Dealing with academic bullies

| May 24, 2021 | Employment Law |

Academia is generally regarded by most Michigan residents as a sedate place to work. Academic institutions are generally thought to be free from the inter-employee strife that often inhabits for-profit entities. Yet a recent study found that bullying is endemic in academia. The situation is exacerbated by an over-reliance on adjunct faculty and the pressure to find a tenure track position. Two Michigan academics, Loraleigh Keashley, a researcher at Wayne State, and Morteza Mahmoudi, a nanotechnologist at Michigan State University, have offered several practical responses to academic bullying.

Step 1: Confirm that the behavior is in fact bullying

The essence of academic bullying is criticism not limited to academic work. Criticism becomes bullying if it is personal or if it is retaliation for criticism of the bully.

Step 2: Seek support

Many institutions have formal policies on how to spot and respond to bullying. These policies should be consulted to ensure that the behavior is in fact bullying. If the institution has an ombudsman, the victim should share concerns with that person.

Step 3: Use both formal and informal complaint procedures

If the behavior satisfies the definition of bullying, and if the institution’s office for handling such claims takes no action, the victim may wish to commence a formal complaint according to the institution’s procedures for such action. Doing so can ensure that the controversy is becomes part of a written record.

Step 4: Be prepared for institutional blowback

Many institutions do not react positively to employee complaints about bullying. The filing of a formal complaint may trigger a hostile response from both the institution and the bully.

The last resort

If none of the steps outlined above leads to a satisfactory resolution, the object of the bullying has two choices that are not mutually exclusive. The first – and most obvious – is resignation. That choice may have both desirable and undesirable consequences that depend upon the person’s professional goals and qualifications. The second choice is litigation. Michigan and many other states have laws that are intended to prevent bullying in places of employment. A knowledgeable employment lawyer can provide helpful advice on the probability of succeeding on such a claim.