So I'm faced with an ethical dilemma and want some second opinions on how to approach this situation with a poorly calculated decision that my professor made. So we have groups of 4 people for group projects which were created randomly by the professor. A new student joined the late (1-2 weeks after) and my team member volunteered to have her join our group when every group already had 4 members. However, it's been 3 weeks already since the group projects started and the professor decided to ask our main team member who has been our unofficial team lead to change groups because a student from another group is dropping the class at the last minute so that she can balance out the teams I'm guessing. She spoke to the team member whom she wanted to move privately before the weekend after class and then decided to inform the rest of the group that he's moving to another group. The person moving was the person who volunteered to add the new person into the group. So naturally, I was infuriated in the manner in which she decided to supposedly balance out the head counts and that too a month into the quarter and also for choosing the group member who has been our primary facilitator. I replied to her email saying that I wished she had talked over this with the whole group and suggested that she move the member who joined our team late since she invested less time and effort into the project than the rest of us. She replies to that email saying:

I am disappointed to hear you call out another person in the group, asking her to be excused, without giving her an opportunity as well. Please see me after class next lecture.

Clearly I didn't want any member to leave, but I thought it made more sense to move the newer member to a different group as she would leave behind a lot less of her efforts and thus would be the least disruptive way to do it. I spoke with the rest of the group after this reply. 1 other member said that it should either be nobody leaving preferably, but if 1 must leave it should be the newer member which I agreed to 100%. Even the newer member was understanding of the situation and said that she's willing to let the professor know that she doesn't mind volunteering to leave, but hesitated when her reply said that her decision was final.

So I don't want a target on my back, but this professor is making my remarks seem more controversial than they really are. What would be the best way to further communicate about this with the professor?

2 Answers 2


The professor went behind the group's back by speaking to that individual privately and then announcing the move. This looses the moral high ground from the start...

The "best" manner to have approached this would have been for the professor to have met with the whole group and say "One group is now short and you are plus 1, so could you agree on one person to move". I have had to do this with many groups for projects and, if you show the position and let them work it out, it goes much easier.

Perhaps the professor is "new" to dealing with groups, but IMHO this was handled incorrectly and is difficult to sort now.

Meeting her with the whole group may be best, but whatever the final result (ie who gets moved) she may "target" you for showing her up... As an adult and teacher she should recognize her own fault though... But good luck with that - it does come with experience... I have been dealing with 30+ plus groups of 5 for 20 odd semesters...

  • Not to mention, this professor has a history of not letting students choose who the team members should be, which most other professors do. She always assigns people to groups randomly. Which is understandable because you meet new people that way. However, this I felt crossed the line when it was done behind our backs and now she is accusing me of basically not thinking that my remaining teammates are not good enough to continue on without our main guy, whereas I was simply trying to make a case for him to stay. She deflected my main concerns and stuck to false interpretations about my message
    – btrballin
    Oct 22, 2018 at 7:02
  • I always organize the groups randomly - it gives fewer problems in the long run. But, the issue remains on how she handled this particular issue and, it could have been handled MUCH better... Now, focusing on the "other" interpretations is just deflection to get the group to look at you and not at her... You could well be on a looser here, and if she is the only person grading : watch out... It could be worth, if the whole group agrees, seeing the Dean or level above her, but the consequences then....
    – Solar Mike
    Oct 22, 2018 at 7:04
  • 1
    Right...I'm okay with random assigning, but removing the team member behind our back in the middle of the quarter was clearly crossing the line. So now my main concern is how she's gonna try to spin this on me when I merely suggested a less disruptive solution to which even the person I elected said was willing to comply with. When I meet with her, I want to be able to stand my ground but also not give her a reason to punish me with some sort of consequence. And yes, she does all her own grading. She could potentially target me for the 2nd midterm and final exam bc questions are open-ended
    – btrballin
    Oct 22, 2018 at 7:07
  • Seeing the dean sounds like it would escalate the situation. I would have been ok with her giving us the option to elect someone, and it's not like the group can't continue on without the other guy. I'm thinking about speaking to another professor about it to see what he has to say since he is usually willing to offer professional advice.
    – btrballin
    Oct 22, 2018 at 7:11
  • 1
    There is also the other possibility that the group member who switched expressed to the teacher beforehand that they are unhappy with their group and would like to change if at all possible, and the teacher went this way so that the student could save face and would not have to tell their colleagues that they'd rather not continue working with them. Given how enraged btrbalin is, it certainly sounds like the switching student was pulling more than their weight, and maybe they were unhappy with their group as well?
    – xLeitix
    Oct 22, 2018 at 8:13

The "best" way to communicate this with the professor is to just drop it. You are acting badly as the professor noted by seeming to reject a team member and trying to impose your will on others. If you escalate it you will only hurt yourself.

Ranting about the teacher's action will get you no where. She made a decision based on some judgements and probably considered trade-offs. Your solution of putting the newest and least experienced person with the team that lost a member is the worst possible solution, as that group is already disadvantaged and would be disadvantaged further.

In the real world you don't get to choose your team members in most cases. People come and go. The teams have to adapt. You should try to learn how to do that. When teams get shaken up there can be disruption, but the disruption is worst when the team has poor dynamics in the first place. If you were working together properly and everyone communicating there is little knowledge lost by the team.

But perhaps you were depending too much on the team member that you lost. Give up this quest and get your team working effectively.

And, no, the teacher did not make an ethical error. The fact that you were displeased by it has nothing to do with ethics.

  • I didn’t reject anyone though. I was merely trying to propose a less disruptive solution and the alternative member I selected said she was willing to move to make the situation less disruptive. I never asked for any member to leave, but if someone has to leave the group, the newest member would have to sacrifice the least amount of their time and effort to make this switch so I kept them in consideration.
    – btrballin
    Oct 22, 2018 at 17:53

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