October 9th, 2012

Employers Hiding Workplace Bullying: “Going PSU”


Abusing children is illegal and a criminal offense. No one apologizes for adults who sexually assault and rape children. On that we are a zero tolerance society. Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to the prison for enough years to ensure he will die there. Even at sentencing, he showed no remorse and never apologized. The adults who came forward to tell stories of their abuse by him as minors were brave.

Sandusky called his victims greedy future plaintiffs in civil lawsuits seeking money. Some victims will certainly sue Penn State University (PSU) for condoning their abuse. The institution ultimately bears responsibility for on-campus crimes.

PSU administrators showed indifference to reports of abuse that Sandusky committed on campus. He was the golden child coach of 30 years who could do no wrong in their eyes. Sandusky had sponsors in powerful positions, not the least of whom was close friend head coach Joe Paterno. Paterno’s posthumous reputation is forever tarnished by his failure to hold his longtime ally to account for unforgivable acts against minors.

Now consider an abuser of adults on a college campus — former head basketball coach Bobby Knight at Indiana University. Knight was as powerful on his campus as Paterno and Sandusky were at PSU. It took decades for the university to fire him despite many public instances of rage directed at officials and players. What few people knew was that Knight was abusive to administrative staff during his years on campus. He was an employee who threatened and intimidated and bullied staff who dare to do their jobs and make him act like a civil colleague. He was immune to enforcement of all campus policies, including the violence policies. He was also able to make threats that led to the firing of several of his bosses (Athletic Directors).

IU and PSU are not unique, but actually ordinary. They are both employers protecting abusers on the payroll. The big difference is that at PSU minors were involved. The nation is outraged, clamoring for Sandusky’s head.

At IU, generations of administrators, fans, sports radio talking heads and the general public adored Knight as long as he won. He abused adults on campus. People on the street cited the graduation rate of the IU basketball teams under Knight. Apologists flourished. The first edition of our book, The Bully At Work, was released the month Knight was fired. That month in 2000, I guested on several sports talk radio shows and got hammered for daring to brand local hero Knight a bully. Wonder how they would have responded to the label – abuser?

The point is that employers who harbor abusers are the norm, not the exception. Every bullied target will tell you that there is no outrage over their plight. There is no clamoring for their bully’s head. In fact, concerted institutional pressure is heaped on the lone target. The abused worker is vilified as somehow causing her or his fate. The abuser is described as misunderstood and indispensable. Targets are discarded (at the rate of 77% according to our 2012 research).

Employers who protect, excuse, defend, facilitate, promote, reward, and glorify known abusers on the payroll are committing the same wrongs that PSU did. PSU administrators quit in disgrace. Paterno was fired and stripped of many of his team victories. But when adults are abused, employers act like PSU did when it covered-up the crimes.

Abusing adults in the American workplace is not currently illegal. For employers, blaming victims is easier than holding known abusers accountable. Executives love their pet aggressors. They sponsor and condone their misconduct.

The Jerry Sandusky sentencing was one week from the start of WBI’s Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week. Targets deserve freedom from employers defending and hiding abusers.

Let’s adopt a new code phrase for employers who refuse to stop bullying in their ranks. Let’s call it

“Going PSU.”

Most will not recognize the phrase. The millions of bullied workers will know. It’s a call for employer engagement. When the investigation of your complaint is shoddy and unsatisfactory, when your manager tells you to “work it out between yourselves” in response to your plea for relief from a coworker’s assaults, when the senior manager threatens to fire you for bringing bad news to him about his pet employee — your bully — then mutter to yourself, this place is no better than PSU. It’s “going PSU.”


Oct. 11 UPDATE

Never has there been such interest in a piece, even if it is to uniformly disagree with me.

The real analogy I was getting at is the misuse of the term “going postal.” I’ve worked with postal workers and they despise having their entire workforce branded as such. USPS management uses the term to shame its workers and commissioned a study to “prove” to postal workers that they are exposed to no more workplace violence than any other worker in the U.S. That was mean-spirited.

So, I thought we need an equivalent term to shame employers who routinely cover-up and defend bullies and the bullying they inflict on others. I still think we need such a slogan — fair or not. Bullying is not fair. Someone mentioned “going Catholic Church” would be equally ridiculous, but it does capture a large enterprise now known to cover-up child abuse.

Sorry for upsetting PSU alums. I’m a Pennsylvanian myself and loved the JoPa myth as much as anybody. I have not studied the details of PSU involvement, simply took public accounts and combined it with the realities we see in most organizations. Much defensive behavior is predictable. But I don’t pretend to know who knew what when.

And Sandusky and I attended the same high school. His family was a big name in my hometown.

Short of posting an addendum to job listings “Bullying is likely to happen here frequently,” I don’t know how we can shame employers with a phrase of the demeaning power of “going postal” to refer to an out-of-control employee who poses a violence risk or who has gone over the edge.

That was my intent. Any constructive ideas?


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 9th, 2012 at 10:41 am and is filed under Commentary by G. Namie, Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, The New America, Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  1. kachina2 says:

    It is indeed an inditement of society to claim that bullying is institutionalized and normal. It is also true and indefensible. The only way to change it is…well, to change it. 

    None of us can do it alone. No small segment of those “in the know” can do it. The point at which change becomes a real possibility is when the majority become informed and are sufficiently motivated to act together to create changes that reflect our values.

    If we can’t start by agreeing on something, we can’t work toward broader goals together. Human rights and freedom for children seems a logical starting point from which to expand to a larger realization of human rights to freedom from abuse. Who among us is willing to stand AGAINST protecting children from abuse? Perhaps eventually we will acknowledge the continuity of life and recognize that abuse has long term effects, and that children, given time enough, will become adults. Our vulnerability does not end on a particular birthday or phase of life. We are interdependent. There is no true and valid distinction between ourselves and others.

    I think we generally need the same things…recognition of our humanity and fundamental human rights is a reasonable long term goal that I hope we will eventually agree on. Failure to acknowledge our individual and collective historical shortcomings does nothing to further that cause.

  2. Sandusky & Paterno were NOT close friends.  In fact they where the opposite (read Posnanski’s book for reference). 

    Last time I checked we live in America & innocent until proven guilty.  Not one PSU administrator has been proven to “protect” abusers.  In fact, Ex-President Graham Spanier has been granted the highest security level there is by the Department of Defense despite Louis Freeh’s allegations.

    Maybe WBI should ask why the State College Police, Department of Public welfare, Child Youth Services, & the attorney generals’ office let Sandusky slip thru there grasp in 1998.  Are these trained professionals “bullies”  as well. 

    • kachina2 says:

      The trained professionals you refer to are acutely aware of the difference between illegal and immoral actions. It might be more useful to focus on improving protection for victims (and potential victims/targets) of immoral behaviour (including legal reforms). I think it also behooves us clarify that there is a difference between “innocent” and “not proven guilty”, as the concept of guilt is dependent on both legal definitions AND thorough investigation of allegations…neither of which need consider morality.

      I see the relationship between Paterno and Sandusky is a distraction in a discussion that should be primarily concerned with values and ethics. Look forward toward solutions.

    • You are completely right about all of the other institutions that looked the other way or decided to not trust their own “lying eyes.” Remarkable, isn’t it, how easily denial comes. My main point is not about PSU, but rather about employers who try to bury their own on-site bullying stories.

  3. Spot on. “Going PSU” is the perfect term here. We just need to be cognizant of the fact that like Paterno, the rest of the so-called “leaders” at PSU, and apologists like@twitter-448963089:disqus , the bulliers and bully enablers will be unwilling to acknowledge the crimes taking place under their noses and their complicity of silence. Very sad.

    • rciffo says:

      You’re a lemming.  But really, its not your fault.  You don’t know any better and you obviously let the media do your thinking for you.  To be sure, some terrible things happened on PSU’s campus.  But that Freeh Report is not in any way 100% factual.  The problem is that Penn State’s BOT in tried to be over-accountable by:

      1.) waiving attorney client privilege with Freeh
      2.) allowing him to have a PRESS CONFERENCE to announce HIS findings.
      3.) not reviewing the report prior to release
      4.) not responding to the report, at all, ever, in any way.
      5.) allowing the NCAA to use the report to levy sanctions which reinforced the report as COMPLETE TRUTH.
      6.) not being at NCAA PRESS CONFERENCE to temper statements of Emmert
      7.) not responding to the NCAA sanctions or their PRESS CONFERENCE.

      I’m no apologist.  If, after the Curley and Schultz trials the Freeh Report is still viable, I’ll be the first to go on the witch hunt. This WBI article is pandering in its purist form.

  4. ShutUpShutUpPaternoSheepGuy says:

    lol, what a stupid piece. I’m sure this will catch on.

  5. Teddy765 says:

    G. Namie, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this blog is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no credibility, and may God have mercy on your soul.

  6. Deborah says:

    “He was the golden child coach of 30 years who could do no wrong in their eyes. Sandusky had sponsors in powerful positions, not the least of whom was close friend head coach Joe Paterno.”

    Evidence to support both parts of the above question?

  7. FreddieB says:

    If you want credibility, this isn’t the way to get it.  I don’t see nationally renowned child abuse advocacy organizations calling it “going Catholic Church”, they’d understand the sensitivity behind that for the victims and everyone involvde, and the lack of focus on the real issue.  You just seem like some angry blogger looking to make a name for himself/herself, which is a shame because Workplace Bullying is a real issue, but the way to solve it isn’t by coining “cute” phrases like “going PSU”, which does exactly what you see below, start debates about an unrelated topic rather than focus on the issue at hand.  I’m not sure you want to solve the issue, rather be angry, which is probably due to some past experience, which is unfortunate, but we’re no closer to fixing the issue with dumb ideas like this.

  8. FreddieB says:

    Hey Mod, why isn’t my last comment posted, guess conversation is OK as long as it wasn’t pointed at you?  Way to protect freedom of speech.

    • bullyinginstitute says:

       All comments are initially held for moderation.  Not because of some big conspiracy against you to hinder your free speech – but to catch those messages which might give away details about a person and cost them their job.  Sometimes people don’t realize what gets posted here ends up on search engines.

  9. kachina2 says:

    I think you have articulated the essence of what prevents us as a society from addressing the insidious forms of human rights abuses. We simply cannot believe the capacity of a human being to behave so badly toward another. Those who experience it can hardly believe their own experience, and many intuit that they will not be believed and remain silent. Others expect to be believed and are devastated when they speak and are disbelieved. Still others speak, are believed, but nothing changes.

    We need to believe. Not attractive, but there it is. The ugly truth.

  10. kachina2 says:

    I just found this interesting piece on the Paterno perspective on the PSU situation.


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