I am a new tenure track faculty. Last semester, I met a professor in a different college in the same university in a committee meeting. She was very nice; she said that she wanted to be my older sister. However, I felt like she was not reasonable and so I stopped talking with her about 1.5 months. For example, she made me pay for her meal; she made me cook for her 6 times in row for two months; she asked me to search papers for her study about 3 times in a semester; so on.

I was wondering if it is ok to keep the distance from her as a new faculty? Can she be influential on my tenure review in the future? The reason I am asking this is that I'm kicked out of a dissertation committee today. The dissertation committee chair is the person she always indicated as "her best friend". So I begin to worry....

I'd truly appreciate it if you'd help!

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    What do you mean by "college"? A different organization within the same university (as at Oxbridge) or a different institution altogether. Did you have a romantic relationship? – Buffy Jul 10 at 21:39
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    Officially, it's unlikely this professor will have a formal role in your tenure process. However, they have some legitimate influence and could have much more illegitimate influence. As an expert in your area, their opinion (backed up with evidence) should count for something (just like the opinion of any other expert in your area). It's also possible that they are the only person with conclusive evidence that your department chair is having an extramarital affair with their graduate student. – Alexander Woo Jul 10 at 21:44
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    You should check your college's (and your university's) rules for tenure reviews. In my college, a person being considered for tenure can ask that specific people (inside or outside the college, and inside or outside the university) be excluded from the review process. (The tenure candidate has to give reasons for the exclusion.) I recall only one case where such a request was made, and in that case it was granted. – Andreas Blass Jul 10 at 22:58
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    @AlexanderWoo Although I"m in the U.S. (Michigan), our tenure review process is quite formal. I"m aware of only one situation where a faculty member improperly intervened, and he was non-trivially disciplined by the college. – Andreas Blass Jul 10 at 23:35
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    I'm kicked out of a dissertation committee today — This strikes me as a serious red flag, independent of all the other behavior. I strongly suggest speaking with your department chair. – JeffE Jul 11 at 2:06

If your department chair (or chair of your tenure committee) is going to be asking external academics for input in your tenure review (this is not uncommon!) then you might want to tell them this:

"This person asked me to cook meals for her 6 times in a row for 2 months, along with other things that I found to be unreasonable, therefore I distanced myself from her, which apparently she did not like, based on at least one incident that seems to have been inflicted on me recently with her pulling the strings".

If your university has a "faculty association" or "union" representing its faculty members, you may want to seek their assistance in delivering this message to your department chair or chair of tenure committee, so that you do not have to do it directly.

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  • It is really helpful! Thanks A LOT! – user126266 Jul 10 at 23:01
  • This person isn't external. The question was confusingly written. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 11 at 1:30
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    It doesn't matter. The answer is the same, and if the faculty member is internal they would be able to have even more influence over someone's tenure. – user1271772 Jul 11 at 1:36

It is difficult to advise you from afar. The direct answer to your question is yes, but that is because politics can run rampant in some universities with many factions. You aren't asking whether she can be part of your formal tenure committee, I realize, but that is possible in some institutions also. Even a member from another university is a possibility.

However, having a mentor as a new faculty member can be a valuable thing, especially if you are a woman, which you don't say. At some places that mentorship can make the difference between success and failure. But a mentor needs to be pretty selfless in most respects. It is hard to interpret her request that you do research for her. That could be a good or a bad thing, depending on what you get out of the task itself. Being selfless doesn't necessarily mean that the mentor doesn't push you a bit. But, again, it is impossible to judge from here.

So, think about whether her actions are selfish or just encouragement for you to look at new things.

As for cooking and such, it is possibly worrisome unless there are some special circumstances.

But, the one piece of advice I can give is not to let your distancing be interpreted as an indication of a negative attitude, even if you have one. If you can distance and keep it neutral, then it is less likely that, in case she is selfish (or worse) that it will come back to reflect on you. Don't poke the bear in its den. But that, too, might be an unnecessary worry.

So, think first about whether she is offering mentorship and what that might mean for you in a positive way if you accept it. You might also explore her relationship to others in your institution that are in similar circumstances in order to come to a judgement on whether this is a good or a bad thing.

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  • It is very helpful! Thank you so very much! – user126266 Jul 10 at 22:12
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    -1 This person isn't a plausible mentor. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 11 at 1:32

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