Tenure decisions and bullying in academe

The world of academe continues to provide endless examples of bullying-type behaviors.  Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, professor “Peter Ellenbogen” (a pseudonym) writes about dealing with his tenure denial at a private university.  He says that “I didn’t see it coming, nor did any of my departmental colleages—to my knowledge.”  However, he learned more about what happened after the fact from a former colleague about the behind-the-scenes orchestrations of a dean who significantly controlled his fate:

Apparently he had plotted my demise in advance. The extent of his machinations seemed more personal than professional. My best guess is that, two years earlier, he was soured against me when I used a little-known campus policy to request paid family leave after the birth of my son. Or perhaps it was that time when the parent of a particularly petulant student from a philanthropic family complainted to the dean after I refused to alter the student’s grade. Perhaps it was both. Who knows?

The most painful part of the tenure process was the lack of transparency. All kinds of information—and disinformation—were inserted into my file after I had prepared it. I wasn’t even notified about the new content, much less allowed access to it. I only received hearsay.

One side of the story

Granted, this is only one side of the story.  If we wanted to draw more definitive conclusions on Ellenbogen’s experience, we would be wise to heed the advice of Ken Westhues, University of Waterloo sociologist and authority on academic mobbing, who recommends examining bullying and mobbing situations with all available information at hand.  (Ken’s excellent work, which exemplifies the practice of the preaching, is discussed at greater length in a blog post that I link below.)

Regardless, the larger point holds true: Subjective standards of employee performance, when applied by the wrong people, can wreak havoc on those unfairly targeted.  Academic work, sadly, is a natural fit for this dynamic.


Chronicle article: http://chronicle.com/article/Life-After-Tenure-Denial/63815/

Previous blog entry, “Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven?”  https://newworkplace.wordpress.com/2009/02/19/workplace-bullying-and-mobbing-in-academe-the-hell-of-heaven/

2 responses

  1. Thank you so much for this post, your post titled “Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven?,” and the links to additional resources.

    Having assisted in the legal representation of victims of this particular type of workplace abuse, this information is at once validating and sombering. The obstacles for plaintiffs in these types of cases is often overwhelming because, as you’ve pointed out, “Academicians are adept at intellectual analysis, manipulation, and argumentation.” It becomes an insidious, exhausting contest of manipulation and rationalization with the title of “winner” being awarded to the last body standing.

    I look forward to learning more about this area of workplace abuse. Thank you again.

    Take care.
    Debra Healy
    Healy Conflict Management Services

  2. Debra, amen! You’ve seen this twisted behavior up close and personal, and it sure gets ugly.

    I’ve found that once a tenure process abandons integrity and transparency, everything about the institution is up for grabs.

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