Workplace bullying in academia

For bullying of students in higher education, see Bullying in higher education.

Bullying in academia is workplace bullying of scholars and staff in academia, especially places of higher education such as colleges and universities. It is believed to be common, although has not received as much attention from researchers as bullying in some other contexts.[1]

Workplace bullying

Main articles: Bullying and Workplace bullying

Bullying is the longstanding violence, physical or psychological, conducted by an individual or group and directed against an individual who is not able to defend himself in the actual situation, with a conscious desire to hurt, threaten, or frighten that individual or put him under stress.[2]

Workplace bullying ranges into the following categories.[3]

Bullying and academic culture

Several aspects of academia lend themselves to the practice and discourage its reporting and mitigation. Its leadership is usually drawn from the ranks of faculty, most of whom have not received the management training that could enable an effective response to such situations.[4] The perpetrators may possess tenure — a high-status and protected position – or the victims may belong to the increasing number of adjunct professors, who are often part-time employees.[4]

Academic mobbing is arguably the most prominent type of bullying in academia. Academic victims of bullying may also be particularly conflict-averse.[4]

The generally decentralized nature of academic institutions can make it difficult for victims to seek recourse, and appeals to outside authority have been described as "the kiss of death."[5][6][7] Therefore, academics who are subject to bullying in workplace are often cautious about reporting any problems. Social media has recently been used to expose or allege bullying in academia anonymously.[8] Bullying research credits an organizational rift in two interdependent and adversarial systems that comprise a larger structure of nearly all colleges and universities worldwide: faculty and administration. While both systems distribute employee power across standardized bureaucracies, administrations favor an ascription-oriented business model with a standardized criteria determining employee rank.

Faculty depend on greater open-ended and improvised standards that determine rank and job retention. The leveraged intradepartmental peer reviews (although often at a later time, these three reviews are believed to be leveraged by the fact the peers determine promotions of one another at later times) of faculty for annual reappointment of tenure-track, tenure, and post-tenure review is believed to offer "unregulated gray area" that nurture the origin of bullying cases in academia. Although tenure and post-tenure review lead to interdepartmental evaluation, and all three culminate in an administrative decision, bullying is commonly a function of administrative input before or during the early stages of intradepartmental review.


Kenneth Westhues' study of mobbing in academia found that vulnerability was increased by personal differences such as being a foreigner or of a different sex; by working in a post-modern field such as music or literature; financial pressure; or having an aggressive superior.[9] Other factors included envy, heresy and campus politics.[9]


The bullying in this workplace has been described as somewhat more subtle than usual.[6] Its recipients may be the target of unwanted physical contact, violence, obscene or loud language during meetings, be disparaged among their colleagues in venues they are not aware of, and face difficulties when seeking promotion.[6][10] It may also be manifested by undue demands for compliance with regulations.[11]


A 2008 study of the topic, conducted on the basis of a survey at a Canadian university, concluded that the practice had several unproductive costs, including increased employee turnover.[12]


In 2008 the United Kingdom's University and College Union released the results of a survey taken among its 9,700 members.[13] 51% of respondents said they had never been bullied, 16.7% that they had occasionally experienced it, and 6.7% that they were "always" or "often" subjected to bullying.[13] The results varied by member institutions, with respondents from the University of East London reporting the highest incidence.[13]

The Times Higher Education commissioned a survey in 2005 and received 843 responses.[10] Over 40% reported they had been bullied, with 33% reporting "unwanted physical contact" and 10% reporting physical violence; about 75% reported they were aware that co-workers had been bullied.[10] The incidence rate found in this survey was higher than that usually found via internal polling (12 to 24 percent).[10]

Author C. K. Gunsalus describes the problem as "low incidence, high severity," analogous to research misconduct.[5] She identifies the aggressors' misuse of the concepts of academic freedom and collegiality as a commonly used strategy.[5]

Bullying of medical students

Main article: Bullying in medicine

In a 2005 British study, around 35% of medical students reported having been bullied. Around one in four of the 1,000 students questioned said they had been bullied by a doctor, while one in six had been bullied by a nurse. Manifestations of bullying included:[14]

See also


  1. Keashly L & Neuman, J.H. Faculty Experiences with Bullying in Higher Education Causes, Consequences, and Management - Administrative Theory & Praxis Volume 32, Number 1 March 2010
  2. Thompson, David; Arora, Tiny; Sharp, Sonia (2002). Bullying: Effective strategies for long-term improvement. (Summaries at Eric, at Questia, at Jstor)
  3. Rigby, Ken (2002). New Perspectives on Bullying.
  4. 1 2 3 Macgorine A. Cassell, Fairmont State University. "Bullying In Academe: Prevalent, Significant, and Incessant (2010 IABR & ITLC Conference Proceedings )" (PDF). The Clute Institute for Academic Research. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
  5. 1 2 3 C. K. Gunsalus (30 September 2006). The college administrator's survival guide. Harvard University Press. pp. 124–125. ISBN 978-0-674-02315-4. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  6. 1 2 3 Robert Cantwell; Jill Scevak (August 2009). An Academic Life: A Handbook for New Academics. Australian Council for Educational Research. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-86431-908-1. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
  7. Wilmshurst, Peter. "Dishonesty in Medical Research" (PDF).
  8. Reveal bullying in academia
  9. 1 2 Workplace Bullying in the Academic World?, Higher Education Development Association, 13 May 2007
  10. 1 2 3 4 Anthea Lipsett (16 September 2005). "Bullying rife across campus". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
  11. "Workplace Mediators Seek a Role in Taming Faculty Bullies". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  12. McKay, R. Arnold, D. H. Fratzl, J. Thomas, R. "Workplace Bullying In Academia: A Canadian Study". Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal Volume 20, Number 2, Pages 77–100 2008. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  13. 1 2 3 Great Britain: Parliament: House of Commons: Innovation; Universities; Science and Skills Committee (2009). Students and universities: eleventh report of session 2008–09, Vol. 2: Oral and written evidence. The Stationery Office. pp. 531–532. ISBN 978-0-215-54072-0. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
  14. Curtis, Polly (4 May 2005). "Medical students complain of bullying". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2011.

Further reading


Academic papers

External links

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