The unkindly art of mobbing - in Academia

At a practical level, every professor should be aware of conditions that increase vulnerability to mobbing in academe. Here are five:

• Foreign birth and upbringing, especially as signaled by a foreign accent.
• Being different from most colleagues in an elemental way (by sex, for instance, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnicity, class
origin, or credentials).
• Belonging to a discipline with ambiguous standards and objectives, especially those (like music or literature) most affected by
post-modern scholarship.
• Working under a dean or other administrator in whom, as Nietzsche put it, “the impulse to punish is powerful”.
• An actual or contrived financial crunch in one’s academic unit (According to an African proverb, when the watering hole gets
smaller, the animals get meaner).

Other conditions that heighten the risk of being mobbed are more directly under a prospective target’s control. Five major ones are:

• Having opposed the candidate who ends up winning appointmentn as one’s dean or chair (thereby looking stupid, wicked, or crazy in the latter’s eyes)
• Being a rate buster—achieving so much success in teaching or research that colleagues’ envy is aroused.
• Publicly dissenting from politically correct ideas (meaning those held sacred by campus elites).
• Defending a pariah in campus politics or the larger cultural arena.
• Blowing the whistle on, or even having knowledge of serious wrongdoing by, locally powerful workmates.

The upshot of available research is that no professor needs to worry much about being mobbed, even when in a generally vulnerable condition, so long as he or she does not rock the local academic boat. The secret is to show deference to colleagues and administrators—to be the kind of scholar they want to keep around as a way of making themselves look good. Jung said that “a man’s hatred is always concentrated on that which makes him conscious of his bad qualities.”

By Professor Kenneth Westhues