My advisor was recently accused of personal misconduct. He says he is innocent.

I am posting here to ask what I should do. I am heavily reliant on his letter of recommendation. I will always be grateful for his support. However my fellow colleagues said that I should distance myself, as continuing to be associated with him will harm me professionally.

The university has already found him responsible for the misconduct.

  • Actually, it was removed. I edited the question so it is more appropriate for the website. – J. Doe Feb 28 at 15:04
  • Actually, there was a different one, a bit older, but also removed. – Buffy Feb 28 at 15:07
  • Is he still your supervisor! It is not a big deal, you can always find a professor in the same university, or from undergrad, I left a program and now I am a new program and I didn't needed the ex-PI references, it isn't obligatory to have his letter, find any one else. He is accused until his innocence proved, so have to be neutral at that case, but if he needed your help always remember he supported you. – user103209 Feb 28 at 15:09
  • The University already found him responsible for the misconduct. – J. Doe Feb 28 at 15:10
  • I added a [personal-misconduct] tag to go along with [research-misconduct] and [sexual-misconduct] since it seems like the issue here is neither of those. – Azor Ahai Feb 28 at 19:41

There are a few considerations, at least.

First, is that if you feel personally at risk from the alleged behavior, keep your distance just for your own safety. That is distinct from academic considerations.

Next, the behavior is alleged, not proved. While it is appropriate to be wary, don't try to judge it yourself unless you have additional information.

Next, in many cases, I would say most, it is appropriate to distinguish between personal behavior (possibly very bad) and scientific/academic quality of the work. Let me focus on this aspect.

In the history of academic discourse and advancement, many fine results have been obtained by terrible people. This is true in many fields and over a long period of time. The work done by these people doesn't disappear just because they wound up chastised by their peers, or even arrested and jailed. They get referenced. Historically, you won't find all of the cases as they are often covered up, but some you will and they can be pretty bad.

My advice, even if the person is guilty, is to separate the person from the work. If the work has merit, then cite it as usual. Focus on the work.

The question of continuing to work closely with the person is a different one, however, as is the question of the value of letters of recommendation. Some separation of the person from the work is possible here also, but perhaps not as completely. For example, it is probably a mistake to become a defender of the person if it can be interpreted as a defense of the alleged actions.

Letters of recommendation may be necessary and may be fine as long as the letter focuses on your work and doesn't imply anything more. But you may have to explain, in interviews and such, that you distance yourself from any bad behavior, even if not proved. Here the distinction is between the bad behavior (distance) and the person (neutrality - more or less). However, don't depend solely on letters from someone who has been severely sanctioned either legally or academically.

  • Perhaps you answered before J. Doe edited, but they've now stated the university has found him responsible. I'm not sure whether you're still considering that "alleged." – Azor Ahai Feb 28 at 19:26
  • 1
    Well, @AzorAhai, I'll guess I'll leave it on the theory that answers should be somewhat timeless and useful for the future. I think my answer would be the same though one paragraph is a bit obsolete. – Buffy Feb 28 at 19:33
  • Fair enough, just giving you a heads up since it tells me they were posted around the same itme. – Azor Ahai Feb 28 at 19:40

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