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an alternative view

This article was published on WONKHE a while back, but it should be taken into account now:

Sexual harassment on campus:

an alternative view

http://wonkhe.com/blogs/comment-sexual-harassment-on-campus-an-alternative-view/

A recent article on Wonkhe by Anna Bull on ‘staff-to-student’ sexual harassment raises alarm bells about the way sexual harassment is being discussed in UK higher education. Bull uses her article to promote her consultancy as the answer to a problem that she dangerously misrepresents and with the issue gaining increasing attention on Wonkhe and in the Guardian, it’s imperative that we reconsider the direction that the debate is taking.

Sexual harassment is bad enough that we should deal with it for what it is, without inflating our claims and positions, without using hyperbole, and without making it seem insurmountable. Sexual harassment is a problem that we can – and must – address.

Yet Bull’s article does not offer any actual solutions to the problem of sexual harassment. In spite of this, it sounds persuasive, sensible and practical. But we need to ask for more rigour from those who claim to be offering genuine ways forward in overcoming sexual harassment. She makes three proposals about how universities should respond to sexual harassment, but each of these proposals is misguided.

Firstly, relationships between students and academic staff should not be banned, because to do so would be to constrict the freedom of adults to an unacceptable degree. While such relationships may not be desirable, or something that I or others would wish to take part in, it is heavy-handed and aggressive to try to curtail the intimate choices of other adults through a ban.

Further, such relationships should not be banned because they are not a cause of sexual harassment. Bull does not present any connection at all between student-teacher relationships and sexual harassment. The suggestion that banning the relationships would lead to the ending of the sexual harassment is not backed up in the article, and this is because they are not actually related.

Secondly, universities should not treat the relationship between student and teacher like the relationship between patient and doctor, because it is not the same. The kind of trust that we look for between patient and doctor is not analogous to the kind of trust we expect between student and teacher. We trust doctors to touch our bodies, often in intimate, uncomfortable or painful ways; to see us semi-clothed or naked; to safeguard deeply personal information about us, our medical histories, and sometimes those of our families and loved ones; to prescribe treatments for us, sometimes involving powerful drugs and invasive procedures. This is not the same sort of trust that a student is asked to place in their teacher, and Bull’s use of this line of argument is spurious. She uses it in order to strengthen the claim that student-staff relationships should be banned, but as the nature of the relationship is not the same, there is no need to see this as supporting such a ban.

Finally, universities should use mediation much more in relation to sexual harassment, rather than ruling it out as Bull proposes. Mediation can be a genuinely useful and transformative conversation between people who otherwise could find no acceptable way to deal with their conflict. It is no panacea; but nor should it be regarded as a ‘soft’ or unserious option. Mediation can enable people in conflict to think through and understand their own position and experience more clearly, and the position and experience of the person(s) they are in conflict with. It can offer a space that works actively against the hierarchy and power relations of the university, and enable participants to find confidence and respect even as they disagree. Mediation can also be usefully impervious to the hierarchies on which harassment relies, and can serve to clarify positions rather than impose agreement. It can be a place for understanding, transformation, and the championing of the voices of those otherwise sidelined as victims.

Talking about sexual harassment is not easy, and won’t get easier if we close down avenues of communication and transformation. Because sexual harassment can be so difficult to talk about, demonstrate, investigate, prove, and to disprove, it is dangerous to confuse matters by claiming, as Bull does, that the recent Lee Salter assault case at the University of Sussex and the Sara Ahmed resignation case at Goldsmiths are equivalent, or indeed evidence of widespread sexual harassment, of which neither is a case. It’s dangerous for us to collapse different issues together like this because it prevents us from addressing sexual harassment for what it is and trying to think clearly about it.

It’s also clear that we need to think much more carefully about the way we talk about individual cases that have come to light. The way in which confidentiality agreements are used sometimes enable internal disciplinary procedures to take place without staff even knowing what they have been accused of. This has led to public debate (often online) about incidents that few people have the full facts about, with the accused lacking any legal right to reply. It’s important, when reading such stories, to keep in mind the legal restrictions on those involved, as the mob mentality that often emerges in such cases only serves to further muddy the issue of real sexual harassment in higher education.

The 1752 group use the term ‘sexual harassment’ in ways that are too broad. Comments on clothing, student-staff socialising and indistinct boundaries may not be wise or desirable, but they are not the same as sexual advances, unwanted touching, using sex as a bargaining chip, or discrimination on grounds of gender or attractiveness.

If sexual harassment in higher education is the serious and prevalent issue that Bull claims it is, she should be able to point to instances – even allegations – of it and to do so plainly, rather than conflating unconnected incidents to make the case for unwarranted changes in policy that stand little chance of actually dealing with the problem.

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More on Nagle

Additions to the previous post, more on Normies and more questions to answer Sara, this time from a piece in Feminist Current:

‘Kill All Normies’ skewers online identity politics

Jen Izaakson reviews Angela Nagle’s new book, “Kill All Normies.”

Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies derives its title from a slogan originated on 4Chan that labels anyone who has made a life outside their mother’s basement as a “normal fag” or “normie.” The book, published in June by Zero Books, applies a much needed critical lens to internet culture and the way identity politics have shaped the alt-right as well as the nebulous online left.

Ideology notwithstanding, those two camps — the alt-right and what Nagle calls “Tumblr liberals” — actually have a lot in common, particularly when it comes to their online cultural practices. Nagle describes one of these common practices as a preoccupation with the “aesthetics of transgression,” wherein whether something appears transgressive is more important than the actual politics behind said “transgression.”  These groups also share a reliance on identity politics and a passion for hounding and abasing those who deviate from the party line.

In chapter five, “From Tumblr to the Campus Wars: Creating Scarcity in an Online Economy of Virtue,” Nagle lists numerous recently invented “gender identities,” such as “Cassflux” (defined as a fluctuating indifference to your gender), “Daimogender” (a gender closely related to demons and the supernatural), and “Genderdale” (a gender that is hard to describe). On the liberal left, one of the ways identity politics manifests itself is through the invention of this ever-expanding  list of gender categories.

Though this a recent trend, Nagle locates Judith Butler as the theorist primarily responsible for the spread of the idea that gender is an identity. Nagle references the 1998 Left Conservativism conference, organized by Butler herself, as one of the first manifestations of the ongoing battle between between what she calls the “materialist left” and the “liberal left.” The conference took aim at leftists who criticized the postmodernist rhetoric that had begun to take over in academia, painting them as “conservative” in an effort to “expel certain people and thoughts,” Nagle explains. Today, similar efforts to “expel certain people and thoughts” have expanded their reach through social media. Indeed, any objection to the postmodern identity politics embraced by Tumblr liberals results in an online mob baying for the blood of the apostate.

In the same chapter, Nagle looks at the practice of no-platforming. One example she references is a petition demanding a talk by Germaine Greer, called “Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century,” that was scheduled to take place at Cardiff University in 2015, be cancelled. The prominent feminist was accused of “trans-exclusionary views,” presumably on account of comments made in a 2009 column, calling the idea that a man could become a woman a “delusion.” Nagle writes, “As far as this new generation of campus “progressives”  was concerned, Greer may as well have been on the far right.” And not only did students try to silence and smear Greer, but they went after her defenders as well, tarring anyone who did not support the attack as “transphobic.” Nagle criticizes the efforts of so-called progressives to no-platform Greer and many others as attacks on free speech and on critical thought, which  filter out from academic institutions into wider society, and even influence public policy.

Mobbing those who don’t toe the line, attempting to destroy their reputations and lives, is sadistic, but also functions as a way to define the boundary between an in-group and an out-group, allowing the in-group to police, test, and demand loyalty. Almost any event can be made use of, opportunistically, to redefine that dividing line, to test loyalty, or to start a witch-hunt — nothing is beyond the bounds of exploitation. Even the most personal of tragedies can be used to draw a line in the sand or deploy the thought-police.

On January 14th, one day after writer and Goldsmiths lecturer Mark Fisher took his own life, British blogger Zoe Stavri tweeted:

“Just because Mark Fisher is dead, doesn’t make him right about ‘sour-faced identitarians.’ If only left misogyny would die with him.”

This grave dancing was deserved, apparently, on account of Fisher’s 2013 essay, “Exiting the Vampire Castle,” which criticized the identitarian politics Nagle calls “economies of virtue.” The article was called “pathetic” by queer theorist Sara Ahmed, and Ray Filar, a genderqueer performer and friend of Ahmed’s (who joined in with the celebrations of Fisher’s suicide on Twitter, retweeting Stavri’s classless tweet) dismissed Fisher’s critiques of the kind of mobbing and witch-hunts that take place online as not being “intersectional” enough.

Kill All Normies’ concluding chapter deals with Fisher’s suicide and the response to his essay, in which he argued that the identity politics adopted by the liberal left had “convert[ed] the suffering of particular groups — the more ‘marginal’ the better — into academic capital.” Fisher pointed out that, while in theory this group “claim[s] to be in favour of structural critique, in practice it never focuses on anything except individual behaviour.”

The pile on against Fisher grew throughout 2013, as numerous leftist white men denounced him in order to signal their own virtuousness, often willfully misinterpreting his arguments. Joining the mob was not only fun, it was strategic and opportunistic. As Fisher himself pointed out, it was a surefire way those men could avoid becoming targets themselves. Vice writer Sam Kriss, for example, called Fisher’s essay “nonsense,” though admitted his own condemnation was “mostly written because everyone else was doing one.” Kriss distorted Fisher’s arguments in order to justify the sadistic pleasure so many seemed to gain from attacking the piece, implying Fisher felt “women and members of ethnic and sexual minorities who belong to the tendency he identifies are somehow unnatural and monstrous.”

Nagle writes:

“The deluge of personal and vindictive mass abuse experienced by Fisher for years afterwards, involving baseless accusations of misogyny, racism, transphobia, etc., became typical for anyone who dared touch any of the Tumblr left’s key sensitivities, perhaps especially from a left perspective…

…The strangest feature of this online ‘call-out culture’ was this mixture of performative vulnerability, self-righteous wokeness and bullying. The online dynamics of this call-out culture were brilliantly described by Fisher as, ‘driven by a priests desire to ex-communicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd.’ I would add to this that the key driving force behind it is about creating scarcity in an environment in which virtue is the currency that can make or break the career or social success of an online user in this milieu, the counterforce of which was the anonymous underworld from which the right-wing trolling cultures emerged.”

When Stavri was criticized for her callous tweet, she attempted to excuse herself  by explaining that she must have posted it because she was on new mental health medication. (Of course, Fisher’s thoroughly documented mental health issues were never so sympathetically taken into account by the mob who came after him for writing the Vampire Castle piece.) Stavri’s response fits rather perfectly within what Nagle describes as, “a culture of fragility and victimhood, mixed with a vicious culture of group attacks, group shaming, and attempts to destroy the reputations and lives of others’ [that] has been coined as ‘crybullying.’”

The reception to Kill All Normies amongst the groups that the book scrutinizes has been surprising. Leading far-right figure Richard Spence tweeted that he thought Nagle “understands the Alt-Right (and Alt-Lite) much, much better than most.” Queer theorist Lisa Duggan called Kill All Normies “an extremely important book” (an unexpected comment, considering she herself is one of those responsible for germinating “Tumblr Liberalism”).

One weakness in Kill All Normies is that the analysis of male supremacy amongst the alt-right takes a back seat to the analysis of their white supremacy, but given that male supremacy is not confined to the alt-right, it’s clear why that decision was made.

The chapter that most directly addresses male supremacy is “Entering The Manosphere,” wherein Nagle describes the emergence of MRAs online. Roosh V, owner of MRA site Return of the Kings, proposes a strategy of “aggressive, manipulative, social-Darwinist-tinged approach to coaxing women to have sex,” called for rape to be legalized, and stated he would not go down on a woman for “quasi-political reasons.” Another group, Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), advocates male separatism, telling men to avoid romantic relationships with women in “protest against a culture destroyed by feminism.” (If only!) Even more amusing  are the Proud Boys who have a policy of “no wanks.” (The Proud Boysreject pornography and masturbation, believing it to have weakened men, “making them lazier and more stupid.”)

What unites these men’s rights groups with the alt-right is that they believe white, straight, males have been left behind and now exist at the bottom of the social and sexual hierarchy. They believe that while the world once belonged (rightfully) to them, now women, people of colour, and sexual minorities rule. Indeed, their insult of choice, “cuck,” is acute projection — they feel usurped and humiliated by these groups, and believe they have been robbed of the privilege they are entitled to. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the phenomena of what 4chaners refer to as “incels” (men who conceive of themselves as “involuntary celibates”), lamenting that women refuse sex with them, rendering them modern victims of their self-conceived “sexual hierarchy”.

When Nagle writes of “online culture wars,” we must recognize that the main battle is over truth. While Nagle does not explore the feminist dimension of these online street fights, specifically, the implications are evident. Both the alt-right and the anti-materialist, regressive left believe that prostitution is not about women’s position under patriarchy as a resource for men, but sexual liberation and the free market. Both consider the sex trade to be a situation where women come out on top — with autonomy, empowered through profit and/or sexual freedom. Rather than overturning the system of prostitution, both groups believe we need to offer more rights to pimps and johns, in order to allow prostituted women to benefit from an unregulated free market. (So far, so Marxist!) Most significantly for feminism, both these tendencies wish to block certain feminist analysis and activism — specifically, the kind that challenges the system of patriarchy at its root.

Kill All Normies is the first book to skewer the relations of online behaviour, illustrating the way in which social justice warriors and the alt-right sustain one another. The real world effects of online politics are laid bare. What is left for readers to do is to overcome the navel-gazing of identity politics and oppose political sadism from both the right and the left.

By recognizing the negative impact of identity politics on the left, books like Kill All Normies help us move closer to an honest discussion that opens the possibility of a return to a systemic analysis, instead of one rooted in abstract identity and reliant on performativity. Nagel’s efforts, her endurance in observing the pond life of the internet so closely, and the work she has done in recording and delineating it for the rest of us should be greatly appreciated.

Guest Writer

GUEST WRITER

ONE OF FEMINIST CURRENT’S AMAZING GUEST WRITERS.

 

From the comments:

More:
After Mark died SA reminded us of her paragraph in her ‘Against Students’ essay that offered heavy praise for this: https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/ray-filar/all-hail-vampire-archy-what-mark-fisher-gets-wrong-in-exiting-vampire-castle

So there is some context:
https://thecharnelhouse.org/2017/01/16/journey-back-into-the-vampires-castle-mark-fisher-remembered-1968-2017/
and
https://thecharnelhouse.org/2013/11/27/postscript-on-identity-intersectionality/

Meanwhile, wider concerns:
http://elegantgatheringofwhitesnows.com/?p=2310
and

Still wider – the process of mobbing:
http://www.vulture.com/2017/08/the-toxic-drama-of-ya-twitter.html?utm_source=fb&utm_medium=s3&utm_campaign=sharebutton-t
and
https://adidasmarxism.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/american-thought-from-theoretical-barbarism-to-intellectual-decadence/
and
https://www.patreon.com/posts/13896745

Mark’s original article got it right and he should be widely praised, he is vindicated:
http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=11299

 

 

 

 

Normies – gunning for MF

There are questions to be answered here too. Absolutely disgusted by gloating and opportunism of Stavvers, Ahmed and Co. This and the next post raise some deep points about which Sara Ahmed and her mobbing acolytes must be held to account:

Kill All Normies: Street Fights Of Tumblr Liberals And The Alt-Right


JUL 2017 Saturday 1ST posted by Morning Star in Features

JEN IZAAKSON previews a new book which explores whether the bullying online behaviour of liberals has more in common with the alt-right than you might think


ANGELA NAGLE’S Kill All Normies represents a break with the usual unwillingness to subject the amorphous left’s internet cultures and identity politics to the same degree of scrutiny as the right’s.

Published by Zero Books, Kill All Normies uses as its title a slogan promoted on 4Chan’s politics board that essentially derides anyone who has ever been in a relationship or had a job as a “normal fag.” Unless still living in your mother’s house you’re not truly qualified sanctimonious loser troll material.

The London launch was held at the Marx Memorial Library signalling that there is still some left-wing support for ventures in critical thought.

On arrival it was a former president of the RMT who allowed me to cross the threshold of the event on the basis I had “a feminist badge on,” reliably representing my lack of membership in either of the camps scrutinised by the book.

The event began with an introduction by US academic Catherine Lui tracing Nagle’s account of the phenomena of sadism and sentimentalism as emanating from the 18th century.

Sade’s writings emerged at a similar time as the emotive public spectacle. Emotional performativity coinciding periodically with sexual sadism is perhaps indicative of a greater relation.

Nagle explained how the alt-right can be identified as clinging to its own brand of identity politics, sentimentalising whiteness and brotherhood to a utopian degree.

The imagined white global state encompassing North America, Europe and Russia is the key example of this.

That this would entail genocide and ethnic cleansing is not just glossed over, but omitted.

However, this glib romanticism can at any moment transfer to another form of group consolidation based on exclusion and sadism, as anyone caught in the cross-hairs of the alt-right can attest to.

The basic trolling of children’s memorial sites, creating memes about a family’s dead loved ones or mocking sexual abuse victims is par for the course.

But these are still sensitive souls: apparently nazi website Stormfront was wounded that Nagle’s book declined to mention them.

Nagle’s answer as to why is that she “just didn’t think they were that important,” surely representing the worst imaginable scenarios for alt-right membership.

Clinging to relevance and personal ambition appears as fundamental for the alt-right as they are for left commentators who are unwilling to tackle the tough questions Nagle does.

A similar merging of sadism and sentimentalism is mirrored in what Nagle calls “Tumblr-liberalism.”

The book lists some of the numerous recently confabulated genders, mostly personality descriptors more than anything to do with gender. Nagle identifies Judith Butler more than any other theorist as primarily responsible for an unleashing of gender taxonomies that have undermined systemic accounts of gender.

In a similar way to the alt-right, any challenge to the new cult of identity politics, concentrated once on Tumblr but now spilling out into what Nagle calls “campus wars,” leads to a mob baying for the heretics’ blood.

A tenured male university professor is as likely a target as a young single mum who administrates for Mumsnet message boards.

However, as anyone ever embroiled in such battles will confirm, if one of the lynchers is “called out” for misgendering, misreading the background or religion of the victim, a heartfelt apology will of course be offered. Right before you’re told to “die in a fire.” The combined hands of sentimentalism and sadism are ever present in these ritualistic measures.

These rituals, according to Nagle, operate more as a way to keep the groups together by identifying an in and out-group, policing the boundary of who is transgressive and who isn’t pure enough, more then they are simply about bullying.

Almost any event can opportunistically be used to create a dividing line, split, or witch-hunt over, as went spectacularly wrong for Zoe Stavri when she celebrated the suicide of writer and Goldsmiths lecturer Mark Fisher back in January.

Her celebratory tweet did have some traction. For example, it remains retweeted by “genderqueer” “performer” Ray Filar, who is friends with queer theorist Sara Ahmed, formerly at Goldsmiths, author of Living a Feminist Life.

Stavri then fell back on an appeal to sentimentalised victimhood, telling those who admonished her that she was on new mental health medication. As if gleefully rubbing one’s hands over someone’s suicide is a known side effect of any drug.

A shield of sentimentality, not emotional honesty, apology or genuine exchange, summoned to excuse sadism.

This group particularly is identified by Nagle as instrumentalising victimhood, competing in what could be dubbed an “oppression Olympics.” It just relies on a great deal of willing self-objectification and confessionalism to compete.

These groups, the alt-right and Tumblr liberals have, according to Nagle, a symbiotic relationship, needing one another as much as the monstrous spectres each joyously opposes.

Both exist as differing camps in what Nagle frames as today’s most brutal online “culture wars,” but they certainly share cultural practices and unfailingly need one another as ludicrous misshapen enemy.

Psychoanalytically, there is more than a small amount of projective identification taking place between them (wherein a projected fantasy of another group or person is so strong it forces them to succumb to it, similar to a self-fulfilling prophecy).

During the discussion Nagle was asked why the left commentariat on Twitter or alternative media do not challenge the Tumblr left’s sadistic and sentimental politics as they do the alt-right’s.

Her answer was unequivocal: fear. And we could add to that, personal ambition. Which Patreon accounted blogger wants to commit possible career and financial suicide over what an Oakland teenager with blue hair claims about themselves?

Further, at least if you are victim of the alt-right mob the left feels sorry for you, but when the new identitarians come after you, well, it was your fault for oppressing the poor lambs.

The rest of the discussion focused around the relation between internet cultures and power, with the alt-right’s direct line to Breitbart and identity politics ability to shape public policy despite any coherence or ability to organise a mass movement.

Kill All Normies is the first book to really nail the relations of the cultural space of the internet to the real world that, significantly, includes an analysis of potentials and problems across the political spectrum.

It should not be the last. The atmosphere at the book launch was one of relief. That finally we could talk about these issues seriously, rather than continually being the adults in the room who excuse the children for setting fire to the dog because we fear we might be next.

Nagle is incredibly brave to step forward to broach these matters, however tentatively. This burgeoning will, for honesty and a return to a structural, material analysis that it is so easy to forget exists when online, should be afforded the admiration it deserves.

 

See also the next post, More on Nagle, and the links below from the comments:

More:
After Mark died SA reminded us of her paragraph in her ‘Against Students’ essay that offered heavy praise for this: https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/ray-filar/all-hail-vampire-archy-what-mark-fisher-gets-wrong-in-exiting-vampire-castle

So there is some context:
https://thecharnelhouse.org/2017/01/16/journey-back-into-the-vampires-castle-mark-fisher-remembered-1968-2017/
and
https://thecharnelhouse.org/2013/11/27/postscript-on-identity-intersectionality/

Meanwhile, wider concerns:
http://elegantgatheringofwhitesnows.com/?p=2310
and

Still wider – the process of mobbing:
http://www.vulture.com/2017/08/the-toxic-drama-of-ya-twitter.html?utm_source=fb&utm_medium=s3&utm_campaign=sharebutton-t
and
https://adidasmarxism.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/american-thought-from-theoretical-barbarism-to-intellectual-decadence/
and
https://www.patreon.com/posts/13896745

Mark’s original article got it right and he should be widely praised, he is vindicated:
http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=11299

Academic mobbing, or how to become campus tormentors

Academic mobbing, or how to become campus tormentors

By EVE SEGUIN | SEP 19 2016

For Professor Caroline Patsias at Université du Québec à Montréal, once a professor at Université de Sherbrooke.

If you’re a university professor, chances are fairly good that you have initiated or participated in mobbing. Why? First, because mobbers are not sadists or sociopaths, but ordinary people; second, because universities are a type of organization that encourages mobbing; and third, as a result, mobbing is endemic at universities.

Unlike bullying, an individual form of harassment in which a typical scenario consists of a boss victimizing an assistant, mobbing is a serious organizational deficiency. Its many consequences are so severe that it is considered a major public health issue. The term itself, mobbing, describes its four essential characteristics: it is a collective, violent and deliberate process in which the individual psychologies of the aggressors and their victim provide no keys to understanding the phenomenon.

Workplace mobbing is a concerted process to get rid of an employee, who is better referred to as a “target” than a “victim” to emphasize the strategic nature of the process. The dynamic is reminiscent of Stalin’s Moscow Trials: the targets are first convicted and evidence is later fabricated to justify the conviction. As sociologist of science Brian Martin put it, everything they say, are, write and do will be systematically used against them.

Successful mobbing leads to any of a number of outcomes: the targets commit suicide, are dismissed (or often at universities, being denied tenure), resign, retire early, take permanent or recurring sick leave (the last three being the most common cases for university professors), or have all their responsibilities withdrawn (as in the case of sidelined senior public servants).

The process begins when a small group of instigators decides to cast someone out on the pretext that he or she is threatening their interests. This concept covers a variety of cases; perhaps the target is not behaving the way they would like, does not share their view of the organization, earns more than they do or challenges questionable practices. Mobbers use negative communication as their powerful weapon of elimination.

At first unbeknownst to the target, negative communication consists of rumours, complaints (often anonymous), conniving looks, mocking, gossip, misrepresenting facts, insinuations, hearsay, defamation, lies, secret meetings to discuss “the case,” disparaging comments, police-like surveillance of the target’s work and private life to gather “evidence” that justifies the aggression, and so on.

The other side of negative communication is directed at the target and includes unjustified accusations, manipulating or withholding information, sending menacing or hateful messages, calling purportedly friendly or disciplinary meetings, psychologically destabilizing the targets by incessantly accusing them of making mistakes, intimidation, tampering with their workstation, offering to “help” with so-called adaptation problems, and public humiliation.

This campaign of negative communication ends up poisoning the entire workplace or faculty. All members of the group are exposed, and the well-known psycho-sociological phenomenon of peer pressure empowers the instigators to recruit a large majority. These recruits either become active mobbers, if they apply these tactics aggressively, or they become passive mobbers, if they look the other way and pretend the violence doesn’t exist.

Negative communication frames the target as someone who is impossible to work with and who threatens the organization. The following characteristics are invariably attributed to the target, made out to be someone who:

  • is a troublemaker,
  • doesn’t listen to advice,
  • is detrimental to the organization,
  • isn’t a team player,
  • is mentally ill,
  • asks too many questions,
  • doesn’t share the group’s culture,
  • has a difficult personality,
  • resists injustice,
  • isn’t social, or
  • is a bully.

This final allegation is especially strategic because it transforms aggression into mock justice, making it possible to involve individuals in the campaign who would otherwise stay on the sidelines. At universities, this can easily be used against mobbed professors. All it takes is to make a faint allusion to, and if necessary, produce alleged student victims. The (self)-infantilization of students that plagues universities nowadays has only made this simpler.

In addition to negative communication techniques that attack the targets on a personal level, mobbing includes a range of oppressive tactics that impact their work: creating obstacles to completing normal tasks, depriving them of the right to have a voice, excluding them from committees and positions of responsibility, systematically downplaying their accomplishments, assigning tasks that are impossible or that far exceed their abilities, withholding invitations to meetings, exaggerating their mistakes, denying promotions, fabricating evidence of illegal or immoral activity, not responding to emails and issuing disciplinary sanctions, and the list goes on.

As these methodical and aggressive activities unfold over months and years, the targets end up becoming completely ostracized. Their reputation, credibility, authority, influence and contribution to the organization are nullified. As in a totalitarian situation, any attempts to defend themselves are perceived as additional proof of their “deviance.” As in the case of rape, the target is deemed responsible for the violence that ensues against him or her. As we have seen in stories of genocide, the target becomes a non-person. If, against all odds, the final stage of mobbing fails and the target is not physically expelled from the organization, he or she will remain excluded for life. Mobbing is social murder and, by definition, people cannot survive their own murder. In other words, mobbing results in an indelible social stigma.

The severity of academic mobbing

Many people think that universities are completely different from private companies or government agencies. They believe that they are unique places of freedom that stimulate intelligence, foster independence, value originality, promote collegiality, encourage pluralism and treat their members with respect, starting with the faculty. Unfortunately, the severity of mobbing in academic settings destroys that fantasy. In truth, universities are breeding grounds for mobbing, where all the aggressive tactics described above are used regularly. In many faculties, mobbing has gained popularity as a work method.

The severity of academic mobbing is due not only to its prevalence, but also its inherent morbidity. The consequences for targets are more damaging in universities than in other work environments. One explanatory factor is that academic institutions are toxic, yet claim to foster employee well-being. Mobbed professors expect their employers to protect and defend them, and experience cognitive dissonance when they are hit with the realization that no such help is forthcoming. In fact, university administrations and human resources departments are involved in most mobbing campaigns, either actively or passively, by failing to take corrective action. An estimated 12 percent of mobbed professors end up committing suicide. An infamous Canadian case is that of Justine Sergent, a McGill University neurologist who committed suicide with her husband in 1994 after a two-year mobbing campaign in which she was accused of violating ethical research procedures.

Although universities now have “psychological harassment” policies, their ability to curb mobbing is dubious:

  1. These policies are designed to address inter-individual harassment. For example, one Canadian university’s HR policy states that “taking appropriate action […] should include […] telling the person who is misbehaving to cease the behaviour” (our italics). Unfortunately, such a recommendation is irrelevant when it comes to mobbing.
  2. The “psychological harassment” prevention procedures and authorities outlined in these policies are not immune to events within the organization, and mobbing campaigns often use them against the targets they are intended to protect. Such is notably the case when mediation procedures are applied between the target and the aggressors.
  3. When they exist, faculty unions are primarily concerned with job retention and tend to fall back on stated prevention procedures, i.e. those set out by the employer.
  4. The organizational culture of universities prohibits anyone from admitting, or even thinking, that an employee could be targeted by a group of other employees. The academic community, including the human resources department, reduces mobbing to a personality clash between professors and believes that both parties share equal responsibility. They also overwhelming tend to blame the target’s personality for allegedly provoking or exacerbating the conflict.

Resistance

As academics, we are due to witness a new mobbing campaign being instigated sooner or later, provided we aren’t the target. A sure sign is when a negative and apparently universal opinion of a colleague takes hold. As an elimination strategy starts to form and initial attempts are made to recruit us, we must ask ourselves: “Did I really choose this career in order to become an academic tormentor?”

Eve Seguin is a professor in the department of political science at Université du Québec à Montréal.

  1. Judith A. Garber / September 19, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    This is heart-wrenching and so true. Mobbing is most effectively exercised against people without job security, obviously. However, versions of excommunication also work to reframe tenured faculty as losers (who may or may not choose to stay on).

    Prof. Seguin makes one observation that is I would amend:

    “The term itself, mobbing, describes its four essential characteristics: it is a collective, violent and deliberate process in which the individual psychologies of the aggressors and their victim provide no keys to understanding the phenomenon.”

    The individual psychologies of the actors is always at play within institutions. What motivates mobbing but self-interest, the exercise of power for power’s sake, peer pressure, projection, asociality, and so forth?

  2. Kris / September 21, 2016 at 5:46 am

    This is the most accurate, condensed description of workplace mobbing I’ve seen. Having experienced it myself and most likely taken part in it without knowing I was skipping along with a lynch mob, I can attest to every item listed here. Sharing with my whole social network.

  3. Stephen Downes / September 21, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    We are given one example from 22 years ago. Is there any evidence that this is happening in this century?

    • Karen Connelly / September 21, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Steven Galloway, UBC. He is the FORMER head of the Creative Writing Department. His life has been completely destroyed by a combination of moral hysteria and other people’s ambition. The judge hauled in to do a ‘confidential’ investigation cleared him of ALL the allegations of misconduct but the one that he admitted to before the investigation began: a long ‘known’ affair with a student in the creative writing program, a woman older than him, with whom he amicably separated. Take a look at this month’s Walrus magazine. https://thewalrus.ca/laffaire-galloway/ . . . And as a sessional, I once experienced this mobbing from a group of unhealthy, unkind students. All it takes is one small group of variously unhealthy and unkind people to destroy your life. If they happen to be your colleagues, you probably need to get a different job.

    • Vicki / June 18, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      My supervisor is currently being mobbed, and this article is very representative of her story. I started digging into academic journals and other publications and have found many current classic examples.

    • Jane Doe / July 9, 2017 at 1:57 am

      I have recently seen the early signs of it in a group. One of the early warning signs is when someone starts sending emails asking about info that was circulated before (fine, we all forget) but cc’ing the line manager every time.

    • Andrew / July 10, 2017 at 9:38 am

      Are you kidding? I had this happen to me from 2004-to approx. 2011 and it was horrible. I know others who have suffered it as well and there are many who are dealing with it in silence. The reason you don’t hear much about it is because it’s not talked about. People need their jobs and fear further backlash if they tell someone.

  4. asdf / September 21, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    Interesting article. I would welcome your thoughts on how to defend yourself (and stay mentally strong) if you find yourself to be a target.

    • Janice Harper / September 22, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      In my book, Mobbed! What to Do When They Really Are Out to Get You, I have three chapters on how to protect yourself emotionally, socially and professionally. Many of the suggestions are contrary to our instincts and to advice on combatting bullying (such as not responding to many of the aggressive acts, not filing complaints and avoiding lawsuits), but I regularly hear from targets who tell me that doing so saved their sanity and careers. It’s a cruel but human response to threat, and understanding how and why people are acting so abhorrently can help you get through the gauntlet of mobbing.

      • Canadian university Prof / October 11, 2016 at 11:57 am

        Thank you Janice. I am currently a mobbing target in my department in circumstances that have been ongoing for many months. I will be consulting your book to seek advice on how to protect myself.

    • Jane Doe / July 9, 2017 at 1:58 am

      Leave. It does not get better. Transfer departments if you can, otherwise leave. If you need to defend yourself stage a meeting with a manager who you trust and bate them into revealing what they are doing.
      In my case I was to tempt someone into declaring I was not competent to teach a course, that I had been considered perfectly competent to write (they had forgotten that). It was all I needed to do to demonstrate what was going on. But I still left the department.

  5. Brett Fairbairn / September 21, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    This is an outstanding article. Those of us who have worked with complicated personnel issues have seen these cases, and I believe it is accurate to link them to academic culture. They are very difficult to deal with given the individualistic nature of complaint and investigation policies and procedures, as the article notes – but I am not sure what clear alternatives there are. Individual employees do have rights to privacy and due process; group investigations are hard to do. And until an investigation has occurred, responsible individuals can’t determine whether a situation is mobbing, harassment, or something else. Uncertainty is huge, all the more troubling since consequences may be huge as well. Enormous skill, sensitivity, and care are required from HR departments and administrators. Everyone needs to be aware of the potential issues. This article is a great service in that regard.

  1. wp / September 21, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    I would welcome research related to this phenomenon. In my experience it is a serious problem for a number of reasons. I wonder if increasing corporatization in universities exacerbates the problem. Academia does seem to be a culture more like what I would expect in a corporate environment.

  2. Andrew Park / September 21, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    In the last paragraph the author states “As academics, we are due to witness a new mobbing campaign being instigated sooner or later…” as though this stuff is happening in all institutions all the time. I have to say, I’m not buying it. The article smacks of paranoia, fails to provide data on the frequency of academic mobbing (if indeed such data exist), and as another commenter pointed out, dredges up an example from the late 20th Century. In the one recent example, the supposed victim was, at minimum, guilty of the ethical breach of having an undeclared affair with a student. This raises the question of whether he, at any time, was a supervisor or course professor for this same student. Reading through the Walrus article about this individual, I see that people were divided about his personality and management style as well, and there are hints of other potential abuses up to and including an actual assault.

    I’m not saying that the phenomenon of academic mobbing does not happen. But I want to see some data about how frequent it really is before I believe the inference that mobbing is a general phenomenon.

  3. K.C.T. / September 22, 2016 at 9:44 am

    This is an important and timely article as so many scholars try to better understand what is happening on our modern university campuses. This sounds like yet another troubling way in which freedom of speech and association are challenged in a publically-funded institution where they must be upheld. Sadly, such appalling behaviour is not only practiced by professors. Administrators and students have been known to practice their own special forms of mobbing as well. It is morally reprehensible in any work place and even more so in an educational institution. It must be thoroughly understood, investigated and stopped. This article points us in some useful directions in this regard. But, who will take on the work needed to clean this up in Canadian universities? Boards of Governors? Human Rights Commissions? Faculty Associations? The author’s notions of mock justice and silence (intimidation) on university campuses could be a good place to start. Perhaps decent and clever universities could even “re-brand” themselves by setting themselves apart as places in which healthy and decent working and learning conditions are insisted upon for all professors and staff. Ensuring such a culture would be of great value to parents and students who can choose where to study.

  4. Janice Harper / September 22, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you for writing this piece. I lost my career to academic mobbing–which went so far as to subject me to a Homeland Security investigation, write to me that they would ensure I was shunned by my national colleagues, and even reported my then ten-year-old daughter to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force for suggesting I bake cookies for my department chair (a diabetic). I have since studied the group psychology and primate behavior of mobbing, and in my book Mobbed! What to Do When They Really Are Out to Get You, as well as essays on my website, http://www.janice-harper.com, I show how predictable and patterned this phenomenon is, how and why good people turn cruel and inhumane toward targets, and how to protect yourself once it happens. Professor Seguin’s assessment of the phenomenon is a refreshing shift from the “anti-bullying” focus of workplace aggression toward a more accurate and illuminating understanding of this prevalent form of abuse that pervades all universities.

  5. Adèle Mercier / October 19, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Merci, merci, Eve Séguin. Outstanding article, none too timely, and perfectly accurate.

    Stephen Downes, Andrew Park: Perhaps what explains why you have not heard much about mobbed professors is the following.

    Mobbing is not something only colleagues engage in. Administrators do too. They side with favoured colleagues (where “favoured” has nothing to do with merit, but with friends, minions, and the mobbing psycho-sociology). They then administer discipline, unjustified discipline which they support by their own bogus “investigations” (or no investigation at all), in an effort to eliminate the target. Unions file grievances which take *dozens* (yes, dozenS) of years to litigate. For example, in my own case, there are now eight grievances for unjust discipline filed against my university, dating back eight years; each of them will take a dozen days to arbitrate; there have so far been *two* days of arbitration, the first day five-and-a-half years after the first grievance was filed, the second day almost two years later. You do the math: I will be dead by the time all grievances are arbitrated and my name is cleared. Alternatively, I will have accumulated so many (grieved-but-not-yet-arbitrated) disciplines that I will be fired “for cause”. This happened ten days ago to our colleague Shirkanzadeh, whom you should read about:http://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2016-09-10/features/eleven-years-after-blowing-the-whistle/; http://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2016-09-19/news/breaking-whistleblower-morteza-shirkhanzadeh-fired/;
    http://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2016-10-14/news/shirkhanzadeh-firing-wont-proceed-to-further-arbitration/

    Being under the gun for dozens of years makes people sick (or commit suicide). Those who kill themselves are thus silenced. Those who don’t kill themselves become too sick or too old to continue, so eventually, they fold and settle, often being pressured by their union to fold and settle. Settlements are strictly confidential and usually come with a “no disparagement” clause, so that telling later that you have been mobbed is a breach of settlement. So those who settle are thusly silenced.

    If they do not fold, but suffer the glacial pace of litigation for the rest of their life, they are cautioned by their unions not to talk about anything “while in the middle of arbitration” lest what they say should annoy the arbitrator who, as a consequence, will not rule in their favour (arbitrators being only human hence they too susceptible to mobbing). Arbitration is never-ending, the University making its best to prolong it by various devious means well-known to lawyers. So those who do not settle are thusly silenced.

    So whether you die, or you settle, or you don’t settle, you are silenced.

    Moreover, if you do speak out, you risk a SLAPP defamation suit by your University, which you might win because you are speaking the truth provided no one finds you malicious for doing so, but not before you have lost your house and your retirement savings. It is all well calculated. And thusly are you silenced.

    Perhaps this explains why you have not heard much about mobbed professors.
    Mort Shirkanzadeh and I (Queen’s), Denis Rancourt (Ottawa), Tony Hall (Lethbridge), are examples of *very recently* mobbed *tenured* professors. I’m certain they are legion.

  6. Ted / November 6, 2016 at 10:06 am

    I have seen episodes of academic mobbing at every institution I have worked for since grad school here in the United States for the past 25 years. So, it is not, as some commenters here suggest, a made up problem. It has been my experience on many campuses that mobbing is an informal part of the curriculum for both undergraduates and graduate students. In practice, it fits the description given here where an organized small group seeks to publicly humiliate either another student, grad student, or professor for offending them in some way, particularly for challenging some position they hold or advocate on an issue in a public forum (including the faculty senate). In several cases I have witnessed, mobbing occurs when a committed group refuses to accept institutional procedures for hearing a complaint, or the institution finds a complaint unjustified, and the mob is organized to exact retribution where the institution has proved inadequate for their purposes.

  7. K. Carly / November 8, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    I am a victim of academic mobbing at an international branch campus of a Canadian institution. The impact is extended when you are far from home, in a country with no recognition of human rights or labour laws, there is no union protection and it is an institutional environment of toxicity.

    Luckily, I got out alive. But anyone going international needs to recognize this phenomenon and you need to protect yourself. Be prepared to leave at a moments notice — do not attempt to settle. Do not expect any form of humanity because you work in a Canadian institution — that means nothing.

  8. Kimmy D / November 28, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    Thank you for this article. I have recently been the victim of academic mobbing at an international branch campus of a Canadian university. The leadership (Dean) got twisted in a knot when I had some very successful initiatives — accomplishments that she was never able to achieve. Next thing I knew, I was bullied to the point of distress and nervous breakdown. Shameful

  9. Annette Leibing / December 20, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Very good contribution, Ève! I also question the UQAM practice of publicly accusing professors of sexual harrassment – even if it is framed as protecting others – and if one of them was not guilty?

  10. Amelia Payette / April 4, 2017 at 5:29 am

    Before I read this article, I did not have a name for mobbing: academics usually refer this phenomenon obliquely, using terms such as “very political environment”, “highly competitive research university”, “cut-throat world” etc. All ways to avoid mentioning mobbing as what it is, since naming the phenomenon involves acknowledging some level of responsibility.

    I agree with the above comment that mobbing has different repercussions for people with different levels of job security: while tenured faculty can afford to take permanent or recurring leave (I do not know of any case of early retirement), non-tenured faculty swallow it in silence, contract faculty are disposed off, sessional faculty do not even have a voice.

    I also agree that academic administrations encourage this practice and systematically take the side of mobbers, by the principle that it is easier to get rid of few individuals than to deal with a larger group of (often tenured, and therefore protected) people.

    I especially liked the point that there is no such as thing as keeping out of mobbing: we also participate in it when we don’t speak up and remain neutral.

  11. anonymous former graduate student / April 4, 2017 at 11:51 am

    It’s important to recognize that professors are not the only academic laborers who may be the targets of mobbing. I was the target of mobbing instigated by another graduate student while completing my PhD. Professors need to be on the lookout for mobbing among their mentees and be sure to be part of the solution, not the problem. That means not only offering support to a student who is being mobbed, but also not participating in mobbing themselves. In my case, a professor joined in and my department offered NO support to me whatsoever.

  12. J Parker / July 7, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Interesting that this is NOW becoming recognized. When people I know well were being mobbed the CAUT would not do anything to help. We asked. Nothing. Nada. Zero. So what’s changed?

  13. DMarie / July 7, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Hmm. I understand that people do get mobbed in academia, but I’m currently on the other side of a situation in which someone in my department is toxic and truly is bullying others. I’m a librarian in an academic library that stills puts librarians on tenure track, so perhaps it’s different in my situation than the more autonomous teaching faculty situation. Nonetheless, I’m a new director in a department in which people used to scream at each other on the regular, and one person is continuing that kind of behavior and it absolute hell to try to improve the culture and morale. This is far beyond them actively blocking every (planned, measured, and transparent) move or change that I make towards current professional standards within our available resources. It goes beyond the varied multiple ethical violations I keep discovering (without digging) that would swiftly get an untenured person fired- and they are long tenured, of course. It has got to the point where they storm out crying when they don’t get their way, accuse me of lying if I have to cancel or change a meeting, and yell at, bully, and threaten those who report to them while being openly hostile to the hierarchical peers or those above them. The fact is, this person is deeply unhappy, is growing more abusive every day, and probably unstable, and their behavior creates a toxic environment that affects several other people every day. If only there were a mobbing mechanism for this problem. Sadly, I’ve also witnessed an untenured person run out, they might think themselves the victim of a mobbing, but this was the second of three professional jobs from which they were fired- that pattern belongs to them, not us.
    I’m sure most mobbing victims don’t deserve it, but the folks I’m thinking of should not be allowed to abuse others, cause a staggering amount of drama and trouble in every meeting they attend, and not get tangible work done. When the negatives so far outweigh the positives and they don’t produce measurable output, it’s not our job to keep them as colleagues.

  14. George Mulloy / July 8, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    A former coworker forwarded this article to me because she felt this is exactly what happened to me when I was terminated from Arizona State University. Many of the “symptoms” of mobbing stated in the article happened to me. This is real! It happens. I am proof.

  15. Michael D. / July 10, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    I am concerned that this article provides a sympathetic victim narrative to people who may, indeed, be a problem in their place of employment. Through the entire article, I kept thinking about a colleague who would likely agree that he has been subjected to every problem the author describes. Yet since he was hired less than five years ago, he has behaved aggressively toward the university’s support staff, tried to dominate department meetings and agendas, and tried to lay an over-reaching, out-of-proportion claim on various university resources. We have lost some excellent support staff due to the stress and borderline-harassment this faculty member inflicted following his appointment. The result has been that most colleagues have distanced themselves from this individual, refusing to work with him, and some left committees on which he served. There is a regrettable cycle of venting and backroom talk that goes on about his various outrages and indiscretions. It feels ugly, yet I have dealt with him on committees, and I have seen firsthand how difficult and underhanded he can be. In the terms set by this article, is this person being “mobbed?” Probably. But this person is not simply a victim. He is very smart and strategic in a lot of ways, and I expect that he will receive tenure, unless Human Resources has been receiving a critical mass of complaints about him. The last four points the author makes about the procedural and organizational culture of the university are fair enough, but I think it cuts two ways. Those points could be turned around to allow a dysfunctional faculty member like this to defend themselves and perpetuate their behavior.

  16. Andrew / July 10, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Are you kidding? I had this happen to me from 2004-to approx. 2011 and it was horrible. I know others who have suffered it as well and there are many who are dealing with it in silence. The reason you don’t hear much about it is because it’s not talked about. People need their jobs and fear further backlash if they tell someone.

  17. Jane Doe / July 9, 2017 at 1:57 am

    I have recently seen the early signs of it in a group. One of the early warning signs is when someone starts sending emails asking about info that was circulated before (fine, we all forget) but cc’ing the line manager every time.

  18. Vicki / June 18, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    My supervisor is currently being mobbed, and this article is very representative of her story. I started digging into academic journals and other publications and have found many current classic examples.

  19. Karen Connelly / September 21, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    Steven Galloway, UBC. He is the FORMER head of the Creative Writing Department. His life has been completely destroyed by a combination of moral hysteria and other people’s ambition. The judge hauled in to do a ‘confidential’ investigation cleared him of ALL the allegations of misconduct but the one that he admitted to before the investigation began: a long ‘known’ affair with a student in the creative writing program, a woman older than him, with whom he amicably separated. Take a look at this month’s Walrus magazine. https://thewalrus.ca/laffaire-galloway/ . . . And as a sessional, I once experienced this mobbing from a group of unhealthy, unkind students. All it takes is one small group of variously unhealthy and unkind people to destroy your life. If they happen to be your colleagues, you probably need to get a different job.

  20. Jane Doe / July 9, 2017 at 1:58 am

    Leave. It does not get better. Transfer departments if you can, otherwise leave. If you need to defend yourself stage a meeting with a manager who you trust and bate them into revealing what they are doing.
    In my case I was to tempt someone into declaring I was not competent to teach a course, that I had been considered perfectly competent to write (they had forgotten that). It was all I needed to do to demonstrate what was going on. But I still left the department.

  21. Janice Harper / September 22, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    In my book, Mobbed! What to Do When They Really Are Out to Get You, I have three chapters on how to protect yourself emotionally, socially and professionally. Many of the suggestions are contrary to our instincts and to advice on combatting bullying (such as not responding to many of the aggressive acts, not filing complaints and avoiding lawsuits), but I regularly hear from targets who tell me that doing so saved their sanity and careers. It’s a cruel but human response to threat, and understanding how and why people are acting so abhorrently can help you get through the gauntlet of mobbing.

  22. Canadian university Prof / October 11, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Thank you Janice. I am currently a mobbing target in my department in circumstances that have been ongoing for many months. I will be consulting your book to seek advice on how to protect myself.

Misappropriation

More context, a letter from 2013

We are not seeking careers here, but our commitment to critique and truth obliges us to point out that the 1752 group’s inaugural action was ill-informed and libellous personal attack website. This site remains up anonymously as testimony to their unprofessional methods. We would warn against anyone ‘consulting’ with these self-appointed experts who have no legal perspective, who want to consult and advise the administration but have no administrative credentials and who would insist you to support the most austere temperance. We decry their willingness to work to repair the administration on the basis of such duplicitous origins. Their strategy is mobbing, self quotation and a parody of seriousness. The lie at the origin – the blog wewanttruthgoldsmiths – makes us all poorer with its disregard of due process and its vigilante moralism. However much we would support a progressive version of such work, this version has no concept of power and lines up exactly with the bleak neoliberalism of the times.

They were told this early on and may need to be told again. We can now share two comments from the midst of this clusterfuck the first a response to their initial attempt at a pogrom, the second a recent comment added insightfully as an intro to our first post. Both deserve widespread attention by anyone interested in grown up debate on these matters.

“I would like to react to the open letter posted on “Goldsmiths Feminist Voices.”[now deleted] I am appalled that its authors are using the discourses of radical feminism and anti-oppression to convey their point- I consider that misappropriation politically dishonest and ethically obscene.

The author(s?) claim that the defences which have circulated on behalf of the suspended professors in question have closed down the pathways to the healthy questioning of practices of men in positions of power  and have had the effect of shutting down dissenting voices. This argument is fallacious for several reasons.

First, the main agent inhibiting open discussion about this subject is the administration itself, who imposed a gag order on all those concerned. This superimposed veil of confidentiality shrouding these affairs is what primarily prevents thesaid “considerations of how knowledge is constructed and disseminated and by whom, and debate on acceptable practices within academia” from happening.

This is a direct result of the way in which the students with grievances chose to air these complaints. If they were as concerned as the open letter affirms about the possibility for every side to openly speak up and justify themselves, and about keeping power relationships in check, they would not have sought out solutions which included administrative top down intervention, with the result of the imperilment of people’s means of subsistence. They would instead have sought out solutions more weary of the unbalances of power which they so readily decry.

Whether the complainants are co-authors of the open letter is unknown to me, but I believe that lending them support by using the rhetoric of anti-oppression is a hypocritical act considering that the method they chose showed complete disregard of labour solidarity, of the precariousness of bastions of de-instrumentalized learning, and of the oppressive nature of acts of denunciation by delation.

The authors of the open letter go further in their misappropriation by instrumentalizing the text of the petition in support of one the professor’s reinstatement. By arguing that a broad statement of support, or character recommendation, should not invalidate individuals’ experiences of oppression, the authors are clearly illegitimately borrowing from a radical feminist discourse about rape culture. Personally, as someone who considers herself a radical feminist and aims to consistently denounce rape culture in every way it manifests itself, I am particularly shocked by this misappropriation. Because the analogy doesn’t stand here, and by misusing it, it diminishes its impact and legitimacy where it actually should stand. We are not talking here about a phenomenon of victim-shaming, where the supposed perpetrators’ allies stand up in his defence to claim that “he would never…”. Nowhere in the petition is it stated that the signatories refute the possibility of a legitimate grievance that the complainants might have, nor the possibility of they having endured a wrong- for the simple reason that we do not in fact know the facts of the suspension. This is not a petition which is about the actual events which are being investigated and it was never meant to reflect the signatories’ opinion on what may or may not have happened. What the signatories know is that their former professor has been suspended and is undergoing investigation. A petition is a strategic move, aimed at putting pressure on a decision-maker which might be swayed by public opinion. This is what we are talking about here- former students putting forward a strong statement of support in the hopes that it will be considered as part of the decision-maker’s puzzle. To paint it as a patriarchal attempt at silencing victims’ voices is, I reiterate, at best intellectually short, at worst ethically indecent.

I would conclude that the open letter’s general argument that students’ statements of support for their professors constitute an expression of patriarchal oppression which aims to silence and intimidate victims and prevent critical examination of relationships of power and privilege is preposterous and offensive. It fails to recognize the foundational violence that an act of delation constitutes– in such cases, the game of power relationships is rigged from the start.

Patriarchy is practiced in a variety of complex ways- and fighting it implies looking at relationships of power and oppression in all their manifold manifestations- it is not simply about denouncing the fuckups of individuals with penises and hoping for the new institutional “daddy” to do the dirty job for us.

Comment

https://wewanttruthsara.wordpress.com

Many of you will have come across a version of this story on the front page of The Guardian a couple of weeks ago (‘Sexual harassment of students by university staff hidden by non-disclosure agreements’, Friday August 29th). I wrote to the authors at the time and have been in contact with other national newspapers to ask whether they might be interested in the flipside of events, ie., in the way NDAs are being used to dispose of and silence ‘undesirable’ academics, denying them the chance to defend themselves against accusations of misconduct. For whatever reason, none of them got back to me. But I would have told them what has now been put into writing here, on a ‘McCarthyite and cruel tendency within academia’ (and doubtless beyond academia, too). And I’d have added the following on the well established tactical use of NDAs, which we have seen on multiple occasions across multiple institutions, and runs much as follows:

1) Mount an internal disciplinary procedure so you can suspend someone for as long as it takes to find dirt on them;

2) Bind them with an egregiously constrictive insistence on confidentiality, including clauses that mean they can’t even know what you are accusing them of doing;

3) Sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that when your dirt-digging doesn’t turn up enough evidence to get rid of them, or even justify a trial, you can rely on them having to breach confidentiality at some point, whereupon you can go ahead and force them out anyway.

We might add an extra point, here, whether it’s deliberate or a mere unintended consequence:

4) Watch as the vigilante mob leaps in to exploit the enforced silence of the accused, using social media to orchestrate a witch hunt on those they have the temerity to accuse of having ducked the judicial process. Since confidentiality means that the mob doesn’t know the accusations in question either, they’ll mostly just have to speculate and will therefore inevitably come up with all kinds of assumptions about rapists and murderers being on the loose, but you needn’t worry about that, either.

Many of us working in the field of philosophy and critical theory are instinctively inclined to take the side of anyone pushing the causes of feminism and justice. But claims to be doing so cannot be taken as given, and without applying the same levels of critical scrutiny we’d expect to apply to every other statement we come across. Established fora for trial and conviction aren’t perfect, but they are a lot better than public shaming on the basis of whipped up rumour and suspicion.

Wewanttruthgoldsmiths and justice too.

We can now share a document that was related to the many travesties of process at Goldsmiths. We have removed names, though it is likely some will be able to identify who is who – we ask them not to personalise this, but recognise that deep injustices were perpetrated and in ways that relied upon untruths and fictions.

______

London, October 13th 2014

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

Dear Warden,

I am writing to you in order to make an official complaint as to the ways in which I have been treated and my name has been used, while an employee of Goldsmiths, in the College’s dealings with the case against Prof X and the circumstances surrounding the non-renewal of my Associate Lecturer contract in the Media and Communications department at Goldsmiths.

I am appalled to now discover that these two processes are apparently connected due to some kind of collusion, intentional or not. Over the course of the past year the actions of the college, management, and colleagues in CCS and in Media and Comms have caused me significant distress, affected my mental health, made me the subject of demeaning gossip and recrimination and ultimately led me to losing my Associate Lecturer job. I expect a thorough investigation into why and how the situation explained below was allowed to happen, as well as an apology and disciplining of those who have perpetrated these attacks in their own interest.

The existing ‘fair’ process/procedure of dealing with complaints at Goldsmiths meant that though my name has been dragged through the mud to further a complaint against Prof X (whom I have absolutely no reason to complain about) by my supposedly ‘feminist’ colleagues, I was not able to address these concerns until now. Having sought legal advice, I now seek explanation, an official apology and renewal of my contract / compensation from the college. Although I would like to continue in my role as AL in Media and Comms, it is now evident that a number of staff and colleagues there – such as Prof Y, Prof Z, Prof A and AssocLect/Student B – were authors of or were privy to the information included in the report against Prof X, and have been involved in the process in the first place. I am aware that other complainants have kept their jobs and/or received compensation for distress, while I have not. Instead I am denigrated, humiliated and have been used as collateral by staff and colleagues in their campaign against Prof X.

As a former student of CCS I was not a direct participant in the initial case against Prof X, the subsequent actions of support towards him, nor the subsequent complaint about the treatment of CCS’ PhDs made by Student C et al, the details of which you are aware of. However, since colleagues decided to use a misrepresentation of my person, I was equally affected by the bullying, ostracising and stigmatizing actions of those who initiated the campaign against Prof X, including the subsequent online and offline bullying by the complainants and the virtual exclusion – up to and including the non-renewal of my contract – from university life at Goldsmiths. This has had a negative effect on my own PhD / academic work, mental health and general confidence. The sheer fact of being associated with Prof X in this way caused me months of upset, during which I was unable to speak out.

At the time of the initial complaint against Prof X, I was distraught to hear from other students and AL’s in Media and Comms that I had sexual relations with Prof X while still an MA student, in order to secure higher grades, and that I was mentally unstable. Among others, I heard this from one of the main complainants – AssocLect/Stud B, now a Media and Comms student and employee who has managed to keep her job. Subsequently I was contacted by a member of CCS staff, Dr. D, via Facebook. Dr. D stated that if I wanted to make a complaint about Prof X it was the time to do so.

This was at the time when the ‘story-gathering’ process against Prof X began. This was deeply hurtful and damaging, and I replied to the message stating clearly that I had no interest in making a complaint. Despite this, it appears that the complainants still felt it necessary to use me their complaint – against my wishes and in a bullying manner – justified by the fact that I was supposedly unstable mentally.

I realise now that supposedly ‘feminist’ colleagues were using me and exploiting an invented version of my supposed involvement with Prof X as a way of furthering their complaint. While claiming that I was a ‘victim’ of Prof X in the report, they were simultaneously spreading malicious gossip about me on and beyond Goldsmiths campus.

The report and individual accusations against Prof X were at the time confidential, but as you are now well aware the complainants have distributed their side of the story widely, and in gossip far and beyond their Goldsmiths-based ‘feminist community.’ This was one of the bases of the complaint by C et al, but I could not sign it, as I was not registered at CCS anymore (although I was employed by Goldsmiths). During the long period in which this process was ‘confidential’ I was not able to see in full or protest the contents of the report pertaining to me, nor was I able to address the malicious gossip distributed about me. I was made a victim of this ridiculous witch-hunt by association, while those accusing Prof X continue to claim they aim to safeguard women from abuse at Goldsmiths, which in itself is appalling and only adds insult to injury.

Being involved into this situation against my will has damaged my relationship with colleagues at Goldsmiths and elsewhere, as well my supervisors. It put me in an impossible and humiliating position of having to defend/explain my relationship history to employers, colleagues and near strangers at conferences in order to refute claims of insanity. I was forced to defend my having received a distinction for my MA dissertation, which was completed before I got to know Prof X (I had never been taught by him). The implication was that I could not have gained this distinction based on academic merit alone.

As an aside: the dissertation, interestingly, has been supervised by Prof E and Dr D. Dr D has had an official relationship with one of E’s and Dr F’s PhD students, and previous to that Dr D had been involved with Prof E himself, while all three were working at CCS. The fact that it was Dr D who subsequently contacted me privately about my supposed relationship with Prof X is offensive to me. I do not bring all this up in order to add to the harmful gossip already in circulation, I do not wish that. Rather, I want to show the hypocrisy involved in this situation, whereby staff members can encourage complaints about supposed types of behaviour that they themselves are engaged in. It demonstrates that CCS staff were actively involved in soliciting this complaint for their mutual benefit.

It is unacceptable that the College has not contacted me officially in this matter, while I was in employment and in and around the campus / area. I am appalled that I can only now refute the claims put forth about me by colleagues. Surely the college has a duty of care to their own employees and/or supposed victims in a situation like this? I feel wronged, and I feel the college has failed me here.

I now can only conclude that several members of staff – including Prof E and Dr D – were actively involved in furthering the complaint, in which they were happy to implicate me (although no testimony has been officially sought from me,) whilst benefitting directly from the outcome. Of course, since then Prof E has been promoted, and he and Dr D remain close. I, on the other hand, by being associated with X, am being recriminated and have lost my job.

Following months of this apparently confidential campaign against Prof X, into which I have been unwillingly entangled, and which has made me by association a victim of an ongoing campaign of lies, rumours and slander on the part of my peers and colleagues in both Media and Comms and the CCS, I have now also lost my job in Media and Comms. Prof Y informed me my contract would not be renewed, citing the fact she has had to ‘draw a line in the sand’ when asked for reason for redundancy. This was said in a meeting attended by a UCU rep. No other concrete reasons were given.

Simultaneously, other Media and Comms employees in circumstances identical to mine have kept their jobs, including for example AssocLect G, who herself told me of her circumstances when I asked. Other Media and Comms employees, with arguably fewer years of service and less experience and expertise than me, have kept their jobs. AssocLect/Stud B, who was one of the complainants against Prof X, who was one source of these malicious rumours about me, and who has fewer years of service than me, has kept her job. B, and others who kept their contracts in Media and Comms and beyond, were as it turns out already involved in the group gathered around Prof A – who facilitated the complaint against Prof X – a group that continues to spread information regarding the complaint on social media and in their meetings, at times publicly naming those involved, which only adds to my distress.

Finally, as if the above were not enough, it appears that Prof Z., the head of department who made the decision not to renew my contract of employment, was party to the complaint against Prof X – alongside, in one way or another, A, Y, E, D, B, H etc. She was also involved in the case of C, my closest friend from whom I sought advice when the rumours first started surfacing and the process against X had begun.

It is now clear that several days before termination of my contract, and you can consult C’s account on this, Y was forwarded C’s confidential testimony. (She should not have received that testimony, and the college admitted and compensated for this appalling act of bullying already). I am referenced in that testimony, and it is now clear to me that this mis-handling of confidential material has lead to my termination. The fact that the college could allow someone with an active interest in this complaint to also have responsibility for the employment or those involved is extremely worrying. The fact that I wound up on the ‘wrong’ side of this appallingly mishandled process against Prof X was made clear to Prof Y days before the termination, which makes me strongly believe that all of the above factors have been at play in the college’s treatment of me.

I have not only been stigmatized and recriminated as X’s associate and excluded from the intellectual life of the university as a direct result of management and the college’s actions, but also had my contract terminated by one of the persons central to the actions against Prof X. The information and concerns I shared with my colleague C, and which he had submitted to you in utmost confidence and in concern for my situation, has been shared with Prof Y, who was responsible for my contract negotiations and is close to the original complainants. All these colleagues have now gathered in a clique around the Feminist Research Centre founded by Prof A, and are known to blog and live-tweet information about the process. I now also fear that I have been/will be misrepresented elsewhere by the complainants, and in their at times public discussions of the case against Prof X. I am concerned that the college also might have distributed this kind of information to others without my knowledge.

To sum up: I have been involved, by the College, management and colleagues, in the case against Prof X without my knowledge and against my wishes; I was contacted informally by a member of staff based purely on gossip, and no official contact, nor any steps to ensure my well-being on the part of the College followed. This resulted in me becoming the subject of more (and on-going) malicious gossip and slander, causing me significant distress and negatively affecting my health and work, and resulting with a virtual exclusion from university community. Finally, I have been made redundant, lost my job and good name, as well as having had (and continue to have) my competences and mental health questioned. All this based purely on gossip, and the fact that my person appeared inconvenient to those involved in the initial proceedings against Prof X. Prof Y, who was involved in dealing with the other case, was allowed to also make decisions regarding my employment contract.

Now that all of the above has come to light – no doubt because of the College’s own confidentiality clause/policy and mishandling of the situation – I demand a thorough investigation into why and how the situation explained above was allowed to take place. Further, I think there should be disciplinary proceedings initiated against all those who have misused my name in proceedings against Prof X. As resolution, I would expect at minimum an apology for the distress caused, as well as reinstating my contract / compensation for the neglect, discrimination and bullying I have faced at Goldsmiths College.

Sincerely,

AssocLect I

We want truth, Sara

There is a nasty, Kafkaesque, McCarthyite, and cruel tendency at work within academia in general and Goldsmiths in particular. It is dangerous in its stupidity. It is sociopathic in its willingness to turn language on its head. It perverts critical theory to make bullying intellectually justified. It fails to take account of the material, the embodied, or the real. It’s utter bollocks, and people who should know better are taking it seriously and giving it weight, no matter who suffers along the way. It is profoundly regressive, misogynist, racist, and inhuman. It is alienated and alienating. It is credulous and sycophantic towards the phallic power of the academy, even as it pretends to undermine such power; rather it wields it with the rapacious joy it pretends to oppose. It wears radical clothes, appropriates suffering, and claims solidarity even as it brings down its jackboot onto your face.

 We are a group of former and current students at Goldsmiths who have been paying attention for a number of years. We openly oppose this tendency, in the form of Professor Sara Ahmed and her acolytes, the self­-proclaimed ‘killjoys’. They have been actively stalking Professor John Hutnyk. We are writing to her, and everyone who has joined in with this online and institutional persecution, hosted it, allowed it, failed to challenge it, retweeted it, or in other ways lent their agency to hounding and vilification.

 It is unlikely that we will succeed in convincing Sara or her adherents with our statement. Her conceptual framing neatly (but idiotically) pre­empts criticism (“of course you think I’m wrong: I’m a killjoy and you are a perpetrator”). Her aphorisms have a clumsy poetry, but they are often empty. Combined with celebrity and a devout following, this allows every accusation and allegation made to be considered the final truth. Quite a power to wield. In any case, given the relentless and unwarranted vilification of John we find it necessary to resist.

John is not a predator, an abuser, a sexual harasser or a guru. He is a thinker, writer, and activist who has contributed to the struggles against oppression. He deserves your support and solidarity.

The blog wewanttruthgoldsmiths.wordpress.com pretends to be an archive of evidence. It contains no solid accusation, no testimony, no complaint ­- just voluble repetition, under the hood of anonymity, to reignite a simple story that overwhelms a complicated and contested set of issues in the welfare of students at Goldsmiths and the Centre for Cultural Studies in particular. Goldsmiths as an institution acted badly and failed students and staff on all ‘sides’ of this clusterfuck. We share the call for transparency. Confidentiality agreements and settlements with the university were used to attempt a compromise when an impasse was reached. Some signed such agreements, some did not. We attempt to respect the spirit of them, and assume good faith from them, even as they are misused by Sara and her lynch mob to have every argument every which way. They are a clumsy tool, and they are currently serving no­one. We call on Goldsmiths to release everyone who signed them from the requirements of confidentiality, given that they are now failing to protect complainants, accused, and any seeker of ‘truth’ or anyone who struggles against oppression, in all its complex plurality.

Someone writing something inside a library book, and then pretending to find it does not make what they have written true. John was not found by Goldsmiths College to be guilty of sexual harassment. More importantly, John did not sexually harass anyone, but the college laid quite different charges.

So, truth seekers, there is your answer: the reason Goldsmiths College didn’t publicly issue a statement saying that John was guilty of sexual harassment was because after exhaustive investigation John was not charged with sexual harassment because John didn’t sexually harass anyone. That this absence of harassment is routinely held up by Sara as evidence of harassment should alarm anyone who cares about thought, language, truth, or people.

 Non­disclosure agreements and the protection of anonymity of complainants is a reasonably mundane feature of institutional complaint. It is disingenuous to use the lack of publicly available information to spread outright lies. Likewise, it is unfair to call John a coward when he has refrained from speaking publicly out of respect for the process that exists to protect complainants. Had he spoken, you would have accused him of betrayal. When he is silent, you accuse him of cowardice. You can’t make his respectful silence the pretext for a lynching.

The damning piece of evidence used by Goldsmiths against John after years of investigation was that he attended a postgrad student party, in the early evening, where drugs were later taken. A postgrad student party where drugs were taken. We will leave it to readers to decide for themselves on how singular this is. It is easy to compile an extensive list of current and former members of Goldsmiths staff who have been witnessed taking drugs themselves at student events. Is this the kind of truth that you are seeking? To name them here – to name you here – would be to turn your monstrous logic against you. It would be a harassment, and an abuse of power, of the sort you have been ‘wilfully’ delighting in.

Why, given the various cases and dismissals and resignations, is it John that you are singularly determined to destroy? Does Sara’s resignation condemn her too? John has lost his Goldsmiths job and you have written to colleagues and employers to try to guarantee that he is not able to undertake any further work. You have contacted others to undermine his non­academic, personal, and activist life. The supposedly confidential fact of his being under investigation at Goldsmiths has been manipulated to stop him seeing his son. Quite severe consequences given the paucity of the case you were able to marshal against him. What is your hope? What is your aim? Will you claim your authoritarian means and ends?

While you have repeatedly claimed on twitter and your blog to be concerned with calling your academic institution to account, this seems not to extend to those within your own department. Why, for example, have colleagues and former colleagues in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths not been subject to the same critique and scrutiny you have insisted on elsewhere? Why have sexual relationships conducted by lecturers in the Department of Media and Communications with their undergraduate and PhD students not been subject to disciplinary action and why have you not called for such action? It would be consistent with your own claims and justifications for harassment. It would also be wrong.

Many people will be convinced that you are right because you are the feminists. We are also feminists and have questions about your particular brand of feminism:

   When you are struggling to find evidence to make your case against John and you wanted a woman to testify with what you wanted her to say, and she refused, is it feminist to lie about her mental health so you can speak on her behalf? We reel from it, and name it as misogyny.

  Sara, your campaign against staff at Goldsmiths has largely been at the instigation of white, middle class students. You have ignored the struggles faced by some women of colour among your own students. You have refused to engage with their more nuanced reading of race and gender. In your action, silences, and inactions, you have participated in their ostracization and vilification by your cohort and by Goldsmiths more generally. As a result they have suffered serious illness, financial difficulty, and threat of exclusion from the UK. This is on you.

  Further, in the case of the investigation and eventual departure of a South Asian professor, we are appalled by the intersectional calculus behind a white PhD student losing a brown man his job because she doesn’t like his style of discussion and engagement. Should it be her decision whether or not he is in the university? A huge number of students of colour seemed to think he was great and wrote statements testifying to this. You enact and borrow white privilege to remove someone from the university because they are brown and difficult.

  Sara, you rely on the very forms of power, authority and privilege you claim to be dismantling with your wall metaphors and big house participation. We wonder why your idea of justice involves such extreme forms of retribution given your frequent citation of Angela Davis for example (see her desire for forgiveness in Are Prisons Obsolete?, which you seem never to read or cite).

  When you claim the names ‘survivor’ and ‘victim’ for those with the agency to harass and sexually bully online, what contribution do you imagine you make to the dignity of those with experience of sexual violence? The authors of this letter include people with such tragic histories, and we reject the discourse of the survivor, and the rejection of any challenge. Challenge us! Our words are not testimony, or witnessing, or evidence. We reject your violent reverence for our supposed ‘survival’. We exist, and we ask for the rigour of which you are capable.

   What sort of feminism sanctions, supports and engages in the harassment of female academics because of their work with John? What misogyny allows you to vilify and erase them, as though their association with a man you dislike was their primary feature?

   The way that you and your cohort have conducted this campaign against John has been to publicly ‘call him out for sexual harassment’ to inflict social and financial violence. It is disturbing that neither you, nor any of the allegers seem interested in anything resembling transformative justice (preferring social media and anonymous blogs as process of trial). We can all do better. Will you call for, and be, better?

 We welcome the changes to Goldsmiths complaints procedures outlined on your blog. We agree that Goldsmiths sought only to silence those involved and this has allowed the situation to fester. This has been extremely damaging to all involved. We agree on this. However, we condemn the personal vendetta against John. Why has he been singled out for such vehement pursuit and slander? It seems strange to us that so much energy is being spent trying to destroy a single person when they have already faced losses of such severity. Your motivations have nothing at all to do with transformative justice or the transformation of Goldsmiths. Was it his politics? His care for his students, and for struggle? His capacity for joy? We want your comradeship in world building, and we want to overcome this waste with joy. 

Stop pursuing John. Read him. Talk to him. Argue with him. See his statement where he recognises his role in sustaining structures which silence ­- do you recognise yours? He works to undermine and overcome them. This is not harassment, but the sometimes clumsy negotiation of power in which we are all engaged. Struggle with him. Redirect your energies against oppression, harassment, and power.