"The unfortunate thing in higher Ed....is the fact that management comes from within their own ranks, and they're not taught how to manage people"
- Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, Idaho.
Namie's quote comes at the end of a recent Boston Globe article
about alleged bullying within the faculty of the UMASS Amherst chemical engineering department. The article details an extreme case of departmental infighting, aggressive behavior and lack of collegiality. While, thankfully, few departments devolve to this level of incivility, examples of this behavior exist within most institutions. And, as someone who has worked within dozens of institutions, it does appear that this is a more prevalent problem in higher ed than elsewhere.
Namie has identified one side of this equation - the lack of preparation most faculty have for managerial roles. Most faculty do not aspire to administrative roles. They have spent years diving deep into their discipline and perfecting their work as teachers and researchers. Little of that prepares them to give former peers difficult feedback or to mediate conflicts within their department.
There is another side to the equation. Bullying, like all human behavior, is a strategy that may or may not be effective. Ineffective behavior usually stops. But in higher education, feedback about negative impacts and appropriate consequences is rarely given until after a pattern of harmful behavior is firmly in place. These are challenging responsibilities for even the most seasoned and well-trained administrators in the unusual power structure of higher ed. It’s hardly reasonable to expect faculty to show competence at this skill set without the training and support to develop it.
In most instances, the current tenure process encourages faculty to develop an individualistic, competitive posture. When those not naturally inclined towards collegiality and collaboration experience this as a successful strategy, it becomes much more difficult to influence behavior in a different direction.
In a more recent Boston Globe Op-Ed
(“Do we still need tenure? Yes, but let’s reform it”), Wellesley College Dean of Faculty Affairs Kathryn Lynch notes the 100th
anniversary of tenure and challenges those in the academy to make necessary reforms in order to protect its value. Lynch refers to the tenure-seeking process as a “rigorous probationary period.” Perhaps the greatest reform would be to ensure that “rigor” includes providing feedback on interpersonal effectiveness during the tenure process and beyond.
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