06 September 2009

Academic Harassment Issue Yields Bizarre Case

Universities and four-year colleges in Japan have long been male-dominated. When higher education here began hiring more women into career track positions, it seems cases of workplace sexual harassment were inevitable. When they started recruiting more female undergraduates, professor-on-student harassment cases were also a result. With the expansion of graduate schools (to include more female professors and students), sexual harassment remains a buzzword and a reality.

However, recently talk has also shifted to harassment without an overt sexual component (if you believe that possible). The concept is a term referred to as 'academic harassment'. It is actually a higher education version of 'power harassment', otherwise more commonly known as 'workplace bullying'. And Japan is a country known for dominant groups and cliques in just about any social situation or organization dumping on minority groups, losing cliques, and individualists, although I doubt that this is unique to Japan. Still it is often thought to be rampant in higher education here, where competition for funding and staffing can be fierce and faculty are often comprised of people who are far more interested in research and accomplishments that bring acclaim, such as supervising others' research, than they are in the usually anonymous drudgery of teaching undergraduates.

This month the Times HE reports on a rather strange-appearing case in Hokkaido, the northern most part of Japan which has a lot of higher education institutions because of the abundant open land and green field sites for campus development.

This would appear to be a complex story. The university alleges the fired professors are guilty of academic harassment of students. However, is the professors' exploitation of students for research purposes that different from what other professors are doing? If so, is it a justified or wrongful dismissal? And if the professors are not guilty, is the university itself engaging in its own forms of academic harassment and abuse of power? It seems quite possible.

Read more about the case at THES online; link and excerpt below:


>>Language of power is focus in legal action over sackings

3 September 2009

By Melanie Newman

Professors who taught dying tongue say university 'fabricated' claims. Melanie Newman reports

Three academics who were sacked by a Japanese university on charges of "academic harassment" have claimed that they were ousted for attempting to teach an indigenous language.

The professors of educational linguistics, who have asked not to be named, are bringing legal action against Hokkaido University of Education after being fired by the institution in February.<<

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