You’ve seen the behavior, now know its name: Academic Mobbing

In looking at a Chronicle of Higher Education discussion of the Huntville tragedy, I discovered a URL for a site about mobbing, with lots of interesting articles.

Have you ever seen a flock of birds turn on one of its own?  Apparently that’s the source of a common label for a sort of group bullying that can go on in academia and elsewhere.  It’s Mobbing.  In its full-fledged  form, it involves  a wide-range of harrassing behaviors, including very explicit public rudeness, negative letter-writing, refusal of ordinary requests, denial of  standard opportunities, and so on.

One site takes Ward Churchill to be one of mobbing’s victim, as did the jury, apparently:

Colorado professor wins wrongful-termination suit

Ward Churchill’s ‘little Eichmanns’ reference to victims of 9/11 started a storm that led to his firing.

April 03, 2009|DeeDee Correll,BOULDER, COLO. — The University of Colorado professor who likened 9/11 victims to a Nazi leader was fired in retaliation for his controversial remarks, a Denver jury ruled Thursday.

Jurors in the wrongful-termination lawsuit filed by Ward L. Churchill agreed with the embattled professor’s contention that he was the victim of a “howling mob,” not the perpetrator of academic misconduct.

It’s effects can be severe, and include  post-traumatic stress disorder.  One letter writer to CHE raised the question of whether the Huntsville perpetrator had been the victim of  mobbing.  We certainly don’t know now, but it is a  reasonable question, I should think.

I’m afraid that the recurring standard advice I keep seeing is to leave, to get out.  It really is toxic.  Of course, that’s the sort of situation where one might be tempted to say “But if you go, then they win.”  But the point is that it is already a lose-lose situation, though the target may be the only one to realize it.  Other advice includes staying away from it as much as possible.

Here’s a useful set of links to sites on mobbing, including school bullying.  Some of these are meant to help victims, while others are about the research being done on the  phenomenon.  Since legal issues can be involved, there are  links to sites  in several different English speaking countries.

15 thoughts on “You’ve seen the behavior, now know its name: Academic Mobbing

  1. Thanks, Amos. I found her book, Stalking the Spirit, on Google Book, where one can see the table of contents and read some passages.

    I have to confess that I worry about her being a psychoanalyst, since I’m somewhat opposed to presumptions many of them have, particularly ones that appeal to the internal desires of, in this case, the victims. However, from the bits I’ve seen, it didn’t look to me as though she was following that line.

  2. amos, I think that’s difficult.

    A number of people have learned through difficult times to be relatively accommodating and understanding and to want to lower the agression. They may still, however, just not tolerate people’s ignoring their boundaries. Given some pretty sick personality around you and institutional facts such as that people are rarely let go if they have tenure, and that’s enough to get you mobbed. That is, you look nice and sweet and when you put your foot down, you turn into an infuriating and threatening person in the eyes of some sick people, so they’re off after you. And if they have the power, they’ll work on others.

    I don’t know what Ward Churchill is like on a personal level, but he probably isn’t the victim type at all. Some people just love getting involved in censoring mobs.

    So I’m worried about assuming that some one psychological profile fits the abused; in some cases, the abuser and the institution may be enough.

  3. Mobbing, as I understand it, is like bullying. Any sensitive child is going to face bullies in school, just as any independent thinker is going to face mobs of the orthodox or of conformists. Most kids learn how to face bullies just as most thinkers learn how to face mobs. Mobbing and bullying as habitual practices generally (although not always) occur when a person does not have the skills needed to face the mob or the bullies. Those skills include anticipating the bullying or mobbing (because one sees it coming and one is faster than the bully or the mob), fighting back, and learning how to negotiate with the bully or the mob. It is useful to develop those skills since without them, one will be forever prey to mobs or bullies.

  4. Amos,
    I would like to say, as one who has been (and continues to be) a victim of bullying that you seem to oversimplify things. I am certainly not one to not anticipate the bullying (I always predict it with a disturbing accuracy), nor am I one to not fight back (in fact am known for being the person with the “biggest balls”). In fact, it is precisely because of that and because such behaviour or character traits are perceived as treats that bullies bully me. I do not think that negotiating with bullies is the solution. One should never accept it and negotiation, unless I misunderstand you, entails some form of acceptance.

  5. Cristine: I sorry that you have been bullied. Let me clear some things up. First of all, I’m not an expert on bullying or mobbing. I mentioned the book of Ms. Hirigoyen because it has been useful to several people here in Chile who have been victims of mobbing. I read it about ten years ago. It may be that both mobbing and bullying vary according to the culture, and are not the same in the U.S. as in Chile. It also may be that although the theories of Ms. Hirigoyen have some faults, they provide victims with an explanation of what is happening to them that allows them to deal with their situation. At times any explanation is better than no explanation. I have never been the victim of mobbing in a work situation since I have worked free-lance most of my life, probably because I instinctively anticipate mobbing. I was bullied as boy, and now I live in a neighborhood, which has gone “down-hill”, as they say. I’m 63, almost 64, walk with a limp and can neither run nor fight. I’ve learned to anticipate situations of bullying on the street and to negotiate, that is, to get to know who is who on the street and who wants what. I talk to people whom I otherwise would not be interested in talking to, establish “diplomatic relations” with teenage gangs, greet everyone as politely as I can, and so far I’ve survived.

  6. Dear Amos,
    you know what I think helps the most? Sharing stories. I am very sorry that you have had to learn to negotiate things like this and it makes my own experiences so much more trivial. I now understand better what you meant with “learning how to negotiate”. Of course, academic bullying is nothing like being faced with gangs on a street. Both are painful but not in the same way. I applaud your courage.
    C

  7. Amos, I so wish your story did not apply in the US, but I expect that in many neighborhoods many people have a similar experience. It is very concerning that age and some disability makes one all the more a victim.

    That said, I am very glad that you’ve decided to come and comment in this blog. I would very much like to hear more about what you find valuable here, and, more generally, how your interests intersect with ours. I am genuinely glad that they do. You can use the “contact us” to in fact contact us. You might want to think of writing a post for the blog, if you don’t mind being constrained by our standard short lengths.

    Christine, I suspect we’ve had very similar experiences. It is such a shame you and I and Amos cannot sit down over coffee or wine and share what we have learned. I expect we’d end up with increased understanding, in fact, with some real insights.

    I’m inclined to conjecture that one thing we both may have encountered is a kind of effete psychopathology that academia tolerates. It is effete in that it is highly disfunctional, but still flourishes in a place where little in the way of practical results is expected.

  8. Christine, I suspect I was using a label because I was too tired to think through the thought. I did have in mind the fact that negotiations in academia can be impossible because the bullies have no practical desires except to stop one, humiliate one, etc. There isn’t anything one can concede, except one’s whole project. They don’t have positive goals one can try to appeal to. I do think that there’s a psychopathology under all this, but people can get drawn in for different reasons. There can be different reasons why people can tolerate the effort to destroy someone else’s work.

    I had a dean who was exceptionally clear that he did not want a powerful woman in his college. So he bent his efforts in making sure I couldn’t take up an attractive offer to build a promising center. And he enlisted the help of others to make sure I really couldn’t do anything. Nothing at all would be approved, and some peeple felt free to do pretty awful things, such as writing professional colleagues of mine with their own fantasies about the immoral things I was doing. This really isn’t something one can try to bargain about. What’s so very unfortunate is that this is not all that unusual for academia (from what I can see on the web about mobbing) and no doubt other places.

    Fortunately, there are limits to what our administration was willing to tolerate. Mind you, by the time he got fired, he had gotten into a lot of power disputes within the college, and the faculty were thinking of going on strike.

  9. Also, I agree with you about not negotiating. If nothing else, you may well be dealing with people whose ideas about what is going on are very different from yours. E.g., you think you are solving a problem, while they think they will get more time if they can keep you quiet.

    I think this sounds paranoid, which is another great disadvantage of the victim’s situation. One can look crazy. My own view now is that all one can do is to severe ties as much as possible and/or to go somewhere else.

  10. Making the other look paranoid or unjustifably angry is one of the favorite strategies of those who mob or bully or rule.
    It’s incredible to what extent the majority of people trust the version of those with power rather than that of the powerless.

  11. amos, yes, I agree. Power seems to confer credibility, though we in fact should know better.

    Thanks so much for your note to “contact us”. Let us know – particularly if you want to comment on something which we’d find it difficult to access, or on a perspective we might not represent well.

  12. Almost everyone wants to be on the winning side, which in general is the side of those with power, and almost everyone wants a clean conscience, wants to think of themselves as good. Therefore, people tend to trust, believe in, think of those with power as good, and as a result, they can be on the winning side and still believe that they are on the good side.

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