Management Culture in Higher Education Is Out of Control, and People Are Dying

Institutional betrayal is ruining careers and taking lives.

Matthew Thiele

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Photo of Cardiff Business School by Jklo286 via Wikimedia Commons under a CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

I was saddened to read recently that Antoinette Candia-Bailey, Vice President of Student Affairs at Lincoln University, died by suicide on January 8, 2024. Before her suicide, she had complained that she was being bullied by the university’s president. Racism may have contributed to the president’s treatment of Candia-Bailey, and that is currently being investigated, but the influence of toxic management culture and institutional betrayal should also be considered.

Candia-Bailey complained about being set up to fail, and I know exactly how that feels. Some of my supervisors seemed to enjoy making me struggle with impossible tasks and unrealistic deadlines. It is pretty common for managers in higher education to disregard the feelings of workers and to be positively cruel and/or neglectful.

If you’ve never experienced it before, try to imagine the panic and fear a person must feel when they realize that the people responsible for their wellbeing seem to hate them no matter what they do. Imagine the despair teachers must feel when the person responsible for guiding their career and safeguarding their livelihood ends up being their tormentor. It is a betrayal on par with being betrayed by a parent.

In a 2018 Times Higher Education article, Andrew Oswald called for everyone to pay more attention to suicide risk among academics. Oswald suggests that it is the responsibility of senior management to address the risk. The title of his article states his basic position: “Middle-Aged Academics Are at Greater Suicide Risk Than Students.” The motivation behind that article was the death by suicide of Malcolm Anderson, an overworked lecturer of accounting at Cardiff University in Wales. Anderson’s managers worked him so hard that he threw himself to his death from the Business School building.

I suffer from post-traumatic stress because I was bullied and betrayed by supervisors in higher education, and I have experienced profound despair. I feel physical revulsion and panic when I have to deal with certain people and certain offices. I try to channel that constructively. I write and write.

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Matthew Thiele

Teacher. Satirist. Scholar. Published in Slackjaw, Points in Case, McSweeney’s, Ben Jonson Journal, and elsewhere. Definitely not a representative of GSU.