University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty and staff targeted by abusive slurs, intimidating gestures, work sabotage or other threats in the workplace now have an online resource to guide them in documenting and reporting the behavior.
The frequency of hostile and intimidating behavior reported by faculty members at UW-Madison was surprising, a 2016 campus survey found.
More than 35 percent of faculty reported personally experiencing “hostile and intimidating” behavior over the past three years in the 2016 Study of Faculty Worklife at UW-Madison. “The measure of incidence of hostile and intimidating behavior is rather surprising,” wrote the authors of the report.
Besides those who reported being targeted by bullying — or hostile and intimidating behavior— more than 42 percent reported they have witnessed it.
UW-Madison officials have been working on the problem for about five years, after Soyeon Shim, dean of the School of Human Ecology, and Francois Ortalo-Magné, former dean of the Wisconsin School of Business — both relative newcomers to campus at the time — noticed that the campus did not have a policy prohibiting such behavior, unlike other places they had worked.
Bullying is a common problem on college campuses. A 2012 book, “Bully in the Ivory Tower,” cited a study that found 62 percent of higher education employees reported witnessing or experiencing bullying in the past 18 months. That compared to 37 percent of the general workforce. Another study published in 2013 put the rates of bullying among college faculty and staff in the United States and Canada from 32 percent to 52 percent.
“Bully in the Ivory Tower” author Leah P. Hollis said the “ego” factor in higher education could play a role in the higher prevalence of bullying on college campuses, according to an article referenced on the new UW-Madison website.
In 2014 UW-Madison shared governance bodies for faculty and academic staff adopted policies prohibiting HIB, and setting definitions and reporting procedures. The University Staff Congress, representing non-academic staff, adopted a similar policy on 2016.
Bullying is defined on the new website as “unwelcome behavior pervasive or severe enough that a reasonable person would find it hostile and/or intimidating and that does not further the university’s academic or operational interests.”
The site also includes advice for informal and formal responses to bullying and places on campus to go for counsel and support.
Campus officials call on faculty and staff to prevent bullying by developing “a culture that helps prevent HIB from occurring before it begins.”
Advice on how to do that includes a resource guide for creating a psychologically healthy workplace compiled by a campus workgroup. The guide refers to research on why academia, with its emphasis on expertise, is so ripe for bullying: “The game of academe is proving how smart you are.”
And it offers this quote from Henry Kissinger, U.S. Secretary of State in the 1970s: ‘University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. University politics make me long for the simplicity of the Middle East.”