A sociology professor at the University of Waterloo, in Canada, Kenneth Westhues, has researched a workplace bullying phenomenom called “mobbing.”
Westhues defines “mobbing” as, “an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker.” The term has gained international recognition, in Europe the term “mobbing” has become a common phrase and France has even passed anti-mobbing laws. Despite anti-mobbing/anti-bullying policies, Westhues’ research shows that the phenomenom is still alive in academia today. A group of European academics host a mobbing blog for academics to discuss the issue as well as serve as a forum for academics who have personally experienced mobbing.
How does the academic culture and institutional practices allow mobbing to develop and persist in the world of higher education?
From The Unkindly Art of Mobbing, by Ken Westhues:
“At a practical level, every professor should be aware of conditions that increase vulnerability to mobbing in academe. Here are five:
• Foreign birth and upbringing, especially as signaled by a foreign accent
• Being different from most colleagues in an elemental way (by sex, for instance, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnicity, class origin, or credentials)
• Belonging to a discipline with ambiguous standards and objectives, especially those (like music or literature) most affected by post-modern scholarship
• Working under a dean or other administrator in whom, as Nietzsche put it, “the impulse to punish is powerful”
• An actual or contrived financial crunch in one’s academic unit (According to an African proverb, when the watering hole gets smaller, the animals get meaner)
Other conditions that heighten the risk of being mobbed are more directly under a prospective target’s control. Five major ones are:
• Having opposed the candidate who ends up winning appointmentas one’s dean or chair (thereby looking stupid, wicked, or crazy in the latter’s eyes)
• Being a rate buster—achieving so much success in teaching or research that colleagues’ envy is aroused
• Publicly dissenting from politically correct ideas (meaning those held sacred by campus elites)
• Defending a pariah in campus politics or the larger cultural arena
• Blowing the whistle on, or even having knowledge of serious wrongdoing by, locally powerful workmates”