The absence of legal remedies following academic bullying

Bioimpacts, 10(2), 63-64; DOI:10.34172/bi.2020.08


The absence of legal remedies following academic bullying

Morteza Mahmoudi1*, Sherry Moss2

1 Department of Radiology and Precision Health Program, Michigan State University, MI, USA
2 School of Business, Wake Forest University, NC, USA

*Corresponding author: Morteza Mahmoudi, Email: mahmou22@msu.edu


Currently, victims of discrimination and sexual harassment have institutional reporting systems and legal remedies which support them in finding justice for these crimes. However, victims of academic bullying, who suffer similar repercussions, have no legal or institutional remedies. Because academic bullying is not a crime, targets often suffer in silence because there is no recourse. It is time for institutions to ask for governmental support to create legislation, similar to that for sexual harassment and discrimination, which will bring justice to academic bullies and relief to their victims. In the absence of legislation, institutions should create reporting procedures and educational programs which mirror those they have in place for sexual harassment and discrimination.

Keywords: Academic bullying, Law, Harassment

Targets of sexual harassment/violence and academic bullying suffer from similar long-term serious emotional, mental, organizational and physical side effects. Although the targets of sexual harassment have a well-defined path toward speaking up and getting support in many ways,1-4 the targets of academic bullying have no legal recourse.5

One of the main problems is the absence of laws and organizational guidelines on academic bullying. While institutions and funding agencies have strict and well-defined legal policies for dealing with sexual harassment, they are ill-equipped to deal with academic bullying.6 Fear of legal consequences has forced institutions and funding agencies to invest in educational programs and easy-to-access, reliable reporting systems for sexual harassment with minimum risk of retaliation. In contrast, although academic bullying results in similar side effects on targets, it is not illegal unless it is concomitant with sexual violence or discrimination based on sex, race, and so forth.

We strongly believe that the scientific community desperately needs the help of government to consider all aspects of academic bullying and propose appropriate legislation to support, and find justice for the targets. In the presence of legal actions, all stakeholders will treat academic bullying incidences similar to sexual harassment or discrimination and therefore create suitable educational and reporting systems that can substantially minimize the bullying problem in science. In the absence of strong legislation, institutions should create reporting and accountability systems which mirror those in place for sexual harassment, pairing these with educational programs aimed at reducing the occurrence of bullying in academic science.

We are currently conducting a survey on academic bullying and would like your participation. Whether or not you’ve been a witness to or target, we would appreciate you completing our survey: https://wakeforest.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0uZSsSRmzJDVnb7.

Funding sources

None to be declared.

Ethical statement

There is none to be declared.

Competing interests

The authors are directors of the Academic Parity Movement, a non-profit organization to address academic bullying issues.

Authors’ contribution

Both authors contributed equally in this work.


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  2. The Lancet. Time's up for sexual harassment in medicine. Lancet 2018; 391: 2576. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31428-4. [Crossref]
  3. Viglianti EM, Oliverio AL, Meeks LM. Sexual harassment and abuse: when the patient is the perpetrator. Lancet 2018; 392: 368-70. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31502-2. [Crossref]
  4. Minkina N. Can #MeToo abolish sexual harassment and discrimination in medicine? Lancet 2019; 394: 383-4. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(19)31731-3. [Crossref]
  5. Mahmoudi M. Improve reporting systems for academic bullying. Nature 2018; 562: 494. doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-07154-x. [Crossref]
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Submitted: 23 Oct 2019
Accepted: 23 Nov 2019
First published online: 30 Mar 2020
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