UNE in row over bullying survey

UNIVERSITY of New England academics have used a peer-reviewed journal to launch a searing and idiosyncratic attack on what they describe as management interference in an ethics committee’s oversight of their proposed research project.

Source: The Australian – UNE in row over bullying survey

The project, a survey on perceptions of bullying at the university, was suspended in 2011 three weeks after it had initially been approved by UNE’s human ethics committee. The authors, Tim Battin, Dan Riley and Alan Avery (who is no longer employed by UNE), claim a travesty of due process as the ethics committee appears to have continually changed tack as it bowed to the wishes of senior managers and legal advice.

“The ethics committee was being driven from outside … new demands were being made in a winner-takes-all environment,” the authors write in “The ethics and politics of ethics approval” in the most recent edition of the journal Australian Universities Review.

Lead researcher Dr Battin said the researchers decided to write the article after having hit a wall with the university.

“It struck me there was some very interesting literature around human research ethics and we could use what happened as a case study,” Dr Battin told the HES.

Dr Battin’s article cites eight papers on human research ethics, as well as other articles such as “Corrosive leadership (or bullying by another name): a corollary of the corporatised academic” (2004); “How to detect a tertiary tyrant” (2007); “Academic bullies” (2008); “Faculty experiences of bullying in higher education: causes, consequences and management” (2010); “Workplace bullying – interim findings of a study in further and higher education in Wales” (1999) and “Bullying in academia: an examination of workplace bullying in New Zealand universities” (2006).

Dr Battin said the AUR article, which describes in minute detail what happened in the weeks following the submission of the survey for approval, “is purely about the procedural questions that were raised by the ethics committee suspending the research project”.

But the article goes further, insinuating bullying was so endemic at UNE that the suspension of the survey was an “abuse of power” and, by logical conclusion, an act of bullying in its own right. “Abuse of process is very much part of the abuse of power,” the article says.

“A more systemic strategy is needed to address the institutional biases that currently prevent more progress against industrial bullying.

“Those attempting to combat bullying are going to have to redouble their efforts … to overcome the techniques used by those who use institutional means to thwart such progress.”

In the article, Dr Battin and his co-authors question “the degree to which (ethics) processes can be commandeered by management, and, more generally what the experience may suggest about forms of institutional bullying”.

The researchers claim the ethics committee made “at least one unsound assumption”.

“We encountered a crucial and belated – and flawed – claim” and were exposed to “the institutions’s irresponsibility and abuse of power”, they wrote.

Asked if a peer-reviewed journal was the appropriate forum for such an article, AUR editor Ian Dobson said: “To me, it was about using ethics committees for purposes other than the purposes for which they were established. Why was ethical clearance given in the first place? It would have been different if approval had been refused in the first place.”

In their conclusion the authors say in writing the article they also found “institutions receive tacit encouragement to conduct misconduct investigations that are arguably unlawful”.

UNE declined to comment for this article.

Read Here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/une-in-row-over-bullying-survey/story-e6frgcjx-1226830841875#