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Bullying growing increasingly common in nursing academia, study finds

Sunday January 19, 2014
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A nursing scholar at Rutgers-Camden is studying how bullying is becoming increasingly common in academia.

“What worries me is the impact that bullying is having on the ability to recruit and retain quality educators,” Janice Beitz, RN, PhD, CS, CNOR, CWOCN, CRNP, APN, MAPWCA, a professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, N.J., said in a news release. “It has become a disturbing trend.”

Beitz is a co-author of “Social Bullying in Nursing Academia,” an article published in the September/October 2013 edition of Nurse Educator that draws upon interviews conducted with 16 nursing professors who were the victims of social bullying in an academic nursing workplace.

Beitz said in the release the participants described in detail instances in which they were slandered, isolated, physically threatened, lied to or given unrealistic workloads, among other bullying tactics. The participants in the study primarily were non-tenured female faculty teaching in baccalaureate programs throughout the U.S.

“We don’t know how widespread this is, but it exists,” said Beitz, who — according to the release — was bullied in her career. “Not many people look at bullying in the academic environment. We wanted to raise awareness of it.”

In the study, Beitz said in the most common cases of bullying, academic administrators are targeting faculty, but in some cases, faculty are bullying other faculty members or their administrative superiors. Bullies might be threatened by a fellow academic’s qualifications and scholarship, or victims may be targeted because they are perceived as weak, according to Beitz.

“The bully can make life miserable for the target,” she said in the release. “That’s because in an administrative role, a bully has the power to make decisions about the target. Part of it is the unique nature of higher education. The tenure process is different than any other environment. Administrators in academia have power over colleagues, and sometimes that power causes them to bully their subordinates.”

Beitz said bullying victims often will blame themselves for the actions of a colleague and sometimes the only thing a victim can do is leave the environment altogether, which can dissuade nurses from pursuing careers as educators.

“Institutions need to have good faculty who are experienced clinicians and researchers. That doesn’t happen in a bad bullying environment,” she said in the release.”People want to feel valued. That’s why it’s important to serve the people you work with and employ a collegial, positive environment.”

Beitz is working on a follow-up study on resilience and how victims are surviving when bullied. Since her bullying study does address the prevalence of bullying in nursing academia, Beitz hopes to cast a wider net and perform a quantitative study on the issue nationwide.

Beitz’s co-authors on “Social Bullying in Academia” were nursing professors Earl Goldberg, RN, EdD, APRN; Ciara Levine, RN, MSN, PMHCNS-BC; and Diane Wieland, RN, PhD, MSN, PMHCNS-BC, CNE, from La Salle University in Philadelphia.


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