Bullied Blogger: An uninvited guest

January 20, 2009




15 January: I decided to get into work a little later than usual today and when I got in I was convinced that someone had been in my office as several files were out of place and a few books were missing. This has never happened before. The only people who have a key to my room are security staff and Marcus.

Kerry is in the office opposite me. She’s not in sociology but is a criminology research student. She gets in at 9am so I decide to get in at about 9.10am. This seems crazy. I’ll see how things go.

16 January: I was giving a lecture today to some third-year students when Marcus came in unannounced and sat at the back of the lecture theatre. He did not let me know in advance, said nothing and left before the end. This made me a little anxious, but I’m good at my job and (unusually for me) I had done a great deal of preparation.

I emailed Marcus and asked why he had not mentioned the visit to me in advance. It was a reasonable question. His reply was short and provocative: “It is part of my role and function to assess all staff in all areas of their work. Assessing competence is always a conundrum for all academics. Take care.”

Take care? What did that mean after “competence is always a conundrum”? I go home and snap at my partner Dominick about something trivial. I have a sleepless night, tossing and turning. I wake up, look in the mirror and feel I’ve aged ten years.

19 January: I arrive at work and find Marcus in my office. I want to say “What the fuck do you think you’re doing in MY office?”, but I actually say, “Can I help you, Marcus?” – a pathetic response to a territorial violation.

He seems totally uninterested in the fact that I am entering MY office and HE is there at 9.15 in the morning. He explains he got in at 7 this morning and needed a document on “Contemporary Themes in Urban Crime”, a Year Two module I have developed.

Marcus said he thought it was “a little dated and in need of revision”. I said I would find it and let him have it by lunchtime. As he left, he raised his head as if looking to the heavens to obtain divine intervention to get the file within that time frame. For the first time in eight years of working here, I am feeling anxious and confused. Is there something he is not telling me in terms of his views about my abilities? I’ve always had great feedback from students and thought I was fairly progressive. My book Introducing Sociology is still in print and my background in counselling women (ten years) was considered pioneering.

I am one of the oldest in the division, but still only 54. The team is made up of eight staff, we have one vacancy for a senior lecturer and life has been OK here. Several people have mentioned that the new vice-chancellor is desperate to get in more international students and for us to take advantage of “a globalised context to our frames of reference”.

All this sounds focused on money and a changing agenda. In sociology we have not really been on the bandwagon, although the business school and health department have been globetrotting all over, with offices in China and India. Marcus has suggested we need to “develop our profile” overseas. It feels like recent appointments are about widening that agenda, so perhaps there really is nothing sinister in what Marcus is doing.

I’m overreacting… I need to get some perspective on things. I’ve got a three-day conference in York next week and feel relieved to have a break from campus, but wonder what schemes Marcus will be working up in my absence.

I’ve locked my filing cabinet, the first time I’ve ever done that, and I am not leaving the keys in my office. I have logged all my books by number and left a note next to the bookcase, stating “PLEASE ASK IF YOU WANT TO BORROW ANY OF MY BOOKS AS I MAY NEED THEM”. I know it seems extreme but I’m not going to let just anyone casually walk into my room and take things – that’s theft.

20 January: I feel quite isolated and alone. Even Dominick seems bored by it all. It was late yesterday evening and Newsnight was on. I wanted to talk about what was going on, but could see he had one eye on the telly. I got up, unplugged the TV and shouted “You selfish fucker!” before storming off to bed. Dominick knows by now what this means. He sleeps in the spare room.

Are you experiencing problems at work?

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