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Faculty members at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are bullying one another more than what was expected by researchers who surveyed them on campus life, a new report reveals.

More than 35 percent of faculty reported personally experiencing “hostile and intimidating” behavior over the past three years, according to a report on the 2016 Study of Faculty Worklife at UW-Madison, released March 30.

“The measure of incidence of hostile and intimidating behavior is rather surprising,” wrote the authors of the report.

Besides those who reported being targeted by bullying — or hostile and intimidating behavior — more than 42 percent reported they have witnessed it.

The Worklife Survey, primarily of tenured and tenure-track faculty, has been conducted five times since 2003 by the Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute at UW-Madison. The survey taken in spring 2016 was the first to ask questions about hostile and intimidating behavior.

Such bullying behavior also was reported numerous times to the UW-Madison Ombuds Office, which provides confidential assistance to campus employees with workplace concerns. Hostile and Intimidating behavior played a role in 16 percent of cases brought to the Ombuds Office in 2015-2016, according to an annual report.

Such behavior has been on the radar of campus officials for several years. In 2014, Soyeon Shim, dean of the School of Human Ecology, joined forces with Francois Ortalo-Magné, dean of the Wisconsin School of Business, to start work on a policy defining bullying and setting up informal and formal processes to deal with it.

Derogatory remarks, unwarranted physical contact, sabotage of a colleague’s work and threats of retaliation in the exercise of authority were all behaviors Shim told the Cap Times then that she had heard occurred at UW-Madison.

“It’s human behavior. It’s everywhere,” she said. But the occurrence of such hostile and intimidating behavior at a university threatens the fundamental tenet of academic freedom that allows faculty to search for and express truth in individual ways, Shim added.

“Lack of respect or making someone feel unwelcome or unable to voice their opinions goes against academic freedom. You should be able to voice your opinion without being threatened or sabotaged in promotion,” she said.

In 2014, the UW-Madison Faculty Senate and Academic Staff Assembly adopted policies defining hostile and intimidating behavior and establishing informal and formal processes for reporting it.

The UW-Madison University Staff Congress adopted a policy on hostile and intimidating behavior in December. 

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In the recently released faculty survey results, women, faculty with disabilities, tenured faculty and faculty in the social sciences reported significantly higher rates of experiencing hostile and intimidating behavior.

About half of women and faculty with disabilities responding to the survey reported they had experienced bullying behavior.

Overall, survey respondents said that hostile and intimidating behavior is treated “somewhat” seriously on campus, with women and faculty with disabilities judging it as treated less seriously than did men or faculty without disabilities.

The Ombuds Office reported that of 179 cases reported to it in 2015-2016, 29 involved bullying. Of these, 19 cases involved “abusive, threatening or coercive behavior” from supervisors, managers or other leaders. Twelve cases involved relationships between peers or colleagues.

UW-Madison officials said through a spokesman last week that they are aware of the reports of hostile and intimidating behavior.

“The uptick may partially be due to our efforts to inform our faculty and staff about the issue and to encourage them to report it,” said Greg Bump. “We are responding to those who report hostile or intimidating behavior in their workplace through our human resource professionals and providing assistance through our Employee Assistance Office. We are putting together training tools for managers/supervisors, faculty and staff which we hope to launch in the coming months.”

This post was edited to add action by the University Staff Congress.

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