Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The bullies of academia and suicide

About 20 bullying victims at one of Australia's leading universities have attempted or considered suicide, an inquiry has been told.

One female academic became so traumatised she tried to kill herself in her campus office, she told the federal parliamentary committee into workplace bullying.

Microbiologist Dr Michelle Adams later told 'The Daily Telegraph' she swallowed "tablets" in February last year during a long-running campaign to stop bullying at Newcastle University.

"I am now medically retired and ... under the medical care of both a psychiatrist and a psychologist," the 46-year-old mother of two said.

Dr Adams told the inquiry she suffered "almost 10 years of bullying, harassment and victimisation" after reporting academic misconduct in 2003.

"When one act of bullying involved the theft of ... tuberculosis from my research laboratory, at least one colleague was of the opinion that 'things go missing all the time',"she said.

"When I explained I was scared the attacks would escalate to violence I was told I was 'over-reacting'."

In a letter to NSW and federal MPs, Dr Adams said an anti-bullying group at the university had collected "evidence about 20 victims of the bullying have either attempted or considered suicide".

The issues at Newcastle follow revelations during the inquiry that staff relations at the University of NSW had become so dysfunctional some employees spend days "crying in the toilets".

More than two thirds of the academic and general staff at UNSW say they had been bullied at work and some claim to have been sexually assaulted. University authorities have been accused of failing to address the issue.

The anti-bullying group at Newcastle told the inquiry 175 current and former staff and students had responded to an online survey.