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CWPA Position Statement on Bullying in the Workplace

Prepared by the Taskforce on WPA Workplace Bullying: Cristyn L. Elder, Beth Davila, Staci Perryman-Clark, and Sherry Rankins-Robertson, as charged by President Dominic DelliCarpini. Approved 2019.

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: 


  1. Having information withheld from you, which affects your performance
  2. Being humiliated or ridiculed in connection with your work 
  3. Being ordered to do work below your level of competence
  4. Having key areas of responsibility removed or replaced with more trivial or unpleasant tasks
  5. Having gossip and rumors spread about you
  6. Being ignored or excluded 
  7. Having insulting or offensive remarks made about your person, your attitudes, or your private life 
  8. Being shouted at or being the target of spontaneous anger 
  9. Being the target of intimidating behaviors such as finger-pointing, invasion of personal space, shoving, blocking your way 
  10. Receiving hints or signals from others that you should quit your job
  11. Receiving repeated reminders of your errors or mistakes 
  12. Being ignored or facing a hostile reaction when you approach
  13. Enduring persistent criticism of your errors or mistakes
  14. Having your opinions ignored
  15. Being the target of practical jokes carried out by people you don’t get along with
  16. Being given tasks with unreasonable deadlines
  17. Having allegations made against you
  18. Experiencing excessive monitoring of your work 
  19. Imposing pressure not to claim something to which by right you are entitled (e.g., sick leave, holidays) 
  20. Being the subject of excessive teasing and sarcasm
  21. Being exposed to an unmanageable workload  
  22. Receiving threats of violence or physical abuse or actual abuse 


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).

    • Documentation is important because bullies may claim they are a target of bullying, but they typically have a difficult time documenting and verifying their own claims.
    • It is recommended that bullying be reported directly to the bully’s supervisor. If the supervisor does not take action, targets can report the bullying to the next person in the reporting line and on up. 
    • Individuals may consider also reporting bullying to Human Resources so documentation is included in personnel files. (For more on the role of Human Resources, see Fox and Cowan).


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. 

    • Clearly defined policies should exist. If not, craft written policies.
      • An example of an institutional definition of bullying and the related reporting process can be found under the University of New Mexico’s C09: Respectful Campus policy
    • It is important to be familiar with how one’s program or institution defines bullying and describes the corresponding reporting policies.
    • Policies on academic bullying should be easily accessible to all stakeholders within the program and institution and can be included in an institution’s faculty and student handbooks, published on writing program and institutional web pages, and condensed for inclusion on course syllabi with links to additional policies and procedures.
    • WPAs should work with administrators to establish anonymous reporting procedures for targets who may be at too great of a risk to report otherwise (e.g., undergraduate and graduate students, adjunct instructors, junior faculty, etc.). 
    • For an additional position statement within the field on workplace bullying beyond that of CWPA, see the (forthcoming) Position Statement on CCCC Standards for Ethical Conduct Regarding Sexual Violence, Sexual Harassment, and Workplace Bullying.


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.   

    • Read scholarship on standalone rhetoric and composition programs that have come into being in response to program mobbing and other factors. A great place to start is Peggy O’Neill et al.’s collection A Field of Dreams. An additional resource is the Independent Writing Departments and Programs Association.  
    • For a discussion of independent programs versus departments, see O’Neill and Schendel. 
    • Learn more about Independent Writing Departments and Programs Association (IWDPA) at 
    • Understand that establishing a standalone program or department is not always a ‘cure-all’ for what ails a program or department and can result in unexpected or adverse effects, including a loss of collaboration among disciplines, increased vulnerability of a new program or department, and the possible relocation of conflict (Bishop; Heckathorn). Additionally, bullying can and does occur in standalone programs. 
    • For research on the additional triumphs and travails of standalone programs and departments and the diversity of design options available for various institutional contexts, see Justin Everett and Cristina Hanganu-Bresch’s collection A Minefield of Dreams.



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.

    • This training should happen through our field-specific organizations, including
    • This training may take the form of conference presentations, workshops, and institutes, including the annual WPA Workshop and Institutes facilitated by the CWPA at their summer conference.
    • This training should include graduate students and be a part of their graduate education in order to counter the bullying that can be experienced and normalized during graduate school (Matzke et al.). 
    • This training should include information on what constitutes bullying, how to identify it in one’s self, and how to address it if one witnesses it among their program constituents.
    • Finally, the training should include conflict resolution strategies, including how to have difficult conversations with stakeholders about power and equity and how to address bullies who use litigation as a threat in an effort to protect themselves and their destructive behavior.



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. 

    • Seek support from an independent HR department where available. Traditional HR departments housed within academic institutions are largely dedicated to protecting the institution rather than an individual employee. Therefore, these departments are not always helpful in addressing a reported case of bullying. However, some institutions, though seemingly rare, do outsource HR duties to an independent third party or employ a hybrid model, in which HR is left in charge at the institution but employees have the support of an independent, outside advisor. (For a discussion of these two models, see Smith.) 
    • Teacher unions, where formed, can also be a resource for addressing complaints against bullying, particularly if one’s institution is slow to respond. 
    • The CWPA Consultant Evaluator Service is another resource that can help address problems identified within the local context of a program or institution. At the very least, the professionals employed by the service are often found to be credible and persuasive voices to upper administration when individuals within the program or department do not feel they are being heard. 
    • Two additional resources supported by the CWPA is the CWPA Mentoring Project and the CWPA Labor Resource Center. Members can identify a peer or senior mentor in the field who can help them think through strategies and responses for addressing the bullying one has experienced or witnessed.  


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

CWPA Labor Resource Center

CWPA Mentoring Project

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, 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.

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.

Smith, Tovia. “When It Comes To Sexual Harassment Claims, Whose Side Is HR Really On?” All Things Considered, National Public Radio, 15 Nov. 2017,

University of New Mexico. C09: Respectful Campus Policy, 2017. 

Workplace Bullying Institute

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