Keashly and Neuman on workplace bullying in academe

This post is long overdue: Last year, Loraleigh Keashly and Joel Neuman, two pioneering scholars on workplace bullying and related topics, co-authored an excellent journal article on bullying of and by professors.

Their piece — “Faculty Experiences with Bullying in Higher Education: Causes, Consequences, and Management,” published in Administrative Theory & Praxis (abstract here) — synthesizes the literature on bullying in academe and concludes with recommendations. It should be considered a “must read” on the topic, a succinct complement to Ken Westhues‘s voluminous case studies of mobbing in academe.

Professors, are you nodding your heads yet?

Keashly and Neuman offer seven propositions based on their review and analysis of the data:

1. Bullying by faculty tends to be indirect rather than direct, due to the “norms of academic discourse and collegiality.”

2. Tenured faculty who are bullied are more likely than untenured faculty to reduce their commitments to institutional work.

3. Tenured faculty are more likely than untenured faculty to engage in “direct aggression and bullying” in response to “perceived norm violations.”

4. Tenured faculty tend to direct overtly aggressive behaviors toward untenured faculty, staff members, or students.

5. Tenured faculty tend to use “indirect forms of aggression” towards peers, department chairs, and senior administrators.

6. Untenured faculty are more likely to use “indirect and passive aggression” against the perceived sources of their stress and frustration.

7. Institutional cost-cutting measures are associated with “workplace aggression and bullying by faculty.”

I have a feeling these propositions resonate with a lot of people in academe. In fact, they’re so on point that some profs will be left wondering if Joel & Loraleigh had followed them around with video cameras!

Prevention and response

The authors offer sensible measures to address these behaviors. First and foremost, they favor early actions that prevent scenarios “from escalating into increasingly hostile and damaging situations such as bullying.” These include building faculty awareness and establishing clear and transparent personnel policies regarding promotion, tenure, and performance review.

When conflicts arise, the authors recommend that informal approaches be taken before a situation becomes deeply adversarial. However, various types of mediation, arbitration, and legal process may be necessary.

Without saying so directly, it’s clear that the authors understand the, well, quirkiness of professors, including the fact that interpersonal skills may not be as well developed as analytical ones! Indeed, the value of this piece is reinforced by the authors’ deep and subtle understanding of both workplace bullying and the culture of academic life.


The full article can be ordered here. Some readers may have free online access to the piece through institutional subscriptions.


Related posts

Study on incivility toward graduate students reports effects similar to workplace bullying

Tenure decisions and bullying in academe

More on bullying, mobbing, and harassment in academe

Workplace bullying and mobbing in academe: The hell of heaven?

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