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Bullying Not Just for Kids, it Happens to Teachers in Academia Too, Study Says

Dec 24, 2013 01:52 PM EST

A new study suggests that bullying is not a phenomenon relegated to the grade school playground. It happens in academia as well, according to Janice Beitz, a professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden.

Beitz is the co-author of a study titled "Social Bullying in Nursing Academia," which appeared in a recent edition of the journal Nurse Educator.

Beitz and her colleagues describe in the study instances of bullying in higher education including episodes of where bullying victims were slandered, isolated, physically threatened, lied to, or given unrealistic workloads.

For the study, Beitz interviewed 16 professors of nursing who claimed they were bullied. The majority of the study participants were non-tenured female faculty members teaching in baccalaureate programs throughout the US.

"What worries me is the impact that bullying is having on the ability to recruit and retain quality educators," Beitz said. "It has become a disturbing trend."

"We don't know how widespread this is, but it exists," said Beitz, who claims she was bullied in her career. "Not many people look at bullying in the academic environment. We wanted to raise awareness of it."

Beitz identified a number of factors that may make a person a target for bullying in academia. Bullies may be threatened by a fellow academic's qualifications and scholarship, or victims may be targeted because they are perceived as weak, Beitz said in a news release.

"The bully can make life miserable for the target," she said. "That's because in an administrative role, a bully has the power to make decisions about the target. Part of it is the unique nature of higher education. The tenure process is different than any other environment. Administrators in academia have power over colleagues, and sometimes that power causes them to bully their subordinates."

The tale is worrying, the researchers contend, because bullying may be forcing well-qualified people out of academia, which they say could be harmful the overall institutional structure.

"Institutions need to have good faculty who are experienced clinicians and researchers. That doesn't happen in a bad bullying environment," she said. "If I hadn't had support from fellow faculty, I would have left education. I wouldn't have wanted that to happen. I've enjoyed my career. I feel like I've had an impact on a lot of wonderful graduates who have gone on to have great careers. People want to feel valued. That's why it's important to serve the people you work with and employ a collegial, positive environment."

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