1, Number 3 August/September 2000
Interactions with Faculty: Graduate Student Experiences
Jagatic and Loraleigh Keashly,
Wayne State University
the past few years, there has been increasing interest
in the study of the mistreatment of individuals in the
workplace. This type of mistreatment, while difficult
to define, includes behaviors such as belittling employees
publicly, yelling or shouting, and simply ignoring the
individual. These behaviors have consequences that are
well documented and wide-ranging and include headaches
(Bassman, 1992), memory loss (Einarsen, 1999), and even
post-traumatic stress disorder (Leymann, 1996). Workplace
mistreatment has also been found to have negative effects
on worker productivity (Bassman, 1992; Quigley, 1999),
and employee turnover (Leymann, 1990).
In addition to workplace settings, some psychological
mistreatment research has been conducted in educational
settings. For instance, researchers have found evidence
of medical student abuse (e.g., Baldwin, Daugherty, &
Eckenfels, 1990; Silver & Glicken, 1990), as well as law
student mistreatment (e.g., Elkins, 1985). It has been
suggested that this abuse has various negative effects
on students, including decreased levels of self-esteem
(Silver, 1982), and increased levels of stress (Silver
& Glicken, 1990).
While there has been some attention paid to the mistreatment
experienced by medical and law students at the hands of
faculty, prior to the current study little research has
looked into the phenomenon of graduate student abuse.
Our preliminary examination of graduate students at Wayne
State University begins to fill this research gap by exploring
the nature and effects of negative interactions by faculty
toward graduate students.
from various academic departments around the university
were asked to respond to questions regarding negative
incidents with faculty, as well as questions relating
to their methods of coping, their possible intentions
regarding turnover, and their general health.
Participants were graduate students enrolled at Wayne
State University. One hundred thirty-eight of the 163
students contacted agreed to participate, yielding a response
rate of 82%.
Researchers used four different measures, described below,
to get a picture of the graduate student experience.
Incidents Measure. This measure was developed for
the study using items from a review article on emotional
abuse by Keashly (1998), as well as items from focus
groups conducted with graduate students prior to this
study (see Table 1 for specific
items). Five subscales were developed using items from
this list reflecting different forms of mistreatment:
neglect, hostile direct, hostile indirect,
sexual harassment, and racial harassment.
Coping with Harassment Scale. Students were asked
how they coped with negative interactions with faculty
(see examples of specific items on Table
Intention to Turnover Scale. Students were asked
three questions regarding their intentions to turnover.
The questions were based on an Intention to Turnover
scale reported in Camman, Fichman, Jenkings, and Klesh
General Health Questionnaire. Students were asked
to answer 12 questions regarding their general health
on a scale developed by Goldberg (1978).
30-minute telephone interviews were conducted by graduate
students for a graduate seminar on survey research methods
using the Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI)
lab at Wayne State University.
Results and Discussion
purpose of this study was to take a preliminary look into
the nature and effects of negative interactions with faculty
toward graduate students. While graduate students reported
predominantly positive experiences, it was found that
negative incidents do occur between faculty and graduate
students, and that the incidents include a range of different
kinds of negative behavior.
and Effects of Mistreatment
Table 1 provides information on the percentage of
students reporting mistreatment by faculty that occurred
as frequently as sometimes to often. The graduate student
mistreatment items that occurred most frequently were
faculty behaviors classified as "neglectful" (see Table
1). The three most frequently reported items were
"gave little or no feedback on your performance on projects
or exams," "has not clearly defined the goals for the
course despite repeated requests to do so," and "failed
to provide guidance to you on your work." While workplace
research has found mostly hostile direct behaviors being
reported (Baron & Neuman, 1996), graduate student mistreatment
was composed of mostly neglectful behaviors. Perhaps this
is because direct forms of abuse are not tolerated by
institutions of higher education, or because the ambiguity
of neglectful behaviors makes these behaviors "safer"
for the perpetrators.
The results of the study (see Table
2) showed that coping mechanisms are different based
on the type of mistreatment. Talking to friends or family
about the mistreatment was the most frequently occurring
coping response for both minor and major incidents with
faculty, however the coping responses differed for minor
and major incidents otherwise. Emotion focused coping,
where individuals manage their emotional responses internally
rather than doing something about the problem, was used
for minor negative incidents most often. This may be because
students view minor negative situations as too ambiguous
to warrant direct action, or they are unsure of the significance
of the event. On the other hand, problem-focused coping,
which involves the individual solving the problem directly,
was used for major negative incidents.
to Leave and General Health
There was a significant relationship found between mistreatment
items and two of the three intention to leave items. Specifically,
results of the study showed that the greater the frequency
of mistreatment experienced by students, the stronger
the intention to leave the program and the university
in general. Students' general health was also negatively
affected by mistreatment by faculty.
are several implications associated with this preliminary
results show that, while not very frequent, there does
indeed exist a phenomenon of graduate student mistreatment.
Second, the mistreatment behaviors being reported by students
are primarily of a neglectful nature. These behaviors
may be as damaging to students as more overtly hostile
behaviors, such as swearing. If faculty were made aware
of how damaging their acts of neglect were, perhaps they
would engage in them to a lesser extent.
Third, the current study focused on the organization as
a whole; in this case, the focus was on graduate students
from all disciplines at Wayne State University. However,
each department in a university has its own subculture,
and some departments may be more abusive than others.
Further research may uncover important differences between
academic departments in this regard.
Fourth, this study found that student mistreatment was
related to intentions to quit school and toward being
a student altogether. These findings are significant for
school administrators concerned with student retention
rates. Perhaps the reduction of negative interactions
with faculty will curb student attrition rates.
Finally, this preliminary study found evidence that mistreatment
may affect general student health, and that these effects
are not trivial. Interestingly, the directly hostile mistreatment
items did not correlate significantly with the General
Health Questionnaire, but the neglectful mistreatment
items did. Thus, neglectful behavior by faculty is both
prevalent and damaging to graduate students health.
preliminary examination of the nature and effects of negative
interactions with faculty yielded some interesting findings.
research on a broader scale is necessary so that
interventions can be designed appropriately to improve
D. C., Daugherty, S. R., & Eckenfels, E. J. (1991).
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Camman, C., Fichman, M., Jenkings, D., & Klesh, M.
(1979). The Michigan Organizational Assessment Questionnaire
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Quigley, A. M. (1999). Organizational consequences
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Silver, H. K. (1982). Medical Students and medical school.
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Jagatic is a doctoral candidate in Industrial-Organizational
Psychology at Wayne State University. Her dissertation
research is focusing on faculty hostility towards students
in professional training programs, i.e., medicine, law,
and clinical psychology.
on the faculty of Wayne State University's College of
Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs where she serves
Academic Director of the Master of Arts in Dispute Resolution
program. She can be contacted for more information regarding
this article or related projects at firstname.lastname@example.org