Mediating in the Academic Bully Culture

Mediating in the Academic Bully Culture: The Chair’s Responsibility to Faculty and Graduate Students

Serwis Stanford University 

….The Chair as Mediator

Although chairs can be involved in bullying as the bully, as the one bullied, or as the mediator in a departmental bullying situation, this section will focus on the chair as a mediator between faculty members. This job responsibility often creates consternation in department chairs. At the same time they are trying to build camaraderie among faculty, they are also facilitators who are responsible for carrying out the institution’s mission, liaising between the department faculty and higher administration, and making merit and promotion and tenure recommendations. These tasks can often be in conflict with one another.

Because chairs have a major impact on the future of individual faculty members, they must be able to recognize when a faculty member is being bullied and intervene to stop the bully while simultaneously respecting the privacy, professionalism, and integrity of the faculty member involved. Recognizing a bullying situation means chairs must be aware of the indications of a bullied faculty member as well as the traits of a bully…..


Although we have discussed two different levels of incivility in this article, the indicators of victimization and the solutions for the prevention of bullying are the same regardless of who is being bullied and who is doing the bullying. Victims of bullying, be they faculty members or graduate students, generally retreat into their own world. They become silent, fearful of repercussions or being seen as a whiner or troublemaker. Providing an environment in which the victim feels comfortable to share what is happening is the first step toward minimizing bullying behavior. Another major step is to establish formal policies against bullying, including the actions to be taken to eliminate the behavior. The policy must also include a process by which the bullied can seek help without fear of retribution by the bully. Finally, the policies and processes contained therein must be made available to everyone, even discussed with new faculty and graduate students, so they feel comfortable in the environment and confident that someone will intervene if incivility occurs. The department chair plays a pivotal role in facilitating this process.