Journal of Nursing Education

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Surviving Faculty Abuse

John R Phillips, RN, PhD

Abstract

All of us are aware of child and wife abuse, the increasing incidence of husband abuse, and the full emergence of parent abuse. Reflecting upon observations of several schools, reports of various faculties, and conversations with faculty members throughout the country, it is concluded that abuse does indeed exist in the academic setting.

Faculties lie on a continuum of nonabuse to abuse. As a faculty moves toward the abusive end, more of its members will use abuse and the abusiveness of others to reach their goals. In this process, abuse becomes sanctioned as an appropriate behavior, and individuals will feel no compunction to use it to gain power over others. Thus, faculty abuse is a learned behavior.

This is a reasonable conjecture since faculty abuse seems to be related to some situational factors. Those to be discussed include the desire for financial gain, professional recognition, promotion and tenure, and recognition as competent faculty members.

Desire for Financial Gain

Unwittingly, agencies through the awarding of "soft" monies have enhanced the possibility for faculty members to be abused. These monies are used to hire fulltime, part-time, and/or adjunct faculty, and not a "bad" thing in itself. It is the status and rights awarded these individuals that indicate abuse. For instance, it is known that some schools do not give these individuals the same rights and privileges as the rest of the faculty. A common example is the one where these individuals spend one or two years on soft monies and receive no credit toward promotion or tenure. In some schools these individuals are viewed as less competent since it is felt that they were unable to find a teaching position on hard monies. This "superior" feeling over the "inferior," the one-upmanship, is a factor that leads to abuse.

Some schools hire part-time or adjunct faculty to avoid paying fringe benefits that are costly to the school. For some individuals this poses no hardship since their spouses have good health care plans. However, for those who do not have this option, such as single persons or heads of households, it is a financial burden for them to maintain adequate health care plans.

Many schools have a great need to conceal the salaries of its faculties. This contributes to a veil of secrecy that enables administrators to potentially abuse faculty members. The factor of secrecy is important since nurses are generally women who may be compensated less than men for doing an equivalent job. The secrecy around salaries needs to be dispelled. Some faculty members will resist openness in salaries because they fear if their salary is lower than their peers' they will be considered as less competent. Too, a lower salary can have a deflating effect on one's self-esteem. It is emphasized, however, that individual salaries need not be revealed by name but by rank and years in rank, or some similar anonymous strategy. This will enable all individuals to compare their salary with faculty of similar rank and years in rank.

Desire for Promotion and Tenure

Promotion and tenure is a ripe situation for abuse. We all know qualified faculty members who were denied promotion and tenure, while almost in the same breath less qualified ones were not. The process leading to this denial is more likely to be covert rather than overt.

All too frequently we see tenured faculty holding the power of tenure or no tenure over faculty members. Manifestations of this power can be subtle where a faculty member jokingly says, "Just wait until you come up for promotion and tenure." The abusive element here is the concept of…

All of us are aware of child and wife abuse, the increasing incidence of husband abuse, and the full emergence of parent abuse. Reflecting upon observations of several schools, reports of various faculties, and conversations with faculty members throughout the country, it is concluded that abuse does indeed exist in the academic setting.

Faculties lie on a continuum of nonabuse to abuse. As a faculty moves toward the abusive end, more of its members will use abuse and the abusiveness of others to reach their goals. In this process, abuse becomes sanctioned as an appropriate behavior, and individuals will feel no compunction to use it to gain power over others. Thus, faculty abuse is a learned behavior.

This is a reasonable conjecture since faculty abuse seems to be related to some situational factors. Those to be discussed include the desire for financial gain, professional recognition, promotion and tenure, and recognition as competent faculty members.

Desire for Financial Gain

Unwittingly, agencies through the awarding of "soft" monies have enhanced the possibility for faculty members to be abused. These monies are used to hire fulltime, part-time, and/or adjunct faculty, and not a "bad" thing in itself. It is the status and rights awarded these individuals that indicate abuse. For instance, it is known that some schools do not give these individuals the same rights and privileges as the rest of the faculty. A common example is the one where these individuals spend one or two years on soft monies and receive no credit toward promotion or tenure. In some schools these individuals are viewed as less competent since it is felt that they were unable to find a teaching position on hard monies. This "superior" feeling over the "inferior," the one-upmanship, is a factor that leads to abuse.

Some schools hire part-time or adjunct faculty to avoid paying fringe benefits that are costly to the school. For some individuals this poses no hardship since their spouses have good health care plans. However, for those who do not have this option, such as single persons or heads of households, it is a financial burden for them to maintain adequate health care plans.

Many schools have a great need to conceal the salaries of its faculties. This contributes to a veil of secrecy that enables administrators to potentially abuse faculty members. The factor of secrecy is important since nurses are generally women who may be compensated less than men for doing an equivalent job. The secrecy around salaries needs to be dispelled. Some faculty members will resist openness in salaries because they fear if their salary is lower than their peers' they will be considered as less competent. Too, a lower salary can have a deflating effect on one's self-esteem. It is emphasized, however, that individual salaries need not be revealed by name but by rank and years in rank, or some similar anonymous strategy. This will enable all individuals to compare their salary with faculty of similar rank and years in rank.

Desire for Promotion and Tenure

Promotion and tenure is a ripe situation for abuse. We all know qualified faculty members who were denied promotion and tenure, while almost in the same breath less qualified ones were not. The process leading to this denial is more likely to be covert rather than overt.

All too frequently we see tenured faculty holding the power of tenure or no tenure over faculty members. Manifestations of this power can be subtle where a faculty member jokingly says, "Just wait until you come up for promotion and tenure." The abusive element here is the concept of trade-offs; "if you do so and so for me, I will help you get tenure and promotion." Even though trade-offs may be feasible for faculty members to accept without sacrificing their principles, this practice is to be abhorred since it coerces and places them in subservient roles.

Some schools have the policy of giving untenured faculty members yearly statements of their prospects for tenure. These statements may include an evaluation of teaching capabilities, scholarly works, contributions to the profession and the community, and service to the school. Since faculty abuse has been seen in schools throughout the country in these areas, a few of these abuses will be highlighted.

The evaluation of scholarly works may vary according to the relationship individuals have with members of the tenure committee, or some similar named committee. In other words, it is quite possible for individuals who have been obsequious to these members to have their works rated higher than those who have not played this game.

Teaching capabilities are more difficult to evaluate than scholarly works. Some schools have no formal mechanism to evaluate teaching abilities of their faculty members; however, several do use student evaluations. In some schools, these student evaluations are sent to the dean's office where they are summarized. It is these evaluations which have been used to abuse faculty members. For example, a couple of unfavorable statements made by students have been highlighted rather than the overall positive evaluation. In schools where peer evaluations are mandatory, individuals have reported they were assigned a peer who already had less than a favorable opinion of them.

Those who are candidates for abuse need to be aware that prospects for tenure statements can be worded so carefully that a true picture of their qualities is not presented; yet, they can be true. You will want to determine if equality has been shown in the presentation of your strengths and weaknesses since there may be a tendency to give emphasis to the weaknesses and only casual or no mention of the strengths. Be aware that these reports can be so constructed that a statement can be interpreted as either negative or positive, depending upon the frame of reference of the reader, or from additional information offered without your knowledge.

If your school conducts student evaluations, and if they are not forwarded to the dean, summarize the responses of the students to support your teaching capabilities. Ask to see the original evaluations if you feel the summary done by the dean's office is inaccurate. You can create your own evaluation tool if one is not available. Include questions that elicit written statements and quote these to verify your qualities as a teacher.

Recognition as Competent Faculty Members

The desire to be competent faculty members frequently lends itself to competitiveness. Abusive behavior can escalate rapidly when individuals try to compare their levels of expertise with those of their peers, especially when they do not realize individual faculty members have expertise in different areas. This difference should be recognized. respected, and enhanced. For example, not all things should be expected of all people.

When competitiveness is present, one might speculate that abusive individuals have a decreased ability to empathize with the needs of others. Here, one sees passive, possibly active, aggression and resistance when interacting with others. This points out the need for faculty members to recognize the level of competence which they and their peers possess. One must be cognizant, however, that some faculty members are incompetent, and they can disguise it through abusive behavior. In this instance, individuals must be able to develop the capacity to give to others and have the ability to accept imperfect behavior, especially in those persons who are in the evolution of their growth and development as teachers to help prevent abuse.

There is a wide range of faculty activities in some schools, and these can overlap in a large faculty. This increases the potential for conflicts to arise that can lead to abusive behavior. This is especially true if faculty members are experiencing job frustrations and see others as a threat to their recognition as competent, decision- making faculty members. Thus, a threatened individual might reinforce behaviors in others, indicating they are appropriate, while in actuality they can be considered undesirable, even destructive, over a period of time. Junior faculty members need to be aware of this abusive tactic since they are impressionable and easily influenced.

Some faculty members have a tendency to usurp the roles of others. When these roles are lost, individuals have a decreased sense of power and they feel less able to predict the outcomes of their actions. They can become cynical and are more likely to abuse others since they may experience a decrease in self-esteem with the lessened recognition of competence. The withholding of recognition for each other's capabilities can be considered abusive behavior. In this respect, faculties need individuals who are able to accept responsibility and to understand how their work overlaps. This will assist each to be more sensitive to the needs of others as they work together.

It is always important for abused faculty members to look for the positive attributes rather than the negative ones in the abuser. A focus upon the positive enhances the chances of altering behavior since people are more likely to change when positive feelings are displayed toward them.

Professional Recognition

The desire for professional recognition entails participating in nursing organizations. involvement in the community, and taking part in activities of the university. One would think abuse could not occur here since these activities are predominantly the choice of the individual, but it does.

It is mandated in some schools that individuals show evidence of school participation in the consideration for promotion and tenure, and even merit increases in salary. This is where abusive patterns can become evident. Peruse school reports and check the membership of various committees; you may find the presence of certain individuals and the absence of others. Some faculty members report it always appeared to be a mystery as to how these individuals were chosen to fulfill these roles. Their investigatory work reveals that certain faculty members or administrators were instrumental in the recommendation of these individuals.

In some schools it was the abused faculty members who had the required expertise to be on the committees and programs, not the individuals who occupied these positions. Abused individuals have reported that when this issue was confronted, inane responses were given such as "I thought you would be too busy to do something so insignificant." Another reported strategy involved giving the persons recognition for their expertise to allay feelings of being mistreated as reflected by such statements as "they had enough persons with your expertise and requested other persons be suggested to provide for diversity."

Abused faculty members need to have a faculty member who can serve as an advocate for them. Usually, this is not too difficult since most faculties have at least one member who rallies to the needs of the "disadvantaged." Many schools have ombudspersons who can be most helpful in the identification of strategies which will document injustices. This documentation can be most beneficial, if necessary, in the movement toward attainment of promotion and tenure, or for later legal action.

There is nothing wrong, either, with individual advocacy. There is a need to get to know persons in the university outside the school of nursing. They can be most beneficial in opening doors that will lead to active participation in the school; thus, you can bypass the abuser.

The abused faculty member must be willing to turn to others for help and nourishment. You can be instrumental, possibly through your faculty advocate, in giving seminars, lectures, or group discussions devoted to the responsibilities faculty members have for each other. This can prove to be an important strategy in helping maltreated faculty members learn how to handle stress and crises to prevent burnout. You must learn the grievance procedure and use it appropriately. Fully realize, however, you must document all of your statements or accusations. You cannot rely upon impressions such as "I think this is occurring." Remember, too, steps in most grievances usually allow for outside legal assistance. Even if you lose your case within the university there are always the courts. This may be an opportune time since the courts appear to be more open to such injustices.

Each faculty has a known code of behavior and even hidden ones that guide its modes of conduct. It is especially the unknown codes that contribute to the abuse prevalent in the academic setting. At no time must acts of abuse be condoned whether they be implicit or explicit. Hopefully, the identification of the ways abuse presently occurs, and the suggested strategies for surviving it, will help faculties to deal with the accelerating changes occuring in our schools of nursing today.

10.3928/0148-4834-19830901-13

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