Kitchen Tales, part 2

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:

Click to access 3344-2-03%20COR.pdf

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?



8 thoughts on “Kitchen Tales, part 2

  1. Wow, this is a great point. Our policy is similar: “Harassment is prohibited by this policy if it is based on an individual’s age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, ethnic origin, disability, genetic information, covered veteran status, or any other basis protected by law.” Nothing about prohibiting plain old meanness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So I was in a situation where a much more senior man threatened me (a junior woman). It was beyond meanness because it had a huge element of power in it, but it wasn’t discrimination based on gender or race. It’s beyond meanness but what is it called? I am sure it happens often. And yet i have no idea what kind of policy would cover it


  2. I was told by a senior administrator that the best source of redress was a discrimination complaint based on protected categories, because we had clear processes and guidelines. The kind of situation you describe – which I too have faced – which is general bad behavior is much harder. I suspect that in the (fictional) case you describe and some of my actual experiences, gender plays a role: how dare someone, a woman no less, do/say this. But that’s not the main thing.

    In fact, I’ve been told that there are no rules against bad behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “no rules against bad behavior”–therein lies the problem. And just to be clear, mine was a fictional scenario. Very sorry to hear that you’ve actually had to confront something like that.


      1. Well, like Jodi, we have a faculty code of conduct, but the procedures for enforcement are fuzzy, and the lines between “vigorous debate” and “bullying” are not at all clear. There are people who seem to have decided that shouting at everyone is the way to get what they want. When does shouting as a strategic choice become bullying of those who disagree? No one wants to decide that one.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Update! I asked our appropriate administrator about this, and he agreed that the wording relied on federal law that only addressed protected categories. He said that if a bullying situation did come up, we would address it under our HR code of conduct, which begins “The University is committed to a work environment free of harassment and disruptive
    behavior, and to providing an equal opportunity work environment where every member
    of the University community is treated with fairness, dignity, and respect” – though it then proceeds to emphasize again the prohibition against harassment based on age, race, etc. He did agree that we should be more proactive about creating a policy about harassment in general, though, and promised to set such a thing in motion. So you’ve already had a positive effect with this – thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s