Bullying at the University of Newcastle (Australia)

We are working to highlight and stop academic workplace bullying at the University of Newcastle, Australia. We are a group of staff and students who have been bullied for speaking out about misconduct.

Help make a difference –

*answer our survey,

*contribute to the blog, or

*contact us.

This will help us gather as much information as possible so that we can put an end to this bullying with its’ decades-long history.

“Systemic bullying, hazing and abuse generally are identified with poor, weak or toxic organizational cultures. Cultures that are toxic have stated ethical values that are espoused but not employed, and other non-ethical values which are operational, dominant, but unstated.

Such cultures thrive when good people are silent, silenced, or pushed out; when bad apples are vocal, retained, promoted, and empowered; and when the neutral majority remain silent in order to survive. Those who are most successful in such a toxic culture are those who have adapted to it, or adopted it as their own”. (McKay, Arnold, Fratzl & Thomas, 2008)

Friday, December 31, 2010

Women bullies.....

The latest straw poll on this website revealed that the bullies at the University of Newcastle are mostly women or both women and men.
Respondents were mostly bullied by
Women     41%
Both          39%
Men          20%
Is this surprising.... shocking.....????
Well, this seems to be reflecting the recent trend in bullying in organisations. 
“Instead of laying the groundwork for the advancement of the sisterhood, women have joined men in the harassment of their own gender.” (Brunner & Costello 2003)
“As the numbers illustrate, women unfortunately are enlisting, or are being drafted, into the bully battalion at a rate similar to that of their male counterparts. And, more frequently than men, the opponents women challenge are other women (Namie & Namie, 2000). This becomes a more painful and confusing dynamic because the existing gender schemas indicate that women should be nurturing caregivers-especially toward the females who are already disadvantaged in the eyes of corporate observers. This is also a damaging dynamic, because women who oppress other women help to maintain the existing social order in which men remain dominant and women are subordinate (Acker, 1990; Brunner & Costello, 2002)”. (Brunner & Costello 2003)
“The woman promoted to the highest levels in the organization may not need to possess great credentials or management skills. In fact, her sole strength may be her ability to puppet upper management's traditional agenda. So in addition to keeping other, more competent women from advancing, the female bully also serves as a poor representative and role model for workingwomen in general.” (Brunner & Costello 2003)
“The employee under attack is often a competent, committed one, singled out for her strengths, not her weaknesses.” (Smith 2010).
“Furthermore, it is claimed that women supervisors and managers keep competent women from being noticed and promoted with ‘underhanded’ or cover behaviours. (Shallcross et al 2009).

The University of Newcastle wants to be a leading university – but does it want to be following this trend?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Many a true word.......

"Systemic bullying, hazing and abuse generally are identified with poor, weak or toxic organizational cultures. Cultures that are toxic have stated ethical values that are espoused but not employed, and other non-ethical values which are operational, dominant, but unstated.

Such cultures thrive when good people are silent, silenced, or pushed out; when bad apples are vocal, retained, promoted, and empowered; and when the neutral majority remain silent in order to survive.

Those who are most successful in such a toxic culture are those who have adapted to it, or adopted it as their own. "  (McKay et al 2008).

This quote seems to encapsulate the findings of our survey and the comments on the website - the University of Newcastle has many policies regarding the issues raised but the organisational culture appears to be founded on bullying and collusion.  Many employees say they are fearful of speaking out and either suffer or leave and  bullies are promoted and rewarded (as in an older post below).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Casual academics and bullying

Research to be published in the new year states that 60% of the academic staff at Australia's universities are casual academics, predominantly women.  (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/casual-numbers-blow-out/story-e6frgcjx-1225967201826 ). The workload for these casual academics is huge and often involves many more hours of work than they are paid for.  

Whilst some of them do come in from their "day jobs" to give a lecture or two, many casuals here at the University of Newcastle are hoping to have an academic career.  However, casuals have no career path and are the most vulnerable members of staff - they can be dismissed almost instantly and have very few rights.  Management openly speak of supporting staff on ongoing contracts rather than casuals, regardless of the actual situation. 

Casuals are often bullied at the University of Newcastle, as reported in our survey.  Is it this shift in the workforce that is contributing to the huge increase in bullying here?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Predatory alliances!

“Predatory alliances” are described as informal co-operative bullying networks within an organisation (Hutchinson et al 2006).  These networks allow bullying to be concealed and hidden within informal organizational networks and bullies can use  organisational systems to protect their bullying behaviour.
Two key features of predatory bullying are
“1. Concealment of bullying, where the loyalty between bullies provided them with considerable protection: and
2. Bullies protected and promoted, where abusive behaviour was both tolerated and rewarded within the organizational context.” (Hutchinson et al 2006, p 239).
Both these features have been reported on this website and in our survey to be happening at the University of Newcastle.  Respondents have described how a number of people are bullied by one person and although reported, no action is taken.  Respondents also spoke of reporting bullying up the chain of command and to Human Resources and no-one takes any steps to stop the bullying, thereby concealing it throughout the organisation.
It has also been pointed out that in a number of cases, bullies who have had formal complaints made against them, go on to be rewarded and promoted at the University (to senior lecturers and professors).  According to Hutchinson et al (2006), when bullying is rewarded by promotion, the chance of the behaviour being accepted as ordinary and acceptable and becoming widespread within the organisation is increased. 
Einarson (1999 cited in Hutchinson et al) described how bullying occurs more frequently in organisations where bullies are supported or have approval from those higher up the chain.  Also the informal networks of bullies provide a situation in which bullying can “proliferate and flourish” (Hutchinson et al 2006, p 244).
Sounds all too familiar......

Ref: Hutchinson, M et al (2006). Like wolves in a pack: Predatory alliances of bullies in nursing.  Journal of Management and Organization. 12, 3, 235-250.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The "Alternative 'Your Voice' Survey": the other side of the story given by the first 100 survey responses

22 staff/students at this university (from the first 100 survey respondents) have considered committing suicide.

Because of bullying.

There may be more - the survey has already been completed by over 130 respondents.

Other findings from the first 100 respondents are:-

§  75% report sleep problems
§  75% report depression
§  40% are planning to leave the university or have already left

·       67% have had their views/opinions ignored
·       63% have been treated unfairly compared to others
·       61% have been excluded, ostracised.
·       53% have felt intimidated or threatened at work.

v 1% were satisfied with the outcome of their complaint to the university
v 10% are not permitted by the university to disclose information
v 57% state that no action was taken by their supervisor or by Human Resources.

As well as being bullied themselves,
Ø 62 respondents have witnessed other employees being bullied.
Ø 86 respondents have been told about bullying at the university.

This is a different image of the university to the one presented by the VC in his summary of the "Your Voice Survey".

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bullying and "Dobbing in your mates"

This post has been received and is published here anonymously at the request of the writer.

"From non-Australian to unAustralian in one breath!
A new question should be added to the citizenship test for prospective Australians:-
Q. If I become aware of dishonesty and/or malpractice amongst my work colleagues, I should
a)  ignore it, knowing my mates will do the same.
b)  discuss it with my immediate manager
c)  congratulate my work colleagues and give them a round of drinks at the pub.
As a non-Australian-born Australian, it is very difficult to comprehend the extreme depth of feeling about "dobbing".  It is understandable that surviving in extreme circumstances as in the early stages of white settlement relied on "mateship" amongst the settlers.  However, two centuries later, it is surprising that the notion of dobbing in your mates still has such a powerful influence - even more so when this occurs at a tertiary education institution.
Academics have had the privilege and benefit of further education.  It would be presumed therefore that they realise the effects of their behaviour on the academic community.  We rely on the research of others to broaden our knowledge and practice but would not want any irregularity to occur at any stage in this research.
What about the effects on the students?  Many students realise that their education is more than just getting the right grades (or at least sufficient to pass).  Therefore they do want to obtain the most from their university years.  It is doubly hard for them to be working diligently but seeing their studies thwarted because lecturers do not work in a principled fashion.  Students are directed not to plagiarise etc, but clearly see their lecturers behaving dishonestly.  To see students as consumers is to grossly underestimate their commitment to further education.  Students have invested a huge amount of time, energy, planning, hopes and aspirations into their studies, never mind the financial cost. 
My experience, and probably that of others, is that education and principles do not necessarily go together.  I have been removed from my teaching duties and research community and have been prevented from obtaining other employment.  The institution has closed its ranks at all levels and refuses to state why I have suffered such consequences.  I can only assume it is the result of reporting various instances of malpractice on the part of colleagues, even though I did this through the correct channels.
Belonging in Australia is closely tied up with mateship and not dobbing in your mates.  Any person or action contrary to this is "un-Australian ". In a report in the SMH (15.03.2005), Joseph Pugliese of Macquarie University stated that the term un-Australian is often intended to exclude people from the nation.  He said "What's at stake is that sense of belonging.  I see it as a term used to discriminate between individuals and groups that refuse to conform to the dominant culture. I see it as a divisive term, one that's predicated on an 'us and them' mentality."  
Does this mean that those people who have spoken out on this blog and in other fora are un-Australian because they refuse to conform to this university's "dominant culture" that tolerates and colludes with malpractice, mismanagement and dishonest behaviour?  "

Sunday, November 14, 2010


From our survey (now OVER SIXTY reports of bullying at the University of Newcastle), it is clear that the form of bullying resorted to (by staff to other staff and to students) is bullying that leaves no physical mark - in this academic workplace, bullies rarely use physical bullying or anything that leaves any paper trail. 

From our survey, the following behaviours were reported by over 50% of respondents:- 
  • Removal of areas of responsibility or shifting of goals posts without consultation
  • Having your opinions and views ignored
  • Your employer not following proper procedures or using these to intimidate you.
  • Being treated unfairly compared to others in your workplace
  • Being humiliated, undervalued or ridiculed in connection with your work
  • Gossip and rumours being spread about you or having allegations made against you
  • Exclusion, isolation, freezing out, ostracism
  • Intimidating behaviour from people at work
  • Feeling threatened in any way while at work
  • Prevented from expressing yourself (e.g. interrupted when speaking).
 Most of these behaviours are "silent" bullying - the bully/bullies ostracise the victim by denying their existence - isolation, views ignored, expertise denigrated, etc etc.

What is the reason that bullies in higher education institutions resort to ostracism?

Is it because

  • bullies know that ostracism results in the greatest psychological and physical damage to the victim and requires the longest recovery?
  • bullies know that this type of bullying is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prove and thus they remain invincible?
  • bullies feel that they are "civilised" human beings and therefore would never stoop to such low behaviour as actual physical violence?
  • or what??????????????????????

Sunday, November 7, 2010

All staff and students are of concern

We would like to emphasise that this blog and survey reflect our concern for ALL STAFF AND STUDENTS at the University of Newcastle.  By stating "academic workplace bullying" we meant the university as an academic (rather than government, health, school etc) workplace - not just academic staff.  Every staff member in an organisation may be affected by bullying.  At a university, this includes academic, general, research, administration etc etc staff and all students (whether pre-degree, undergraduate, postgraduate, language courses etc) and previous students and staff of the university.  So we warmly welcome contributions and thoughts from all of you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The cost of workplace bullying at the University of Newcastle

The University of Newcastle has just been awarded a record amount of research funding by the ARC.  This was on the same day as staff and students marched in support of better remuneration and work conditions for university staff.

But....what about the cost of the bullying that happens here?

The exact cost would be impossible to calculate.  However, Sheehan et al in 2001 estimated that each case of workplace bullying in Australia cost the employer between approximately $17,000 and $25,000 (depending on the prevalence rate used in the calculation – higher education tends to have a higher prevalence rate).  Almost ten years later than this estimate was proposed, the cost would obviously have increased and would also depend on legal fees.  It is well known that Newcastle readily employs lawyers and barristers.

The Vice Chancellor, Professor Nick Saunders, told the Newcastle Herald that there had been 57 complaints of bullying in 2009.  Using the 2001 cost-of-bullying rate, this would mean that these bullying cases cost the university, in a conservative estimate,  $1,425,000  (57 X $25,000).

Wouldn’t the university employees and the NTEU rather have that money in their pay than being spent on defending bullies against legitimate complaints?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Interim summary of first 25 survey responses – 18th October 2010

We have had a good response to our survey.  Thank you to all of you who have completed it.  Please spread the word – we want to get an accurate and clear picture of bullying at the University of Newcastle and do not want to exaggerate or underestimate the problem.

Here are the results of the first 25 responses.

92% of respondents were female and 91% were staff or ex-staff, rather than students.

What event or action do you feel sparked the bullying? (as many as are relevant).  The most commonly reported (80%) event or action reported by the respondents was “Disagreeing with opinions, views, working style, etc of my supervisor/manager/head of school”.  The arrival of a new manager or a characteristic of themselves was given as the event or action by 27% of respondents.  Additional comments noted were being a whistleblower, a co-worker feeling threatened by the respondent, and funding issues.

If you have been bullied, what type of behaviour did you experience?  Indicate as many as are relevant to you.  The type of bullying behaviour experienced most commonly was “Being unfairly treated compared to others in your department/school” (87.5%) and “Having opinions and views ignored (81.3%).  Other behaviour frequently experienced was “Being humiliated, undervalued or ridiculed” (69%), Areas of responsibility removed (63%), Someone continually checking up on you or your work when it is not necessary (63%) and “Your employer not following proper procedures or using these to intimidate you” (63%).  Other behaviour mentioned less often was ‘Gossip and rumours being spread about you or having allegations made against you’ (56%) and ‘Being insulted or having offensive remarks made about you” (44%).  Respondents also stated the withholding of information affecting their performance, being pressured not to claim entitlements, hints to quit job, persistent criticism of work or performance and being prevented from expressing yourself.  Additional comments highlighted more unusual behaviour that had been experienced:- having funding threatened, having family members’ (at Uni) threatened with interference in their degree/career, and being dismissed on unfair grounds.

The bullying behaviour affected respondents in a variety of ways: the most common effect was sleep problems (73%), depression (60%) headaches (47%) and constant tiredness (40%).  Respondents also reported increased alcohol or smoking, panic attacks and digestive problems. 

Steps taken by the respondents to deal with the bullying have most frequently involved talking with co-workers (79%) and/or with family/friends (79%).  Other ways have teen to ask for a transfer (43%) and avoid the bully (50%).  36% of respondents stated that they had told their supervisor, Human Resources, filed a formal complaint, and/or lowered their productivity.  29% were planning to leave and an additional two respondents had either left the organisation or had even left Newcastle.

The outcome for respondents varied: 36% had been transferred to another area of the university and one other respondent had found another position at the uni and for 36% the bully had been transferred or had left.  Respondents reported that no action was taken by their supervisor or human resources to stop the bullying (29%) or that their complaint was dismissed on the grounds that it was not justified (22%).  Additional comments were:- respondents reported being told to stop making complaints and being threatened with expulsion, being victimised by management and subsequently developing PTSD and being investigated by the bully. 

Observing other people being bullied:- Forty percent of respondents reported that they had observed bullying of other staff.  The nature of the bullying included:-

  • inappropriate behaviour by a male member of staff which was reported but this male was moved sideways within the university where he continues to supervise women. 
  • supervisors bullying Postgrad students into doing the supervisor's work for them, taking credit for their work, not paying them for tutoring, using their funding for their own projects and denying it for the students
  • postgrad students being threatened if they tried to solve the problem or made a complaint.
  • gossip and innuendo about staff member and postgrad students, discrediting their name, lack of respect in meetings, abusive communication, opinions discarde, threatening them if they say they will complain or try to resolve the situation.
  • bullying team leader by railroading them during work conversations, going behind backs to find out gossip and manipulate situations.
  • witnessed a bully yelling at staff, threatening staff. Bully had favourites and non-favourites

No response had been forthcoming from the university in the case of a bully who had bullied a number of staff members. HR was told of bullying and attended a meeting with a number of staff members.

One of the perpetrators of a bullying situation had left the university but so have those members of staff that were seen to be bullied.  In one case, three academics were forced out and seven postgraduate students quit or changed universities as a direct consequence of bullying or the atmosphere in the school caused by the bullies. However, no support was given.  

Respondents had also been told of incidents of bullying.  These incorporated:-

  • supervisor bullying
  • in some management areas of the university, people are practically afraid to talk above a whisper.
  • one person being intimidated and forced out of their job when they had done nothing to deserve it
  • the actual bullies accusing the staff being bullied of bullying
  • staff member taking a secondment to get away from the bully
  • staff member moved away from a particular section due to a bully. HR was aware of them, but just said "oh that's how they are" in reponse to complaint.
  • Others who have worked for this bully before me tried to warn me.
    staff member did manager’s photocopying and edited her manager's children's essays..
  • Regular bullying in multiple work areas
  • Two senior academics in another school asked a postgrad to complain on their behalf so they could remain anonymous.
  • Being told of bullying events at newcastle 1-2 times year.
  • MANY people. Four other staff members (not connected to each other in any way) and 2 PhD students who are even more vulnerable than the staff.
  • Many people. All of these people are too frightened to support the victim because they know that if they do they will be targeted as well. They have seen what happens to people at Newcastle Uni if they report bullying, things like victimisation, loss of career, attacks from others, claims of mental instability and so forth.

There have been numerous personal stories of bullying that have been provided in the survey and these will be collated with those on the website and summarized at a later stage.

THANKS AGAIN - and keeps spreading the word!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stop Bullying at Uni of Newcastle (Oz)

We are a group of people who have all spoken out about wrongdoing here and have been bullied into silence.  From our experiences, we feel very strongly that the situation cannot continue.  To end the bullying, we need to have information on the extent and type of bullying that is going on.  This is why we are asking people to fill in this survey.

We are very aware how devastating bullying can be and we do not intend to make anything worse for you.  That is why we assure you that this survey is completely anonymous and no details (e.g. ISP addresses) will be tracked.

Please help us to end this bullying! Click on the survey link on the right.

If you would like to share your story, please add to our blog - you can post anonymously to this blog and no details (e.g. ISP addresses) will be tracked.  PLEASE NOTE:  Do not include any identifying details in your blogs - we are not responsible for the information posted on this site.

It is a huge support to others to hear your stories of bullying so please contribute if you feel you are able to.