Book Reviews

Book by Twale, Darla J., and De Luca, Barbara M
Review by Alison Sommers
Psychological and Brain Sciences
University of Louisville


Twale and De Luca discuss the ways in which institutional reward structures, academic culture and the move toward entrepreneurialism in modern universities foster faculty bullying and aggression. The best chapters are those that describe how changes in higher education support the rise of a "bully culture." The professoriate, working autonomously and rewarded for individual achievements in grantsmanship and research productivity, has increasingly less incentive to be team players or to nurture collegiality. Governance by committee can easily disguise unfairness, bias and sabotage.

The authors also make a connection between the corporate culture of the modern university and the administration's growing focus on extramural research funding, market share and "throughput," resulting in faculty rewards which weight these readily quantifiable dimensions heavily and omit the more difficult to measure contributions of teaching (beyond sheer numbers of students and classes taught), mentorship, morale building, service, etc. Bullying personalities are likely to be rewarded in such a system.

The authors feel that incivility is entirely determined by the victim ("We want to make clear that 'bullying is not about what the perpetrator meant; it is about what the recipient felt' ", p. 27).  How, then, can one distinguish between legitimate, albeit painful, performance feedback and bullying?  Academic culture is based on questioning, critique and challenge; this culture of dialogue and argument can feel, especially to the young, newly hired, self-doubting, sensitive or timid, to be aggressive or attacking, even if it is completely impersonal.  Such a standard of behavior--never to say anything that could possibly hurt another's feelings--might prove prohibitive of normal academic discourse probably including this review.

Many of the examples cited from those identified as victims reflect experiences that occur in any and every work setting; getting along with a variety of personalities, all jockeying for position, power and promotion, can be tough, especially for those whose work may be in fact be perceived, sometimes legitimately, as substandard (a consideration that is not addressed by the authors). Readers should also be forewarned that this book could benefit from a rigorous editing review. 

The solutions proffered by Twale and De Luca are somewhat disappointing, although the problem is admittedly difficult. They suggest that victims of bullying be more assertive, but earlier chapters explain why fear of retaliation makes this unlikely. They recommend policies to address aggression, but also say that punishments for code violations must be just right, not too severe and not too lenient, without specifying what they might find appropriate. They make statements with which all would agree (e.g. "leaders must be tuned into [sic] their department, school, or college or university rather than outwardly focused or simply ego centered," p. 163) but don't discuss how this might be implemented. Finally, it isn't clear how a written policy could ever address "the eye of the beholder" problem, recently faced by some universities in the context of academic freedom and the First Amendment (not considered by Twale and De Luca, incidentally) which ultimately decided against adopting speech codes (e.g. Harvard Law School).

Faculty Incivility may be of interest to advisors who want to understand the workings of higher education, but it is not relevant to most advising issues. There is no mention of any downstream effects of bullying on undergraduate students and the book's intended audience seems to be young tenure-track faculty, college administrators, or graduate students anticipating academic careers.


Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to Do About It. (2008).  Book by Twale, Darla J., and De Luca, Barbara M. Review by Alison Sommers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 219 pp, $ 40. ISBN # 978-0-470-19766-0
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