KK: This is a dialogue that happened on Facebook this week. If you ever wanted a window onto academic bullying… this is it. The responses are shared with permission. Where names are listed, commenters actively REQUESTED this for transparency’s sake. If you’d like to share your own story or advice, please put them in comments.
- Do not include mental health information in university records. Idc how progressive you think academics are, the university is a profit-driven machine and as such is inherently and fundamentally ableist always. Do not do it.
- If you can’t leave, create a schedule so you never see this person. If you must interact- Gray rock. I wrote this explanation of gray rock if you want it. Feel free to use: The Gray Rock Method is a recommended communication style to reduce harassment from toxic coworkers by removing any emotional response to their attempts at baiting or conversation. Gray Rocking entails limiting all communication to boring and monotonous responses that are restricted to the bare minimum that is required while eliminating small talk, asking any questions, and sharing information of personal life and any successes. Given that toxic people thrive on continued conflict and emotional reactions, the use of Gray Rock can reduce of repeated attempts of unwanted communication.
- In same boat before. Left that job. Life should be happy. Not worth to fight (not that I didn’t fight) . Use your energy to find another job.
- If this is a state institution you can leverage your state”s code of conduct and HR services for support. There is usually a hotline you can call.
- Despite repeated appeals, all the way up the food chain, my abuser/tormenter, who also happened to be female, was never corrected. I finally left the university. I only wish could have left sooner as I had no idea how badly this was affecting my entire life, to continually have my experiences invalidated! (Lisa Calvin Blue
- I’ve got to ask this, having experienced bullying at work, why do you want to keep working there? You’ve and your team have been very clear for enough of a duration for your employer to have decided to take action. No job is worth your mind and health. Please leave, stating bullying and their lack of response as your reason. You will find something better. You are clearly skilled.
If these faculty meetings ever start up again, and if the abuser is there, use the tape-recording function on your smart phone to record what this abusive person says.
- Hold onto and back up the recordings. They may come in handy some day. In some states it is illegal to record conversations unless everyone knows they are being recorded. But in many states, it is legal. Finding out your state one person recording laws is key. I recorded a meeting with 3 bullies against me, presented it to the state HR dept. and EEOC. While all parties agreed it was absurdly unprofessional what was said and done, nothing could be done because they were within the law to say and do what they did. It is insane how much people can get away with.
- Coming from a 20-year professor & dean — consult with an attorney. Academic freedom only has to do with how a professor chooses to teach their content. Bullying, harassment & intimidation in the workplace is illegal. If you can document the abuse and the negligence of the institution….by all means move forward and consult an attorney. I’ve been there. But I made the mistake of walking away. I hope you are able to fight the good fight.
- Ugh. Sounds very familiar. I worked with a bunch of great people, and one abuser, for 8 years. On top of that he was incompetent, to boot. The only thing that finally got rid of him was when he made a fatal error and threatened us right in front of a senior HR rep. But if not for that, he might still be here. By the time he was allowed to “resign,” I’d already decided to leave. I don’t have advice, only confirmation that in my experience university management and HR won’t do anything to protect anyone except themselves. This is one of the reasons I chose to work at an institution with no tenure: I’ve seen tenure used to protect vile behaviour and incompetence far more often than I’ve seen it used to protect “academic freedom.
- This is the reason I left academia—it took me years to recover! One semester when given a new office, the man who was set to move into my old one got impatient (he wanted me to move faster) so went into my office and had students help him throw all my books and belongings onto the floor of the new one. This was just one experience of many. This was not limited to males either. One colleague, a female, threw a stack of papers at me in a school meeting, calling me a “bitch.” Another tried to block my hiring and spread rumors about me. I’ve not encountered such hostility in the private sector (other problems in that arena). (Jane Hollinger Clark)
- I’m so sorry this is happening to you. In responding to rude or abusive behavior from faculty, I have found it useful to clarify my understanding of academic freedom’s substance and limitations. AF is often cited by faculty as a cover for office and classroom behavior that is outside the bounds of its definition or protections. The AAUP and many sharp faculty have written about this. Feel welcome to DM me for some links. It has been helpful to be able to respond in the moment to AF cries when resisting or addressing (I’m faculty, but a dean at the moment) hostile speech and behavior from faculty. Academic freedom is important, and sometimes that means abiding terribly presented intellectual positions from colleagues, but it does not give faculty carte blanche to use abusive speech or create a hostile work environment, about which you can remind HR or academic leadership. Many HR folks and deans/provosts/etc (which is bizarre and a failure in role) are confused about AF and freeze when someone mentions it. Abusive speech isn’t protected at work as a first amendment issue either. Lastly, I’m sure your institution has a code of conduct policy in its employee handbook. Faculty sometimes assume, or are allowed to act like, these policies do not apply to them. They do. If you haven’t already, members of the department should file formal complaints in HR. (If admin won’t do something, HR can make a move. And they care about getting sued.)
- Admin won’t fix it. Been there. Your best bet is to leave. Document everything that continues to happen. Also speak to an employment attorney. They will probably also tell you to leave, but it’s worth a free consultation. Your physical and mental health is not worth this.
- I speak as someone who was bullied as a young professor, and then had the ability in various levels of administration because I thought (naively) that my role as an administrator could help stop this. Bullies know and will use every trick, legal and otherwise, to avoid censure. If a Dean or other administrator doesn’t help, i hope it is not b/c they are not sympathetic, but because they understand how difficult this situation will be to fight. You and your colleagues need to show not just bullying, but flagrant disregard for the law. I am truly sorry for what you are experiencing—unfortunately Shannon is right. I did leave —it was the only solution. Other women in my department did seek legal action—to no avail. (Charlotte Borst)
- One thing is universally true about HR whether inside the university or outside: HR doesn’t exist to protect you, it exists to protect the employer FROM you. Any time you go to HR, do not expect the problem to be fixed. Only go with the goal of establishing a paper trail for your complaint.
- Pursuing the matter legally probably won’t be fruitful because you’ll have to prove some kind of damages, like lost wages, discrimination based on being a member of a protected class, etc., and for the latter it’s always hard to prove unless the person you’re suing was dumb enough to put it in writing.
- Unfortunately, I only see 2 pieces of advice in the comments that would likely solve the problem. The first is the suggestion that you seek employment elsewhere and get away from the bully….though that really stinks as it gives the bully all the power they think they deserve. The other is for the 9 of you to unite on a course of action to handle him while he’s at your meetings. Maybe agree to let him blast off, then when he’s done talking, don’t even acknowledge that he said anything and just move on? It’s kind of hard to suggest what handling him might look like without knowing exactly what form the bullying is taking, but usually with people like that, taking attention away from them is like taking oxygen away from a fire. Can you create a code of conduct policy at the departmental level? (Shanna Gilkeson)
Do not reveal your diagnosis. These folks have already demonstrated they don’t care about your best interests and they will therefore probably use the information against you.
My bully became aware of my PTSD diagnosis. He trotted it out as a defense when I filed a complaint against him. In a he said- she said where he says your crazy you lose. And that’s exactly what happened to me. Do not give these a-holes ammo.
I am a prof, lawyer and therapist. I have worked in acute care mental health and I teach employment law. If your Chair, Dean, VPAA, Pres., HR, Title IX Officer, etc. have not helped you by now, they don’t intend to do so. They are more afraid of the bully than they are of you. If you go tell them you have mental health issues (yourself), now, you will be labeled as the crazy one. You are more expendable to them than the bully. They don’t care about you. They are covering their own asses with the bully. If you really want it to stop, either change jobs or go find a lawyer that understands academia HR and have the lawyer contact these people. Sorry if I am being blunt, but that’s the truth. And I am very sorry you are going through this. It truly troubles me. Academia can be so brutal.
It sounds to me like this is the sort of administration who would look at a diagnosis of PTSD as evidence to discredit you. (Alexandra Romanyshyn)
That was my entire academic experience for over a decade. The bully was able to disrupt the entire department in three waves. I finally quit. Life was too short. My career was damaged, and 20 years later, one of the allies of the bully ended up being the husband of my last boss who was also a gaslighting power player. If I could advice or tell my younger self (you) I would say, put self first. If possible, begin a new search. I was in a rural area, so had no choice at the time, but your health is not worth the sacrifice. Before you go, address this out loud at a Dept. meeting w/the Dean of the Faculty in attendance. Easier said than done. Sadly, bullies win in academia. (Karen Henry)