Professor and Victim: Cyberbullying Targeting Professors in the Higher Education Workplace

Professor and Victim: Cyberbullying Targeting Professors in the Higher Education Workplace

Adam Weiss
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4912-4.ch013
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Colleges and universities increasingly depend on technology to facilitate communication and course delivery. As a consequence of this heightened technology usage, cyberbullying now occurs frequently on college and university campuses. College faculty often become victims of cyberbullying due to their visible and active roles as educators and academics. Traumatic cyberbullying incidents cause significant emotional and physical distress for faculty victims. As such, cyberbullying can drastically interfere with faculty's work. The chapter discusses the various forms in which faculty experience cyberbullying in the higher education workplace. The chapter then identifies the perpetrators of this form of cyberbullying—specifically, students, fellow faculty members, administrators, and members of the general public. Next, the chapter sheds light on the negative psychological, professional, and physical consequences resulting from cyberbullying incidents. Finally, the chapter offers several policy suggestions to curtail cyberbullying on higher education campuses.
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In the higher education workplace, bullying can be omnipresent. In one comprehensive study that surveyed over 400 college administrators at 175 colleges in the United States, 62% of administrators that were surveyed confirmed that they had either personally been bullied or witnessed bullying (Hollis, 2015). Apart from universities, community college faculty can likewise experience cyberbullying. In a study of community college professors at a community college in the Southern region of the United States, Tran (2019) found that 35% of faculty members expressed they had been targets of bullying (Tran, 2019).

With the advent of online technologies which have facilitated rapid communication via email, social media, and chat platforms, bullying now often presents itself in the form of cyberbullying (Cassidy et al., 2014; Molluzo & Lawler, 2014). As more college classes are conducted online or have significant online instructional components, the number of incidents of discourteous online behavior targeting faculty has burgeoned (Wildemuth & Davis, 2012). Many of these discourteous behaviors are aggressive actions (Wildemuth & Davis, 2012), which fall into the realm of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is defined by the U.S. government as “bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets….Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else” (United States Government, 2019). Similar to other forms of bullying, cyberbullying involves an imbalance of power and involves repeated malicious behavior with the intention of harming the victim (Molluzo & Lawler, 2014).

Cyberbullying has become a pressing concern at colleges and universities across the world. On a survey distributed to faculty at an urban university in the Northeastern United States, 10% of respondents stated that they had been victims of cyberbullying (Molluzo & Lawler, 2014). At a Canadian university, researchers found that 17% of faculty surveyed indicated that they had experienced cyberbullying instigated by students or by their faculty colleagues (Cassidy et al., 2014). Significant numbers of faculty—regardless of whether or not they have been personal victims of cyberbullying on campus—expressed concern over the issue. In the aforementioned Canadian study, 23% of faculty respondents reported being “extremely concerned” and 52% “somewhat concerned” about cyberbullying (Cassidy et al., 2014). Faculty victims of cyberbullying document experiencing significant mental health problems such as anxiety, stress, and depression. Many faculty also discuss feeling a sense of powerlessness (Cassidy et al., 2017).

The present chapter purports to provide an overview of the various forms of cyberbullying that faculty members can experience in the higher education workplace. Next, the specific cyberbullying actors that attack faculty—specifically students, fellow faculty members, administrators, and the general public—will be discussed. Apart from examining the various types of cyberbullying that faculty may experience in the workplace, this chapter will also describe the substantial negative professional and psychological implications for faculty who are victims of cyberbullying. Finally, the chapter will conclude with possible solutions that universities can take to reduce incidents of cyberbullying in the higher education workplace.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Higher Education: A tertiary institute of learning primarily serving adult learners such as a university, college, community college, or technical school.

Peer: A person of similar status, authority, or title.

Administrators: People who hold a supervisory role; in higher education, this could include supervisors, department chairs, deans, provosts, and the institution’s president.

Cyberbullying: The act of harassing someone through the use of digital technology.

Professors: Instructors who teach students at institutes of higher education such as colleges and universities.

Academic Freedom: The liberty provided to educators to research, openly discuss, and write about a plethora of subjects, provided that educators have a legitimate academic purpose for their actions as well as evidence to support the validity of their claims.

Workplace: Physical and digital spaces used for occupational purposes.

Faculty: Instructors, teachers, and/or professors at an institution of learning.

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