Although bullying and harassment among academic staff has been well researched, research on students bullying and harassing academic teaching staff (ie, contrapower harassment) is less common. Contrapower harassment has been on the rise in academia over the last decade, partly attributable to changes in the student–faculty staff relationship. This study aimed to understand better the extent and impact of students’ contrapower harassment on paramedic academic teaching staff within Australian universities, as well as actions and interventions to address it.
This study used a two-phase mixed methods design. In phase 1, a convenience sample of paramedic teaching academics from 12 universities in Australia participated in an online questionnaire. In phase 2, an in-depth interview was conducted with nine participants from phase 1.
Seventy-six academic teaching staff participated in the study. Survey results showed that most academics surveyed had experienced harassment from paramedic students, with the highest incidence of harassment occurring during student assessment periods. Alarmingly, over 30% of the academics surveyed had been ‘stalked’ by a student and over 50% had felt powerless and helpless when students had attacked them on social media. Problematic students were identified as those who presented with an over-inflated sense of entitlement or with psychological states and traits that find it challenging to accept feedback and failure, and look to externalise their failures. Reasons for increases in contrapower harassment included a complex mix of consumer and demand-driven education, on-demand (and demanding) instant gratification and degree self-entitlement, and an increase in social media and online learning (particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020).
Although most of the academics in this study experienced contrapower harassment by students, they also report that most students are level-headed and supportive, and do not carry out this type of harassment. Promoting student professionalism and reassessing student evaluations are starting points for addressing this type of harassment. Further research on the broader systemic issues that influence the contributors to contrapower harassment is needed.
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