous and/or armed students?  How did you deal with them, and how did your university respond?  Do you think that professors in feminist studies might be more vulnerable to threats and violence from students because our perspectives may especially threaten disturbed young men?

UPDATE:  As Knitting Clio points out in the comments below, sadly there was a fatal shooting with a female perp at Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge yesterday morning, which I learned about after publishing this post.  However, I don’t think that one female perp is a meaningful trend when every other example of fatal violence at schools (junior high through universities) has featured male shooters, especially given the longue duree of the connection between guns and masculinity in this country.  How awful for the faculty and students at Louisiana Tech–yet another school whose sense of safety and fellowship in academic pursuit is shattered.