Friday, October 20, 2006

 

Victim Bullies

I just finished reading The College Administrator's Survival Guide, by C.K. Gunsalus (Harvard U Press, 2006), and I'm utterly taken with it. Gunsalus gets so many of the details right, and in such an unpretentious way, that I expect to keep it around as a reference.

In the meantime, though, a few of her neologisms deserve posts of their own. One of these is the notion of 'victim bullies.' Gunsalus distinguishes between traditional, assertive bullies, who throw their weight around with bluster and force, and 'victim bullies,' who use claims of having been wronged to gain leverage over others.(pp. 123-4) Unlike simple passive-aggression, victim bullies use accusations as weapons, and ramp up the accusations over time. Unlike a normal person, who would slink away in shame as the initial accusations are discredited, a victim bully lacks either guilt or shame, honestly believing that s/he has been so egregiously wronged in some cosmic way that anything s/he does or says is justified in the larger scheme of things. So when the initial accusations are dismissed, the victim bully's first move is a sort of double-or-nothing, raising the absurdity and the stakes even more.

Yup.

Gunsalus also notes, correctly, that in academic settings, bullies have a way of escaping supervision. Between the protections of tenure and the personality types who self-select to be in academe, department chairs and deans often deal with bullies by either mollifying them or isolating them. Either way, the bully is, essentially, rewarded.

Yup.

Victim bullies thrive in the no-man's-land created by the deadly combination of slow and cumbersome processes, and failure of managerial nerve. Because defeating a victim bully takes tremendous endurance, most people don't try. Victim bullies know this, and are able to intimidate others into leaving them alone to do pretty much as they please.

I've had some experience with these, and I can say without reservation that they are, by far, my least favorite people to manage. It's not just that they're unpleasant and batshit crazy; they're self-righteously unpleasant and batshit crazy. They're implausibly persistent.

They test your patience, and seem to enjoy it. They read every bylaw, every handbook, and every contract front-to-back, but all one-sidedly. They LOVE hearsay. And anything at all that happens, no matter how far afield, is really about them. Their narcissism is so fully developed that sane people find them unpredictable; their logic is so convoluted as to be inscrutable.

Sadly, some of them have tenure.

Gunsalus makes the obviously correct point that the key to defeating these folks is the classic administrative pincer movement of process-and-time. Easier said than done, but still right.

I just can't tell you how heartening it was to see such a frustrating part of my life described so correctly. It's not just me. There's hope. This book gives me hope. I can't give much higher praise than that.

Comments:
OH MY GOD! Thank you for posting this. My Task Force is dealing with a whole department full of victim bullies!

I always knew I loved you, Dean Dad, but this explanation makes you close to god-like in my mind.

--Maggie
 
You could always go back to the classroom if all else fails, eh?
 
I bet Gunsalus is going to watch her Amazon rating rise after this post. I'm with Maggie--YES! What an apt and useful description that nails a very particular academic type. Now if only someone had a short term-solution for how to deal with them...
 
What an apt description, indeed. I'm discovering that individuals with these tendencies often end up poisoning enter departments if not the whole faculty. Yet they're much more difficult to manage than stereotypical workplace bullies (who are exceedingly rare in academia, it seems).
 
Ancarett: sure, that makes sense. In an academic setting, I'd think a classic bully would tend to get weeded out early...even if you want to throw your weight around, it's hard when you're a grad student. (The only way to do it is to have a very powerful mentor.)

Victim bullies---love that phrase--are masters of political jujitsu. They win not because they're strong, but because they play the weakness card to the hilt. That strategy will work even for an undergraduate, so you'd actually get positive selection for victim bullies in academia.
 
If you think they are hard to manage you should try working for one. "self-righteously unpleasant and batshit crazy" Right on the mark DD. A Victim Bully I worked for had a small Biotech company which was an off-shoot (a university forced one) from his research lab at a major school. Nothing like adding a million dollars, and the title, president to tenure. The guy would miss payroll and somehow claim it wasn't his fault. Batshit crazy, and not very good for a reference either.
 
I'm terribly pleased that I don't work for or with anyone who fits the description. Anonymous, you have my sympathies for your situation.

Oh, and I apologize for the typo in my first comment. That should read "entire departments", obviously!
 
Oh my god, DD, I can't believe you addressed this topic. I've almost written for your advice on this subject before. We have one of these in my dept. of ten, and she has completely, totally poisoned the dept. and everything we do. She spends her time at conferences badmouthing the rest of us. She bamboozles famous scholars into calling the prez of the U. to complain about how she has been mistreated. I have at times felt sorry for her, as I really believed that she was mentally ill, but now I see that she is just a "type". In any case, I am about to become chair, and I really want to take the dept forward (she is truly the only thing holding us back at this point). Please, tell me what to do about her. The only luck I've had with her thus far is dealing with her as I do with my toddlers - either give her limited choices (do you want the PBJ or the grilled cheese?) or hear her out and then completely ignore her input. But this won't end all her other behaviors. Previous chairs and deans have mollified and ignored her.

Dora
 
Oh my god...

Yes, I've seen this, in several academic settings over the past 15 years.

I big tip-off is student evaluations. Victim-bullies, at least the one's I've seen, also take it in the teeth on student evals, because of course, victim bullies claim that all students are idiots, immature, too coddled, etc. etc.

Yeah, right.
 
I am in the same boat as Dora. In fact, I'm considering refusing the department chair position because I believe that as long as this tenured victim-bully is in the department, the (untenured) chair has virutually no chance of moving the department forward. Unfortunately this person has forced me into a choice of two evils. Do I become chair and risk not becoming tenured due to this person's behaviors, or do I refuse to become chair and risk not becoming tenured because of the refusal. I'm updating my resume!
 
These types depend on the politness of others not to speak the truth. You simply cannot engage in social lies with these people. You also need to put everything into writing so they cannot claim not to have received the news.
 
Dora, the first rule is NEVER become chair without tenure. If the department wants you to be chair, they should first give you tenure. There is no if and or maybe to it. The second rule is NEVER become chair as an Associate Professor. Same reasons.

Anyone who tries to talk you into either proposition is not your friend
 
I posted the following on Eli Rabbet blog who steered me over here. Similar issue on a larger scale:

An interesting article in a similar vain: "Coveting the Holocaust" is at truthdig.com. It was written by Chris Hedges, former NY times Mid East bureau chief and author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning".

As you can immagine it is very loaded and has some serious flaws which are addressed in some of the comments. It is well worth a read as are a good number of the comments

see
http://tinyurl.com/vduj3

Nosmo
 
tired writes:
Thank you for this. i lost a case in court against a bully. the cops don't care and the system is there to protect the criminal. she and her family and friends got off. i have no care any ,ore. the cops did nothing. they want it solved but won't help. they canm all go !@#!$&%$#(
 
As a wikipedia admin I get to deal with class of idiot assholes all the time. I'm so glad to see a label given to it.
 
i badly need help..
im already a college student and im being bullied by the president of our class.. no one, except my friends and a few other people he bullied, objects to this behavior, even the teachers like him because he is funny, but sometimes he says hurtful words especially to me.. i dont know what i should do, the other thing that worriels me is that he is my groupmate in one of my subjects. what should i do?
 
I have the experience of one of these teaching in a high school with his own students attending the school OMG!
 
WOW. I never thought I'd find a post like this. Thank you so much!

I actually have 3 victim billies on my tail; they collaborate with each other. I am trying my best to stay academically on top of things as a double-major while having ADD and an LD, so I am the least social member in my sorority. I love them all, except for one who's a victim bully of mine. I guess she thought that she could relieve some stress against the most "awkward" in her social group. Thank God I speak with my sorority's Standards at the first sign of bullying, because many of the officers so sympathize with me even though they are confused with the whole situation. It's still causing me a lot of stress and requiring of me PLENTY of patience, but the effort is worth it! I'm still having difficulty building healthy relationships within the group and around campus, though my profs and my meager handful of friends are supportive.

Some techniques that just might help fight against victim bullies for anybody curious:
As soon as the bullying starts, go directly to anybody with a position of power (or higher power). Don't "tattle tale", but explain the whole story while conveying genuine hopes to simply have things calmed down and over with. If anybody asks you your idea what should be done about it, NEVER say it, no matter how tempting. It may backfire. Simply say that you "just want everything to be okay" or the like, since that IS what you really want. Warning: revenge only makes YOU the victim bully (or at least seem like it), so no bad-mouthing, no matter how horrible the bully is!

It's so incredibly hard. Victim bullies are the absolute worst! It's even affecting my relationships in other campus organizations and with many acquaintances, but I'm pulling through and leaving my hope with karma.
 
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