The Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA) condemns any form of bullying in writing program administration (WPA) workplaces, whether witnessed or experienced within writing programs, WAC programs, writing centers, online, in the classroom, at faculty meetings, at professional conferences, etc. Despite being well documented in the fields of human resources, management, and psychology, as well as higher education more generally, workplace bullying has largely remained unacknowledged within the field of writing program administration. Instead, bullying is often referred to as politics or working conditions. However, according to a survey completed by more than 100 WPAs and stakeholders, as many as 84% of respondents report having experienced bullying in the WPA workplace at some point in their career (Davila and Elder, “Shocked”). Given the significant negative consequences of workplace bullying, the CWPA calls on its members to be aware of the forms bullying can take and address them when they arise.
The following guidelines and resources aim to educate CWPA members and other stakeholders on bullying and how to address it within WPA workplaces, including within first-year writing programs, WAC programs, writing centers, online, in the classroom, at faculty meetings, at professional conferences, etc.).
Characteristics of workplace bullying
Bullying is defined as a persistent pattern of destructive behavior(s) that span a period of time, typically identified by scholars in a time frame of six months or longer. Bullying can take the form(s) of excluding and isolating targets, undermining individuals and programs, exerting control over individuals and programs, and verbal and physical intimidation or attacks. Specific examples of 22 bullying behaviors adapted from the NAQ-R (Negative Acts Questionnaire-Revised) are listed below:
When bullies enact these (and other bullying) behaviors in WPA workplaces, they can focus on either an individual or an entire writing program. Many of these behaviors have largely been treated as common working conditions for WPAs in existing scholarship. For example, WPA scholarship has regularly worked to address hostility in English departments that could likely be characterized as bullying if it persists over time. Several items on the NAQ-R, such as having your opinions ignored, persistent criticism, or even being humiliated and ridiculed, have been documented (Elder and Davila, “Bullying”). Other articles, chapters, and interviews have described experiences that relate to being ordered to work below your competence and having key areas of your responsibility removed or replaced with trivial tasks (e.g., Craig and Perryman-Clark; Dardello; Davila and Elder, “Responding”).
Because WPA scholarship has not defined these types of experiences as bullying, and, therefore, many of these behaviors have been normalized by the field (Elder and Davila, “Bullying”), all CWPA members are asked to carefully examine the above NAQ-R list of behaviors and to consult the references listed below in order to begin the work of naming and addressing bullying in WPA workplaces.
Effects of workplace bullying
Workplace bullying is destructive, causing oftentimes serious consequences to the targets of bullying, including diminished physical, mental, and emotional health. Targets of bullying report feelings of isolation, depression, heart conditions, hair loss, weight loss/gain, anxiety, stress on family relations, and thoughts of suicide (Elder and Davila, “Defining”).
Workplace bullying also takes a toll on the health of departments and institutions, including reduced productivity and increased turnover (Fox and Cowan). Since targets’ thoughts and time are consumed with responding to bullying, they have less time and resources to dedicate to their work responsibilities. In fact, as Leah Hollis argues in her book Bully in the Ivory Tower, experiencing workplace bullying can interfere with a person’s freedom of speech because of the silencing that often is a characteristic of or response to bullying.
Perhaps what is most troubling is when bullying goes unaddressed it can normalize the behaviors and lead to more bullying and more bullies (McDaniel, Ngala, and Leonard; Salin). In other words, by not responding to bullying, co-workers, departments, and institutions send the message that the behavior is acceptable, normalizing bullying, and show others that there are few to no consequences.
Responses to workplace bullying
The audience for these guidelines and the corresponding position statement are those who have a stake in WPA workplaces, including but not limited to WPAs themselves, writing instructors, graduate student teachers, writing center tutors, and institutional administrators (e.g., department chairs, deans, and provosts). Any of the individuals listed here may be targets of bullying, witnesses to bullying, enablers of bullying, or perpetrators of bullying. The following are five recommendations for responding to bullying in WPA workplaces.
Document and Report
As bullying is a pattern of behavior(s) over time, it is important to document instances of bullying in order to establish the pattern. This documentation should include dates, events, individuals who are present, and the resulting effect of the bullying (e.g., physical and emotional responses on one’s ability to do their job).
Establish Written Policies and Refer to Written Position Statements
While federal law protects against sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination of protected classes, currently there are no federal laws that protect against workplace bullying. Therefore, it is essential that programs and institutions have their own policies and procedures for defining and addressing workplace bullying and develop these policies if they do not already exist.
Reorganize as a Standalone Program or Department
Bullying may happen to an individual, a group of individuals, and/or a program. Program mobbing may occur when a bully majority of another discipline within a department, for example, impedes the work of the writing program through various means. When faced with a bully majority and the resulting skewed power relations, change from within a department, as Heckathorn argues, is unlikely and perhaps impossible.
Provide Leadership Training:
Bullying is often perpetrated or enabled by administrators, either in their role as WPA, department chair, director of a disciplinary program, dean, etc., and bullies may go on to serve in these additional administrative roles. Therefore, it is important the CWPA offers leadership training for current and future leaders in our field to help address and guard against bullying in WPA workplaces.
Seek Support from Beyond the Institution
A common refrain heard from those who have experienced or witnessed bullying is that often the most destructive part of the experience is when bullying is allowed to continue by potential allies looking the other way. When this happens, often one’s only recourse is to get help from beyond one’s own institution.
For a more detailed discussion of the above recommended responses, see Davila and Elder, “Responding.”
Works Cited and Additional Resources
Association of Writing Across the Curriculum
Bishop, Wendy. “A Rose By Every Other Name: The Excellent Problem of Independent Writing Programs.” A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies, edited by Peggy O’Neill, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton. Utah State UP, 2002, pp. 233-46.
Conference on College Composition and Communication
CWPA (Council of Writing Program Administrators)
CWPA Consultant Evaluator Service
Craig, Collin Lamont and Staci Marie Perryman-Clark. “Troubling the Boundaries: (De)Constructing WPA Identities at the Intersection of Race and Gender.” WPA: Writing Program Administration, vol 34, no. 2, 2011, pp. 37-58.
Dardello, Andrea. “Breaking the Silence of Racism and Bullying in Academia: Leaning in to a Hard Truth.” Defining, Locating, and Addressing Bullying in the WPA Workplace, edited by Cristyn L. Elder and Bethany Davila, Utah State University Press, 2019, pp. 102-23.
Davila, Bethany and Cristyn L. Elder. “Responding to Bullying in the WPA Workplace.” WPA: Writing Program Administration (forthcoming fall 2019).
Davila, Bethany and Cristyn L. Elder. “Shocked by the Incivility”: A Survey of Bullying in the WPA Workplace.” Defining, Locating, and Addressing Bullying in the WPA Workplace, edited by Cristyn L. Elder and Bethany Davila, Utah State University Press, 2019, pp. 18-33.
Elder, Cristyn L. and Bethany Davila. “Bullying: Not Just Politics as Usual.” Defining, Locating, and Addressing Bullying in the WPA Workplace, edited by Cristyn L. Elder and Bethany Davila, Utah State University Press, 2019, pp. 3-17.
Elder, Cristyn L. and Bethany Davila, editors. Defining, Locating, and Addressing Bullying in the WPA Workplace. Utah State University Press, 2019.
Everett, Justin and Cristina Hanganu-Bresch, editors. A Minefield of Dreams: Triumphs and Travails of Independent Writing Programs. The WAC Clearinghouse and University Press of Colorado, 2017.
Fox, Suzy, and Renee L. Cowan. “Revision of the Workplace Bullying Checklist: The Importance of Human Resource Management’s Role in Defining and Addressing Workplace Bullying.” Human Resource Management Journal, vol. 25, no. 1, 2015, pp. 116–30, https://doi.org/10.1111/1748-8583.12049. Accessed 23 Feb. 2019.
Heckathorn, Amy. “The Professional IS Personal: Institutional Bullying and the WPA.” Defining, Locating, and Addressing Bullying in the WPA Workplace, edited by Cristyn L. Elder and Bethany Davila, Utah State University Press, 2019, pp. 151-71.
Hollis, Leah P. “The Ironic Interplay of Free Speech and Silencing: Does Workplace Bullying Compromise Free Speech in Higher Education?” AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, vol. 9, 2018, pp. 1-15.
Independent Writing Departments and Programs Association
International Writing Center Association
Lester, Jaime, editor. Workplace Bullying in Higher Education. Routledge, 2013.
Matzke, Aurora, Rankins-Robertson, Sherry, and Garrett, Bre. “‘Nevertheless, She Persisted’: Strategies to Counteract the Time, Place, and Structure for Academic Bullying of WPAs.” Defining, Locating, and Addressing Bullying in the WPA Workplace, edited by Cristyn L. Elder and Bethany Davila, Utah State University Press, 2019, pp. 49-68.
McDaniel, Karen Rogers, Ngala, Florence, and Karen Moustafa Leonard. “Does Competency Matter? Competency as a Factor in Workplace Bullying.” Journal of Managerial Psychology, vol. 30, no. 5, 2015, pp. 597–609. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMP-02-2013-0046.
O’Neill, Peggy, Crow, Angela, and Larry W. Burton, editors. A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Utah State University Press, 2002.
O’Neill, Peggy and Ellen Schendel. “Locating Writing Programs in Research Universities.” In A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies, edited by Peggy O’Neill, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton, Utah State UP, 2002, pp. 186–212.
Position Statement on CCCC Standards for Ethical Conduct Regarding Sexual Violence, Sexual Harassment, and Workplace Bullying (forthcoming)
Salin, Denise. “Ways of Explaining Workplace Bullying: A Review of Enabling, Motivating, and Precipitating Structures and Processes in the Work Environment.” Human Relations, vol. 56, no. 10, 2003, pp. 1213–32. https://doi.org/10.1177/00187267035610003.
Smith, Tovia. “When It Comes To Sexual Harassment Claims, Whose Side Is HR Really On?” All Things Considered, National Public Radio, 15 Nov. 2017, https://www.npr.org/2017/11/15/564032999/when-it-comes-to-sexual-harassment-claims-whose-side-is-hr-really-on.
University of New Mexico. C09: Respectful Campus Policy, 2017.