A workplace survey on vulnerable academic staff such as GTAs has shown that workplace bullying is an issue across several universities in Aotearoa. Craccum spoke to a former PhD student M* about her experience.
In a recent survey of 256 temporary casual and fixed-term academic staff across New Zealand universities, 33.7% reported facing discrimination, bullying, or harassment in the workplace.
M told Craccum that seeing an email from the University of Auckland on Pink Shirt Day, an international anti-bullying campaign, felt like a “kick in the guts” after her experience seeking support.
“For me, dealing with the University was more traumatising than the actual event.”
The study supported by NZUSA and the Tertiary Education Union found that 58.2% of those staff identified supervisors, senior managers, or colleagues as the source of problematic behaviour.
80.1% of those affected stated that fear of repercussions (i.e., being excluded from future work) stopped them from speaking up at least some of the time.
M says she was initially hesitant to report a case of bullying as she knew that some of those involved had working ties with people she would need to rely on for various processes related to her PhD.
“If you hope to get a job in the University, if you’ve been seen to be making a fuss, you fear they will be less likely to offer you a permanent position. If you’re thinking about the future, it’s potentially more trouble than it’s worth.”
According to the survey, more than half (53.9%) of those affected did not know where to seek support. M told Craccum that when she did report incidents of bullying, she felt unsupported by Campus Care. She says explaining her situation repeatedly over email and Zoom to multiple people only to be told to get support elsewhere was “re-traumatising.”
“They don’t make it easy to report things. When you’ve gone through the process, you realise that the University is really not interested in listening and helping you. There are some well-intentioned people, but usually they are powerless to help you. And those who can help are next to impossible to get in touch with.”
UoA has recently encouraged students to be aware of NZQA’s Code for Learner Wellbeing and Safety, which “sets out the roles and responsibilities of tertiary education organisations (TEOs) in promoting and supporting wellbeing, development and educational achievement.”
M says she noticed many differences between the complaints process outlined in the NZQA code, and the University’s procedures. She questions their commitment to the code, and helping students and staff feel accepted and respected in workplace settings.
“One difference I noticed is that the code says the University should provide the opportunity to bring a support person, which they never offered to me.”
On their website, the University states their policies and processes for addressing bullying, harassment, and discrimination, and provides resources for staff and students who experience, witness or are concerned about harassment.
Both staff and students are able to make a formal complaint, or use the anonymous Whistleblower Hotline.
The study recommends that academic staff at New Zealand universities should be registered through an independent conduct board who can investigate and mediate matters of bullying, harassment, or workplace professionalism.
*name withheld for privacy reasons