Additional Blog Post 2 – “Murky Business of Demotion”

I read this article in a recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education: Yale Case Spotlights the Murky Business of Demotion by Alexander Kafka.

As a Professor of Practice, 80% of my career experience has been as an engineer in industry where doing something egregious like committing harrassment, financial improprieties, favoritism, plagiarism, substance -related misbehaviors or other serious matters led to being fired.  What I’m slowly and disbelievingly learning is that similar improprieties, even breaking the law, do not have the same consequences in higher education, specifically for tenured professors.

While colleges are required to report rape or molestation charges to law enforcement, “the other vast majority of cases, those in the gray zone – alleged misbehavior that is grave but not heinous – to which committees and administrators bring their judgement to bear.”   These committees and adminstrators most often consider the cases in complete confidentiality.

So if your faculty colleague committed a ‘crime’  (let’s hypothesize a gross misuse of funding or discrimination against under represented students in their lab) the arbitration of their misdeed and punishment (if any) would be kept under wraps.  “Committee members are tight-lipped.”  While I understand the need for fairness during the evaluation of the facts, I do not like the idea of a university not releasing information about misdeeds their faculty have been found guilty of.  This is especially important for public universities.

It seems that at many institutions of higher education, the accused faculty’s,”… work is great!” and that, as Tatiana Melguizo was quoted as saying, “deans and presidents are so focused on the prestige, the money, and these start professors that bring millions in funding from NIH and NSF that they forget about their mission sometimes, and they forget about the values, and that’s when institutions start to lose the moral fabric.”

2 Replies to “Additional Blog Post 2 – “Murky Business of Demotion””

  1. Thanks for your post! Unfortunately I have personally seen misconduct handled in such a manner as you describe. However, I believe that this issue is not at all limited to institutions of higher education. I think that the mishandling (or not handling at all) of employee misconduct can be found in all industries. I would be interested to know the prevalence of such an approach in higher education in comparison to other fields.

  2. Yikes! I understand the need for tenue (or at least some form of tenue) to protect the ability to freely research, but I didn’t realize that there seems to be unwritten (and written) rules that protect ‘high value’ PIs from accountability. Thank you for sharing this article. I guess after I get over the shock value, it doesn’t entirely surprise me. Sadly, it seems to be human nature to look the other way when someone whose actions directly benefit them does something inappropriate. I listen to a podcast about the NFL (and they frequently talk about topics off the field) and one the major concepts is that people ‘be who they can afford to be’—example being a starting hall of fame quarterback can get away with being late to a meeting or a practice or missing a throw while an undrafted, 4th string rookie cant. I am not the biggest fan of the idea, but it seems to fit a lot of these situations where an extremely ‘valuable’ person gets away with all sorts of terrible actions just because of their value.

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