A few weeks ago after my grant meeting my department chair asked me if I still wanted to do research. She said I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to. She went on to say that I appeared to be struggling and that I could leave the tenure track. She said no one would judge me or think that I was a failure if I decided not to do research anymore. She said I could return to practice if I wanted to. This was pretty much an invitation to quit. She said she couldn’t promise I could get another non-tenure position and that the other departments did not have any needs.

It turns out that the department does need someone but she lied to me. She told me to think about what I wanted to do. Last week she sent me an email saying that she wanted to meet with me about my grant. So I invited my other grant team members. She then emailed me back to say that she did not want them present. She said that the meeting was not about the grant and that she wanted to close the loop on our discussion. Basically she lied again with a misleading email. The subject of her email even read meeting to discuss grant.

We didn’t meet that day. I was sick. This week she emailed me again to get on her calendar to have this meeting. I feel like she is trying to force me to resign. Do you have any advice about how I should proceed?

  • 9
    What do you want to do? To pick up your research program? To transition to a different position at the same university? To persuade your chair that your current research is going well?
    – academic
    Feb 14, 2020 at 12:56
  • 6
    what is the country and the field? Feb 14, 2020 at 21:03
  • 12
    What exactly is your question? Feb 15, 2020 at 14:13
  • 2
    @aaaaasaysreinstateMonica the quote "She said I could return to practice if I wanted to" makes it seem like OP was a social worker or some sort of clinician. Definitely not a Language professor.
    – RonJohn
    Feb 15, 2020 at 23:10
  • 1
    It can happen that a department chair gives negative pre-tenure feedback, but then the outside letters (which the chair hadn't yet seen) turn out to be strong enough for tenure. (In these examples, the tenure decision is made by the overall department and university, not just the chair, and outside letters carry a lot of weight.) In short, the chair doesn't always know. On the other hand, it may be that the chair is well informed already, e.g. by knowledgeable sources such as senior faculty in your area in the department who would be in a good position to judge.
    – Neal Young
    Feb 17, 2020 at 2:05

5 Answers 5


As an untenured faculty member your options are limited and the risks are high. Depending on local law you may have some protections, of course.

What you do depends on what her actual power over you is. If she is part of the tenure decision process, then the situation is worse. Likewise if she can influence others.

But, she may just be signaling you that your tenure decision is likely to be negative, whether from her actions or just a general assessment. You don't say, for example, how the research is going or the state of the grant (or even if it has been awarded or is just being applied for).

You will probably learn more when this individual meeting happens. Sadly, you won't have any other person present who can support you or attest to any improper statements if they occur. I've been in such a situation, actually.

My suggestion is that you immediately get into the job market and start to collect colleagues who will support you both in finding a new job and in maintaining this one. Long term, it doesn't seem like this environment is supportive enough.

If she has doubts about your work, her response should be about how she can help you. That may be her intent and you aren't recognizing it as such, but it is impossible to say from what you write.

  • 12
    If you are in the UK, I would suggest that the law stipulates that you should be able to take a union representative to this sort of meeting. Although of course that might be seen as a hostile escalation. Feb 14, 2020 at 13:53
  • 2
    @IanSudbery, yes. Having a third party present is an important safeguard. Having a recording of a conversation is another. But both may be regulated.
    – Buffy
    Feb 14, 2020 at 13:55
  • 8
    I think anywhere that has a faculty union would be willing to push for a union rep to be in such a meeting, even if it's not legally mandated that such a thing must allowed. Point being: if you have a union, talk to them
    – llama
    Feb 14, 2020 at 21:36
  • In the U.S., unionized workers being asked to an investigatory interview have a right to union representation, known as the Weingarten Rights. Whether this qualifies I'm not sure; one could of course ask in any case. Feb 15, 2020 at 1:23
  • 2
    "she may just be signaling you that your tenure decision is likely to be negative." If this is the case, the chair may be trying to avoid `calling you out' in front of your (the OP's) peers, which is potentially embarrassing for her, you, and anyone else. In my experience academics can sometimes be non-confrontational to a fault.
    – Him
    Feb 16, 2020 at 18:09

Sorry to hear about your situation. The other advice about i) protecting your interests in the face of dubious communication, and ii) starting to look elsewhere regardless, are good. But I'd add another dimension:

Are you struggling? If yes, are you marketing your achievements enough? If not, what help do you need to get onto the right track?

The tenure-track stage is hard, for many reasons. Many people take a while to find their sea-legs, or are thrown off kilter by unrelated life complexities. Some discover being a standalone researcher is not their thing. (And some get chewed up by the tenure machine unfairly, too.) Are you making the type of progress you need, given your stage in your career?

If yes, it is unfortunately possible that your chair has it in for you and just wants to get rid of you. It is also possible your chair is just misinformed. Have you filled in requested updates in a timely fashion and highlighting your achievements? Have you communicated your research plan enough? A number of years back, a couple of us (in math) had to step in to help a brilliant but very introverted young colleague who had recently had some pretty impressive research results, had just submitted a paper about them to a prestigious journal, but filled in his activity reports -- quite accurately -- that he had published no papers and made no conference presentations, for the 3rd year in a row. He just missed the memo that self-marketing was needed.

If you've had setbacks that have impacted your progress, but are now on track, do you have your narrative ready about that. Research often doesn't work the way it should; experiments fail; hypotheses turn our wrong; ethics committees misunderstand and delay progress. We, as lonely academics, get sick, depressed, etc. Too often we try to internalize all these wounds, since they make us feel vulnerable. But do they in fact explain limitations you have had that may be giving a wrong impression as to your future promise in a research career?

If you are struggling now, but do want to continue, what help do you need? Do you have mentors to guide you? Do you need specific support to get over roadblocks? If you are having some personal challenges, look into (and definitely ask your union) what are accommodations that you may be entitled to. In my old department, there was very little attention paid to such things. My wife's department has a pretty extensive accommodation policy, for both students and faculty, that in particular has helped some of her junior colleagues by "pausing the tenure clock" when needed, or considering progress in context. But you have to know to ask, especially if your chair seems at best clueless.

All of this is both to get you into a better place, if needed; and to take charge of the narrative, if you've let it run away from you. It's also helpful to think through if it is true the chair just has it in for you...since then, part of your response is to make it clear you are informed, equipped with facts/narrative of your own, and therefore not an attractive expendable target, if there is funny business going on.

Good luck!

  • 2
    Not knowing the politics, is it possible the chair has someone else in mind- but needs the slot to open first? It's much easier and less of a fight if the victim leaves the scene voluntarily ...
    – J.Hirsch
    Feb 17, 2020 at 14:51

This is where you should consult your faculty association (or union) for advice, or where a trusted mentor comes in. Individual contexts differ, but this could be an indication that they're worried about the outcome of your tenure decision and are giving signals.

That said, a good chair will be clear about what they are indicating.

You can't be forced to resign, but you should meet with your chair if they are requesting a meeting. Discuss with your faculty association and take notes in the meeting, and make sure to take no decisions on the spot.


Sounds to me like your chair is trying to tell you that you are not going to get tenure (or at least she doesn't want you to). Now maybe there are other professors who will vote in your favor, but getting through tenure with a chair that doesnt want you to is going to be hard / impossible. Detmining the exact politics of the department is useful if you wish to continue.

Carry on for now - and find another job


I think you can reasonably demand to have a 3rd party present, such as a union rep or an impartial friend or an HR member depending on local culture.

That would be my thinking here, or to say "I am going to record the meeting" and then do so.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .