Bullying hits unsuspected classrooms

Bullying isn’t just a middle school — or student — problem.

In 2007, Jaime Lester launched a study on workplace bullying at George Mason University. While there have been thousands of similar organizational studies over the years, this may have been the first to look specifically at the faculty of a university.

“Our end results were very confusing. If we had X percent of faculty bullied by other faculty, is that high compared to other colleges? We didn’t know, because there is so little that’s known about this,” says Lester. “So I felt we needed a conversation starter. How can we frame this in such a way that we push forward more work on this topic?”

The result, “Workplace Bullying in Higher Education,” will be released in December. The book features contributions from over a dozen bullying experts, including two of the nation’s leading workplace aggression scholars: Joel H. Neuman of SUNY New Paltz, and Wayne State’s Loraleigh Keashly.

But a college faculty is like no other set of co-workers, and this book makes an effort to walk through the practical and legal particularities of a college campus. While most colleges have created strong anti-bullying resources for students, the only recourse for faculty and staff is frequently to notify their human resources departments.

“Power dynamics are very different in higher education. If you look at the literature on organizations, generally, they say women are more likely to be bullied than men, and people in lower levels are more likely to be bullied than in higher levels,” explains Lester. “But in higher education I think it’s much more complicated. We have some evidence of students bullying faculty, staff bullying faculty and the other way around. It’s a flatter power dynamic. That changes who is bullied and how often.”


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