Blogconfidential: Sic semper tyrannis

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Sic semper tyrannis

March 10, 2011

A colleague recently filed a grievance accusing the university of failure in its duty of care. After our academic lead tried to curtail his employment, he took time off work due to stress and has now actually left the institution.

There is no doubt that our academic lead is a tyrant. He was a senior lecturer and took the job - which no doubt he considered to be prestigious - because nobody else wanted it. He does not overload us with work, but seems to show no consideration at all for his employees' individual circumstances, particularly when they fall into difficulties. He repeatedly tells us that "this is not a holiday camp".

We have all been under pressure, but our colleague fell apart after his wife left him and his father died, all within the space of one month. Some compassionate leave was arranged, but there were no further allowances for what had happened. Together with the rest of us, he was subjected to round-the-clock surveillance of where he was, what he was doing and whether he was keeping up with his commitments. The pressure was relentless.

Now the industrial tribunal that will consider his case is approaching, and some of my colleagues and I are afraid that we will be called upon to give evidence. I cannot afford to compromise my career and give evidence with redundancies looming. I'm not a union type; I know my colleague was subjected to harsh treatment, but really I'd prefer to keep my head down. This may sound harsh, but when it comes down to it, who in this place will lose any sleep if I lose my job because I stood up to the university?

You have enraged me. Twenty years ago we believed that "together we are stronger"; today we are all individualists, apparently. Where is your sense of community, collegiality and concern for others?

Your academic lead seems to reflect another common attitude nowadays: that we are not allowed to actually enjoy our work; we are "joined at the hip" to our universities and life must be hard.

The fact is that we are paid to work contracted hours - no more, no less. We are not paid to work half the bloody weekend marking because we are overwhelmed by other commitments during the week, or to wake up in the middle of the night worrying about our workload (both of these happened to me last week).

You say your line manager is a "tyrant". If you are not exaggerating, and he really does exercise his power in a harsh and (worst of all) arbitrary way, then it is he who should go - and you should do your part to make this happen.

I suggest you look up industrial tribunals online and read about your ex-colleague's rights (oh yes, what an old-fashioned concept - rights!). Get some momentum going with your faculty workmates about values and ethics and do the right thing - support your former colleague.

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