Publication Details

Pena Saint Martin, F., Martin, B., Lopez, H. and Moheno, L. (2014). Graduate students as proxy mobbing targets: insights from three Mexican universities. Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, (24), 19-32.


Inside universities, struggles between academics often involve mobbing (collective bullying) and suppression of dissent and discontent. Shamefully, in some of these struggles, graduate students become targets of aggression as an indirect method of attacking their supervisors or mentors. Based on anecdotal comments and recollections, it is plausible that there might be hundreds or thousands of cases of this unethical and highly damaging phenomenon, but it has seldom been documented. Our aim is to initiate a discussion of goals, methods, dynamics, and negative impacts of these indirect attacks that use students as proxies and pawns in battles of which, much of the time, they are unaware. To develop an initial classification of attacks and impacts, we draw on three cases in Mexican universities. In each case, students were suppressed as an indirect way of damaging their supervisors’ prestige and academic interests, with this suppression being part of a mobbing process against the supervisors. We begin by outlining the features of struggles between academics, classifying attacks into several categories, thereby putting student-as-proxy attacks in context. Our case studies are from three Mexican universities, so we next provide an overview of the context of current Mexican public higher education. Then we outline the three cases. In the conclusion, we summarize the common features from these case studies and present some ideas on responding to these sorts of attacks. For research and pedagogical analysis, the appendix gives more extended accounts of the three cases.

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Workplace: a journal for academic labor