13

Background: I work in a public university as a staff member, and also a part-time lecturer, allowed to teach only 1 class (per Union). Last year, I applied and received multiple grants/awards for my teaching position. I already completed the work and received payments. The grants did not require any approvals from department/dean.

Recent development: Now, our dean approached me with the following conversation:

“You need to send me info prior to your grant submission.. You are only a lecturer… We hired you just to teach 1 course… You have a limit for a course teaching… you have a limit (per Union)... You need to consult with the dean and the department chair about any grant’s proposal and share your idea with us… I know that you are not required to submit for internal review to the dean, but since I knew nothing about it, I was in a dark, moving forward you must inform me about your plans… You need to work with a tenured faculty on grants…”

My question: What do I suppose to do in this situation? I obviously do not believe dean’s well wishes, and would like to apply grants in the future without “dean’s blessings”. I also feel that the dean would go behind my back and ask for denial of my proposal. I do not wish to share my ideas for free.

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    It's not about my trust in administration. My intellectual property does not belong to the admin. – C P Jul 6 '18 at 21:52
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    @CP I'm not sure what country you are in, but I would interpret the dean as being your boss's boss and would have complete authority over this, especially if the grants have any relationship to your university position. You should definitely bring this up with your department chair to clarify. – Austin Henley Jul 6 '18 at 21:59
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    Once again, my grants did not require dean's approval. It was approved by a special university committee. I am in the US. – C P Jul 6 '18 at 22:20
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    Incorrect. The additional budget comes to the department for the grant with my name. – C P Jul 6 '18 at 22:32
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    "I was in a dark" No manager wants to be surprised by something going on in their organization. – Elin Jul 7 '18 at 7:49
24

It might help to understand where your Dean is coming from. I work for my university's research administration department, and I can understand his position. For context, we are an R1 university in the United States.

There are likely a few things going on:

  1. Grants often create liabilities for universities. There may be cost-sharing requirements or other implicit costs which the university will be required to pay. Administrators need to keep a close eye on these requirements in order to keep the university functioning smoothly.
  2. Grants create risks for universities. There are many legal and ethical rules surrounding grants. Although some of the risk is on you, much of the potential penalties are assumed by the university. For this reason, many (if not all) research universities have dedicated research administration departments and all grants are required to flow through those departments.
  3. There are legal issues. In all of the grants I've seen, the grant goes from the granting agency to your employer. It is not a grant to you personally. You should be careful about accepting money on your own. Carefully re-read the grant terms to be sure that this is not the case here.
  4. Not all the reasons are bad: universities often like to reward individuals and departments who do a great job of soliciting grant dollars. If they can't keep an eye on grants, how are they supposed to that?

Other answers have mentioned intellectual property. I'll only repeat what they have said: if you work for a university you should not assume that any intellectual work product is your own property. Make sure you understand what the rules are in your location.

Overall, I would treat this as an opportunity to develop in your profession. If soliciting grants is an important part of your career (current or future!) then it would help to understand how it works. It's not as simple as just applying for a grant - and for good reason!

  • My points and more good ones. (+1) – BruceET Jul 7 '18 at 3:45
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    I would add one point to this. The dean has some responsibility to know what is going on among lecturers they are supervising. Having grant money appear without prior knowledge would make the dean look inefficient. – Patricia Shanahan Jul 7 '18 at 5:46
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    What also may be consideration - when does one work on the grants? Since they are related to the perk of job (the 1 course) one could rationalize that OP's time on job should/could be used in researching grants available, writing the grants. But, then what does this take away from other staff responsibilities and is it worth the effort for the course being taught? Wouldn't that be a normal discussion between admin staff and their immediate manager (Dean?) before getting too involved? (I would have expected teaching a course would have taken up almost all extra flexible time!) – Carol Jul 7 '18 at 16:23
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    #4 (providing rewards) is unconvincing as a reason here. If the administration lets it be known that they will reward grant winners, then people will automatically be motivated to inform the administration after they get one. #1-3 are reasons to prohibit cowboy grant-writing; #4 is not. – nanoman Jul 8 '18 at 4:39
  • I agree that is unlikely to be the answer to OP's problem, but I am leaving it in because other readers may find it informative. – indigochild Jul 8 '18 at 6:15
18

If you aren't willing to do what upper administration is directly telling you to do, then either:

  • Be willing to accept the consequences when you go against the dean.
  • Look for a new university with administration that you can trust.

To summarize my responses to you in the comments:

  • You seem worried about your intellectual property. However, the university may already own this. You'll have to check your university policies and talk to a lawyer. If you document your ideas (e.g., an email to the dean with your grant proposal draft) then you would be able to show that you authored it.
  • You seem to think the dean has an ill intent. However, you haven't provided any evidence of this. From what you have said, it seems like the dean just wants to know what is going on and possibly protect the university and or you from liability issues caused by the grants (e.g., it is outside your job description, you claimed your university affiliation when applying for the grant, you are using university resources for grant work without approval).

In other words, if you are receiving grant money (or doing anything) in what appears to be an official capacity of your work position (lecturer at a university), then the university has a right to know about it (and to prevent you from doing it).

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    Since you work for the university, the IP situation is complicated anyway; especially if the grants you request are supported by your affiliation with the university. If you have a reason to distrust your admins, and no support from the other faculty, you really have no chance but to change to a more congenial environment. In our department, you cannot even submit proposals for grants without getting signatures from at least 3 levels of admin. – Captain Emacs Jul 6 '18 at 21:57
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    IP is a legal term. So, you may not own it if you work for the uni. It's different from authorship. – Captain Emacs Jul 6 '18 at 22:21
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    I did not say that the idea is nothing. But IP is a legal term. It's not for you to decide how that is interpreted, there is a precise legal framework for that - especially as lots of money may be involved with it. If you can apply without asking the dean, it's one thing. Which consequence this will have for your status in the department is another. Also, it is not typical that grant money can go directly to an individual, but if in your case it is possible, that's good news for you. – Captain Emacs Jul 6 '18 at 22:50
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    @CP: In every other job in the world, you have a responsibility to keep your bosses informed about the work you are doing, in as much detail as they request. Academic jobs are no different. – Nate Eldredge Jul 6 '18 at 22:53
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    @CP "I had some teaching ideas, applied for the grant, implemented them,got payments..." There are two possible issues with this: 1) The dean may not like you do experiments with teaching a class. It is hard to elaborate more without knowing what exactly you implemented, but there are many teaching innovations which require approval before being implemented... 2) You got hired by the Uni to teach a class, and then you received money from other sources to make changes to that class. That could be problematic... – Nick S Jul 7 '18 at 3:31
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Technically speaking, many grants are made to the university and not to the applicant personally. University grants offices are typically paid a small percentage of the grant amount for administering the grant and in many cases a larger percentage of the grant amount for 'indirect costs' (library usage, computer facilities, etc.).

For such grants it is usually a requirement for deans and university grants officers to approve the application. I am not saying your dean is a 'nice guy'. Or that union contracts make any logical sense. I'm just saying make sure you know the rules of the granting agency and the university before you make grant applications.

8

You are using the department's resources (that includes your working time) to work on your grant projects. To do that without the departments knowledge is close to embezzlement. This dean is actually very nice to you at the moment.

He has every right to know before what you're applying for, and what you need for it. Desk space for a student, your working time, equipment, lab time, lab space, etc. The scientific details of your project are possibly of no concern to him, but unless you are hired as an independent researcher, he still has every right to demand that you share them. Because you are already using department resources to write the proposals.

3

It is not likely that the dean is out to get you (he probably has better things to do). Follow his advice and see what happens (he will have some expertise that you don't at this time). You are likely young and whatever happens is not going to have any lasting effects on you.

On the other hand you may discover that the dean is a nice person and make a friend.

In the worst case scenario, you will find that the dean's advice should not be followed and have a 'reason' to go back to your 'old ways'.

-8

I believe you're in a tight situation. But do not feel singled out: I have heard of many such cases where department higher ranks exploit younger staff. The academia is unfortunately full of opportunistic predators nowadays. This person seeks to be put in a position from where he can blackmail and manipulate you.

I do not know anything of the local social & cultural standards of where you are, or whether you are a local, or an immigrant. I am afraid you must make a moral choice which will affect your personal life and career. This person probably seeks to parasitise and sabotage you. You must find a way of neutralising his actions with minimal damage.

The best for everyone else in the bigger picture is that you confront this dean head on. Offering open resistance and wide exposure directly weakens a bad workmate. If everyone resists, abusers cannot thrive. Problem is, it will likely cost you your peace at work, and force you to move away. Possibly confronting authorities may not be socially acceptable (e.g. China) adding to a bad reputation and extra enemies / penalties.

Another way is to scam the abuser. You may pretend to scared and frame fake ideas and proposals, provide elusive information. This will lead to a cold war and eventually he will realise, but it buys you time (e.g. a dean may be temporary).

Or you simply abide and pray for the best. This is probably what this person is used to seeing.

Evaluate your chances where you are, and whether moving on to a better environment wouldn't be the best for you. By all means, when you get the chance, please do neutralise this person. Time is your friend against abusers.

Good luck.

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    I am now trying to find a way to resist in a smart way. It's hard. It's just killing me. – C P Jul 6 '18 at 23:12
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    This person probably seeks to parasitise and sabotage you Where is this coming from?? Other than the OP's feeling, there seems to be no evidence of this. I interpreted the dean's request as being inline with their duties. – Austin Henley Jul 6 '18 at 23:17
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    All the statements from the dean are saying "do not get grants". If you attempt to get them, send them to the dean. This is just a dead end game. – C P Jul 6 '18 at 23:20
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    Doesn't seem like a parasitic move then. He may be trying to protect you and or the university. For example, since it is outside of your job description the grants might lead to liability issues for the university (are you listing your university affiliation when applying for them?) or they are using the universities resources without being approved. – Austin Henley Jul 6 '18 at 23:24
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    It is not likely that the dean is out to get you. Follow his advice and see what happens. You are likely young and whatever happens is not going to have any lasting effect. You may discover that the dean is a nice person and make a friend. – AnyAD Jul 7 '18 at 1:43

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