As a wave of austerity washes across the university sector, with jobs and courses being cut across the country, university managers have become masters of deflecting righteous anger by playing the victim.

At UTS, the former Dean of Science Diane Jolley is in court facing charges that she orchestrated a campaign of intimidation—against herself. While pushing to cut the traditional Chinese medicine course, Jolley claimed that she received death threats, an anonymous letter including her own underwear, and in-person abuse from “someone in the Asian community”. It seems that she was trying to make cutting a course seem like the only way to stand up to bullying. UTS spent more than $127,000 in security measures to protect her from the harassment. Now she's defending herself against 20 charges, including "sending an article to create a false belief of danger".

The University of Sydney’s Dean of Arts, Annamarie Jagose, takes a different tack, reflecting her academic training. Her office was recently targeted by student protesters opposing cuts to the university’s School of Literature, Art and Media. Jagose is an expert in feminist and queer theory; according to her staff profile, her most recent monograph, Orgasmology, “takes orgasm as its scholarly object in order to think queerly about questions of politics and pleasure; practice and subjectivity; agency and ethics”. Now Jagose is investigating the misogyny and racism inherent in protests against cuts to the faculty she manages. After students applied a classic campus chant—"Annamarie, get out, we know what you’re all about/Cuts, job losses, money for the bosses”—she sent out a faculty-wide newsletter analysing the “interpellative moment”. The chant, she discovered, was both “insinuatingly gendered” and probably reflected that protesters were disturbed by the “relative exoticism” of her surname. “Know my name!” she concluded, providing a link to a National Gallery exhibition devoted to “challenging stereotypes and highlighting the stories and achievements of all women artists”.

Senior managers playing the victim now has the added backing of a peer-reviewed article. The Dean of Education at the University of British Columbia and a lecturer at La Trobe co-authored a paper in the Cambridge Journal of Education, later basis of a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, investigating the rising tide of “incivility” that university managers were experiencing from their employees. As the Herald journalist Anna Patty explained, universities were experiencing "rising trend in insubordination that involves staff bullying their superiors". The extensive and balanced research leading to this report involved interviewing 20 deans across eight Australian universities, who whinged about "disrespect and insubordination". A useful response detailing the article's weaknesses was written by Casualised, Unemployed, & Precarious Uni Workers.

Disrespect and insubordination have an important role to play in opposing cruel and damaging cuts. We know that the people who are actually suffering in our sector at the moment are the tens of thousands of people who have already lost their livelihoods, or who will soon, and the hundreds of thousands more who are dealing with ruthless and incompetent managers. Don’t let their crocodile tears stop us from demanding better from them.