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End of an Era – Please

The last 2 academic years have been awful. They have been full of the worst that HE has to offer, full of the worst that people have to offer and it made me question everything. It made me question whether I want to be an academic, whether I am capable of being an academic, whether I can teach, whether I can research, whether anything I have ever done has ever been good enough, whether it was worth doing, made a difference. It made me question my management skills, approach, and philosophy. It made me second guess everything I have ever been sure of and it pushed me far further towards a total darkness than anyone should ever have to go.

The last academic year ran me over like a freight train  and some days I didn’t know if I’d ever get up again. I had days where I physically couldn’t make myself get out of bed, I had days where I just cried for no reason, I had days where I couldn’t breathe, where I couldn’t leave the house, where I couldn’t read, didn’t understand anything anyone said to me… days where I just didn’t function and yet – on some of these days I did function. I functioned at a stupidly high level. I spent the best part of a day in an ‘Academic Portfolio Review’ meeting answering question about the Law School, the courses, the research etc. I was apparently ‘very impressive’ – I barely remember it. I’d got off the bus a couple of stops early on the way there because I couldn’t breathe.

I spent most of the academic year on high alert waiting for next ‘attack’, crying in the toilets, smiling vaguely in meetings because I had no clue what had just been said and just trying to breathe. I knew, when I took on the Head of School role, first on an interim basis and then permanently, that there was a lot of work to do. What I didn’t know was that I would get no real support to do that work and that there would be a small but significant group of people who would happily undermine me, stab me in the back, lie, cheat, make stuff up and do it all with a smile. I don’t like to be a victim, I don’t like what my experience says about me. If I don’t succeed then that is down to me – that’s the way I work. Success and failure are my doing BUT the more distance I get the more clearly I can see that I was bullied from the minute I stepped into the role. I hate that, I absolutely hate that. I am not someone who is bullied. This doesn’t happen to me. I am in control of my own destiny, my own actions, my own future, everything. I. Don’t. Get. Bullied.

But I did. I was promised a mentor when I took the management role. I suggested a couple of women in management or senior roles who I admired and my suggestions were laughed at and then nothing happened. I had no management experience but I tried – I signed up for an MA module in leadership (I got a distinction just for the record), I read as much management and leadership stuff as I could get my hands on and I concentrated on some of the gendered stuff – I wanted to be ready for this shit. I spent lots and lots of time talking to Law School staff, my staff. We figured out together how this was going to work for us. The Law School worked, it was the least dysfunctional part of the university as far as I am concerned. I was ‘disciplined’ for raising Law School concerns about an admin restructure with the restructure steering group (as in hauled in to see the Director of Administration and the Dean) and very quickly some very clever people had constructed a narrative of me as inexperienced, emotion led and hot headed. And they fed that narrative throughout the next 18  months.

I was lied to about my staff and lied about to my staff. I was told confidential information that was then leaked to others and I was blamed for the leak. I was told information and told it was confidential and then reprimanded for not having ‘cascaded’ it to my team. I was patronised, ignored, laughed at and dismissed more times than I care to remember. I was asked to do stuff, delivered and then asked why I did the things I’d been asked to do with a room full of people insisting I’d never been asked to do something and this was me ‘going it alone’ again. I was told to completely re-write our Law UG provision in about an 8 months period. Later all the issues that come with having to do this sort of thing quickly are all my fault because I insisted on doing it for the 2016/16 academic year. People offered help, then didn’t help, then ignored my pleas for some assistance and then swear blind they never heard from me.

I was told I was doing an excellent job – but only ever behind closed doors. I had two performance reviews as Head of School – the first was 5 minutes about how amazing I was and 40 minutes about how I need to learn to keep my temper in check because it undermines everything I do. The second was even more bizarre than that and I won’t say any more about that one. I had a meeting with a senior figure another time and was sworn at, asked if I now realised how wrong I was about everything and told to get a grip. My staff were told that if I learned how to manage and they could keep me in line, the Law School might not be in so much trouble (it never was!). I made a complaint, a formal one, to the Dean and he refused to engage with it and told me he did not agree with my assessment of the situation and to let it go.

So, I have cried, I have screamed, I have run stupid miles to get the adrenalin out of my system, I have taken time off sick, I have gone back, I have tried again but my body won’t take the miles I need to run to keep doing this shit, I don’t have any more tears left, I have run out of energy and out of self belief. I cannot work in that toxic environment. I cannot keep crying myself to sleep at night. I can’t get to the point where being bullied feels normal. So I resigned a while ago. My finishing date was the 14th August. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. The Law School means the world to me. The colleagues there are everything HE should be and they reminded me every day that we need to fight for collegiality, honesty and loyalty within academia but my little Law School oasis wasn’t enough to combat the crap outside of that. I do hope the university realises what a gem it has.

I do have another job lined up and more on that soon. For now I am just trying to remember that I am good at my job, that I can teach, that I can research and that I can lead, not manage, lead.