Press Room

When Professors are Cyberbullied by Students

September 2, 2014
Discipline News
Bullying, Education
Washington, DC  -  What happens when college professors are cyberbullied by their students? Sally Vogl-Bauer, a Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, ties together results from related studies to find answers for her article in the latest issue of the National Communication Association’s journal, Communication Education.
A precursor to student cyberbullying of professors may arise from the very different ways that they think about grades. In general, professors tend to grade on actual work, while students believe that grades should reflect intention and effort. Problems that may arise from this discrepancy can be exacerbated by pressure on professors to comply with student expectations.
There are a number of theories about why a student might cyberbully a professor. Among them:
  • reacting without thinking to a real or perceived insult;
  • inability or unwillingness to put a real or perceived injustice in the past;

  • expecting academic success without taking personal responsibility for attaining it.

The effects of cyberbullying can be both wide-ranging and long-term for targeted faculty. Research demonstrates that professors who are victims of cyberbullying may:

  • avoid using communication technologies like social media;
  • reduce the type of information they share with students (such as personal stories that illustrate lesson points);

  • suffer online reputation damage that is difficult to fix;

  • feel anxious about being in the classroom;

  • lose confidence in dealing with students;

  • have less job satisfaction;

  • quit teaching.

“Cyberbullies don’t usually inflict physical damage, so it’s easy for other people to miss or even ignore the very real psychological damage that does occur,” explains Vogl-Bauer. “And yet, cyberbullying can be toxic even for those who aren’t targets.” Research reveals that an apparent lack of support by academic leadership for targets can demoralize other staff on campus.

Vogl-Bauer adds that, although professors may seek some type of justice as a result of being bullied, society has strong expectations about how teachers should respond to negative student behaviors. These expectations, coupled with a lack of options and support, can create significant obstacles when faculty try to defend against cyberbullies, and may leave them with the impression that only the First Amendment rights of the bullies are being protected.

About the National Communication Association

The National Communication Association (NCA) advances Communication as the discipline that studies all forms, modes, media, and consequences of communication through humanistic, social scientific, and aesthetic inquiry. NCA serves the scholars, teachers, and practitioners who are its members by enabling and supporting their professional interests in research and teaching. Dedicated to fostering and promoting free and ethical communication, NCA promotes the widespread appreciation of the importance of communication in public and private life, the application of competent communication to improve the quality of human life and relationships, and the use of knowledge about communication to solve human problems. NCA supports inclusiveness and diversity among our faculties, within our membership, in the workplace, and in the classroom; NCA supports and promotes policies that fairly encourage this diversity and inclusion.

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