Thursday, December 7, 2006

Definitions and More

Workplace mobbing is a 'virus' or a 'cancer' that spreads through malicious gossip, rumour, hearsay,and unfounded accusations. It is done with deliberate intent to have those targeted 'eliminated' or 'forced out' of their employment. Accusations of unsubstantiated 'bullying' can even be made against the target as the perpetrators realise the benefits of claiming 'victim' status. Those targeted in this way are often denied procedural fairness and natural justice. The pattern indicates that those at high risk are most likely to be:

* Change agents
* High achievers
* Enthusiastic (eg those who volunteer)
* Those with integrity
* Those with ethical standards
* Promoters of human rights, dignity and respect

See Workplace Mobbing Australia

The best book on the topic: WORKPLACE MOBBING IN ACADEME: Reports from Twenty Universities, edited by Kenneth Westhues.
SEE book site.

SEE Ken Westhues site.

Academic mobbing: SIUC's ugly little secret

Professor Joan E. Friedenberg
Community Leaders Forum

Academic mobbing is a form of workplace bullying, an ugly phenomenon that currently affects about 20 million U.S. workers. Mobbing is the single worst threat to worker health and safety, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder and even suicide. Academic mobbing targets are usually professors who speak out against university policies and practices they believe are unfair. And like bullied children, these professors often differ from their peers in other ways, such as religion, skin color or language.

Unfortunately, mobbing occurs at SIUC. When a foreign-born SIUC professor of Social Work complained that her department chair forged her signature on a document, the chair and his allies ganged up on her by signing a petition to have her removed from the department and unjustly blamed her for a litany of department troubles, harassing her for years. When an aging SIUC professor of Curriculum and Instruction became active in the faculty union and filed grievances against his chair, the chair's allies signed a petition demanding his physical removal from the department. Administrators granted their wish, and he has been subjected to vandalism and numerous humiliations and inconveniences that interfere with his work.

I'm a victim myself. After I helped organize the faculty union, wrote letters to the editor, filed grievances, picketed and protested the firing of JoAnn Argersinger, I was moved out of my department, had mail stolen and doors slammed in my face, found graffiti on my door, and received lower raises, inappropriate course assignments and unjustified disciplinary letters. Then interim provost Margaret Winters hired a Missouri psychologist who wrote a report saying that I was a destructive person, in need of both administrative discipline and professional help. The report was disseminated by e-mail around campus. Nowhere did it say what I had done to deserve that characterization, making it obvious that it was based on my speech, opinions and political activities. Evaluations of my teaching and research were always excellent.

After the dissemination of the psychologist's report, SIU counsel met with administrators to devise ways to terminate me. Amazingly, I noticed I was being followed in my car and later found a memo from my department chair suggesting private investigators be used to see if I was misusing a printer and to see if I really practiced the Jewish faith.

I fought back. Though I'm now on medication for arrhythmia, insomnia and depression, SIU is under investigation by the state; the psychologist is under investigation by the APA; SIU lost a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment in a case I've brought in federal court; and I've published a book chapter about my treatment by SIUC. All along, what I've been asking for is simply a written apology and what it has cost me to get it.

Mobbing hurts everyone, and it's time for it to stop at SIUC. I suggest that administrators and faculty attend workshops where they can learn more about addressing mobbing. Without action to change administrative support for mobbing, victims will have no recourse but to the courts and to publicity. Neither will add to SIUC's luster or to its effort to achieve the goals of Southern at 150.

Joan Friedenberg is a professor of linguistics at SIUC. These views do not necessarily represent those of the Daily Egyptian. See Article


Here is another well-documented case--that of the academic mobbing of herbert Richardson.


Kenneth Westhues. Administrative Mobbing at the University of Toronto: The Trial, Degradation, and Dismissal of a Professor During the Presidency of J. Robert S. Pritchard. 483pp.Queenston, Ontario: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004.

J. Philippe Rushton

This book is a work of compassionate advocacy, a brief for the defense by a professor of sociology who has himself been convicted (later exonerated) by academic process run wild. In his detailed account of the dismissal of Herbert Richardson, Professor of Religious Studies at St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto on the charge of “gross misconduct” in 1994, Westhues charts and establishes a new field of sociological inquiry, “academic mobbing.” Boxed text summarizes some 30 “compare and contrast” case studies (including my own), plus an appendix of nine essay-length commentaries on the book (but unfortunately not including one from the prosecutor’s side).

Academic Mobbing reads like a “who-dunnit,” or rather, a “what-dunnit,” because it is only on page 231 that we learn what Richardson is convicted of. In the eight-year build up, allegations included bad teaching, abuse of students, administrative neglect, plagiarism, scholarly misrepresentation, disloyalty to Catholic teaching (!), mis-using a four-month medical leave, and failing to disclose his activities in “Mellen Enterprises” ─ the Edwin Mellen Press (which his opponents labeled a “vanity press,” and, it must be noted, published Academic Mobbing), and Mellen University (which, perhaps because it is chartered in the West Indies, accusers labeled a “diploma mill”).

Prof. Richardson’s biography is fascinating. Born in 1932 in Baltimore, Maryland, he was reared in Lakewood, Ohio, in a downwardly mobile but politically liberal WASP family. Forbidden by his father from joining any “Whites only” fraternity, Richardson became part of a racially mixed group of pre-theology students at Baldwin-Wallace College, outside of Cleveland. In 1955 he did graduate work at Boston University with Martin Luther King, Jr. as classmate. From 1956-62 he completed a doctorate at Harvard University Divinity School where he also served as Assistant Professor from 1962 to 1968.

In 1968, Richardson became the first Protestant theologian appointed to the Roman Catholic faculty of St. Michael’s during the ecumenical euphoria with which he identified. Achievement-oriented, self-confident, hard-working, free-thinking, and entre-preneurial Westhues suggests Richardson’s quintessentially American, Protestant, liberal personality was sure to create friction eventually.

According to Westhues, the trigger for the “mobbing” was theological differences. An example was Richardson’s 1971 book on sexuality and women’s issues, Nun, Witch, Playmate: The Americanization of Sex (Harper & Row). Then there was Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, tagged by opponents as a “cult” which Richardson defended from 1976 to 1985, even testifying before the U.S. Senate on the legitimacy of religious conversion. More problematic was his 1974 founding of the Edwin Mellon Press in Lewiston, New York, building it into a 3 million dollar a year publishing house, with four thousand titles by 2001.

Religious attendance had fallen dramatically. Theological careers were problematic. Ecumenism suffered as conservative Popes and administrators took power. By 1986, Richardson and St. Michael’s were seriously at odds. Despite his stellar productivity — 20 books published (authored, edited, or translated); 25 Ph.D. dissertations and 30 Master’s theses directed, many of them subsequently published; a distinguished teaching award; 100 invited talks at other universities and seminaries — his request for a year’s leave of absence (without pay) was denied. His Dean wrote that the college would “not be destitute” if he decided his future lay elsewhere.

When Richardson refused to sign the theology bylaws the College demanded in 1989 as part of a new contract, saying they violated his academic freedom, each side engaged attorneys. In 1991 Richardson lost his temper in class, shouting at his assistant “Get Out! Get Out! Get Out!” Students complained, reporting their fear of “violent, abusive behavior.” Another protested to six administrators that Richardson questioned the seriousness of the problem of violence against women on campus. (However, he usually got high teacher ratings.) The tribunal struck down the charges of bad teaching and poor scholarship.

The charges sustained against Richardson centered on his non-disclosure of information about Mellen Press and Mellen University, alleged conflicts of interest, and the embarrassment caused, plus the charge of abusing a medical leave. Westhues succeeds admirably in his brief for Richardson’s defense and also in documenting the mobbing phenomenon, although I thought he tap-danced around the creation of Mellen University, saying he found it less interesting to discuss. While I know of colleagues who have (very legitimately) started publishing houses and other businesses, I know of none who have started another university!

SAFS members will enjoy this book. Worthy of a screenplay, it will serve as an excellent source book for many years to come.

Kenneth Westhues, a SAFS member, is Professor of Sociology at the University of Waterloo.

J. Philippe Rushton, also a SAFS member, is professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario.
He is author of Race, Evolution, and Behavior

See Review