1. Heinrich, Kathleen T. PhD, RN, FAAN

Article Content

When was the last time your scholarly joy got stolen? If your school requires scholarship for retention, promotion or tenure, chances are it happened recently and this was not the first time. As a twice-tenured professor turned scholarly consultant, I find scholarly joy-stealing so commonplace that leaders and faculty groups hardly notice it, much less imagine things can be different. Which is not to say they do not feel the effects.


What is scholarly joy-stealing? Think incivility with a scholarly twist. For our purposes, scholarly joy-stealing refers to interactions that rob nurse educators of scholarly productivity along with zest, clarity, feelings of worth, and desire for more connection.1 Here is a for instance.


After facilitating a faculty development workshop on turning teaching into scholarship, I met with individuals to help refine their scholarly projects. By the third 1-on-1 consult, I noticed a pattern forming: Each one spent our first 5 minutes criticizing a colleague or the leader. When I asked subsequent consultees how talking about others affected their scholarly progress, they all said the same thing. It is a distraction.


When I asked the leader if she considered this a scholarly joy-stealing pattern, she dismissed it as "gossip" in a no-harm-done tone of voice. And when I posed the same question to her faculty group, they stared at me blankly. Were they really not seeing this pattern, or were they just hesitant about discussing it with an outside consultant?


Having asked myself this question repeatedly over the last more than 10 years, albeit about different patterns in different groups, here is my hunch. Scholarship and competition have become so synonymous in academe that scholarly joy-stealing is considered inevitable. I once read that what is deemed inevitable in a system becomes invisible to insiders. As if to confirm this, some leaders have asked me to help faculty recognize when their scholarly joy is being stolen.


To make scholarly joy-stealing more visible, this article isolates 10 games that steal scholarly joy specifically using the names of 10 generic, joy-stealing games surfaced from 261 educators' stories.2 Stories drawn from my own experiences or from those of leader and faculty consultees give shape to these scholarly joy-stealing games, and recommendations for "imagining something different together" follow.


10 Scholarly Joy-Stealing Games

As you review each game, note who is playing which role: the joy-stealer, the target whose joy is stolen; the by-stander as silent witness; or the ally, who stands up to joy stealers in defense of the target(s).


1. The Set-Up Game

In this game, joy-stealers play bait and switch with targets who are led to expect one thing only to have something else-unexpected and untoward-happen. One educator wrote:


Our college is raising scholarly requirements but my dean assured me she'd make the case for my promotion based on my excellent record of teaching and committee leadership. My promotion was turned down because I didn't have enough scholarship. I feel my dean, who is also a friend of many years, didn't advocate for me and I am grieving the decision. No matter what they decide, our friendship will never be the same.


2. The Devalue and Distort Game

In this game, joy-stealers twist targets' assets and accomplishments into liabilities. This educator wrote:


A conference speaker asked for volunteers to gather research on the topic she addressed. I gave her my business card. Her expression and demeanor went from open to closed after she noticed that I taught in an ADN program. What she didn't realize was that I have years of experience and am recognized as a national expert in this area.


3. The Misrepresent and Lie Game

In this game, joy-stealers tell untruths that jeopardize targets' professional status or advancement. An educator wrote:


I was a director when a faculty member widely respected by her peers, including me, made untrue statements about my scholarship before reviewing my packet and actually campaigned to deny me promotion. The vote was extremely close. I decided to leave in spite of the positive outcome because the environment became so hostile.


4. The Shame Game

In this game, joy-stealers engage in bullying behaviors that include behind-the-scenes demeaning or public attacks conducted face-to-face and/or virtually. This educator wrote:


I was a research assistant to the professor who became my dissertation chair. When I resigned my assistantship to focus on my own research, she was beside herself because I basically wrote her articles. In retaliation, she held up my progress by requiring me to make hundreds of corrections on each chapter draft. My other committee members were too intimidated to speak up. Only after I went to her boss and complained was I assigned a new chair.


5. The Betrayal Game

In this game, joy-stealers triangulate in a third party and gang up on targets. An educator wrote:


When I interviewed for a new position, the dean said she had to let 3 faculty go the previous year for lack of scholarship. She didn't want this to happen to me and she promised to support my scholarly agenda so I took the position. Once school started, my chairperson said the dean wanted me to add an extra committee to my load. Since this made it tough to get any writing done, I asked to meet with the dean. She refused and referred me to the chair who said they agreed that it's up to me to work scholarship into my schedule.


6. The Broken Boundaries Game

In this game, joy-stealers trespass on targets' personal space or professional boundaries. This educator wrote:


As a primary investigator, I invited our new director to join our research team. The team agreed that presentations or publications from this research project would include all our names. Months later, a team member showed me a national conference brochure that listed our director as a sole presenter of a presentation on our project. Even though she broke our agreement, it was a sensitive issue to broach because she was our boss.


7. The Splitting Game

In this game, joy-stealers idealize one group and devalue the other. One educator wrote:


I was hired into a tenure-track position as a new DNP graduate. On my first day, a tenured faculty colleague took me to lunch and told me I'd never make it there. When I asked why, she said that PhDs are the only ones with the scholarly chops to meet promotion and tenure standards.


8. The Mandate Game

In this game, joy-stealers issue ultimatums that place targets in win-lose situations. An educator wrote:


I teach at a university that's expanding our teaching mission to include scholarship. One day our dean announced at faculty meeting that from now on clinical faculty were expected to publish one article a year. No notice, no offer of support. I love teaching but I don't know the first thing about writing for publication. Now, I'm worried I'll lose my job.


9. The Blame Game

In this game, joy-stealers accuse first and ask questions later (or not). This educator wrote:


My dissertation chair called me into her office to accuse me of plagiarism. She seemed to take pleasure in showing me where citations were missing or incomplete. When she threatened to report me to the Graduate School Dean, I reminded her that this was a draft version. She backed down but never apologized.


10. The Exclusion Game

In this game, joy-stealers disadvantage targets' scholarly progress by leaving them out, whether overtly or covertly. One educator wrote:


I study innovative teaching methods and all my research is qualitative. In our school, non-tenured faculty have to submit proposals for new projects to a board of tenured faculty who haven't done research for years. The only research they value is clinical and quantitative, so they make me revise and resubmit proposals multiple times.


These painful stories amplify what I have learned about scholarly joy-stealing games: Leaders as well as faculty colleagues can be targeted and the relational disruptions that ensue distract from scholarly productivity. So what can be done to stop the game playing in your group?


Invitation to Imagine Something Different

Although raising consciousness about scholarly joy-stealing seems the logical next step, my experience suggests otherwise. Instead of concentrating on the problem, it is more effective to engage leaders and faculty groups in conversations that shift the focus to scholarly caring. A good way to get started is to invite everyone to a 90-minute retreat. Seat yourselves in a circle, turn off and stow all electronic devices and open a dialogue with this question: What would make you feel more cared for as a scholar in our group? Request that sharing stay constructive and creative.


After the sharing is complete, note the positive tone and ask your group to consider meeting to "imagine something different together." If they agree, their imaginings may evolve into a compilation of acts of scholarly caring-a "code of scholarly etiquette"1-that engenders mutual respect and scholarly success.



This article suggests that scholarly joy-stealing is so widespread that it has become invisible to academic insiders, sheds light on 10 scholarly joy-stealing games by way of examples, and invites leaders and faculty groups to imagine something different together. Held within this invitation is the potential to tip faculty cultures toward scholarly caring, 1 school at a time, to reinvigorate our relationships, zestify our workplaces, and secure our scholarly future.



With gratitude to Dr Diane Monsivais for her compassionate critique of this manuscript.




1. Heinrich KT. Toward a scholarly etiquette: how to keep your scholarly interactions prolific, respectful and kind. Faculty Development Department. Nurse Educ. 2016;41(5). [Context Link]


2. Heinrich KT. Joy-stealing: 10 mean games faculty play and how to stop the gaming. Nurse Educ. 2007;32(1):34-38. [Context Link]