Presidental task force studies types of bullies
While many people think that bullying can only occur when an individual with more power picks on someone with less, bullying can also happen in the opposite direction, especially in a University setting, according to George Mason University professor Sandra Cheldelin.
“Two or three faculty members could gang up and work against another group of faculty members, and that could be based on a difference in age or ideologies,” Cheldelin said. “There was a case where a college president who everyone loved and respected lost their job because he was bullying members of the staff and pretty much made their life a living hell.”
As part of University President Maravene Loeschke’s initiative to start a Presidential Task Force for Bias, Discrimination and Bullying, the task force and the Council of Chairs met for a workshop lead by Cheldelin in which she discussed these types of issues. The Council of Chairs consists of every department chair at the University.
“The net result that I took away is that policies and administration guidelines should be set up to help with these issues,” David Schaefer, chairman of the department of physics, astronomy and geosciences, said. “If they are set up, then you have a venue to deal with these issues, and if you don’t have these policies, then you have a problem on your hands.”
Schaefer said that because a university is different from a corporate business. In a university setting it is tougher to recognize when bullying takes place, and it is also tougher to discipline those students and faculty.
“In business, if there is a case of bullying or misconduct someone can get fired right away, but in academia there is more mediation and frankly it can be harder to fire someone than it can be out in the corporate industry,” he said.
Karen Eskow, co-president and chairwoman of the department of family studies, said she found it important to have what Cheldelin referred to as a “difficult conversation,” to find out who is being discriminated against.
“It is really important to listen and ask the right questions so that you can better understand the situation,” Eskow said. “Even after the meeting, there was conversation among the people who attended about how they would address these situations.”
It is important that the task force and the Council of Chairs continue these meetings, Cheldelin said, because issues of bias and bullying can be often overlooked.
“What’s interesting … is that there is four times more bullying than there is discrimination,” Cheldelin said. “One of the reasons this happens is that you are more likely to get away with bullying than you are discrimination, because there are laws against discrimination and not against bullying. The big takeaway is that conflict escalates because people avoid what we call the ‘difficult conversation.’ If someone misbehaves, they just say ‘Oh, that’s just how they are,’ and don’t address it. I would just like faculty members to know that they need to have that difficult conversation before the problem gets any bigger.”