Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mob Rule: In departmental disputes, professors can act just like animals

When songbirds perceive some sign of danger - a roosting owl, a hawk, a neighborhood cat - a group of them will often do something bizarre: fly toward the threat. When they reach the enemy, they will swoop down on it again and again, jeering and making a racket, which draws still more birds to the assault. The birds seldom actually touch their target (though reports from the field have it that some species can defecate or vomit on the predator with "amazing accuracy"). The barrage simply continues until the intruder sulks away. Scientists call this behavior "mobbing."

The impulse to mob is so strong in some birds that humans have learned to use predators as lures. Birders play recordings of screech owls to attract shy songbirds. In England, an ancient duck-hunting technique involved stationing a trained dog at the edge of a pond: First the dog got the ducks' attention, and then it fled down the mouth of a giant, narrowing wickerwork trap, with the mob of waterfowl hot in pursuit all the way. Birds mob for a couple of reasons. One of them is educational: Youngsters learn whom to mob, and whom to fear, by watching others do it. But the more immediate purpose of mobbing is to drive the predator away - or, in the words of the eminent Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz, to make "the enemy's life a burden."

Sometimes, especially in winter, Kenneth Westhues can hear a flock of crows tormenting a great horned owl outside his study in Waterloo, Ontario. It is a fitting soundtrack for his work. Mr. Westhues has made a career out of the study of mobbing. Since the late 1990s, he has written or edited five volumes on the topic. However, the mobbers that most captivate him are not sparrows, fieldfares, or jackdaws. They are modern-day college professors....

Max Weber, a founding father of modern sociology, saw bureaucracy as the living embodiment of cool, procedural rationality. In Mr. Westhues's view, mobbing is a pathological undercurrent of irrationality in bureaucracies - a crabby ghost in the machine. According to Mr. Westhues, mobbing occurs most in institutions where workers have high job security, where there are few objective measures of performance, and where there is frequent tension between loyalty to the institution and loyalty to some higher purpose. In other words, the ghost is alive and well in many academic departments. Tenure is supposed to protect scholars from outside control, but it does a lousy job of protecting them from one another, Mr. Westhues says. In the hothouse of a department, disputes can easily cascade from individual disagreement and disapproval to widespread revulsion to a concerted effort to get a colleague removed. "Mobbing is a turning inward," he says. "People lose a sense of purpose and they're at one another's throats."....

Mr. Westhues conducts his research on mobbing mainly by doing case studies - by studying official documentation of disputes and by interviewing people. By now, he has conducted just under 150 full case studies, but he is contacted all the time by people who believe they have been mobbed. The view he has acquired of higher education is a panorama of the academic down and out.

It includes a professor from South Asia working in Texas who, after years of getting sniped at by his colleagues, was eventually drummed out of his position for careless accounting and unauthorized use of a photocopier. It includes a German-accented professor who so unnerved fellow faculty members that during a tirade against her one of them actually had a seizure. (She was soon after served with a petition demanding her physical removal from the department for charges of "creating a hostile work environment" and "unethical behavior.")

A few times a year, Mr. Westhues embarks on research trips to campuses where he has gotten wind of a mobbing. He sometimes combines his research missions with lectures or panels on mobbing, to bring the idea out into the open. Last month one such trip took him to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, just as spring was showing on the trees....

Jerry Becker, a 69-year-old professor of mathematics education at Carbondale, is the son of a Minnesota truck driver and holds a doctorate from Stanford University. He is a workaholic. In 27 years of teaching at Carbondale, he has never taken a sabbatical, he says. By his estimate, he brings in "hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of dollars" in grant money to the university, and often gets the highest marks on performance evaluations.

In November 2003, 15 of Mr. Becker's colleagues signed a 12-page complaint against him, charging him with bullying, buttonholing professors to talk about union issues, and multiple other offenses, as well as calling him "toxic" to the work environment. They said they wanted him removed "physically and professionally" from their midst. In response, Mr. Becker spent nearly every evening for more than two months writing a point-by-point rebuttal. The rebuttal persuaded the administration to clear him of all charges. However, just a few months later, Mr. Becker's colleagues submitted yet another complaint, this one containing several charges of sexual harassment. Once again, Mr. Becker successfully rebutted the charges and was exonerated. But his colleagues still scored a victory: Mr. Becker's office was moved far away from theirs, to a part of campus where no other professors work.

Essentially, Mr. Westhues says, anything that can be a basis for bickering can be a basis for mobbing: race, sex, political difference, cultural difference, intellectual style. Professors with foreign accents, he says, often get mobbed, as do professors who frequently file grievances and "make noise." But perhaps the most common single trait of mobbing targets, he says, is that they excel.

"To calculate the odds of your being mobbed," Mr. Westhues writes in his most comprehensive book on mobbing, The Envy of Excellence: Administrative Mobbing of High-Achieving Professors, "count the ways you show your workmates up: fame, publications, teaching scores, connections, eloquence, wit, writing skills, athletic ability, computer skills, salary, family money, age, class, pedigree, looks, house, clothes, spouse, children, sex appeal. Any one of these will do."

With a history of consulting for the tobacco industry, a prominent critique of affirmative action to his name, and a poster that says "I Love Capitalism" hanging over his desk, Jonathan J. Bean is not exactly a shy Republican. A square-jawed, youthful-looking man in his 40s, Mr. Bean is a professor of history at Carbondale. Last April, during a freshman-level American-history course, he gave his teaching assistants a text he wanted them to use in a discussion section on the aftermath of the civil-rights movement. The text came from FrontPage Magazine, the aggressively conservative online publication run by David Horowitz, and it gave an account of a string of black-on-white murders in San Francisco during the 1970s called the Zebra Killings. Its central argument was that cultural taboos on discussing black-on-white racism had made the murders all but vanish from public memory.

Within days, Mr. Bean discovered that the reading had caused a stir among his teaching assistants and among professors in the department. In response, he first issued a rather sarcastic apology impugning the "timidity" of acceptable debate on campus, but soon after wrote a more straightforward "I'm sorry" and canceled the reading assignment. A few days later, six of Mr. Bean's colleagues in the history department published an open letter in the campus newspaper. "Academic responsibility," they wrote, "demands that professors promote the free exchange of ideas without creating a hostile environment, running the risk of nurturing racist attitudes among their students, and putting their teaching assistants in an untenable position. "Moreover," they continued, "it is our academic responsibility as history professors to disassociate ourselves from this irresponsible use of objectionable and inflammatory material."

Mr. Bean happened to own a copy of Mr. Westhues's book, Workplace Mobbing in Academe. When he looked at Mr. Westhues's indicators of a mobbing, he said to himself, "That's me all over."

But then something strange happened: People outside the department turned against the letter signers. FrontPage Magazine published a long, vitriolic article on the incident under the headline "Academic Witch-Hunt." The campus newspaper also published a story that was largely sympathetic to Mr. Bean. "I had two direct ancestors hung as witches at Salem," Mr. Bean was prominently quoted as saying. "I don't plan to be the third." In the same article, another professor was quoted describing Mr. Bean's troubles as "a classic case of mobbing." Before long, the e-mail in boxes of the letter signers were crammed with hate mail.

Not surprisingly, Robbie Lieberman, one of the letter signers, is not a fan of mobbing rhetoric. "I don't think it's accidental that it evokes lynch mobs," says Ms. Lieberman. "Blaming a lynch mob is one thing. Blaming a department for criticizing a colleague is another." "Mobbing is such a colorful term that it tends to pre-empt debate," says Rich Fedder, Ms. Lieberman's husband and the chairman of the Southern Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It plays into an American love of talking about victims."

Mr. Fedder and Ms. Lieberman do have a point: Leveling the charge of mobbing can be a quick and easy way to seize the moral high ground in a dispute. And while Mr. Westhues does, in fact, see Mr. Bean's case as a mobbing, he largely agrees with this argument. "There's a tendency for anybody who wants some leverage in campus politics to say, You know, I'm being mobbed," he says, "and the whole thing becomes quite meaningless." This is one reason why Mr. Westhues, unlike many mobbing researchers, is dead set against anti-mobbing legislation.

At his lecture on mobbing in Carbondale, Mr. Westhues told an audience of about 50 people that, in fact, his best hope for his work on mobbing is that it might have an impact on administrators. (The provost of Southern Illinois sat in the back row, scribbling notes.) Professors seeking to eliminate one of their colleagues cannot get very far without the backing of the administration, he said. And in cases where many professors are pitted against one, administrators' first instinct will often be to side with the majority.

But because mobbers tend to be so impassioned and sloppy in their reasoning, Mr. Westhues argued, administrators who side with them may suffer for it later. Mr. Westhues's research provides numerous examples of mobbing victims who have walked away with fat court settlements, and of administrators who have walked away without their jobs. "Administrators need to know that it's in their interests to prevent this," Mr. Westhues said. "They take a big risk when they encourage the mobbing of a professor."

He said that universities should wean themselves of the quasi-judicial bodies, like ethics committees, that, in his opinion, simply dignify pettiness and give professors a chance to have power over one another. At his own university, he said, after having been the subject of several ethics committee proceedings himself (of course, he has what he considers to be his own history with mobbing), he worked to persuade the Board of Governors to abolish the committee. He argued that an ethics committee "lets people play judge" and "brings out the worst in good people." His arguments succeeded. "If you ask me," Mr. Westhues told the audience in Carbondale, "we've been more ethical without the ethics committee."

More here. (HT Neil Craig).


Learning in English is a major motivation not stressed below

Public schools ["public" in the British sense] are attracting soaring numbers of pupils from across Europe despite fees averaging 20,000 pounds a year and reaching 25,000 pounds in London and the South East. The number of French, German and Spanish pupils attending British independent schools rose by more than a quarter this year, with a record number from France.

The annual census of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), published yesterday, also showed a small rise in the number of British children attending private schools, as well as strong interest from Russia, Eastern Europe, Hong Kong and China. Overall, the number of new overseas pupils at British boarding schools rose by 11 per cent to 23,056. The reason, according to the Boarding School Association (BSA), is that British public schools offer a broader curriculum, smaller classes, better teaching and more sports facilities.

Jonathan Shephard, the general secretary of the ISC, said that it was also partly down to better transport links and the greater take-up of the International Baccalaureate. "There are low-cost flights coming in to a number of different airports so you are not abandoning your child for a whole term. They can go backwards and forwards at weekends," he said.

Giggleswick school in Settle, North Yorkshire, which charges annual fees of 19,000 pounds, has 325 boys and girls, 14 per cent of whom are from overseas, including French, German, Chinese and Nigerian. Geoffrey Boult, the headmaster and vice-chairman of the BSA, said: "Overseas students, in particular Europeans, see the move as a springboard to UK universities. Initially the Germans came for the first year of their Abitur, or A levels, and then went back. Now they're staying on for two years before going on to university. They're often aiming for Oxbridge, Warwick and the LSE. They know they'll graduate at 22 instead of 26, so they see British schooling as an acceleration into the workplace."

The number of new European students studying in Britain last year came to 7,469, with a record 24 per cent increase in students from France. For Lorenz Caspar-Bours, 17, from Aachen, Germany, it is the support of the teachers at Giggleswick that is the key. In Germany, teachers are often teaching classes of up to 35. The average class size in British independent schools now stands at ten pupils per teacher. "You have a very different relationship with your teacher than if you see him with 30 others before then disappearing," Lorenz said.

The total number of pupils in the ISC's 1,272 schools rose slightly this year to 505,450. This was up but still well below the 2004 figure of 508,027. The number of boarders rose slightly from 68,255 to 68,409.

PHILIPP DANNENBERG, 17, arrived last September from Berlin at Trinity school in Devon. What started out as a year's exchange to improve his English will end with the completion of his A levels. Philipp said that he had been won over by the family atmosphere. "It's so different from Germany," he said. "I hated all the teachers there. They were so unfriendly." Having discovered that German universities will accept A levels, Philipp stayed on. Although he studies for more hours than in Berlin, he swims twice a week, studies martial arts and plays football.

Speaking from Germany, his father, Thomas Dannenberg, a psychologist, said that he had been impressed by his son's timetable. "I've been very pleasantly surprised how well English schools are organised," he said. "From dawn till dusk they're learning."

However, the exercise is not cheap. Having paid nothing for Philipp to attend the local Gymnasium, or secondary school, Herr Dannenberg pays 16,000 pounds a year in fees, and a further 2,000 a term so that his son may stay with a family at weekends.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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