academic mobbing (and cancer)

The topic of academic mobbing really deserves more than one post. This post is mostly about what mobbing is. The material also answers a very puzzling question asked in a post about cancer patients; hence, the word in parentheses.

Addition: in the light of comments 3,4 and 5, let me suggest it is important that readers add up in their minds what’s going on in mobbing. It can end your chances of advancement and wreck your health. In addition, as the comments below indicate, you can end up isolated from the community. Perhaps worse, mobbers may feel free of any constraints of humanity in dealing with you. What are we to say of people who do this? Evil? Very ill? Lacking in an important kind of reflective self-awareness? Probably many different kinds of things, but one element (that Naomi Zack pointed out to me with regard to a specific case) is an unblinking determination to preserve or enhance a current distribution of power.

In the next post on mobbing, i’ll look at what we know about what can be done.

What is academic mobbing? You can think of mobbing as group bullying, but in the work place it can take on its peculiar characteristics. It also goes far beyond typical school bullying. For example, it can encompass obstructing any promotion chances you have, spreading rumors about the quality of your work and the ethics of your motivations. Perhaps you did fund raising that brought in several hundred thousand dollars; mobbers may well tell your dean that actually the fundraising was done by someone else, and you are simply making empty boasts when you claim you did it. Perhaps you work in a fairly cutting edge areas; they will tell people not in a position to judge (e.g., the upper administration, the board of regents) that you are selling out in a way that harms the university.

Of course, letter writing is a great pastime, and mobbers may write to your professional friends with their own made up accusations. You will not be told, of course, that this has happened. Thus those targeted in this way are often denied procedural fairness and natural justice (see link immediately below). Mobbers charges are often based on little more than fantasy, but they are not about to ask the victim for confirmation.

Why in the world would anyone do that? The profiles of the victims are interesting, and indicate 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

It is a good guess that those targeted for the first two reasons are very threatening, particularly since faculty are quite notorious for not liking change or challenge. It is far easier to believe the work is fraudulent in some way than to believe it is better than yours. If you are very surprised at that, then it is quite possible you are just very far from the type of person who would mob. As far as I can see, part of what explains the latter characteristics causing scorn is that mobbers, like most of us, use themselves as models for understanding others; as a consequence, they cannot believe that people are motivated by anything other than self-interest, because that is their principal motive. You may think you are lobbying the board of regents at some personal risk because you think a great injustice has been done; they cannot believe that, and so they assume you actually have an entirely different agenda that has to do with self-promotion.

Denise Dellarosa Cummins raised the topic of mobbing in a discussion on a post a couple of weeks ago, and she mentioned three articles:

Since you or someone you know may be mobbed, it is well worth your while to look it. Mobbing is not just an inconvenience; approximately 12% of mobbed adults commit suicide. Many get heart trouble, ptsd and other very serious health problems. Around 30% of people in a mobbing-prone organization will get mobbed, and universities are mostly mobbing prone.

Now, onto the puzzling question.

I found a question raised in here, important and puzzling. It raises the question of why anyone would want to cause great and unnecessary stress to a cancer patient undergoing pretty dire treatment. Given people do sometimes cause great stress to cancer patients, it is important.

What is so puzzling is the news that anyone would. Suppose you have an obnoxious neighbor whose even more obnoxious pet armadillo has been burrowing in your yard. Your neighbor is bad but you frankly hate the animal, because it is messy, dirty, destructive and very, very smelly. So you think you will petition the community board to get permission to relocate the thing. But suppose you find the person is receiving life-threatening treatment for cancer, with perhaps an attendant brain fog. Surely that would change your plans. You can wait on their pet armadillo.

Now there may be many different reasons why some people would go ahead. But mobbers have a distinctive kind of reason. Mobbers strike when one gets sick, a lot of research confirms. Thus a mobber would see the neighbor as vulnerable and so affording an opportunity for action. Asking why a mobber would do something that causes great and unnecessary distress to a cancer patient is like asking why the buglers stole your briefcase the one time you forgot to lock your car. These are people waiting for the opportunity.

(I owe the views about the undesirability of armadillos as pets to a recent “This American Life.” I do not recommend listening to that episode. In fact, the armadillo, Otis, comes off well; the humans not so much.)

Feminism, teaching, and technology

I’ve long been interested in the connections between online learning and feminist pedagogy. A few years ago I taught an online course and was struck by how much more women participated than in my in-person classes. I’ve also a got a few young women in my life who really love online courses. And I’ve been interested in the statistics on participation in university by traditionally excluded groups, single mothers for example, when learning online is an option. A friend recently brought this article to my attention, “Bodies in Classrooms: Feminist Dialogues on Technology, Part I,” by Liz Losh. Part Two is here.

Next year, over a hundred feminist scholars are slated to teach a new kind of online course—the first “MDCLE” or “massively distributed collaborative learning experiment”—tentatively titled “Feminist Dialogues on Technology.” Drawing on the model of the “MOOC,” or the massively open online course, like the artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction courses at Stanford that have enrolled tens of thousands of students, this venture is also aimed at a very large audience, although taught and thought through a feminist architecture and pedagogy. With some start-up funding from the Mellon Foundation, Pitzer professor Alexandra Juhasz and University of Southern California professor Anne Balsamo have begun brainstorming with feminist faculty from around the globe to rethink Internet learning while salvaging feminist studies of technology and constructing possibilities for community and pedagogy.