End the oppression

April 8, 2010

Bullying is widespread throughout the workplace, and includes the harassment and victimisation of whistleblowers or those who raise grievances. It is a particularly serious problem in higher education, as confirmed by a University and College Union survey in 2008. This problem can affect anyone in the academy, in any position.

Despite its ubiquity, one does not necessarily notice bullying in everyday academic life. This is because its victims, for the most part, do not publicise their plight. Colleagues who may know what is going on tend to keep quiet for fear of reprisal.

Even if a target of bullying wants to speak out after he has lost his job, he is likely to be gagged by the compromise agreement he has to sign due to the lack of practical alternatives.

On the rare occasions when workplace bullying leads to something sensational, the press writes about it. Only then does the academic community hear about the problem and get a glimpse of the underlying bitterness through readers' comments.

Various organisations, publications, websites and blogs offer advice on how to mitigate the impact of bullying; however, they do not offer a satisfactory solution, let alone a means of eradicating the problem. The fact that workplace bullying is lawful does not help.

Some academic colleagues and I believe that the eradication of bullying requires the intervention of politicians and lawmakers. This is explained in the petition that we wrote for this purpose: "We the undersigned petition the prime minister to instigate an open inquiry into allegations of workplace bullying/harassment in institutions of higher education, and concerns about the way the judicial system has dealt with complaints about such bullying and with those who protest (publicly or otherwise) about wrongdoing by their employers ...

"Existing legislation addresses some aspects of workplace bullying, but does not deal with this problem comprehensively. There is also a perception that the judicial system does not always enforce existing legislation fairly ...

"In addition to the obvious non-pecuniary benefits, addressing the problem of workplace bullying will bring about substantial pecuniary benefits in the form of improvements in the economy and savings to the taxpayer."

If the petition is backed by a significant number of signatories, it could open up fresh avenues for dealing with bullying in the academy.

Regina Benveniste

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