Teach, don’t bully!
A student crying during a seminar and a doctoral dissertation supervisor playing favourites – Aviisi’s survey revealed how the staff bullies the students. According to the FSHS survey six percent of students reported having been bullied by a staff member.
”The teacher has acted extremely condescendingly towards the student and their area of study. This has been repetitive on certain teachers’ part.”
Approximately six percent of students in higher education feel that they have been bullied by a member of staff. This was revealed in the Finnish Student Health Survey conducted by the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS) in 2016.
In most cases the bullying by the staff was defined as belittling, humiliation and the unfounded criticism related to studies. The experiences also included mocking of individual characteristics and verbal attacks. The same problems appeared in the survey conducted by Aviisi about bullying in the University of Tampere in February. According to one student respondent, students are made to cry in seminars and another one tells that reasons for lateness are asked in front of the whole class for no reason. Also comments of sexual or romantic nature which made the students feel uneasy are reported having come from staff members.
According to the FSHS survey, bullying by a staff member is mostly infrequent. The bully is also more commonly another student than a staff member. 7.5 percent of students reported being bullied by other students often or infrequently.
The results of Aviisi’s survey support these results. 13.7 percent of those who answered Aviisi’s survey, report having witnessed bullying infrequently and 2.3 percent had witnessed repetitive bullying. 10.7 percent of the respondents could not say whether they had observed students being bullied by staff members.
“I’ve heard that students may have been made to cry in for example seminars. I witnessed this kind of behaviour in my previous higher education institution. In those situations, the students also feared their teachers. I reported it all the way to the rector and the issue was severely addressed.”
The questions regarding bullying in the FSHS survey were drafted by Docent Maili Pörhölä. She has researched bullying since the beginning of 2000s, including bullying in higher education since 2007. Questions about bullying between students became a part of the FSHS survey in 2008. In the following survey in 2012 the following question was included: “Have you been bullied by a member or members of the higher education institution staff?” At the time, 6.5 percent of the respondents answered yes. In the 2012 survey, the bully was more often a staff member than another student. About 5 percent of respondents reported having been bullied by another student. Staff member as the bully was not included in the 2008 survey because there was no international research on the subject.
“It did not come up. There is still very little research on the topic”, Pörhölä says.
The numbers are higher abroad. In a not-yet-published article Pörhölä and her research colleagues report on the results of similar surveys conducted in four different countries. According to these results, bullying occurred most often in Estonia where 16 percent of students reported having been bullied by a staff member. Out of the surveyed countries, Finland had the least amount of bullying.
“The doctoral dissertation supervisors have their favourite postgraduate students and others are segregated. Discrimination based on gender also occurs.”
“The staff members living in Tampere look down on those living in Helsinki and purposely arrange meetings at 8am in Tampere to illustrate that living in Helsinki is a wrong choice.”
“Misusing the status of supervisor, refusing to help and spouting attacking and degrading comments.”
Director of Study Services of the University of Tampere Mikko Markkola says that he recognises the phenomenon but considers it rare. He refers to the University’s annual student surveys where only a handful of students report unequal treatment having affected their studies.
The University’s Human Resource Development Manager Päivi Salojärvi says they deal with student related issues together with the Student Union. First the parties are interviewed individually and an additional mediation meeting is arranged. The cases are followed afterwards.
“There are also other negative situations between students and staff members. Those are also addressed primarily with mediation meetings”, Salojärvi says.
According to the Student Union Tamy, these types of situations are reported to them rarely, less than one a year. The Specialist in Social Welfare Affairs Olga Haapa-aho believes that the position of authority and respect are influencing factors in these matters. The bullying staff member might have had a long career and done research on a topic that interests the student.
“They are greatly esteemed. That can raise the bar on whether the student wants or has the courage to stand up to them.”
On the other hand, there has been about ten reports during January and February where students have sought Tamy’s guidance regarding actions perceived as unfair treatment. Misunderstandings have occurred about assessment schedules, the assessments, retaking assessments and inconsistent methods about teaching arrangements.
Tamy’s Specialist in Academic Affairs Veera Kaleva, who is also in charge of legal protection issues, would not draw conclusions about these.
“These cases are usually not bullying per se, but are results of poor methods, inconsideration, busyness or bureaucracy.”
“One of the language teachers clearly plays favourites. They might appear nice but you can see from the grades who they simply do not like.”
“Borderline cases, whether the inappropriate or rude comments from the teachers have been bullying or not.”
Why do the staff members of the University bully students?
Pörhölä believes that the staff members do not always realise that their feedback is perceived as bullying.
“It is part of their job to give feedback and to correct for example uneven division of work. The student might feel they are being bullied although the teacher’s actions might have been appropriate and correct.”
In her next research projects Pörhölä plans to investigate what kind of people feel like they are bullied by the staff members. In the FSHS survey, male students reported more severe and varied bullying experiences than female students. Nevertheless, male students experienced less bullying than female students. The bullying experienced by male students had also decreased since the last survey.
Another point of interest for Pörhölä is how age affects bullying. Gender was a separating factor in this as well. For female students, higher than average age seemed to be a risk factor for bullying, whereas with male students it lowered the possibility of bullying.
The comments written in italics are direct quotations from the answers to Aviisi’s survey.
THIS IS HOW WE DID IT
Aviisi’s bullying survey was conducted 7.–15.2. using Google Forms. There were a total of 131 respondents.
The survey had 27 questions out of which 12 were mandatory. Two of the questions addressed cases where the bullying was perceived as coming from a staff member.
Out of the respondents 77.9% were women, 13.7% were men, and 8.4% could not say or selected other.
39.7 % respondents were from the Faculty of Communication Sciences, 20.6 % from the Faculty of Education, 19.8 % from the Faculty of Leadership, 13 % from the Faculty of Social Sciences, 2.3 % from the Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences, 0.8 % from the Faculty of Natural Sciences. 3.1 % stated another faculty.
According to the expert statement requested by Aviisi, the survey can give an exaggerated picture of bullying experiences, but the written answers give interesting insight into the bullying situations, in what kind of situations did it occur and by whom.