Academic mobbing, or how to become campus tormentors
Publisher: University Affairs
Date Written: 19/09/2017
Year Published: 2016
Resource Type: Article
If youre a university professor, chances are fairly good that you have initiated or participated in mobbing. Why? First, because mobbers are not sadists or sociopaths, but ordinary people; second, because universities are a type of organization that encourages mobbing; and third, as a result, mobbing is endemic at universities. Unlike bullying, an individual form of harassment in which a typical scenario consists of a boss victimizing an assistant, mobbing is a serious organizational deficiency.
If youre a university professor, chances are fairly good that you have initiated or participated in mobbing. Why? First, because mobbers are not sadists or sociopaths, but ordinary people; second, because universities are a type of organization that encourages mobbing; and third, as a result, mobbing is endemic at universities.
Unlike bullying, an individual form of harassment in which a typical scenario consists of a boss victimizing an assistant, mobbing is a serious organizational deficiency. Its many consequences are so severe that it is considered a major public health issue. The term itself, mobbing, describes its four essential characteristics: it is a collective, violent and deliberate process in which the individual psychologies of the aggressors and their victim provide no keys to understanding the phenomenon.
Workplace mobbing is a concerted process to get rid of an employee, who is better referred to as a target than a victim to emphasize the strategic nature of the process. The dynamic is reminiscent of Stalins Moscow Trials: the targets are first convicted and evidence is later fabricated to justify the conviction. As sociologist of science Brian Martin put it, everything they say, are, write and do will be systematically used against them.
Successful mobbing leads to any of a number of outcomes: the targets commit suicide, are dismissed (or often at universities, being denied tenure), resign, retire early, take permanent or recurring sick leave (the last three being the most common cases for university professors), or have all their responsibilities withdrawn (as in the case of sidelined senior public servants).
The process begins when a small group of instigators decides to cast someone out on the pretext that he or she is threatening their interests. This concept covers a variety of cases; perhaps the target is not behaving the way they would like, does not share their view of the organization, earns more than they do or challenges questionable practices. Mobbers use negative communication as their powerful weapon of elimination.
Many people think that universities are completely different from private companies or government agencies. They believe that they are unique places of freedom that stimulate intelligence, foster independence, value originality, promote collegiality, encourage pluralism and treat their members with respect, starting with the faculty. Unfortunately, the severity of mobbing in academic settings destroys that fantasy. In truth, universities are breeding grounds for mobbing, where all the aggressive tactics described above are used regularly. In many faculties, mobbing has gained popularity as a work method.
The severity of academic mobbing is due not only to its prevalence, but also its inherent morbidity. The consequences for targets are more damaging in universities than in other work environments. One explanatory factor is that academic institutions are toxic, yet claim to foster employee well-being. Mobbed professors expect their employers to protect and defend them, and experience cognitive dissonance when they are hit with the realization that no such help is forthcoming. In fact, university administrations and human resources departments are involved in most mobbing campaigns, either actively or passively, by failing to take corrective action.
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