This is the third installment (the first is here and the second is here) about the dilemma of verbal abuse and bullying in academe. For this post I decided to test a hypothetical case: what if I chose to pursue a case against someone who I believed had verbally abused me? Would there be colleagues I would be comfortable talking to about this? Would it be evident from the university website and other resources what my options were? Because I don’t want to actually alarm anyone here at my institution, this will be mostly a thought and research exercise, but all the same, let’s find out how it might go.
The harassment scenario (and let me be absolutely clear: this is a FICTIONAL scenario. This did not happen!): Fellow administrator (let’s assume we’re of roughly equal rank–I’m a Dean, he’s a vice provost) who is male comes to my office and confronts me about a decision I made that has resulted in a budget cut for his office. He appears at my office door without an appointment and proceeds to launch into an expletive-laced tirade about the injustice of my decision, questioning my authority and my good sense. I have the presence of mind to tell him that I won’t discuss this with him while he’s so upset, which only angers him more. He finally storms off, slamming my door loudly behind him. The next day I’m in a meeting with him and other administrative colleagues. He makes disparaging remarks about my work and contributions to the group and brings up my decision that affected his budget, indicating his dissatisfaction.
What to do? I talk to a few colleagues who are also close friends. They agree that the behavior is unacceptable but, like me, are unsure what my recourse is. I consider talking to the Provost, to whom both I and the abuser report. Even though I suspect he would be sympathetic, I’m only in my first few months in this position, and I’m not sure how this would be interpreted, especially since the anger was prompted by a decision that I made.
Perhaps I need a more neutral sounding board or resource. Does the university have a policy on these things? After I plug “harassment” into website’s search engine, I get this:
And yes, I am linking to it here, because it is accessible from the university’s public site.
Okay, good. There’s a policy. But as I begin to read the policy, several things become apparent: (1) harassment and discrimination are often conflated in the policy and (2) the policy, as written, highlights sexual and racial harassment and discrimination in such a way to make other more generalized claims of harassment a bit more difficult to parse within the policy. It is unclear to me, for example, why our Office for Institutional Equity (formerly the Office of Affirmative Action) would serve “as the recipient for any formal complaint or report of discrimination/harassment (344-2-03 D (2))” that was NOT based on “race, sex (including pregnancy), religion, color, age, national origin, veteran and/or military status, genetic information, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, marital status or parental status (344-2-03 A).” I applaud the university’s comprehensive definition of categories of harassment and discrimination, but they don’t fit my scenario. There is a more generalized section on “harassment” (344-2-03 B (4)) and it addresses the creation of a hostile work environment. I guess that’s my entry point.
In the next installment I’ll continue this thought experiment and consider what the risks and consequences of taking action might be.
But for today these are the takeaways:
The good news? The university has a policy on harassment. The bad news? It’s a bit difficult to work through. What do things look like at your institution? Is there a policy? How clear is it? Would you be comfortable using it?