Dean Dad, whose wisdom and insight should be required reading for every academic, shares something valuable from a book he’s been reading, The College Administrator’s Survival Guide: the concept of the “victim bully”:
Gunsalus distinguishes between traditional, assertive bullies, who throw their weight around with bluster and force, and ‘victim bullies,’ who use claims of having been wronged to gain leverage over others.(pp. 123-4) Unlike simple passive-aggression, victim bullies use accusations as weapons, and ramp up the accusations over time. Unlike a normal person, who would slink away in shame as the initial accusations are discredited, a victim bully lacks either guilt or shame, honestly believing that s/he has been so egregiously wronged in some cosmic way that anything s/he does or says is justified in the larger scheme of things. So when the initial accusations are dismissed, the victim bully’s first move is a sort of double-or-nothing, raising the absurdity and the stakes even more.
Gunsalus also notes, correctly, that in academic settings, bullies have a way of escaping supervision. Between the protections of tenure and the personality types who self-select to be in academe, department chairs and deans often deal with bullies by either mollifying them or isolating them. Either way, the bully is, essentially, rewarded.