Bullied Blogger: Building a case against Marcus and Helen

March 24, 2009

16 March: Over the past few months I have experienced major changes in my work situation. I have had several worked-based events that have seemed somewhat bizarre and have, I feel, subverted my work and devalued my contribution to the organisation. This has all affected my stress levels and my relationship with my partner. Only four to five months ago, I was considered a positive and enthusiastic member of the university, and now my experience is of subjugation and harassment. How could this happen? How can my work situation have become so changed? I have been monitoring my blood pressure now for almost ten days – most of the readings are terrible, and if I took them back to Dr Cumin she would demand I took time off work with stress. I need some reliable feedback from someone who I can sense is being objective and clear with me. I contact my union rep again, I make an appointment to see Colin Horrocks and we spend the morning mapping out my concerns.

The issues from Colin’s point of view are the following:

• Meetings were planned without my knowledge about certain concerns from line managers that related to my “attitude” and work. These were never conveyed to me in advance, and there had never been any “flagging up” of the issues. Helen Murr and Marcus did not prepare me for the meeting. No evidence was produced that concurred with what they were saying.

• My workload increased without any discussion in advance.

• Several of my modules were dropped without any negotiation, discussion or evidence of the criteria used.

• I was in the early stages of negotiation over a research project with an external agency along with a colleague from another division when this was relocated to another member of staff who had no skills or expertise in this area. An explanation is needed as to why this happened.

• There has been no support for a book launch that has several national academics attending and has been supported by other universities. This would seem to be decision-making based on interpersonal relationship problems rather than financial prudence.

Colin suggests that the most important issues are the lack of appraisal and workload planning. I feel stronger about other issues – such as the book launch and the way Marcus has been in my office without my agreement… but I can see why Colin would wish to go with procedural issues.

We leave it at that. Colin explains that he will go away and email something back to me later in the week.

18 March: I work at the office and mark some assignments. Then in my post tray I find a letter from personnel with my new half-time contract. I have agreed that this will come into effect in April rather than September. I sign this and post it back. I cannot believe the speed with which this has been done – within weeks.

I dispatch an email to Marcus explaining that I have signed my half-time contract and that it would seem important to discuss which modules I am going to lose in April.

20 March: Marcus replies. He suggests that the caseload is about right and that there is no need to meet on this. He explains that most of my teaching work is now complete and my commitments to the summer are minimal. Well, perhaps that is right; so I send a further email suggesting that we discuss my caseload for September onwards. Another email is returned with a list of my workload for next academic year. I find that it has not changed from my full-time caseload. I try to remain calm and decide to say nothing. I copy Colin Horrocks in to the email exchange.

I go home and explain to Dominic that I have signed my contract. He seems pleased – his fears about us seem to have diminished and he is very happy I am going half time from the end of April.

I check my emails before I go to bed and find an invite to a “launch” for a research project on women – organised by our university. It’s over lunch in two weeks’ time. The email is from Helen Murr.

“We have managed to find an under-spent budget and are planning to have a lunchtime meeting to celebrate a research project with children’s services locally, the division of psychology and our own division, represented by Gail. Come and join Marcus, myself and everyone else and find out about this innovative project.”

My heart sinks. I stare at the email and realise that my time is probably coming to an end at this dreadful university. It would be easy for me to read all sorts of issues into this email. Common courtesy would suggest that Helen and Marcus should be more sensitive about sending such an email to me. Obviously not.

I’ll fight on. I’ll pursue my grievance but keep a lookout for other positions.

I sleep badly and wake up midway through the night. I get up, go to the spare room, look out the window and reflect. How times change. Only six months ago I was so enjoying my work and felt I was making an important contribution. Now, several years of hard work all seemed so pointless. I know my health and home life are suffering and that it would be so easy to leave like so many others have probably done so in similar circumstances. What happens to those people? They go, very quietly, without a fuss. To lower-paid jobs, no jobs… I’ll go, but I’ll fight this all the way. I’m isolated, frozen out and uncertain of what the future holds. It’s all relative I suppose. But why are Marcus and Helen doing this to me? Perhaps that’s a question I will never be able to answer. But I will address their actions. I will stand up and do something.

Names and other details have been changed.

Are you experiencing problems at work?

Whether it’s money worries, issues with colleagues or emotional difficulties, the College and University Support Network (CUSN) can help. CUSN provides free, confidential support services, 24/7, specifically for all staff working in adult, further and higher education. Established by Teacher Support Network and supported by the University and College Union, CUSN offers information and advice, telephone counselling, online and telephone coaching and financial assistance. All CUSN services are delivered by professional advisers, counsellors and coaches.

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