Four working lives made misery

March 14, 1997

In response to a request for individuals' examples of bullying in universities and colleges, 23 people rang The THES. All preferred to remain anonymous. Here are four of their stories.

Jennifer A has been a lecturer in higher education for ten years.

"Serious allegations were thrown at me by a manager who was new to our department. He claimed I had taken time off work without permission. In fact the form I had filled in was never presented by my manager. I was also wrongly accused of breaking classroom procedure. I was suspended for nine weeks and my colleagues were asked to make statements about me.

"All the accusations had come from one individual. Although the allegations were later dropped I was subsequently downgraded to a support role and placed on probation for a year. They backed down in the end but there was no apology. "

Suzanne B is a historian working for an old university in the home counties.

"My political differences with the head of department had got out of control. We argued a lot, we had no common ground and he seemed to take it personally. He used his influence with our colleagues. Pretty soon they started to turn against me. I recognised his tactics. Everyone left the room when I entered. Or they turned away. This happens in school playgrounds but people don't realise that it happens in the staff room as well. It happened to me. Eventualy I was forced to leave. I had become depressed, suicidal. I have not worked since.

Senior university finance officer Jonathan C took his first university post in order to be nearer home after 18 years in in the private sector.

"At first my supervisor behaved pleasantly to me but asked me to go straight into unfamiliar work with little or no preparation and showed no interest in what I did. Exacting deadlines were set. Very soon the supervisor started to criticise my work on a petty and trivial level and insisted on rewriting reports and checking up on my visits to other departments.

"By the end of January I was depressed, confused at my treatment and suffering from migraine and lack of concentration. I felt sure the supervisor was determined to get rid of me. My doctor diagnosed reactive depression induced by stress at work and immediately signed me off.

"After three weeks I returned but the supervisor continued the bullying tactics. There ensued a trial by memo. I asked personnel to consult my doctor and asked for an independent peer review of my work. Both requests were refused.

"I was eventually asked to leave. I had done nothing wrong. I had committed no offence. I had no protection under employment law. I have been left high and dry. "

Lecturer Robert D moved from a university into the further education sector and suffered a nervous breakdown within three years.

"I was labelled a smart arse. My job was given to one of my staff when a new principal was brought in and he said to me: `You've had your turn'. He used all the classic techniques to undermine me. He blew smoke in my face, shone lights on my face, sat above me on a desk . . . I had no responsibility and no support. I became incompetent, I fell apart and one day forgot to set an exam. I was accused of gross misconduct and retired."

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