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)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Action by the University of Newcastle

We have been given a copy of a recent email circulated to University of Newcastle staff entitled "recent emails and posters".

The University is voicing their concern about the distress that these emails and posters are causing.  They also indicate that they have engaged "external agencies, including the Australian Federal Police, to help manage the situation". 

Our group is stated as being "faceless and nameless" - true, we do not put our names and faces on our blog (many people do not) but we have constantly invited anyone who would like to to have a coffee with us to discuss the situation.  This offer could have been taken up by anyone at the University, even the VC or Kevin McConkey.  In fact, no-one has been prepared to meet us.

The uni email states that "bullying is not tolerated" at this university and that people should contact the complaints office.  Unfortunately, although many staff and students have done this, the outcome has usually been unsatisfactory (see survey results).

We would like to confirm to those people who have completed our survey that we purposely, as stated, did NOT collect IP addresses.  Similarly, for people who have posted on our blog, we have not collected, nor intend to share,  IP addresses or any identifying information. 

We do not know what action the University will take - what we have done has been to collect information so that we could help to stop the bullying.  We have felt that it is our right to freedom of speech to alert people to this, just as many campaigns on the University campus have done.

What we can confirm is that over 185 people have described to us their bullying experiences at this University.  We hate the thought of anyone else being as destroyed as we have been.  All we ask is that the University take note of the information we have and act on it in a positive way.


  1. In our case, the complaints manager sided with the people the complaint was about and the situation got even worse for the people who made the complaint. where do you go from there??!! You kill yourself?

  2. Dear Trevor,

    I am sending this from several emails, only so I can be sure it gets through on one. IT IS NOT THAT I AM TRYING TO SPAM YOU, it is the University who are blocking communication. I have also cc’d Sue Gould due to her role in Governance, and posted this letter on the web.

    I don’t want to hear that you are only “THE CHANCELLOR” and can not do anything – you have already said that to me. That is not true, even if all you can do is to allow us to present our cases to University Council that is something. If you had guts you would stand down your entire senior management pending an investigation. A person once said to me she attended one of your lectures where you said something like “when working in health you have to at least pretend you care even if you don’t”. OK, perhaps you might pretend to care.

    You told me the University was a toxic work environment. You are correct. Look at our website, and listen to what people are saying. How bad it is for so many people, and how working at the University is destroying so many people’s lives. The biggest problem is obviously the narcissistic bullying management style that has filtered from the top down to all levels at the University. It is an absolute mess.

    This current attack against us for posting anti-bullying videos, posters and messages just demonstrates to everyone how scared some of your senior staff are of the truth being exposed. I find it amusing that one of our complaints has been how the senior management protect themselves by using University resources both legally and financially. It is denied, yet now the University admits that it used external legal firms for blocking our YOUTUBE Anti-bullying Video. Why…we speculate because there was a slide with your VC on it with his own quote. Interestingly YOUTUBE believe we have violated NO LAWS, and every other country in the world can watch it. Not Australians, and that is simply because the University of Newcastle management believes it can censor itself from external review. What a dangerous position.

    So Trevor you can sit back on the side of the University, and let them waste tax payers money on Australian Federal Police investigations and legal costs, or you can think about all your awards for your role in mental health, and at least “pretend” to care about the people who are only try to bring about a change in the University workplace. For me, the University has stripped me of everything, but there are some people I know who are still in a position where their careers and lives can be saved. I am not going to ever walk away while they are still out there, because to me it would be like being dry on one of the life boats after the sinking of the Titanic, with a spare seat next to me, rowing away as people die.

    You can do something. You are not “just the Chancellor”. You really should not leave it too late, and you know time is running out.

    Michelle Adams

  3. I'm not a staff member of the University, but I attended the launch of the 100 women book last week, and I was horrified to see your awful parody of something that should have been a celebration and a positive experience for all involved. Normally I don't comment on sites like this, but in this case, I felt I had to.

    What you did with the contents of those flyers was a smear campaign which _IS_ bullying, and completely hypocritical coming from the group running this site.

    You lowered yourself to the level of those you claim to be fighting against

  4. I also read the flier handed out at the launch of the 100 woman book. I thought it was clever. It is “gossip” throughout the University and in many circles in the Hunter area that one of women highlighted in the book is currently on leave and refusing to return until the current VC leaves. Is this true? If so why?
    If the people who designed the flier, the people who set up this web site, the people who are standing up to the University against its narcissistic treatment of staff and student who speak out against misconduct are bullies, then so too are some other people who spoke out against injustice in the world. Let me think of some ...... Ghandi, Mandela. Time to get real. These people aren’t bullies ...... they are just honest people who are willing to say things some people just do not want to hear.

  5. I didn't think It was clever. It seemed disrespectful and hurtful to the women who deserved recognition for their amazing lives.

    If it was staff/students who posted those fliers then I'm even more shocked. They acted immaturely — there are plenty of other ways to bring these issues forward without soiling other people's good efforts in the process. I thought Universities were supposed to be places of higher learning and higher thought?

    Also: Comparing these people to Ghandi and Mandela? Come off it.

    I've said my bit — hopefully the people running this site listen and find more constructive ways to convey their message in future.

  6. I can but agree. The continued spamming of the university email by these people is certainly an offence and they should be dealt with by the courts. Freedom of speech you say? That doesn't give you the right to continually harrass the other thousands of employees at the uni who think your little vendetta is just a pile of crap. For goodness sake Michelle, just get off your white charger. You would think that you are the only person in the world who has ever had a conflict at work. Just because your supervisor, and then the complaint system doesn't agree with you does not mean they are wrong. Being corrected by a supervisor is not bullying, it is them doing their job, but it is so easy to play the "bully" card. You might have had a bad experience. It may even have not been your fault. Who knows? But for goodness sake move on with your life and stop making everyone else's a misery.

  7. LMAO. Thank God for universities so academics and others who could not function in the real world have somewhere to hang out.

  8. Hi guys, you must have been given a few fast promotions and have become numb about the genuine suffering of good and honest people. They could be your own siblings, children and parents and to ignore what's been happening at the UoN is to side with the perpetrators.

    "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing." --- Albert Einstein

  9. When my friend told me what happened to the most senior woman of the Uni, I turned cold because I just couldn't believe it.

  10. I for one do think the comparison of these people to Ghandi and Mandela is very valid. That is the problem with this institution: people butter up to the powerful and treat the ordinary hardworking people like dirt for personal gains. I think Michelle is absolutely courageous and a real hero to stand up to the powerful males bullies of the place. What horrifies me about the uni is the behavior of some of the women like the two contributors before me who have sold out to the blokes. I think a public forum like this one is very healthy and its continued existence is a real sign of the strength of a democracy. Guys, keep your comments coming. I may not agree with you, but I defend to death your right to have your few bobs worth.

  11. It's a bit bizarre that an academic leader of a university is so often seen in public putting out fires, which is normally the job of the fire chief.

  12. Three things -
    1. We really would like to take up our concerns within the University system. We were told our concerns weren't relevant to Academic Senate, and that there was no pathway to take the matter to University Council (although I have written to the Chancellor- see above). Universities are not answerable to any external body, at least that is what we have been told in writing by people such as the Minister for Education.
    2. Before you comment on my case be sure you know the facts. Clearly the comments about my issues being related to disagreeing with my supervisor and the outcomes of the complaint process are from someone who has no idea what has happened.
    3. Better to make positive comment about how those standing up against bullying are like the good people who fought injustice previously, rather than compare those who are causing the injustice to those dictators who lived previously.

    Thank you for commenting. Keep it up. It is good to know you are reading this site.

  13. Listening carefullyOctober 27, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    When the staff at the uni have recovered from their distress at receiving a factual email about anti-bullying, I wonder how long it takes them to recover from the continual spamming to buy viagra/other drugs, get a Russian bride, send money to a desperate person etc - the uni email system doesn't seem able to stop those.

    There is what is called "bullying" e.g. disagreeing with someone, not turning up to teach and being told to do so etc. Then in a completely other league, there is what has happened to some staff here. I have taken the TIME and the TROUBLE to listen and read their accounts - being completely ostracised physically and psychologically, being shunned, losing their jobs, losing their health and their relationships because they spoke within the university about problems they had encountered. The University says that staff MUST report wrongdoing - then if you do, you lose everything. "Don't follow Uni policy" seems to be the only way to "survive" and power your way to the top.

    Take time, get to know the facts about the type of bullying being experienced here - it is not minor or frivolous or just whingeing!

  14. Listening carefully and co., your intransigence horrifies me because basically, you are a stone who has no sympathy for human suffering at the hands of shocking injustice. I gather you identify with the "manage style" of the institution to keep your pay cheques coming. You obviously don't care about the staff and students who have suffered needlessly due to the conduct of the place. It breaks my heart to hear my daughter tell me how appallingly her lecturer is treated for doing nothing but being better than others.

  15. Still listening carefullyOctober 27, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    Dear last Anonymous,
    Please read my last comment as carefully as I have listened to your accounts. If you do, you will see that I am completely on your side.
    I get very angry when other staff here state that the bullying is minor and just whingeing. That is why I wrote my comment - to confirm that what has been reported on this website and by staff and former staff is REAL REPETITIVE AND ONGOING BULLYING.
    Please please do not put me in with those who are not prepared to find out the facts. If I take the trouble to comment and support you, please take the trouble to read my comment carefully.

  16. I watched pretty much helplessly as Michelle's case escalated over the years. Every step was a result of the UON management trying to suppress the truth. I saw this happen to others as well. It was usually the more competent and confident who stood up on some point of principle and paid the price. I'm retired fortunately, but work at another university part time. In comparison to UON it's quite a moral place. If half the scuttlebutt I hear about what has happened at UON recently is true then we need an independent external investigation about the waste of taxpayers money on pursuing legitimate critics. This is something you'd expect from some third rate middle-eastern dictatorship.
    I'll sign this as Anonymous because I have an inkling about how vindictive these people are. No doubt the Federal Police can trace me. I'll be happy to help them.

  17. Those who fear a legitimate forum like this one must have something to hide. Fix the problems and the critics will be be quiet.

  18. Michelle Adams should have been included in the 100 remarkable women rather than being with the 114 remarkable women whose stories have not been told

  19. former geography lecturerOctober 28, 2011 at 8:06 AM

    To those who unsympathetically refer to those who allege bullying as being whingers I suggest that they spend some time doing some research on Workplace bullying (sometimes referred to as workplace mobbing). A summary follows:
    Although bullying can take many forms five major categories have been identified:
    1. Changing work tasks in some negative way and/or making them difficult to perform;
    2. Social isolation by not communicating or exclusion;
    3. Personal attacks by ridicule or insulting remarks;
    4. Verbal threats through criticism or humiliation in public; and the
    5. Spreading of rumours.

    Individually, these categories may seem trivial within the holistic context of the workplace, however, it is the culmination of progressive loss of control over their work responsibilities and the persistent humiliation over a long period of time that eventually wears away the target’s confidence and self esteem. The research overwhelmingly demonstrates that long term bullying inevitably leads to psychological injuries.
    Ironically, empirical studies confirm that targets of such abusive and humiliating behaviour are those that are average to high achievers, with personal characteristics of enthusiasm, integrity and commitment to their work. Additionally, targets of bullying exhibit specific personality traits that includes a strong sense of right and wrong, ethical values, compassion and justice. Such attributes, which may be perceived as ‘threatening’ by co-workers and challenge the status quo, would not constitute grounds for dismissal. Instead the target is subjected to bullying behaviour with the aim of driving the ‘committed high achiever’ out of the workplace.

  20. Distressed by REAL SPAMOctober 28, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    I am so distressed - I am being bullied by email. I am being told to buy viagra, being given photos of naked women, offered brides, etc. I am so distressed because I am female and do not want or need any of these things.

    McDonkey has said that staff are distressed by emails giving details of bullying at the university. Could he and the IT staff rather deal with the endless REAL SPAM that the university email system lets through!

  21. Quite a few of my colleagues have been bullied and they have spoken to me about specific incidents, but for fear of losing their jobs, they haven't reported it and so they have been suffering silently like I have for many years, while the bullies have been moving up to newer heights of power.

  22. I concur with Distressed by REAL SPAM. I am also a woman and I am sick and tired of the spam mail selling viagra and male-organ enlargement packages, which has been so menacing. I would have thought that management would have vested interest in liquidating these operators given the quantities of them, which must cause system overload and breakdowns sometimes. I have only received one email recently and a flier about the certain goings-on at the uni and I find them very informative and illuminating about what's actually happening on campus. I wish the management had come out and told us about these, which would have been a much healthier approach from the point of view of people-management and long-term organisational wellbeing. Suppression info is what totalitarian regimes do and is totally incompatible with 21-century civil societies.

  23. When I was being bullied out of my job, completely ostracised and suicidal, I contacted this group. To my great surprise, they are the most decent people I have met in my entire uni experience. What shocked me was that they have done nothing wrong and to have their careers destroyed for the most innocent act of reporting plagiarism to management is cruel beyond belief. I think it's simply evil. I have been enormously impressed with their professionalism (under the most hostile circumstance! and I wouldn't be so myself after what happened). They are the most intelligent people with integrity and a genuine human warmth. It really saddens me to see the uni lose so many good people who are badly needed by the students. The attempt to demonise them will backfire on those who try to save their own skin. Those who attempt this should realise that this group, because of the just and righteous cause they promote, have many friends and allies in the world community and will not be intimidated.

  24. Look who's afraid of the revolution in Libya? People who have a lot to lose!

  25. Michelle Adams writes:

    It is "gossip" throughout the University and in many circles in the Hunter area that one of women highlighted in the book is currently on leave and refusing to return until the current VC leaves. Is this true? If so why?'

    In fact, it is not "gossip", it is true and more than a dozen senior academic women know exactly why.

  26. Wow, this is a fantastic website with a lot of very useful resources for the little people in academia, those who have suffered silently and have been forgotten. I think it should receive government funding for the good work it does, which is as important as the sort of work social welfare agencies do and this one's free and instantly available and you don't need to queue up for it.

  27. bullied ex-academicOctober 31, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    I totally agree withe the most recent comments from anonymous who stated that this was an important website for people who have suffered. Several years ago I went through hell after constant bullying (continual loss of courses, heavy workload, lack of resources, inabilty to take study leave, being ostracised and repeatedly being humilated at meetings)my only refuge and strength came from bullying awareness websites. Unfortunately for me after submitting a formal grievance I discovered that the University eliminated all staff that mentioned the 'b' (bullying) word. I really hope that the Uni starts to realise that this website exists because bullying exists at the University of Newcastle. Perhaps one day it will take bullying serious and start eliminating the bullies from the University.

  28. Yes, the University is most unhappy about a website and Youtube video on bullying because such sites empowers targets of bullying

  29. I admire the provider/s for their huge intelligence and integrity and for giving this wonderful resource to those who suffer silently at the uni where no one seems to care. Keep up the good work. We need you.

  30. I think these guys (whoever they are) deserve a major human rights award for highlighting the suffering of courageous academics who expose the injustice of the system and for championing academic integrity over political expediency and profit.

  31. I have been appalled by the way some of my senior colleagues treat those who have fallen foul of the system. They kick them in the gut even after thay have been been ostracised and down-trodden. The place seems to reward the bulies with endless promotions while other live in despair.

  32. The most horrifying thing about this place is the number of female bullies in the different units who easily outdo men in their vindictiveness and appetite for power. It is so scary to have one of those as your enemy when you are a woman and often you don't know why.

  33. Have the top administrators seen this site? A sign of wise rulers is that they are normally ready to listen at least. They guys are so busy crushing dissenters that they seem to have lost the plot of what they are there for.

  34. Long live freedom of expression!

  35. We couldn't wait for the new VC Professor Caroline McMillen to arrive.

  36. another bullied academicNovember 3, 2011 at 8:59 AM

    I feel very saddened that a University which should be a bastion for truth, free expression and integrity could be so brutal to anyone and everyone that tries to expose misconduct and bullying

  37. Thank God she's finally arrived!

  38. Maybe we should have a party to celebrate, not to forget the fact that the road ahead is long and tortuous.

  39. Hoping but not holding my breathNovember 3, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    Re the new VC - will she listen to those of us who have been bullied out of our jobs and professions?
    Will she join the "boys' club" and play the "You watch my back and I'll watch yours" so that bullying continues to be covered up?
    Will she join the ranks of many of the more senior women in the uni (professors/ass. professors) who have bullied other women and who have then been supported by the uni AND been promoted? (like my female bullies were).
    Will she collude with the cover-up of misconduct by staff?
    Will she allow uni staff to blacklist those that have been bullied so that they cannot work again?
    Will she continue to use taxpayers money to fund huge legal bills to cover-up the reality of what is happening?
    Will she "forget" the ethics of her profession as the doctors and psychologists in high positions at this uni seem to do so easily?

    I hope beyond hope that she can and does BUT who gave her the job.... the bullies or those who colluded with the bullies, those who destroyed competent staff who (shock horror) tried to behave ethically etc etc
    I am not holding my breath!

  40. Dear Professor McMillen, please listen to our cries and do something about the bullies. It may be too late otherwise. So many top people have been bullied out existence. Help save the uni and the town.

  41. The place sounds like a dye works! Let's hope the material here is a tough sort that can resist colouring/tainting by certain elements.

  42. The real problem and danger of the place is the complicity and active participation of many of the ordinary folks in the bullying, which is wide spread. From secretaries to low-level operatives to senior students. They have proved to be very effective instruments of bullying and they in turn have been handsomely rewarded by the bullies and some become bullies themselves. This has helped to create this shocking moral decay of the place.

  43. This sort of people are attracted there precisely because of the way it operates; hence the suffering of decent people.

  44. This is why education becomes even more important. The trouble is when an educational institution is full of bullies, what does it teach to our young? The mind juts boggles.

  45. One thing should be made very clear to all: Bullying is a sickness of the bully, not a weakness of his/her victim.

  46. Corruption at the individual level is a real problem facing this society. This makes it so much easier for bullies to thrive in the workplace. When I look at the willing accomplices of bullying, I feel like screaming: there's a special oven for you in hell!

  47. It is when these guys and gals get big prizes that you know the fundamental things that we hold dear are at stake. When duplicity is rewarded, we pay a price collectively.