Ann M. Little: Historian complains she was a victim of bullying in her department

Historians in the News

... Ann M. Little, an associate professor of history at Colorado State University at Fort Collins who writes a popular blog called Historiann, decided she wanted to speak up. She recently wrote a post on her blog about bullying, suggesting that people cut and run if their situation is dire, as hers was. "My major foe at my former university was someone who was tenured, but simultaneously (and humiliatingly)" was denied promotion to associate professor, Little wrote. "Unfortunately, this individual's experience resulted not in anger and radicalization, but in shame and internalization, which was then directed outward not at the people who caused her misery, but at other targets below her on the hierarchy."

That became a pattern in the department, Little continued on her blog. "People were filled with resentment about the way they were treated, and most of them either became bullies or apologists, explaining that 'don't worry, you'll still be tenured. That's just the way we do things. Everyone goes through it, so you'll just have to suck it up.' … Those who were my friends and allies were valiant in their optimism and their commitment to change, but in the meantime, what a life: stomping out flaming bags of poop that someone else is leaving on yet someone else's doorstep."

Little's experience was enough to drive her away from Dayton, where she was an assistant professor of history (although she had never met or heard of Twale or Deluca). She says she should have seen the red flags when a prospective colleague there yelled at her during her job negotiations. She took it in a stride (a mistake, she believes in retrospect). "We all feel so grateful just to get a job," she explains in an interview. "When you're a grad student, there is a culture of groveling." When she arrived at Dayton, she won a prestigious fellowship. But she was shocked when her department chairman told her it was good that the fellowship was for only six months, because she ought not to neglect married life with her husband.

Little says that she tried her best to be a team player, taking colleagues out to lunch, but that they began to side with her "major foe." One day, several years into her time at Dayton, she heard that the woman was "storming around, cursing my name, screaming," she says. "I just needed to get out." She did.

Joseph Untener, Dayton's associate provost for faculty and administrative affairs, says that since Little left, in 2001, the history department, which had experienced a rough patch, has had a turnaround. Over all, he says, the university is a "good, collegial, respectful" place to work. In fact, he says, periodic third-party surveys show that employees are happy, and the turnover rate backs that up. He notes that Dayton ranked among the top five institutions in several categories of The Chronicle's Great Colleges to Work For survey this summer.

Little is still glad she left. At Colorado State, she says, she was initially surprised when people responded positively to her, praising her ideas. "When you're told constantly for four years that you're a problem, you do think that people see you that way."...

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