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Editorial: UMass smart to address campus bullying

Bullying has become a major issue over the past few years, and rightfully so. The focus has been mainly on children and teens and the sometimes tragic results of the emotional battering that are still far too commonplace.

But at least public schools in this state have taken a strong no-tolerance stand and imposed measures to educate children and swiftly deal with incidents. That does have an impact.

But bullying is not reserved for the young. Though it is not so openly discussed, adults are mistreated this way, too, and the workplace is an area where victims are particularly vulnerable, as their livelihoods are at stake. Therefore, we applaud University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and other campus officials for publicly recognizing this and taking steps to improve the work environment for campus staff.

Troubled by statistics and comments gathered in an online survey last fall, Subbaswamy sent a memo to faculty and staff recently saying that although the UMass results line up with data gathered at other workplaces across the country, the university finds this unacceptable and is working on ways to eliminate bullying from campus offices.

As part of the effort, there will be a one-day symposium in the fall followed by ongoing workshops led by the Committee on Workplace Climate and Bullying, a 22-member panel chaired by associate chancellor Susan Pearson, with the help of a consultant. The idea, said Subbaswamy, is to shine a light on this vicious behavior and find ways to address it so that the staff at UMass can do their jobs unencumbered. Those who feel they are subject to such mistreatment should be able to seek recourse without fear of being fired.

The online survey conducted at UMass last fall indicated that 48 percent of the 2,254 respondents said they witnessed workplace bullying within the past two years and 39 percent reported having experienced it. Supervisors were identified by 38 percent of the respondents as responsible, followed by co-workers at 32 percent and someone of higher rank at 25 percent. Particularly disturbing is that 44 percent said they were dissatisfied with the response they got when they reported incidents.

The survey was conducted by the Campus Coalition Against Workplace Bullying, a panel made up of union representatives and various staff, including those in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

That the university would even have such a committee, formed three years ago, is impressive, though it is more likely a public institution would be compelled to address such matters.

It is an excellent example for private employers, though. Showing that there is no place for bullying, along with other forms of discrimination and harassment in our businesses, as well as our schools, will make this a better society.

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