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Eve Seguin: Academic mobbing, or how to become campus tormentors #ubcnews #caut_acppu #ubceduc #highered
To discipline and punish a colleague via academic mobbing, professionals— yes, professionals, including managers— conspire and solicit. This is one insight gathered from Eve Seguin’s astute and timely analysis of the pervasive phenomenon.
For Professor Caroline Patsias at Université du Québec à Montréal, once a professor at Université de Sherbrooke.
If you’re 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 Stalin’s 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sick leave (the last three being the most common cases for university professors), or have all their responsibilities withdrawn (as in the case of sidelined senior public servants).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.
At first unbeknownst to the target, negative communication consists of rumours, complaints (often anonymous), conniving looks, mocking, gossip, misrepresenting facts, insinuations, hearsay, defamation, lies, secret meetings to discuss “the case,” disparaging comments, police-like surveillance of the target’s work and private life to gather “evidence” that justifies the aggression, and so on.
The other side of negative communication is directed at the target and includes unjustified accusations, manipulating or withholding information, sending menacing or hateful messages, calling purportedly friendly or disciplinary meetings, psychologically destabilizing the targets by incessantly accusing them of making mistakes, intimidation, tampering with their workstation, offering to “help” with so-called adaptation problems, and public humiliation.
Since the announcement of University of British Columbia President Arvind Gupta’s resignation on 7 August 2015 and subsequent disclosure and leak of records on 25 January 2016 via Freedom of Information requests, one of the most pressing questions has been the role or seeming conspiracy of Deans. Upon public circulation of the records, on 9 February the Deans quickly circled the wagons in defence, ostensibly a sign of patronage.
The records still in question involve a series of meetings and exchanges between Gupta and the Deans beginning around 1 May and extending through June 2015, e.g.:
1 May 2015 (FoI Record 439)
Hi John [Montalbano, Chair of the BoG], Things seem to be going well with the Deans now (or at least I think so). Thanks again for coming over today and hope you weren’t too late in [redacted]. Talk soon. (Gupta)
What exactly happened wherein the President hesitates in resolving that “things seem to be going well with the Deans”? What was going on wherein problems escalated and the Deans apparently made an offensive to play a role in seeing through the President’s resignation or ousting him?
Perhaps the meetings and exchanges of the Committee of Deans would provide insight.
A Freedom of Information request was made on 8 February 2016 for disclosure of records of the Committee of Deans, which meets twice per month for 2 hours each meeting.
Lo and behold, it turns out that this decision-making and governing body does not keep any records and claims it has no obligation or intention to do so. Upon a series of requests over the last four months, Access and Privacy in UBC’s Office of the University Counsel shockingly confirmed:
There is no UBC record-keeping mandate for these committees [of Deans]. Therefore the records kept are at the discretion of the Provost offices. In terms of UBCV material – no minutes are taken at the Deans meetings, therefore no minutes exist to provide to you. UBCV 2016 agendas were included [or reconstructed] in the records released to you.
There were no 2015 records in the disclosure
So, this decision-making body– all the Deans and the Provost, etc.– meets twice per month for 2 hours each and keeps no records. The Committee of Deans met multiple times with President Gupta and prepared or kept no records. Nada. Nothing.
Guaranteed, there is something to hide. Too much, in fact.
Wary of corruption, cronyism, and patronage, on 22 October 2015, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC released a scathing report of the practice of withdrawing decision-making to shadow systems.
Similarly in 2004, the Federal Information Commissioner expressed concerns that civil servants, lawyers and managers in public institutions in Canada were managing “to find ingenious ways to wiggle and squirm to avoid the full operation of the law.” Reflecting what we see nowadays at UBC, the Commissioner observed that the
Access to Information Act was supposed to get government documents into the hands of Canadians. Instead, it has created a state in which there are often no documents to get… The attitude has truly become,”‘Why write it when you can speak it? Why speak it when you can nod? Why nod when you can wink?'”
Robert Kerrey–Like Drowning Cats
By Rich Gibson
San Diego State University
Robert Kerrey is now appointed to be the top at a new US-sponsored university in Vietnam.
Former Senator Robert Kerrey admitted that as leader of a Navy Seal unit he participated in the murder of civilians in Vietnam. The Seal unit was part of an assassination squad, operating under the guidance of Operation Phoenix which, in the course of the war, killed more than 30,000 Vietnamese, using what its leader, William Colby, called a “scatter-gun approach,” in later congressional hearings. Villagers on the scene say Kerrey’s Seals not only shot more than 100 women and children with automatic fire, but slit the throats of five people, all considered less than human: Gooks, Slants, Slopes, Cong, Charlie, VC.
Kerrey’s admissions came in The New York Times Magazine, a story initially quashed by the television networks. Clearly indictable under existing war crime statutes, Kerrey participated in a cover-up of his unit’s killings for nearly three decades while he used his claims to valour to promote his political career.
Following The New York Times revelations, though, two interesting things happened, both relating to how history is constructed, not only as a vision of the past, but as a call to action in the future. In that context, Kerrey’s thinking about his experience in Vietnam, written not too long after he returned, is instructive.
As the Times article developed, Kerrey and his friends first began to commiserate with one another about the tough times they had, the strain on their consciences, the difficulty they had in living with dirty secrets, how their reputations of valour may be imperfect. Besides, what were we to do when everyone was an enemy? This experience traces the path of many convicted fascist war criminals in Germany who, exposed long after WWII closed, said the same thing.
Second, the debate shifted to who we shall call heroic. The mainstream outlook is now at least two-fold: perhaps nobody, or maybe people like Kerrey since war is hell. Three kinds of heroes are missed altogether.
Certainly those working-class US youth who found themselves enmeshed in a web that led directly to the front lines of battle in Vietnam, those of them who refused to go on burn-all kill-all missions, those who shot their own officers and blew them up in their tents, creating a new word in the lexicon, fragging; those who returned to the US, joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and, denouncing the war, threw their Medals of Honor back at Congress; those young men and women, black and white, like Bill Marshall and Scott Camil, wounded and decorated heroes who rejected the war, are mostly unnoticed.
The working class anti-war movement is almost equally opaque, as if the resistance emanated from Harvard and Columbia, behind the cavalier lead of rich liberal children with bombs like Billy Ayers whose contempt for people sought to substitute explosives for a mass conscious movement. In fact the blue-collar student movements at Wayne State in Detroit, San Francisco State, Kent State, and related schools seriously took up the issues of people who had a lot to lose, whose draft deferments were not coming from counsel with connected pals in the medical school, and who could wield real power by exerting their natural influence in their birth-class. Often under the leadership of Black and Latin youth, those people then led the mass sit-down strikes in auto in Detroit, and the community uprisings throughout the US, while the terrorists hid in million-dollar homes, returning to academic prominence after legal wrist slaps a few years later–now rich liberals without bombs.
Further outside the imperial gaze, even today, is the heroism of the Vietnamese, not only those who Kerrey and many other US officers caught up in the genocidal invasion sought to exterminate, but those who defeated the empire, politically, militarily, and morally, causing imperial troops to run away in their helicopters, pushing their allies off the struts as they ran. Despite every effort to reconstruct that piece of history, whether through relentless Hollywood endeavors to recapture the good old days of World War II, or the repositioning of responsibility to suggest that all US troops in Southeast Asia were war criminals, and hence none of them were, nothing ever will be the same.
At the end of the wars on Vietnam, when the US fled at the end of April, 1975, the US military was in utter collapse, the economy a shambles, the presidency upended by Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, and the campuses in full uproar. Reversing all of that has been a 40 year project, with some success, especially the project to eradicate the memory of the facts of the war itself.
There are no Vietnamese victors on Vietnam Wall, yet millions of them died–and changed the world.
However, for purposes of clarity, it is worthwhile to look back on what Robert Kerrey wrote after he returned from Vietnam, more than twelve years ago, perhaps when his recollections were sharper, less opportunistically censored by the polish of electoral success. This is what Nebraska’s Robert Kerrey said in the opening paragraph of an article titled, “On Remembering the Vietnam War:”
“Around the farm, there is an activity that no one likes to do. Yet it is sometimes necessary. When a cat gives birth to kittens that aren’t needed, the kittens must be destroyed. And there is a moment when you are holding the kitten under the water when you know that if you bring that kitten back above the water it will live, and if you don’t bring it back above in that instant the kitten will be dead. This, for me, is a perfect metaphor for those dreadful moments in war when you do not quite do what you previously thought you would do.”*
Such is the choice, drowning cats or universal solidarity against despotism–and the perversion of academic life.
*The Vietnam Reader, edited by Walter Capps, Routledge, New York (1990)