Mediation Channel on good blogging and recommended ADR blogs

Diane Levin, friend of this blog and host of the popular Mediation Channel (, has written a great post that both affirms basic “best practices” about blogging and provides a list of alternative dispute resolution blogs that capture those practices.

Her three rules of thumb for good blogging are “create good content,” “be social,” and “don’t plagiarize,” and she elaborates nicely on each point.  Her list of ADR blogs is a blessed time saver for those in search of quality commentary.

Mediation Channel was recognized by the ABA Journal as one of the top 100 law-related blogs, and Diane has been a leader in promoting an interactive and collegial blogosphere among legal and ADR practitioners and thinkers.


Is Britain’s Prime Minister a Workplace Bully?

Multiple news stories from across the pond are asking whether Great Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is a workplace bully. Here’s Catherine Mayer, reporting from London:

Britain’s Prime Minister emerges in three new books – by Peter Watt, a former general secretary of the Labour Party, Lance Price, a former Downing Street adviser, and Andrew Rawnsley, a political journalist – as a man of volcanic rages, prone to lobbing mobile phones and choice epithets if provoked.

Of course, with elections on the horizon in Britain, there are countercharges of political motivations behind these revelations. That said, my sense is there’s some substance behind the allegations.

Perhaps my own prejudices are fueled by a recent post reporting on a study about the effects of concentrated power:

Big Tent

It bears emphasizing that bullying behaviors in political work settings are not the province of any political party. Gordon Brown happens to be of the left-leaning Labour Party.  One of my poster bosses for political bullying in the U.S. is former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, a Republican appointee, whose repeated tirades were well documented. In politics, bullying bosses gather under a big tent.

Jobs, Unemployment, and the Great Recession: Articles Worth Reading

The mainstream moderate-to-liberal press is finally starting to get it: America’s high unemployment rate is having a devastating effect on individuals, their families, and their communities.  It is impacting hopes, dreams, and bare survival.  It is fueling a public health crisis that we largely have chosen to ignore.

While some columnists have been sounding this alarm since the beginning of the 2008 meltdown — Bob Herbert of the New York Times is a shining example — only within the last few months have their host periodicals started to put the jobs crisis front and center.

Fortunately, the emerging news coverage and commentary are sharp and insightful, reminding us that job loss is more than simply an economic event.  It is the reality of blogging that few busy readers will be able to make the investment of time to dig beyond the post itself, but here are three cover/lead articles worth printing out and reading, along with a sampling of recent Herbert columns that also merit your attention:

“How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America,” Don Peck, The Atlantic (March 2010)

The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar men. It could cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a despair not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years to come.

Lay Off the Layoffs,” Jeffrey Pfeffer, Newsweek (Feb. 15, 2010)

Much of the conventional wisdom about downsizing—like the fact that it automatically drives a company’s stock price higher, or increases profitability—turns out to be wrong. There’s substantial research into the physical and health effects of downsizing on employees—research that reinforces the seemingly hyperbolic notion that layoffs are literally killing people. There is also empirical evidence showing that labor-market flexibility isn’t necessarily so good for countries, either.

“Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs,” Peter S. Goodman, New York Times (February 21, 2010)

Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.

A Sampling of Bob Herbert

At times he has been a voice in the wilderness:

“The Worst of the Pain”

Those in the lower-income groups are in a much, much deeper hole than the general commentary on the recession would lead people to believe.

“Time is Running Out”

Rescuing the U.S. economy will require a commitment, and undoubtedly sacrifices, that need to start now.

“Constraining America’s Brightest”

Instead of getting a chance to set the world on fire, college graduates are facing a gloomy economy, unpaid internships and unemployment.


Addendum (October 2010) — This has become one of the most read posts on this blog, an unfortunate testament to how many people are searching the Internet for news commentaries on the Great Recession. With apologies for my growing devotion to the New York Times coverage of the human impact of the recession, I want to add several suggestions drawn from their work:

  • Bob Herbert continues to be one of the most devoted chroniclers of the ground-level destruction of this recession and the need for strong public sector responses. His columns can be accessed here.
  • The paper has been running a periodic series of extended news features under the banner “The New Poor,” which are collected here. One of the more bracing and noteworthy pieces in the series is Motoko Rich’s “For the Unemployed Over 50, Fears of Never Working Again.”

Finally, let me reiterate my recommendation above of Don Peck’s article in The Atlantic. The bleak picture it paints remains a plausible scenario.

Addendum (January 2011)The Economist, which leans toward free-market conservatism, weighed in with a feature in its year-end issue on the crisis of long-term unemployment facing millions of Americans, “In the bleak midwinter: Poverty looms for the long-term unemployed“:

Fifteen million Americans are now unemployed, according to the most recent jobs report. The unemployment rate for November inched up to 9.8%. The grimmest numbers, however, are for the long-term unemployed…: 6.3m people, 42% of those unemployed, have been jobless for more than 26 weeks. That number does not include 2.5m people who want a job but who have not looked for a month or more, or the 9m who want full-time work but can only find part-time openings.

Ontario deliberates workplace bullying regulation

Canadian employment lawyer Howard Levitt, writing for the Vancouver Sun, examines the province of Ontario’s deliberations over amending its occupational safety and health laws to cover workplace bullying.  According to Levitt, the problem is the “grey area” between bullying and “an assertive management style.”  He continues:

Corporate rainmakers and top executives and salespeople often exhibit demanding and exacting traits that can be perceived as bullying. In a competitive environment, an assertive and “take charge” style is usually rewarded. If a manager exhorts and pushes subordinates to perform, those that can comply might be flush with success, while those people who are laconic by nature may view the exhortations as bullying.

I agree that such grey areas should not be the legal battlegrounds upon which bullying claims are fought, which is why I drafted the Healthy Workplace Bill to require that malice — defined for these purposes “as the desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another” — must be proven to recover damages.  This language is contained in all standard versions of the Healthy Workplace Bill filed in the U.S.

However, Levitt’s suggestion that those who are “laconic by nature” are more likely to view an “assertive” and “take charge” management style as bullying is puzzling.  Many different personalities, not just those who may be more economical with their words, do not respond well to top-down, command and control management practices.  Such practices may not reach the level of bullying, but they well could be both obnoxious and ineffective.

Levitt’s article:

Hat tip: APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program

Following up on the University of Alabama-Huntsville shootings


Because many readers of this blog do not work in academic settings, I will limit how much more I write about the February 12 shootings at the University of Alabama-Huntsville that left three people dead and three others injured.  However, for those who want to follow the latest news and commentary about the tragedy, these sources may be useful:

Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education, academe’s unofficial weekly newspaper, is devoting extensive coverage to this event. Go here for the link.

Boston Globe

Because so much of suspect Amy Bishop’s life was spent in Massachusetts, Boston Globe reporters have been investigating pieces of her past that may relate to the UAH shootings. Go here for the link.

Response to Blog Entry

I am gratified that my earlier blog entry calling upon colleges and universities to take faculty mental health more seriously has attracted attention in discussions about how we regard the UAH tragedy.  Excerpts from that entry and my subsequent interview comments can be accessed here:

Chronicle roundup of commentary on UAH

Chronicle article by Jennifer Ruark about mental health issues in academe

Boston Globe article by Tracy Jan about the personal impact of tenure processes

My original blog entry

I appreciated that both Jennifer Ruark and Tracy Jan took balanced, non-sensationalistic approaches to examining the aftermath of UAH and its relevance to academic culture and tenure processes.  Alas, not all reportage and commentary have been so evenhanded.


If you are a member of the UAH community who has found this entry, please accept my deep sympathy and best wishes toward your recovery from this trauma.  I cannot pretend to know what you are experiencing, but I do understand that this tragedy touches everyone in academe and should serve as cause for serious reflection.


[June 2010 update: Amy Bishop has been charged with the 1986 shooting death of her brother.]

Global news about workplace bullying and the law — Feb 2010

As we in the U.S. continue to advocate for (or at least deliberate over) the Healthy Workplace Bill, other nations continue to demonstrate a much greater willingness to hear bullying-related claims brought by workers.  Here is a sampler of recent news reports:

Four fined for bullying after employee suicide in Australia

Four workmates of a young waitress who killed herself by jumping off a building have been convicted and fined a total of $335,000 over relentless bullying before her death.

Brodie Rae Constance Panlock, 19, was subjected to the humiliating bullying by workmates at Cafe Vamp in Hawthorn, in Melbourne’s east, before she threw herself from a multi-storey car park in September 2006.


Bullying on the Rise in the United Kingdom

The recession has seen a big increase in bullying at work, the Guardian has learned. One in 10 employees experience workplace bullying and harassment, according to the conciliation service Acas, while a survey by the union Unison reports that more than one-third of workers said they were bullied in the past six months, double the number a decade ago.

…Employment lawyers say allegations of bullying have become a frequent feature of claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination.


Workplace bullying trial begins in Germany

Sedika Weingaertner, who is suing her former employer Siemens for 2 million euros ($2.82 million), headed to court in the German town of Nuernberg on Wednesday. Weingaertner claims she was bullied for years by her bosses and discriminated against for being a woman and an Arab. 


What Martha Coakley and Sarah Palin (and Ann Hopkins) teach us about gender, leadership, and the workplace

During the past 18 months, the stories of two prominent political figures — former Alaska governor and VP candidate Sarah Palin and Massachusetts attorney general and former Senate candidate Martha Coakley — have dovetailed to invite us to think about the challenges that women continue to face in seeking leadership opportunities.

Getting It Just Right

Do women who aspire to visible leadership positions still have to strike it just right when it comes to honing their public images — blending the charismatic sex appeal of a Sarah Palin with the non-threatening stoicism of a Martha Coakley?

Frankly, I don’t think either was ready for her prime time appearance.  Although Palin may attract crowds and adoring fans, media accounts about her conduct during the campaign reveal that she was in way over her head when it came to understanding major public policy issues.  As for Coakley, she appeared politically and substantively underprepared for a tough general election campaign with national implications.

That said, I ask myself if we are too hard on both because they are women.  After all, history shows us that countless men with similar or worse deficiencies have managed to get elected to high office.  (Dan Quayle or Rod Blagojevich, anyone?)  Furthermore, being elected attorney general (Coakley) or governor (Palin) of any state is no small achievement; both earned the right to be contenders even if, like so many male candidates, the voters found them wanting.

Back to the Future?

One of the oft-discussed Supreme Court cases in the realm of employment discrimination law is Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989), which involved a claim by senior accountant Ann Hopkins against her employer for failing to promote her to partnership.

Hopkins had earned strong reviews for attracting business and working with clients but was criticized by some for having a harsh and abrasive style with co-workers.

Walk, Talk, and Dress Like a Girl

The superior who informed Hopkins that her application for partnership was being deferred suggested that her chances for promotion would improve if she acted, talked, and dressed more femininely.  There was other evidence that Hopkins was subjected to gender stereotyping in some of the evaluations submitted in connection with her partnership bid.  The Supreme Court held that she may have been discriminated against and returned the case to the lower court for further proceedings.

Price-Waterhouse v. Hopkins is still debated today because it remains so relevant.  By comparing the fates of Sarah Palin and Martha Coakley, we see continuing reverberations of the very issues put before the Justices over two decades ago.


Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins summary and link to full decision:

Law review essay (pdf) by Ann Hopkins describing her experience in the litigation:

The University of Alabama-Huntsville shootings and the academic workplace

I usually hesitate to use this blog to provide instantaneous analyses of developing news stories, but already it is clear that Friday’s terrible shootings at the University of Alabama-Huntsville will carry broader implications for academic workplaces.

Three professors were killed, and two other professors and one staff member were injured during an incident that took place at a faculty meeting.  In custody is Amy Bishop, an assistant professor in UAH’s biology department.

Earlier that day, Bishop learned she had lost an appeal of her tenure denial.  As soon as that piece of information was reported, the story behind this tragedy started to sharpen quickly.

The Tenure Track

For academicians, the tenure track is a multi-year gauntlet.  You have roughly 5 or 6 years to assemble a record of teaching, scholarship, and service that meets your institution’s tenure standards.  The stakes are huge: Earning tenure is the equivalent of a permanent contract of employment.  A tenure denial means you’re obliged to leave.

News reports indicate that Amy Bishop was angry over her tenure denial and blamed certain colleagues for her demise.  It appears that once she learned the denial had been upheld, she went to her department’s faculty meeting, armed with a gun.

Should we have seen this coming?

In recent years, several well-publicized acts of violence by unstable students have caused colleges and universities to beef up their emergency response protocols and to take student mental health issues more seriously.

But frankly, there has been very, very little attention devoted to faculty mental health, much less the risks of personal violence committed by fellow faculty members.  In fact, I fear that the increasingly bizarre details surrounding Bishop’s life history (how she killed her brother in 1986, perhaps accidentally; being a suspect in a mail bomb investigation in 1993) will allow us to dodge these matters, instead of using this as a wake-up call.

However, if we do want to reverse our inattention, here are some considerations that might inform our deliberations:

Professorial profiles

Obviously college and university faculty span the range of personality types, but as in many vocations, certain characteristics tend to predominate.

More often than not, professors are deeply drawn to their work and bring to their academic appointments a track record of high achievement as students.  They are invested in the value system of academe and take its judgments seriously.  Their social skills vary greatly.  Some may be the life of the party, but more frequently, terms such as “intense,” “eclectic” and “quirky” apply.

For those who have spent virtually their entire post-adolescent and adult lives in the groves of academe, decisions on promotions, perks, and obviously tenure can take on a monstrously elevated importance, above and beyond how even the most serious folks in other professions and vocations might regard their work.


News accounts of the tragedy are making much of the fact that Amy Bishop earned her Ph.D. in genetics at Harvard.  From the standpoint of drawing in readers and viewers, it’s an attractive hook: The brilliant Harvard-trained geneticist heads down to Alabama-Huntsville, is denied tenure, and goes ballistic.

But tucked beneath the headlines is a more serious dynamic that may well apply here, and that is the burden of expectations and pressures fueled by being a graduate of an elite university.  At this juncture we can only speculate on how Amy Bishop’s perceptions of her worthiness and her sense of injustice caused her to snap, but I would bet that her own private Harvard-to-Alabama narrative played a role.

Organizational justice

From this distance, it would be wholly unfair to pass judgment on UAH’s overall treatment of Bishop or its tenure decision.  However, in attempting to understand the forces at play, we must understand that considerations of organizational justice — i.e., the actual and perceived fairness and integrity of organizational decision-making in terms of both substance and process — loom large in the culture of academe.

This certainly is the case at the vital threshold stage of tenure.  Decisions over who is invited to become a permanent member of a faculty go to the core of academic life.  Indeed, it is my belief that once a school’s tenure process is perceived to have lost its base integrity, everything else is up for grabs.

UAH and Beyond

At UAH, no doubt there will be considerable looking back to determine how this tragedy unfolded, whether it could’ve been avoided, and how to prevent future ones.

More broadly, let us hope this will prompt other academic institutions to examine their policies and practices with an eye toward fairness and transparency, and to be more attuned to the psychological health and well-being of their employees, both for their own sake and the safety of others.  Sadly, it often takes these headline-making tragedies to get us to do what we should’ve been doing all along.

[Note: As details about this tragedy have become available, I have made minor edits to this entry since originally posting it.  However, my basic points about the broader implications remain intact.]


In the aftermath of the UAB shootings, this post was quoted  in news articles and served as the catalyst for interviews about higher education, the tenure process, and mental health:

Chronicle of Higher Education roundup of commentary on UAH shootings

Chronicle article by Jennifer Ruark about mental health issues in academe

Boston Globe article by Tracy Jan about the personal impact of tenure processes 


[June 2010 update — Amy Bishop has been charged with the 1986 shooting death of her brother.]

[March 2011 update — From the Boston Globe: “An Alabama grand jury has formally indicted Amy Bishop on capital murder and attempted murder charges stemming from the February 2010 University of Alabama Huntsville shootings.”]

[September 2012 update — From the New York Times and Associated Press: “A former biology professor pleaded guilty on Tuesday to fatally shooting three colleagues and wounding three others during a faculty meeting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2010, court officials said. The former professor, Amy Bishop, 47, pleaded guilty to one count of capital murder involving two or more people and three counts of attempted murder. Earlier she had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.”]

In federal employment discrimination claims, race and sex of judges matter (a lot)

Edward Adams, writing for the ABA Journal (membership magazine of the American Bar Association), reports on two studies documenting powerful correlations between the race and sex of judges and the results of federal employment discrimination claims.  The studies formed the focus of a program at the ABA’s recent mid-year meeting in Orlando:

A judge’s race or gender makes for a dramatic difference in the outcome of cases they hear—at least for cases in which race and gender allegedly play a role in the conduct of the parties, according to two recent studies.

Racial harassment claims and race of judges

In federal racial harassment cases one study…found that plaintiffs lost just 54 percent of the time when the judge handling the case was an African-American. Yet plaintiffs lost 81 percent of the time when the judge was Hispanic, 79 percent when the judge was white, and 67 percent of the time when the judge was Asian American.

Sexual harassment & sex discrimination claims and sex of judges

…A second study…looked at 556 federal appellate cases involving allegations of sexual harassment or sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The finding: plaintiffs were at least twice as likely to win if a female judge was on the appellate panel.

These studies strongly support the assertion that justice is hardly color-blind or gender-blind when it comes to the resolution of discrimination cases.  It is especially significant given that the federal judiciary is not a very diverse occupational group in terms of race and sex.

ABA Journal article:

2009 Washington University Law Review article on racial harassment claims and race of judges, by Professors Pat Chew (Pittsburgh Law) and Robert Kelley (Carnegie-Mellon Business):

2005 Yale Law Journal article on sexual harassment & sex discrimination claims and sex of judges, by then law student, now practicing attorney Jennifer Peresie (Yale Law):

APA on Workplace Incivility

I’m delighted that the latest issue of Good Company, the online newsletter of the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplaces Program, examines workplace incivility (see link below).

The lead piece highlights the important work of Christine Pearson and Christine Porath. For years, researchers and practitioners addressing all sorts of employee conflict and mistreatment — ranging from day-to-day workplace dust ups to severe, malicious bullying — have found their work immensely useful.

In a study by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, 10 percent of workers reported witnessing incivility on a daily basis and 20 percent said they were targets of incivility weekly. These findings are alarming in and of themselves, but even more so given the negative impact of these behaviors on employees and their organizations.

Research shows that employees who experience incivility tend to be more stressed, spend less time at work and have lower productivity. These employees may then begin to dislike their job, decrease their level of loyalty to the organization and eventually leave their job.

The APA is calling upon employers to take these behaviors seriously, rather than dismiss them as personality conflicts.

Good Company article:

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