Bullying in Higher Education

The one thing you’re supposed to do when bullying has occurred is to keep quiet – you don’t want to damage your reputation. The culture of secrecy is pervasive, and in my opinion, allows it to fester and continue.

But I’m speaking up. I’m going to be open and risk reputational damage to make sure others are not victimised. I spent almost two years being bullied by two criminology staff (who are the longest-serving and still work there) at the University of Northampton. My only recourse was to leave. Six staff have left criminology and criminal justice this year so far (none of whom were involved in the bullying). One clear proxy to monitor bullying behaviour is to look at staff turnover.

Let me be clear the remaining criminal justice staff are incredible. Many of them were able to act as witnesses for the bullying which assisted my formal complaints, I have nothing but absolute respect and gratitude that they spoke up.

These two bully’s behaviours were intentional, repeated and systematic. I know that their actions have nothing to fundamentally do with me, just as I found out their bullying had been going on for years before I started. Their bullying is supported by a management culture that decided to ignore the problem. I know that they are mediocre people who have failed to achieve their career goals, and they will continue to be bullies.

I am not going to contribute to the culture of silence, which can end careers and, in some cases, a person’s life. Bullying is serious. I and others placed formal complaints with HR, which were recognised and upheld for the most part after lengthy investigations. We raised complaints with the university’s management at both the faculty and executive level. We did everything you’re told to do to deal with the problem.

Why am I speaking up? Because I know it won’t end, the university placed an external advertisement, even after HR and university management received MANY detailed and scathing emails about the risk of hiring others without dealing with the root cause of the issues. It is likely more positions will be advertised soon, and these two bullies will turn their attention to new people and inflict damage upon them.

So, what does this come down to? My personal opinion DO NOT apply or accept a position in criminology at the University of Northampton. These two people are still employed, and management are still enabling their behaviour – by doing absolutely nothing.

As Tara Brabazon would say this was my comma, I was lucky I was in a position to quit and walk away, others won’t have that privilege.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for speaking out Jessica. Unless challenged, bullying cultures within organisations won’t go away. New members of staff see what they believe is acceptable behaviour, then the bullying continues and gets worse. Unless we speak out against bullying, things won’t change.


    1. Hi Brendan, I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. You’re absolutely right, there is a need to challenge to change the situation. I walked right into a situation that should not have existed and I really don’t want anyone else to experience it. Jess x

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Yvonne says:

    I went through a terrible year putting up with aggressive and constant bullying Name calling, being undermined by a woman that is a well known bully that has got through and destroyed every person she has been in charge of I took it on Had independent witnesses from other departments that just heard her talking to me and that contacted HR of their own back My grievance was upheld because of her Everyone in my department including all senior management didn’t want to know To get rid of the problem they made us both redundant And believe it or not she now has another job in same department The place and managers are very bad


  3. John says:

    Hi Jessica, as someone who works in the same university I am really sorry to hear that you had to go through this. Unfortunately, you are not alone nor is this an issue isolated to Criminology or even the Faculty of Business & Law. Others have taken out formal complaints and whether these were fully upheld, partly upheld or dismissed…nothing has changed. Management continue to ignore what is happening in front of them. Complaints, either formal or informal, appear to make no concrete difference to the professional life of the person who has bullied, victimised, harassed or made racial comments…..nothing. Some may have moved on but many, many more remain. However, by taking this stand and formally putting your head above the parapet, you are beginning to shine a light on an institution where this behaviour is deemed to be tolerable. I just wish I had the courage to do the same.!!


    1. It is not surprising that the experience is the same across the university but it is still disappointing. It is short sighted to not deal with the root cause of critical issues – they impact all parts of the university and its reputation. As it stands in the Guardian League Tables this weekend Criminology at the University of Northampton is at the bottom of the league table, for the second year running. It is all interrelated.


  4. cheriewhite says:

    My heart goes out to you, Jessica. I too.went through workplace bullying and after three years of constant covering my butt and staying a few steps ahead of the bullies, it got exhausting. I walked awaybfrom the job and didn’t look back. I saw so many others who were bullied just like me and many lost their jobs and a few, their careers. Thank you so much for telling your story and bringing awareness to an issue that isn’t addressed enough.


  5. I can only imagine the enormous courage it takes to speak up. I support your bravery and righteousness, Jessica.


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