Academic bullying

Academic bullying. In what ways does it manifest itself?  When does it occur? Why does it exist?  And most importantly, how can bullying be eliminated and an affirming environment for graduate education be enhanced?  The questions are many, the answers actually complex.

Academic bullying has become increasingly more visible in the past few years and might even to aProfessors behaving badlyppear as being more tolerated in higher education today.  One comprehensive study was conducted and the results published in 2011 by John M. Braxton, Eve Proper, and Alan E. Bayer entitled Professors Behaving Badly: Faculty Misconduct in Graduate Education.


Several other books on bullying have been written in the last few years. Articles, reports and coverage within the higher education media (see articles in Chronicle of Higher Education, InsideHigherEd) occur with some frequency.faculty incivility workplace bullying in HE Bullying in Ivory tower Bullying exists in higher education and Graduate Schools must assume a leadership role in addressing the concerns for graduate education and graduate students.

Although the terminology of ‘academic bullying’ is recent, the emphasis upon quality of and for graduate education extends back to at least the 1990s including prominent examples from AAU and the AAUP.  The Association of American Universities (AAU) established the Committee on Graduate Education and issued its report calling on universities to examine graduate education programs (AAU GradEd report).  Shortly thereafter in 1999, the AAUP established policy about graduate education and resources for graduate students.  Mentoring, collegial relationships and affirming education + equitable employment conditions were important and remain so. Civility should be the expectation and bullying should not be tolerated.

Today, most if not all of the U.S. Graduate Schools now have statements and documents in which they articulate the established principles for graduate education frequently referred to as principles or guiding principles, codes, or expectations. Even though the terminology of ‘academic bullying’ might not be specifically mentioned, the intent of these documents is to articulate the expectations for quality graduate education and an affirming climate for graduate students.  This is the approach taken by the Virginia Tech Graduate School.  We entitled our document Expectations for Graduate Study in which the expectations for graduate students, faculty, departments/programs and the Graduate School were articulated.  A website was created along with a summary of the expectations Expectation_Glance_2011.

The VT Graduate School is committed to enhancing the graduate education experience and providing opportunities for graduate students to thrive.  We are changing the paradigm from survival, silence and acceptance of status quo to transforming graduate education. The conversation about academic bullying will continue.  Watch for additional blog posts, information about models and promising practices, and ways to share concerns anonymously.

Blogging in graduate education

Blogging has a role in 21st century higher education including graduate education.

Although blogging and blogs have been around for more years, Gardner Campbell (currently Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success at Virginia Commonwealth University) was on the Virginia Tech faculty and passionately advocated for the use of blogs for the undergraduate students in the VT Residential Honor’s College. In August 2011, he wrote that blogging could “catalyze learning” through the framework of “narrate, curate, and share”.  His efforts inspired me as Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education to establish my own blog and to incorporate blogging in Graduate School administrative activities and more importantly as an integral part of the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative. (Note: currently we are also engaged in other types of social media [e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LInkedIn] but the focus here is blogging).

For the past several years, blogging-as-pedagogy2blogging has become an integral part of several graduate courses offered within the Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative including GRAD 5104 Preparing the Future Professoriate, GRAD 5114 Contemporary Pedagogy (GEDI), GRAD 5214 Diversity and Inclusion in a Global Society and GRAD 5014 Ethics and Scholarly Integrity.  Embracing “blogging as pedagogy” in these courses, graduate students are encouraged to “reflect, read, write and share” with their colleagues on topics related to not only preparing the future professoriate but current issues facing higher education.  Although some expressed initial hesitancy to blog and were new to blogging, most of the graduate students became actively engaged with blogging.  Many commented that they enjoyed learning a new skill and found it valuable.  Indeed, blogging is an important aspect of modern learning.

Beyond its use in graduate courses, blogging was introduced to the faculty and graduate students associated with interdisciplinary graduate education at VT specifically through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education program (IGEPs).  Each IGEP has created a blog that feeds into the “mother blog” hosted on the website which provides the shared space for cross IGEP discussion.  Another example is the use of blogs with the Global Perspectives Program organized through the VT Graduate School.  The “grandmother blog” for the Global Perspectives program gathers and shares blog posts from several “mother blogs” including GPP Switzerland, GPP Chile, GPP alumni, and from the graduate deans experience.  This provides but one example of how individual blogs can feed into a common space for collective reflection on global perspectives and engage colleagues around the world.

Blogs are but one form of communication in today’s academic world.  In sharing and disseminating our scholarship, we have typically used publications (articles, books, exhibits and more) and presentations. Technology used in our connected world allows for other ways of sharing today.  Blogs use a different voice and often reach different audiences in different ways but represent a valuable tool for scholars and practitioners.  Graduate students as the future faculty and career professionals need to gain these skills as part of their graduate degree and preparation for the 21st century workforce.

“I”, “T”, and “Pi” as metaphors for graduate education

In my role as Vice President and Dean for Graduate School at Virginia Tech, I have thought a lot about transforming graduate education in general and more specifically about preparation in an academic area as well as preparation for career(s) after degree completion.  The graduate dean should think about these things and create opportunities and programs for graduate students to enhance their preparation for success in the career options they can pursue following degree completion. Academic area mentioned above does not mean simply discipline or department but rather encompassing departments, programs and includes multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary areas of study.  And careers refer to academic and careers outside academe and the fact that graduates should expect a lifetime of career changes.

Many of us in higher education often make reference to the “I” educated or the “T” educated individuals. The “I” has been used to refer to depth in the discipline and the “T” offering breadth beyond the depth within the discipline. Breadth can be understood in terms of going beyond one’s discipline moving toward multi or interdisciplinary thinking.  Breadth can also be interpreted as moving toward a more holistic education that of a well rounded person.  Although applicable to graduate education, this breadth has been associated more commonly within the undergraduate experience; education in a discipline plus educational opportunities beyond one’s major(s).

I have reflected on the “I” and the “T” in the context of and advocating for interdisciplinary graduate education.  In a blog post entitled “interdisciplinary thinking, Pi and adaptive innovators”, I introduced the Pi symbol as a visual representation of interdisciplinary thinking and adaptive innovators.

Pi is primarily understood as a mathematical constant or a Greek letter.  Much has been written about Pi in those contexts but I use it here as a symbol of and metaphor for interdisciplinarity.   As shown above, the symbol Pi includes three lines: two vertical lines and one line across the top of the two vertical lines.  Beyond the straight line, each of these lines has an additional feature at one end.

I find the visual compelling in its simplicity.  Interdisciplinary thinking and education requires depth in one of more disciplines of study and the ability to integrate across the disciplines.  There must be a firm foundation (wider base) grounded in the knowledge within a discipline and a strong connection (anchor, hook) into the academic field(s) of study.  The horizontal line provides the link between the academic pillars.  Specifically, this line represents the link that facilitates meaningful connections between (among) the academic areas of study, integrates knowledge and understanding across the disciplines and extends beyond the pillars of the disciplines to situate knowledge and understanding in the societal context.

Societal context is important.  Academic leaders need to acknowledge and confirm the underlying principle and purpose of higher education “to educate” but we must also be mindful of the need to implement programs that incorporate the knowledge, skills and abilities for success in the work place. Reports from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) support and encourage interdisciplinary graduate education. Two additional reports from Educational Testing Services (ETS) and Council of Graduate Schools (CGS)  articulate clearly the responsibility of Graduate Schools to prepare graduates for the professoriate and careers outside pathreportcover





In our ongoing efforts to transform graduate education (and higher education), academic leaders should continue to support “I” and “T” education and we must definitely encourage more “Pi”-educated individuals.  The universities for the 21st century need scholars who have the depth, breadth, and integrated interdisciplinary perspectives to address the complex problems facing us in 21st century.

Doodles and other musings of the mind

Some years ago now, a colleague of mine wrote about conditions for graduate study which not only influenced my thinking in the 1980s but still resonate today.  I have recalled these conditions and used to share them often with others especially new graduate students. But hadn’t thought much about their influence until recently when I was reflecting on the topic of this blog post.

William Harper (1980) wrote “Some conditions for graduate study” which was published in the academic journal entitled Quest (Vol. 32 Issue 2, p174).  Harper argued that there were at least four conditions for graduate study: academic quality, time to fiddle, a baggy idea of truth, and a sense of community.  The words themselves seem readily apparent in meaning and informative of that which should be a part of graduate education.

As a graduate dean, I’m often in a position to welcome incoming graduate students and encourage them along the journey through graduate study.  I have used words such as expect academic rigor and quality, demand excellence and to hold high expectations of oneself and others.  I have encouraged graduate students to work hard but to play as well (hopefully keeping a balance). I have been and continue to be a strong advocate for building a diverse and inclusive graduate education community.  In reflecting upon these phrases, there is a definite connection back to Harper’s writings for which I am grateful and wish to acknowledge.

So what about doodles?  According to Wikipedia, a doodle “is an unfocused or unconscious drawing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied. Doodles are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be abstract shapes”.  The Wikipedia entry provides interesting historical information and names of some notable doodlers.  A recent feature on Sunday Morning provided an entertaining and informative overview of “the higher purpose of doodling“.

In addition to the meaning articulated in Wikipedia and visualized on CBS, doodles are defined in multiple ways.  Doodle can be used to schedule meetings or gatherings.  And even Google has its own version of doodles – Google Doodles – doodles that are essentially re-drawings of the Google logo.

Just as there are multiple meanings of the word doodle, I consider ‘doodling’ and ‘fiddling with ideas’ as similar concepts. Even more so, the concepts underlying doodles and doodling include reflection, contemplation, and other forms of musings of one’s mind. An exciting part of graduate education is the lively and intense engagement with ideas. This can become apparent in and through our writings (including blogging) and our academic conversations ranging from the quiet moments of dialogue as well as to the noisy passionate debates.

For graduate education, academic quality is a must.  A sense of community (or communities) remains important for sharing space and place for graduate study in today’s social media rich global society.  Taking time to fiddle (to play and to play with ideas) remains critical to finding solutions to problems and preparation for the grand challenges of tomorrow.  Innovation and creativity must be at the core of scholarly inquiry and thereby keeping a “baggy idea of truth”.
All of us should find the “time to fiddle” with ideas and to engage with a “baggy idea of truth”.  Progress toward transformation and changes in higher education are dependent upon the musings of our minds especially as manifest through innovation and creativity.  What are your musings? your contemplations? your doodles?  Time to doodle.


In the early 1990s a colleague used the word “futurisktic” or at least that’s what I thought I heard. (Note: I tried to give him credit years ago but he claims not to have coined the word).  Anyway, I was intrigued by the word that cleverly combined future and risk and I quickly adopted it for use in my musings about the future and in some of my presentations and publications.

Seth Godin wrote a recent blog in which he argued that “every presentation worth doing has just one purpose” and that is to make change happen.  According to Godin, “change, of course, opens doors, it creates possibilities and it’s fraught with danger and apparent risk.

 Much easier to deny this than it is to embrace it.”  Godin’s advice seems to fit with what I identify as futurisktic.

As a concept, “futurisktic” implies keeping an eye to and a vision for the future with attention to the opportunities and challenges (risks) associated with progress.  Being futurisktic is about change.  It is about embracing risk as an integral aspect of change.  Risk should not be viewed as a negative but risk taking will likely force us out of our comfort zones.  By doing so, it allows us to acknowledge and embrace the meaningfulness and value of change.  I’m not arguing for change simply for change sake or simply taking risks without thought.  Being futurisktic is about pushing ourselves and pushing the limits as is so wonderfully exemplified in the video entitled the future is ours.

Another example among many is the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson about the learning revolution in which he describes the need for revolution not evolution. To actively engage in transformation and to acknowledge that often what stops us from making progress is the “tyranny of common sense.”  Robinson argues for and encourages us to become active participants in the learning revolution.

These examples are but a few of those that illustrate futurisktic endeavors.  They provide examples of intentional, purposeful and meaningful change – growth, progress and advancement.  We live in a time of rapid change.  As we engage change, I encourage us to be futuristic in our thinking with a willingness to take risks – that is, futurisktic!


Academic duty

Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus of Stanford University wrote about the responsibilities of faculty in his book entitled Academic Duty (1997).  Kennedy wrote that “academic freedom” was well known but less so “academic duty” due to the “relatively uncodified” (p. vii) understanding of faculty work. He argued that faculty work included the following duties: to teach, to mentor, to serve the university, to discover, to publish, to tell the truth, to reach beyond the walls, and to change. Today, we would likely propose that the work of faculty has expanded to include additional roles including grant writing, fundraising, public relations, global perspective, civility, and building inclusive communities to name a few.

As I reflect on these duties, I think we could agree that many of the academic duties (e.g., to teach, to discover, to publish, to serve, to mentor) are well known and accepted among the responsibilities of faculty.  The degree to which these and other duties are evident in the lives of the faculty do vary some depending upon the type of university and type of faculty position but they are what we can expect when hired as a tenure track faculty member.  But they do represent the core of faculty work.

Two of the duties deserve additional comment – “to tell the truth” and “to change”. The academic duty of “to tell the truth” has become increasingly more important especially in the context of almost daily reports of research misconduct, plagiarism, and other examples of lapses in professional and scholarly ethics in higher education.  The availability of entities such as the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and official ethics guidelines and training programs through National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have brought greater attention to and scrutiny of scholars and their scholarly work and sometimes professional and even personal lives.  Online academic news sources especially the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, World University News regularly provide news and updates on cases of academic misconduct and of course, social media including twitter (e.g., ORI twitter) helps disseminate information.  Professional codes of conduct and ethical guidelines exist in many academic disciplines and are often incorporated into the professional development of the future faculty.

“To change” is the second academic duty to be highlighted here.  It has been said that universities are slow to change and those of us who have been in higher education for some time would likely agree.  But I would argue that universities and therefore faculty have a responsibility to change, to grow and to challenge ourselves to continue to be meaningful and relevant today and for the future.  Universities are social institutions and therefore have a responsibility to society, including a global society.  Higher education has been challenged by the technological advancements and the rapid rate of change. One need only to consider the development of the internet and the surprising speed of the transition from Web 1.0 to 2.0 and the most recent development of the MOOC and its impact upon higher education. Institutions of higher learning have yet to realize the full extent of these developments. If we are open to it, MOOCs will help us understand more about learners and learning and they can challenge us to think differently about how we provide opportunities for acquiring and disseminate knowledge.  These are but two examples about how we must engage with change and prepare the faculty (and future faculty) to change and to be changed.


Language is important

The language that we use is important especially the words and what they imply.  We know this and we can cite many different examples.  I will offer only one perspective that resulted from my readings about faculty in higher education recently.  Not surprisingly, I regularly read the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education and other similar venues about higher education.  My comments which follow are not a criticism of these publications but should be viewed as a commentary about how we in the academy continue to use familiar words and phrases that while accurately portraying a current situation do therefore perpetuate these notions as if they are “fact” and can’t be changed in the future. Two examples follow.

The first of two phrases that I read and hear colleagues use is the “two body problem”.  These words are commonly used to describe the situation in which two individuals (e.g., spouses or partners), or at least one of these individuals, seek faculty positions in higher education.  Since the 1980s, words like spousal hire, partner accommodation, and more recently dual career hires have been used.  An underlying assumption was that this was a “challenge” or “problem”.  I agree (and have argued favorably on numerous occasions) that indeed higher education needed to become aware of and proactively address the fact that increasingly so couples desire career opportunities for each individual and therefore, often two faculty positions. This phenomenon has increased over time and has become a reality facing higher education.  And thus rather than call it “the two body problem” which immediately casts the situation negatively as a problem, perhaps we could use language that reflects a positive attitude and encourages action.  The message sent and received is very different if we change “problem” to “opportunity”.  Inside Higher Education has made positive strides forward in this arena through the featuring “dual career” couples (reflecting via photos a full range of diversity) and their opportunities to seek dual careers as evident on their website.  This sends a message that two careers are possible rather than a problem.

The second phrase and one that is relatively new is “the baby penalty“.  Dr. Mason (former Graduate Dean at UC Berkeley and current faculty member) and her colleagues have studied and authored a recent book in an attempt to answer the question of whether or not babies matter.  Their research shows that babies do matter and make a difference in the lives of female academics.  Honestly, I don’t find this surprising because I think intuitively we know that having babies and raising children does impact one’s lives and more so for females than the males.   While the data do support a “negative” impact upon the female faculty member in a traditional sense of academy, the data are also a reflection of the way higher education is currently structured and not the way that it could be.  Families and babies should not be referred to as a “penalty”.  In the Chronicle of Higher Education article, Mason stated that it is time to “… demand family policies that will at least give them a fighting chance to have both a successful career and babies.”  University leaders could use the data to insist that higher education actually make structural changes and more fully embrace families and work-life balance in our colleges and universities.  This truly is an opportunity and perhaps a mandate for change.  Let’s begin by modifying our words because language is important.


Global seminar at CESA

A week has passed since our adventure called global perspectives program began in Zurich.  We have traveled by plane, train, bus, tram, and foot on our wonderful journey. Our university visits have been completed with the final two completed on Monday – USI and SUPSI.

We have blogged, tweeted, and posted on FaceBook.  We have briefed, debriefed, chatted and debated on the train, over meals, in the garden and beyond.  The VT GPP’13 could talk (and some probably do) into the wee hours of the night.

And now we await the arrival of our colleagues from the University of Basel GPP’13 program.  The theme of our global seminar is “Universities and Society: Meeting expectations?”  The dialogue will undoubtedly be rich and informative.  The public version will be shared at the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, DC on June 19, 2013.

Visits with University Presidents

One of the highlights of the Global Perspectives Program is the opportunity to meet and engage in active dialogue with the presidents (rectors) of selected universities:  President Prof. Dr. Andreas Fischer of the University of Zurich, Rector Prof. Dr. Antonio Loprieno of the University of Basel, President Prof. Dr. M. Alain Beretz of the University of Strasbourg and President Piero Martinoli, University of Lugano (Università della Svizzera italiana or USI).  The conversations were informative about the future of global higher education.  The individuals are quite inspiring and very accessible.


In 1985 Andreas Fischer was appointed full professor of English philology at the University of Zurich. From 2004 to 2006 he served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and from 2006 until his appointment as President of the University of Zurich in 2008 he acted as Vice President for Arts and Social Sciences.  Fischer will retire this year and his replacement is currently in progress.



Professor Loprieno has been Full Professor of Egyptology at the University of Basel since the year 2000 and was recently reappointed to an unprecedented third term as Rector. His main research areas include Near Eastern languages and Egyptian cultural history and religion. Prior to his appointment as Rector of the University of Basel, he served as Dean of Studies of the University’s Faculty of Humanities. He heads the Conference of Swiss University Rectors (CRUS).

289579cc705f91ddecd66e9ff568f3a18bb28fa1Professor Beretz graduated in Pharmacy and has been a member of the Pharmacology faculty of the University of Strasbourg since 1990. He was elected in January 2009 as the first president of the University of Strasbourg, resulting from the innovative merger of the three previous universities. He is one of three members of the Board of Directors of LERU (League of European Research Universities).



Professor Piero Martinoli is president of the University of Italian Switzerland in Lugano where he has served since September of 2006.  He studied at the ETH Zurich, where he obtained a degree in physics, and his doctorate in physics.



These individuals have graciously greeted the GPP participants and the Global Perspectives Graduate Deans programs throughout their tenure as President.  We have benefited from their expertise and willingness to spend time with us!

Wilhelm von Humboldt, the PhD and the modern research university

Recent conversations at multiple venues have prompted me to reflect on Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Doctor of Philosophy degree and the evolution of the modern research university.  First, the Swiss higher education system and the routine acknowledgement of Humboldt ‘s influence were discussed during the Input Seminar for the UniBasel Global Perspectives Program (March 18-19, 2013).  Two days later in Dublin at the EUA-CDE Global Forum on Doctoral Education (March 20-22), the topics of conversation included the evolution of doctoral education in Europe and the increasing emphasis on research in doctoral education (PhD).  During the last few class sessions of GRAD 5104 Preparing the Future Professoriate, our discussions focused on global higher education and several international students shared an overview of the higher education systems from their home countries.  This provided the opportunities to reflect on the historical perspective of higher education and their influences on universities around the world.  At the March meeting of the 2013 VT Global Perspectives Program, we discussed terminology and the similarities and differences to understand better the evolution of global higher education and the universities that we will visit in May.  And finally as I read through selected blog posts from GRAD 5104 and GPP Switzerland I pondered the themes of these ‘conversations’ and realized the underlying but un-articulated interconnectedness of the 21st century research university, the evolution of the PhD and the influence of Humboldt.  Humboldt, the German university and the man, are frequently referenced in discussions about the university in Europe but less so in the United States although his influence is part of U.S. history as well.


Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) was a 19th century philosopher, a Prussian diplomat, and an early ‘architect’ of national education including the ‘university’.  He is well known throughout Europe as the founder of the University of Berlin in 1810. Within a relatively short period of time, the University of Berlin (Humboldt) would soon became a model for 19th century European universities and ultimately would influence the development of U.S. universities. In recognition of Humboldt’s influence in shaping the modern university, the university was renamed Humboldt University of Berlin in 1949. The name of Humboldt reflects both Wilhelm’s contributions and those of his brother Alexander, a famous geographer and explorer.

Wilhelm von Humboldt espoused the view that the university should be a community of scholars and students.  In this ‘Humboldtian’ university, teaching and research were interconnected and vital to the work of the individual scholar.  Although important to advancement of knowledge and integral to the university’s mission, research was thought by Humboldt to be ‘ancillary to teaching’.  This notion persisted until the 20th century when research would finally be recognized as a ‘vital entity in itself’ thus setting the stage for the further development and prominence of the modern research university.

During the recent European University Association (EUA) – Council on Doctoral Education (CDE) Global Strategic Forum on Doctoral Education in Dublin, the PhD was described historically as a ‘license to teach’.  This makes sense when one considers that the original purpose was to prepare scholars to teach in universities.  For many years, the doctoral degree required advanced scholarship but not original research.  And once Wilhelm von Humboldt entered the discussions, the strong link between teaching and research was made that would change the university.  As the value of research expanded and the desire for original research increased throughout the last century, the Doctor of Philosophy degree changed and the PhD is recognized as a research degree worldwide.

The modern research university will continue to evolve and an emphasis on research will remain.  But the conversations about doctoral education must also continue about the importance of teaching and learning, the preparation for careers outside higher education, and the engagement between the university and society.  These conversations are happening within EUA-CDE regularly and will continue in the Future Professoriate graduate course (GRAD 5104) and especially the VT-UniBasel Global Perspectives Program.  I look forward to the ongoing dialogue.