Bullied Blogger: “Can you find it? Find it!”

January 13, 2009

Today marks the start of the diary of a Bullied Blogger, an account of the anxiety one academic starts to feel when a new head of department arrives. We hope this account will provide an insight into how an individual can come to feel bullied by a manager as well as offering practical advice on how to cope with the problem.

3 September 2008:

It’s all change in our School of Social Sciences. Phil, our old and much respected dean, has retired – actually, we think he was pushed. The department is awash with rumours about the “NO” agenda, which means (unofficially) no internal appointments. Twelve months ago, the new v-c appointed his own board of governors when he came in – all its members were from local industry. No space for any academics or union representatives.

The next big shock is learning that our head of sociology for 18 years, Simon, has resigned, or so we are told. He has gone with some sort of severance payment and has signed a confidentiality clause, so he is not allowed to discuss anything that relates to his premature departure. All very mysterious.

23 September: Our old dean is replaced by Helen Murr from mathematics – yes, you heard right. The department has been streamlined and internal appointments from irrelevant departments can be made if candidates meet basic criteria on the job description! All we know about Helen is that she is 58 years old, has just been through a divorce and been off with depression. She’s very quiet. She’s not moving offices (which means she is miles away) and intends to manage us “in a virtual context” with “limited interface opportunities”.

25 November: Our new “academic team leader” of sociology started today. Marcus seems a rather unassuming academic who has worked for the past six years in the department of sociology in an American university. We had no opportunity to meet with him at interview. His specialism is “the interface between self, consumption and identity” – word has it that he is “in” with the Government and on several task groups on the subject, which is also linked to happiness, depression and mental health. I checked his latest book on Amazon. Part of the emerging new wave in the “interdisciplinary paradigms shift” needed to understand the “brave new world” of consumer culture. Oh dear.

5 January 2009: Within days of starting, Marcus is dispatching emails 24 hours a day. The first is about his mission statement: “We need to work at creating a department that is fit for practice and can inspire a new generation of students who are not frightened of challenging ideas that are old and irrelevant… We need to be economically viable and all must show we are value for money….”

It goes on for two pages. He wants individual business plans to be discussed personally with him by late January. He’s already been given the nickname “control freak” for dispatching emails every five minutes on subjects from “limiting expenses submissions” to attending international conferences – guidelines and procedures. He has told us we’ll be moving buildings in March to a yet-unnamed refurbished site. People seem a little anxious about what is happening but are for the most part keeping their thoughts to themselves. Oh Phil and Simon, where are you?

8 January: Marcus knocked on my door yesterday and asked me to turn my music down. His office is miles from mine. I was speechless. Arcade Fire, my favourite band! It was early in the morning, 7.50. I always get in early. Dominick (my partner) sorts the kids out in the morning, and I leave work early to pick them up from school. The knock on my door took me completely by surprise, and I was shocked and confused by the audacity of the man. I feel so stupid for not raising it as an issue there and then. Just this one issue has made me feel a little unsettled. He gets into work early, I get into work early.

12 January: Today I was walking to my office and Marcus followed behind me. He seemed to appear from nowhere and invited himself into my office. I turned and faced him as I entered my room and decided to say what I thought. “That’s a little creepy following me like that Marcus.” He was visibly shocked by my comment and his body jolted back. Ha! He then regained composure and asked to see an old validation document from a Year One module on “Key sociological thinkers through the ages”. I said I would find it and drop it by later. He suggested I find it now, talking in a way that made me very uncomfortable “Can you find it? Find it!” he said abruptly.

I opened the filing cabinet where I thought it was and, for the life of me, I could not locate it. Marcus made a sarcastic remark – “That’s some system you have” – then left.

I break my silence and mention the incident to colleagues – Gail, who I feel I have always supported when she’s had problems, thinks there may be a “personality clash”. Alan, who I once shared an office with, thinks I’m overreacting. They seem to like Marcus, although they admit that his emails are a little extreme.

I’m feeling unsettled. For the first time in many years, I had a restless night’s sleep. I love my job but feel a little anxious about the impact Marcus is having on me.

Names and other details have been changed.

Are you experiencing problems at work?

Whether its 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 UCU, CUSN offers information and advice, telephone counselling, online and telephone coaching and financial assistance. All CUSN services are delivered by professional advisors, counsellors and coaches.

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