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Survivor Case study: A decade of bullying in high education. The failure of anti-bullying structures

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Abstract

This article presents a case study of an immigrant female, a survivor of bullying in two different international academic institutions.
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Survivor Case study: A decade of bullying in high education. The failure of anti-bullying
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structures
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Celia Arroyo-López1
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Abstract
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This article presents a case study of an immigrant female, a survivor of bullying in two different
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international academic institutions. The bullying started at her Ph.D. studies endured during her
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Postdoctoral studies. A long-term academic case of mobbing perpetrated with impunity.
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Continuous delays, inactivity, discriminatory salaries, authorship usurpation, sabotages,
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submitted articles unexpected blocked at the journal, bad-mouthing and blackmailing were
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observed during this long process, as common wrongdoings. Academic Ombudsmen, ASAP
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services, Unions, European syndicates of workers and students, and specialized mediators
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showed a limited capacity of intervention. Administrative, academic school directors, international
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academic affairs and Human resources offices showed impairments in anti-harassment policies
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and measures. A more in-depth investigation of harassment in high educations is needed. The
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aim of this paper is to initiate reflexing and debating about how implement high education
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workplace policies about bullying.
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Keywords: Bullying, academia, high education, aggressors, victims, target, interventions,
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recommendation letters, blackmailing
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Introduction
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The backstage of research in academia is a completely unknown domain for most of the people.
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The traditional perspective of a “bookworm” male fellow (generally white), surrounded by
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notebooks, formulas, and hundreds of boiling flasks is maybe the most recurrent romantic,
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idealized image. Away from the public eye, the academic field can be a toxic environment where
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predators can freely succeed. An unknown number of unethical individuals inhabit academic
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institutions referred here as “bullies,” targeting single or several individuals. Cases of bullying in
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high education are underreported because moral harassment is normalized, accepted and
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positively associated with higher standards of academic productivity and success. Based on the
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normalization of this behavior, victims do not dare to report their situation. They fear of dismissal,
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bad reference letters or authorship usurpation, as examples. Upon Lamont Stallworth, bullying is
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defined by a “behavior that threatens, intimidates, humiliates or isolates people at work, or
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undermines their reputation or job performance.” This definition can perfectly describe academic
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mobbing, however Khoo, provided a more exhaustive and descriptive portrait of academic
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bullying as “a non-violent, sophisticated, ‘ganging up’ behavior adopted by academicians to ‘wear
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and tear’ a colleague down emotionally through unjustified accusation, humiliation, general
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harassment and emotional abuse. These are directed at the target under a veil of lies and
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justifications so that they are ‘hidden’ to others and difficult to prove.” Targets can be persons in
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inferior positions but also newcomers, existing a potential bias towards immigrants and women,
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despite their ethnicity, gender or personal background what all the targets seem to share is the
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fact of commonly being ethical workers. So, academic bullies´ ultimate goal may withhold
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potential fear on being overshadowed by a more accomplished and ethical coworker (Gorlewski
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et al. 2014), obscuring their own weaknesses and incompetence by eradicating the target (Khoo
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2010). Bullies can be employers at different levels at the academic institutional hierarchy.
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However, around 72% of the incidents involved harassers from higher ranks (Cassell 2011;
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Anonymous 2018) abusing of their power. A vast list of bullying tactics can be described, similar
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to those occurring in any workplace, an undue pressure to produce work, undermining of victims
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abilities, verbal abuses, withholding necessary information to complete tasks denied (Thomas
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2005), threatening conducts, humiliations, intimidations or sabotages (Namie and Namie 2019).
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Consequences of academic mobbing, impacts the physical and psychological performance of the
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victims, affecting their productivity and the institutional climate (King and Piotrowski 2015).
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Bullying generates economic consequences for targets, academic institutions, and public health
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systems. For example, around 30% of the victims experienced post-traumatic stress disorder
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(Wajngurt 2014), and about 70% of them leave the organization (Gravois 2006). Consequences
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on victims are also common, being removed from their positions, their academic lives terminated
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through retirement, but also suicide, mental breakdown, cardiovascular diseases due to the high
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level of stress have been registered (Westhues 2006). Bullies can display active, subtle or inactive
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conducts (Cassell 2011), from subtle isolated unconscious or conscious events, micro-
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aggressions, to flagrant intimidations (Farrington 2010). There are not enough strong policies to
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address moral harassment in high education. Victims perceive Human Resources (HRs)
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departments contrary to employees interests, protectors of the institutions and bullies (Wajngurt
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2014). As far as I know, the United Kingdom is the most active country in the development of
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active anti-harassment policies in high education (Nature 2018). The lack of effectiveness of the
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administrations and organic structures to prevent bullying in academia have prompted the
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emergence of alternative underground movements protected by the anonymity internet offers.
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However, journals as The Times, Forbes, newspapers as The Guardian and recently also
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scientific and academic journals, start to give a place for publicly denounces abuses, reaching to
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general public. The simply denounces are insufficient unless problem is correctly approached
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(Gorlewski et al. 2014). Within this article, I present a case study of an immigrant female victim of
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academic mobbing for a decade. The aim of this paper is to initiate reflexing and debating about
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how implement high education workplace policies about bullying.
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Case presentation
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The victim with a pseudonym Clara López (CL), later referred as Dr. L is an immigrant female
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student in two different academic institutions. The first period of bullying corresponds to a high-
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rank inactive manner male with episodes of explosivity, and enabler of mobbing between
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coworkers. The second period corresponds to a high rank young female tenure with active bully
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manners, compulsive liar and inducer of mobbing between coworkers.
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First period when the bully is a “pope of sciences”:
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CL was hired by an international laboratory funded by a prestigious European research program.
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She joined a small team of international female Ph.D. students. Her coworkers had significant
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support from their former mentors, who were active collaborators and colleagues of their current
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supervisor. Contrary, CL did not have any influential “godfather” to support her. During the first
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months after her arrival, she was the targeted of her coworkers who offered her all type of
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misogynist comments, intrusions on her personal life, making offensive remarks of her
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appearance, or being abused having to change her schedule at work depending on her
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coworkers' needs. Humiliations were made privately and publicly even during international
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meetings. After three months of constant academic mobbing, CL decided to resign her contract.
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However, her supervisor (connoisseur of her mobbing) convinced her to stay with the promise of
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making improvements on the environment workplace and the cease of bullying. The episode of
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bullying decreases from her coworkers' side, at least from one of them. CL stayed at the laboratory
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and started her Ph.D. Her supervisor was an international well-recognized senior scientist,
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sometimes known as “popes” within the field of research. However, if you are engaged in a Ph.D.
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with a bully “pope,” your probabilities of being protected are very low. In this particular case, CL
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dealt with interminable silences, inexplicable delays on significant actions to complete her
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manuscripts, withholding feedbacks and information for seven years. All the students around her
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at this laboratory were also foreigners as her unfamiliar with local policies and regulations about
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Ph.D. students’ rights. CL performed her Ph.D. experiments sometimes with laboratory funds and
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sometimes with her savings. After four years, due to the lack of financial support, she returned
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to her country with the agreement of completing her manuscript and complete with no salary the
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experiments from a European funded project to include it as a chapter of her these. She
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periodically sent to her supervisor experimental results and drafts of her scientific articles. Her
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emails were ignored. She waited unemployed for three years to him to allow her Ph.D.
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submission. CL lost research opportunities due to the lack of her degree, she even informed her
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supervisor but he systematically ignored all the petitions. Since a “Code of Silence” prevails in
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academic mobbing, she could not explain in a reasonable way why she had no publications or
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her Ph.D. after so many years. Desperate, CL finally decided to report her case to the School
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director, International relationship school office, the syndicate of workers or Ph.D. students with
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no positive results. She contacted then he national mentor and ombudsmen with the belief that
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an international intervention would improve the situation, but it did not work either. No
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improvements or feedback were provided neither in what she perceived as disrespectful and
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discriminatory behavior from her supervisor side, due to her nationality. Utterly she contacted the
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his supervisor institutional ombudsman. This scientist seemed to have an active and effective
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intervention obtaining a relative success, maybe because the bully felt uncovered by his institution
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and colleagues. Despite the mediation of the local Ombudsman, neither the manuscript nor the
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articles were ever reviewed, but the victim could submit her Ph.D. and graduate after seven years
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of struggling. However, she still depends on him to publish her scientific articles and letters of
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recommendation for fellowships or being hired.
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Second period, “the savior” a textbook case of active bullying and manipulation
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The second period of harassment was marked by the active manners of a habitual liar, self-
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acclaimed protector of minorities who offered CL the opportunity to escape from her bully Ph.D.
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supervisor. This new mentor offered her a temporary appointment type subjected to modification
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as far as she completed her Ph.D., in the meanwhile, she would work on the setting up her project.
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For two years CL got a part-time appointment, but working full-time was mandatory. No main
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changes were performed at her appointment type, even when she doctorate. During those years,
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CL, now Dr. L, asked for an augmentation, only receiving different pretexts that resulted untrue.
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Besides the irregular appointments, the mentor was also abusive. She regularly humiliated the
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students based on their religious beliefs, physical appearance, language skills, or intellectual
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capacities, or exert discrimination on wages as for Dr. L. Moreover, Dr. L´s VISA status type
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conditioned her minimum earns and her rights to work legally, the extension of her visa was
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extremely dependent on her sponsor. This situation limits the opportunity to improve students’
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work conditions facilitating abuses with low opportunities of “scaping.” Anytime Dr. L inquired
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about her labor rights to her colleagues or academics, she was whistleblower by a coworker,
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being blamed as a troublemaker by her mentor. After two years with a part-time Junior specialist
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appointment, her mentor “granted” her with a promotion to a postdoctoral research position.
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Ignoring it Dr. L signed an irregular contract not recognized by the Academic Institution. Four
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months later after her promotion, she realized about it and informed her mentor. Her mentor
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pressed then her to resign. Considering the legal consequences for VISA students if voluntarily
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resigning their contract Dr. L decided not voluntarily to quit her job. Understanding she would not
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resign, her mentor started to exponentially increased her bullying, stalking, excessively
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monitoring, and gaslighting her. Her scientific tasks were arbitrary removed being confined to do
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cleaning and dishes, preventing her access to workshops and training at her workplace,
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badmouthing her and her private employee information referred to VISA expiration date used
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against her. After contacting her Union representative and met HRs, Dr. L was moved from her
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laboratory, and isolated from her coworkers, communication among them was forbidden. Her
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mentor also filled a false Letter of Expectations based on false accusations never confirmed to
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try to fire her. However, Dr. L demonstrated the fallacy of those allegations. Despite that, she still
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had to complete a set of tasks settled in a Performance Proposal statement letter as a
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punishment. The statement contained undermining questions based on activities previously
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arbitrarily stopped by her mentor, pertinent information as lab notebooks, computers, and
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software were withheld, impairing the effective accomplishment of the Performance tasks. To
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complicate the achievement of her duties, the mentor sabotaged her advances, contacting the
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counterparts of the project to prevent them from providing her with any feedback required to
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complete them. An article already submitted and accepted for review was blocked at the scientific
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journal by her mentor, denying this fact showing false documents to academic mediators. Despite
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the obstacles and sabotages Dr. L completed her commitments, sending two manuscripts and
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having enough data for at least a third one. Despite, no feedback was ever received, and drafts
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were apparently forgotten. Dr. L could not publish them because apparently authorship rights only
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belong to her mentor despite funds come from federal resources thus payed with all the workers
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taxes. Surprisingly, despite being defamed and her results and investigation considered a failure,
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her mentor shamelessly published and usurped her work, failing to give credit from her research.
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Currently this case of academic harassment seems to be under investigation. Her case is still
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under investigation, in the meanwhile victim authorship has been stolen and referees contacted
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to prevent them to give good reference letters.
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Discussion
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The first years of bullying shows the profile of an inactive bully maybe empowered by his
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untouchable self-perception and the lack of effective anti-harassment policies within the European
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Union. The second period represent a case of academic mobbing still under investigation. Years
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of inactivity, incompressible delays, misinterpretation, manipulations, alteration of events,
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persons, blames, badmouthing, sabotages, authorship usurpation or gaslighting have been a
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common issues Dr. L suffered for a decade, jeopardizing her research and professionality.
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Competitive and success in academia is associated with publishing results, but the process
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behind a published article is never considered. Competition to get funds it is exceptionally high,
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and the supervision of ethics in research is low. Victims of academic mobbing who dare to fill a
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grievance would have to wait for eternal processes of investigations, where the target of the
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inquiry would be commonly the victim. Opacity and secrecy usually surround the processes of
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investigation of reported cases, affecting the mental health of the victims, jeopardizing job
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opportunities and retaliation. Good mentors are also victims; they have to face unfair competition
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where research seems to enhance and empower misconducts rather than reward ethics and good
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practices. Victims feel unprotected and socially isolated, most of their cases are well known, but
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witnesses passively ignore it or are equally scared of potential retaliation. There are not enough
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effective policies in academia to protect students, workers and immigrants’ rights. Bullies perfectly
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know how to sabotage students’ career, they can undermine your work or spread bad comments
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about you, impeding you to be hired by another laboratory. Blackmailing or badmouthing you are
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the ace in the hole of bullies in the academia. The lack of effective anti-harassment policies and
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actions, allow bullies to mess up and confuse mediators jeopardizing victims research and
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professionality. As far as there are not proper ways of facing bullying in high educations, the only
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mechanism the survivors have is to speak up and make public the misconducts of some scientists.
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Uncompressible delays, inactivity, manipulations, authorship usurpation, gaslighting
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badmouthing and sabotages have been a common phenomenon suffered by the victim.
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Conclusions
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The process of hiring in academia is hugely dependent on “old-boy networking” based on good
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references. If falling into the wrong mentor hands, the only mechanism available for targets is
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being submissive and quiet. A more in-depth investigation of harassment in high educations is
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needed. Universities and colleges need to develop a better mechanism for the prevention of
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misconducts and implement mechanism to approach and reconduct this type of behaviors.
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Acknowledgments
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No external funds were employed or this study. The author would like to thank all the victims and
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survivors of bullying in academia anonymously collaborating in improving environmental working
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conditions in academia.
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References
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Anonymous (2018). We need a bigger conversation about bullying in academia. I was routinely
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humiliated by my head of department. Universities must tackle bullying with proper policy.
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The Guardian.
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Cassell, M. A. (2011). Bullying in Academe: Prevalent, Significant, And Incessant. Contemporary
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Issues in Education Research (CIER), 4(5), 33-44,
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Farrington, E. L. (2010). Bullying on Campus: How to Identify, Prevent, Resolve It. Women in
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Higher Education, 19(3), 8-9.
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Supplementary resource (1)

... An unknown number of unethical individuals are now inhabiting academic institutions targeting and harassing individuals or groups with impunity. I will call them "bullies" [2]. ...
... I will cite just some I had to face as undue pressure to produce work. This list includes: undermining of abilities, verbal abuses, denying access to necessary information in order to complete tasks [8], threatening conduct, humiliations, intimidations or sabotage, isolation of victims from other co-workers and continuous delays on deadlines, discriminatory salaries, irregular appointments, authorship usurpation, articles unexpectedly blocked at the journal, badmouthing or blackmailing [2]. ...
... Other consequences include: being removed from their job positions, the termination of RESEARCH AND HARASSMENT 13 NEWSLETTER ISSN 2663-9483 their academic lives through retirement, suicide, mental breakdown, and cardiovascular diseases due to the high level of stress [12]. These are some examples of how harming academic harassment can be [2]. Good mentors are also victims since they too face unfair competition where research seems to enhance and empower misconducts rather than to reward ethics and good practices. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
This is part of a formal petition N. 1132/2020 I submitted and accepted on 10/02/2021 by the European Parliament for the creation of a European office and ombudsman figure to effectively cope with harassment in higher education and research and innovation sectors.
Article
Full-text available
Bullying of adults by adults appears to be a common experience in work, social, and even family life. Yet, historically, there has been limited empirical research on the nature of this prevalent and aberrant interpersonal style among personnel in higher education. This article presents a review of studies that reflect key issues on bullying and incivility of/by administrators, faculty, and staff in college and university settings. There is strong empirical evidence that depicts the adult bully as harboring pervasive psychopathological tendencies such as narcissism and Machiavellianism, with a propensity for exhibiting abusive, controlling, callous, condescending, domineering, coercive, and self-centered behaviors (see Piotrowski, 2015). Several hypothetical case vignettes of incivility/bullying incidents specific to the academe are offered to illustrate these tendencies, along with strategies to recognize, manage, and combat 'bullying' styles in interpersonal interactions in college/university settings. Official policy should designate higher education settings as a 'No Bully Zone'.
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This paper examines the top-down perspective of bullying and mobbing of professors by analyzing why it is prevalent, significant, and incessant and then proposes a framework to produce a caring, respectful, and safe environment for professors to engage in their teaching, scholarship, and service. The author suggests that the failure of administrations of institutions of higher education to acknowledge the prevalence and significance of bullying and mobbing of members of the professorate will further contribute to the incessancy of these behaviors and actions.
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Purpose – Workplace bullying has been a subject of increasing study in recent years, particularly in the UK, Scandinavia and Australia. Health effects of workplace bullying are often cited as an undesirable outcome of being bullied, yet these health effects have not been studied systematically. This study was small and exploratory. The overall aims were to explore support staff perceptions of the nature and causes of bullying, and to examine the perceived relationship between bullying and self‐reported health complaints. Design/methodology/approach – A total of 100 self‐report questionnaires were sent via the internal mail system. Ten interviews were carried out with participants, who perceived that they had been bullied at work, to expand on the questionnaires. Findings – A total of 42 employees responded, 19 reporting experiencing one or more forms of bullying in the previous two years, while 17 had witnessed colleagues being bullied. The top four bullying tactics ranked in terms of frequency of reporting were undue pressure to produce work, undermining of ability, shouting abuse, and withholding necessary information. When bullying occurred it was likely to be by a line manager. Major findings are that headaches, loss of confidence, loss of self‐esteem, fatigue/listlessness, and stress are the most commonly reported health consequences of being bullied, and that these syndromes are associated with a decrease in workplace morale, increased stress at home, and propensity to seek alternative employment. Originality/value – This study, of bullying of support staff in a large UK educational institution, is a contribution to understanding the health implications of workplace bullying from the perspective of those bullied.
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This paper examines the results of a workplace bully survey sent to faculty, instructors and librarians at a mid-sized Canadian university in 2005. The potential sources of workplace bullying by colleagues, administrators and students are examined. The survey determined that workplace bullying is of particular concern for employees that are newly hired or untenured. The systemic nature of this phenomenon and the spillover effect from one job domain to another are identified. The findings indicate costs for the university linked to workplace bullying. Costs include increased employee turnover, changed perception of the university by employees and reduced employee engagement.
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Academic mobbing is a non-violent, sophisticated, ‘ganging up’ behaviour adopted by academicians to “wear and tear” a colleague down emotionally through unjustified accusation, humiliation, general harassment and emotional abuse. These are directed at the target under a veil of lies and justifications so that they are “hidden” to others and difficult to prove. Bullies use mobbing activities to hide their own weaknesses and incompetence. Targets selected are often intelligent, innovative high achievers, with good integrity and principles. Mobbing activities appear trivial and innocuous on its own but the frequency and pattern of their occurrence over long period of time indicates an aggressive manipulation to “eliminate” the target. Mobbing activities typically progress through five stereotypical phases that begins with an unsolved minor conflict between two workers and ultimately escalates into a senseless mobbing whereby the target is stigmatized and victimized to justify the behaviours of the bullies. The result is always physical, mental, social distress or illness and, most often, expulsion of target from the workplace. Organizations are subjected to great financial loss, loss of key workers and a tarnished public image and reputation. Public awareness, education, effective counselling, establishment of anti-bullying policies and legislations at all levels are necessary to curb academic mobbing. General practitioners (GPs) play an important role in supporting patients subjected to mental and physical health injury caused by workplace bullying and mobbing.
We need a bigger conversation about bullying in academia. I was routinely 201 humiliated by my head of department. Universities must tackle bullying with proper policy
  • Anonymous
Anonymous (2018). We need a bigger conversation about bullying in academia. I was routinely 201 humiliated by my head of department. Universities must tackle bullying with proper policy. 202 The Guardian.
Beyond Bullies and Victims: Using Case 209
  • J Gorlewski
  • D Gorlewski
  • B J Porfilio
Gorlewski, J., Gorlewski, D., & Porfilio, B. J. (2014). Beyond Bullies and Victims: Using Case 209
Editorial: Ban bullying in science
Nature (2018). Editorial: Ban bullying in science. Nature, 563( 600 ), doi:10.1038/d41586-018-220