Crafting Gentleness

Saturday, April 08, 2006

University Bullying

So, I've worked in a number of universities at this point, and studied at a number more, and I will admit that it can get a little disheartening sometimes. I hold out hope that there is room for honest scholarship and heart-blossoming education in this world, but again and again I see friends and colleagues with teacher-sparkle getting squashed, mangled, and crushed by working "communities" of toxic nastiness. Only in the last few weeks some teacher-sparkle friends of mine were targeted for ("voluntary") ejection by senior managers in a university that shall remain nameless for legal reasons. They were accused of gross misconduct without any charges being specified, blamed for the "untenable working situation" of "irreparable relations" without anything other than unspecified "anecdotal evidence" (that being, slanderous lies issuing from secret vendettors), and banned from speaking to their colleagues and students or from attending campus. As it happens, word is that the justifications were flimsy (i.e. non-existent) because they simply didn't matter - all that mattered, apparently, was the reduction of working costs in the faulty, sorry, faculty concerned.

The Union my teacher-sparkle friends belong to is unfortunately, despite their best intentions, unable to do much, if anything. Management can do what they like, until or unless they are brought to court, and even then the dice are loaded in favour of those with the money for fancy lawyers and with the luxury money affords you for protracted legal engagement.

If anyone out there is having problems with intrastaff bullying in universities, take a look at the following sites:

Workplace Mobbing in Academe

Universities 'bullying weak research staff'

And if you're in the mood for a wry but, sadly, increasingly accurate site:

"The AIU recognises that bullying is an increasing phenomenon in Australian universities. The reason that most bullying occurs is due to a negative attitude on the part of an SSP (Subcontracted Service Provider, otherwise known as an academic). The Australian International University will act firmly and decisively to congratulate and protect any member of management staff who is accused of bullying academic staff. We recognise that bullying is often necessary to maintain performance standards among a group of people (SSP's) whose attitude to excellence in service provision often leaves something to be desired.
SSP's are usually people who are not sufficiently competent to work in real-world occupations such as banking, finance, marketing and management. Their lack of real-world competence often means that they require extra incentives to perform at a level that is consistent with the AIU’s approach to service provision and customer focus. The AIU has a strong commitment to incentivation and believes that bullying is an excellent means of incentivating our SSP's to work harder and faster. " More where this came from ...

So, yes, the whole university institution thing can get a little depressing in certain circumstances, but, of course, there are some good people out there doing their best to put more teacher-sparkle into the heart-blossoming of people a.k.a. students.

There are also, though, other ways of thinking and doing, wouldn't you know, surprise surprise, stop the presses and all that. There have been and are a number of exciting university-ish projects out there that celebrate education in the broadest possible way. From the polish "Flying University" (that once nurtured the scientific curiosity of Marie Curie) to the incipient Autonomous University of Lancaster collective, there are people out there taking head-and-heart education seriously, in a spirit of play, analysis, critique, and not a little resistance.

It doesn't cost money to gather people together and chat about thinking and ideas. It doesn't cost money to teach and learn. It helps if you have time to spend in the company of other people, but that's pretty much the key condition. The rest is more or less window dressing.

If you have a space in your house that would fit more than three people, and if you have more than three friends, invite people around to your house and have a chat about what education means to you all, and about what it can mean, in the broadest sense of possibilities and other ways of thinking and doing that you can imagine. Help each other to think about your thinking, to challenge your thinking, to think in many different ways at once and see what settles once you've worked out what's important to you. Have fun, but stay present. :)

Check out the education section of the Hope Archive


  • What happened to your friends is exactly what I am going through right now. My managers have decided to remove me in order to cover up for the pack of bullies who run the place. They have cooked up allegations of gross missconduct and soon I will be fired. Sadly it is not a movie but reality...

    Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
    Expose and Resist
    Bullying of Academics in Higher Education

    By Blogger Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, at Sunday, 28 May, 2006  

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