Professors get cyberbullied, too

Online platforms like RateMyProfessor are often used to cyberbully professors.

Cyberbullying in our school systems is usually understood as one student projecting their antagonisms upon another student, but what many do not realize is that cyberbullying can also be directed towards professors.

Lida Blizard, a nursing instructor who recently completed her PhD in educational leadership at SFU, conducted a study that looks at the cyberbullying of faculty staff members.

Blizard stated, “This study found that the platforms commonly used by students to target staff members were emails, end of term online evaluations, and faculty calling sites — for example, RateMyProf.”

The study also found that the most common factors behind cyberbullying incidents were a student’s dissatisfaction with grades, a student’s misconduct issues, and assignment difficulty.

The student’s retaliation would usually take the form of derogatory remarks aimed at the faculty member, or a demand for higher grades.

Blizard pointed out that these incidents had a negative impact on faculty members, including difficulty sleeping, depression, anxiety, and fear of the student. Approximately 20 per cent of the staff members who took part in the study had thoughts of retaliation and a lower percent even had thoughts of self-harm.

Blizard explained, “The symptoms and [their] duration are very similar to the symptoms of acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Blizard reflected that many students do not realize the harm they might cause by posting hateful comments on sites like RateMyProf or on online course evaluations. In turn, many staff do not realize that their bad experience due to callous comments online is actually cyberbullying.

Furthermore, there are very few resources for faculty to draw upon to manage such conflicts.

Blizard said, “They don’t know what cyberbullying is about, and they don’t have education or training in how to manage such conflicts. Thus, they are left at their own ways to figure it out, which may not necessarily be effective.”

She continued that in order to stop the cyberbullying of professors, there must be support measures put in place at the institution. Cyberbullying needs to be embedded into the curriculum and talked about in classes in order to foster an understanding of the issue. 

“People respond to stress differently. [. . .] I can see how a student frustrated with the academic pressures and faced with poor outcomes might turn to online media as their preferred form of communication, rather than going to meet with their professor and trying to have a conversation about it,” Blizard said.

As the end of semester nears and final projects, essays, and exams loom, Blizard advised that everyone take a deep breathe before writing hurtful comments on online and offline course evaluations. “Consider the recipient on the other side of it, being yourself,” she said.