On mediating bullying in academe

Here’s an interesting piece by Peter Schmidt in the Chronicle of Higher Education on using mediation to resolve bullying situations in higher education:

College faculty members who are bullied or abused by coworkers often feel they must either suffer through it or quit. Soon, however, colleges may be pressed to give them a third option: requesting the intervention of a mediator or arbitrator to try to turn their workplace situation around.

What is unclear is whether such interventions will make life more tolerable for bullies’ victims or leave them feeling more beat up than they were before.

As I wrote last December, standard-brand mediation is not appropriate for genuine bullying situations.  Abuse should not be “mediated.”  However, as some commenters to the post noted, there may be a role for non-traditional mediation approaches.

In any event, I’m glad the topic is getting attention.  Bullying in higher ed is a real problem.  By far the most popular post on this blog is the extended piece I did about bullying and mobbing in academe.

3 responses

  1. My pragmatism has been tempered by too many false starts and misdirected plans. I’ll wait for the research on mediation before I try to push it any further in Massachusetts. I’ve already been burned by one program (of ADR) set up to “mediate disputes and prevent further problems”. In its first case of workplace bullying (peer to peer)it failed miserably because the mediator could not extricate herself from “The Employer”, who had already made up their mind about the “problem person” (Target!). There are very serious systemmic implications to any such program.

  2. Thank you for your valuable posts on this topic.

    Last week I interviewed a university professor who had been subjected to a relentless pattern of abusive conduct by a “colleague.” The university encouraged mediation as a means to “resolve the matter.” The targeted professor responded that she was insulted by the suggestion and appalled that the university would view abuse as an issue that could/should be mediated.

    It concerns me that dispute resolution practitioners with scant understanding of, or experience with, abusive patterns of behavior hold firm to a belief that cases involving abuse can be mediated. These kinds of cases must be examined/explored on a case-by-case approach – hopefully, by someone who has experience in the area of abuse.

    While I don’t want to overspecialize mediation, this is certainly an area in which a well-meaning mediator could unknowingly cause or exacerbate great harm.

    Thanks again.
    Debra Healy
    Healy Conflict Management Services

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