I'm on a short-term contract with a local state university. I have been teaching there as an adjunct for a while, but a full-time faculty needed to take emergency leave so I was asked to cover their courses.

As part of my full-time responsibilities, I was asked to a meeting for some administrative work that I know something about. There were four faculty members: the head of department, a recently tenured faculty, and a tenure-track faculty. During the meeting we divided up the work and said we'd meet in two weeks or so to review it.

There was some discussion about who did what, but the recently tenured faculty said very little.

The next day, that recently-tenured faculty sent an email saying that they had "felt uncomfortable" with how the work was assigned and had a "clear vision" about the part of the work that I had volunteered for. As I said, the recently-tenured faculty said very little during the meeting and seemed to agree with the outcome.

In addition to the four people who were at the meeting, this email was CCed to the Dean and the rest of the department.

Coming from a commercial, rather than academic, background I found this behavior disturbing and unprofessional.

My full-time contract ends at the end of the calendar year, but I am wondering if you have any advice regarding how I should deal with this recently-tenured faculty apart from doing the work that I was asked to do during the meeting? I'd rather have nothing to do with them and, were they in a commercial environment, they would probably be on a PIP (performance improvement plan).

The head of department has been supportive. The Dean has not weighed in.

  • 17
    Do you want to do the work that was assigned to you in the meeting? If not, why not just tell the tenured faculty member "ok, you do it" and spend the afternoon drinking tea in the park?
    – henning
    Nov 20, 2018 at 17:06
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    right now main text lacks specifics on what 'colleague" did in the email. Nov 20, 2018 at 19:51
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    I suspect, but am uncertain, that your problem is that it was CC'd widely? Or was it the content of the email? "this behavior" is vague. Is the work you are doing "high prestige" while they where assigned "low prestige" work and you object to swapping?
    – Yakk
    Nov 20, 2018 at 21:04
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    Do you have any concrete reason to feel there's a conflict here? Maybe this guy just has some (potentially useful) ideas about how to do the work?
    – JollyJoker
    Nov 21, 2018 at 9:03

3 Answers 3


Actually, I would ignore it. It is fairly typical behavior among some faculty. It might not even be abuse, but just the other person having time to reflect after the meeting. If the comments made were on-topic and not a personal attack, then you have nothing to gain in your current position by doing anything beyond arguing for your position. It could even be that the other person is uncomfortable in meeting generally.

I once found that offering suggestions for improvement of policy, as a new faculty member, is sometimes definitely not appreciated. I suffered setbacks because I suggested that "the way we do things here" was counterproductive. People don't like to hear that from a new person or an underling.

But yielding graciously, even if you don't feel it, could put you in a better position for future employment there.

On the other hand, you are justified in responding to a personal attack, but do so through "channels".

  • 6
    +1 for "It might not even be abuse, but just the other person having time to reflect after the meeting." Yes, don't attribute this to malice. There are two sides to every story, and it is possible that this person felt domineered at the meeting for some reason or didn't feel empowered to speak up. The only slightly unprofessional thing I see here is that the person "escalated" a bit too much, but perhaps that was appropriate if the head of department was the one domineering, etc.
    – Dawn
    Nov 20, 2018 at 16:27
  • People don't like to hear that from a new person or an underling. — This really depends on local culture. My experience was the opposite.
    – JeffE
    Nov 20, 2018 at 23:19
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    Some people have the mindset that nothing is ever "finished" in the sense that it can always be improved. But if they don't understand one of the basic principles of administration, which is "making a poor decision and acting on it in a timely and consistent manner is often better than making no decision at all", they shouldn't be involved in admin.
    – alephzero
    Nov 21, 2018 at 0:48
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    @JeffE Or the third option, which I think is fairly prevalent - the opinion of new staff is highly valued, but very rarely does something actually come out of it :)
    – xLeitix
    Nov 21, 2018 at 12:16

An earlier comment was removed which said that such a head-over-heels turn would deserve a PIP in industry is far over the top. I do not know why this comment was removed, I thought it was perfectly apt. Yea, it is not nice when somebody tries to underhandedly and one-sidedly modify an agreement decided publicly, but it is far from an actionable offence.

As response, it is perfectly sufficient to say that if they disagree with the outcome of the meeting and want to change it, and OP is unhappy about this proposed change, it would need renegotiation.

So, an answer could be: "In our meeting, we agreed to which seemed to be all right with all participants; this included me - and, given that you did not express anything to the contrary, also you. If you wish to modify this outcome now, this would need to be coordinated between all parties; in this case, I suggest you call in another meeting of all the parties to realign the duties."

I very much doubt that that person would dare to do that, given that the others will ask themselves why they have to waste their time again on a question which already had been decided and closed.

  • 2
    +1 For explaining that the PiP comment doesn’t work. I would note that your response email is a bit confrontational, but perhaps the OP would feel comfortable with that.
    – Dawn
    Nov 20, 2018 at 17:39
  • @Dawn Indeed, it is slightly confrontational. OP seems sufficiently upset to suggest a PIP, and they are leaving anyway, so this is trying to find the level of response which fits OP's situation. If one wants to avoid confrontation, then probably a different response would be apt. I must confess that I share OP's position that it is not very nice if people try to change agreements with perceived weaker players (OP) behind the back of the management - especially the "clear vision" statement sounds condescending; would they have said it to a faculty colleague of equivalent standing? Nov 20, 2018 at 17:44
  • 1
    I would view the proposed email text as patronizing and as a personal attack.
    – Arno
    Nov 20, 2018 at 22:46
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    +1 for the most effective solution; simply repeating the meeting - rather than allowing them to use alternative means to get their own way. The wording may be sharp, but that's nothing the OP can't change if they want to - I don't feel this needs edited simply because the tone is direct, OP should be aware enough of what tone they want to send and how to alter the above to fit their exact need.
    – Bilkokuya
    Nov 21, 2018 at 10:32
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    In which company would a single instance of changing your mind after a meeting and writing a slightly badly phrased email be grounds to put something on a PIP?
    – xLeitix
    Nov 21, 2018 at 12:17

I suggest checking with the department chair to find out what he wants you to do --- continue with your part of the work as agreed during the meeting? trade assignments with the recently tenured person so that he can develop that "clear vision"? do nothing and let the newly tenured person do your part of the work in addition to his own?

  • The department chair already made it clear that the email was uncalled for. I'm happy with the way they reassigned things (less work for me!), but I need advice on how to continue to work with this person.
    – Acton Bell
    Nov 20, 2018 at 17:41
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    @ActonBell Can you clarify how you have to work with this person in the future? If this sort of meeting is outside your normal day to day which I presume is mostly related to teaching and doesn't involve this other professor.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 20, 2018 at 18:55

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