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This is a question that does not quite fit the bill on any particular SE forum but Academia SE comes the closest in my opinion. I will use non-binary they/them pronouns to retain some amount of anonymity.

Some background will be important: I have lived with my current roommate -- a grad student at my university in the US -- for two years, in this time I have come to know them in a way I really wish I hadn't. This person is extremely manipulative, a compulsive liar and used me and my friend for an embarrassingly long amount of time before we realized what was going on. This has not been limited to personal favors but also professional ones where this person would get editing feedback on their extremely long papers with nothing in return, not do the reading and then ask for summaries that they would then use during class discussion without attribution. This is a person who openly flouts page limits, writes in a needlessly convoluted sentences and has shown repeated patterns of not respecting other people's time. Professionally, I think this person is a total hack who uses trauma of marginalized groups to progress their own academic agenda.

Now, I suspect that this person likely has narcissistic personality disorder but I am in no way an expert. They are usually very polite and cordial to other people they do not know very well and generally have a good image in the department -- except that they often do not respect other people's time but people think it as a quirk.

My concern is that this person will soon be assuming a position wherein they will be teaching and advising students (in a different program than mine). I do not know where they draw a line regarding abuse so it's hard for me to judge whether this is something that they might do to their students. Still, is there a way for me to warn someone about this individual?

I am also afraid that if I do make complaint I will be ostracized. I have, with my own eyes observed departments side with abusers because everyone knows them to be "good guys" and I wonder if I should just let things play out and hope other people catch on eventually.

Update: Seeing your abuser succeed in their professional lives without suffering any consequence while your work suffers because of the trauma, that just doesn't seem fair. I maintain that this person is unfit to teach by their history of disregard for rules -- including syllabi, contracts and so forth. In any case, it is perhaps time I sought helped and moved on with my life.

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    Before you do anything I would strongly consider if that person actually did anything formally problematic or if your evident dislike for them is clouding your judgement. Because what I read in your question is that they are a bad collaborator and crappy roommate, from which you jumped directly to abuse and a mental disorder. Not saying you are wrong, but in order to "whistleblow" there would be a lot more specific accounts of misbehavior.
    – xLeitix
    May 2, 2021 at 20:58
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    If your friend decided to forego the faculty position and decided, for example, to pursue a management position somewhere, a place at which he or she would have direct reports, would you preemptively notify the hiring company? And the next one? May 2, 2021 at 21:12
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    The subtext I am reading here is that my situation seems personal more than professional. While it is hard for me to reveal the full extent of this situation, I think it might be best to let things play out. This person has no history of misconduct, and all evidence is circumstantial so a complaint would accomplish nothing other than raise questions about my motivations.
    – user139131
    May 3, 2021 at 3:03
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    I'm really sorry, I just want to mention that "This is a person who openly flouts page limits" is the single funniest character assessment that I have ever read in my life.
    – Stumbler
    May 3, 2021 at 22:59
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    @whistleblower: The humor comes from the fact you are bringing something insignificant (going over a page limit) with insignificant stakes (a grade on a college paper?) into something important with high stakes. Perhaps if we take this to the extreme you will see what I mean: how would you react if someone wrote "This person is unqualified to become senator. This person openly flouts the park's 'do not walk on grass' signs".
    – N.I.
    May 4, 2021 at 15:24

5 Answers 5

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Complaining about your roommate to the roommate's employer is unprofessional behavior. Do not do it.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, talk to the police or a local victim's advocacy organization.

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    The more I look at it, the more it seems like a case of domestic abuse and I believe my school has resources to address that. My interactions with this person have traumatized me and I feel scared for any students who may have to interact with this individual. Still, I may have conflated the two seemingly separate issues and that is for me to figure out.
    – user139131
    May 3, 2021 at 3:08
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    Speculating about abuse or lack thereof seems highly inappropriate to me. May 4, 2021 at 12:47
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    @CaptainEmacs "Domestic abuse" doesn't have to be between people in a romantic relationship May 4, 2021 at 15:31
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    @AzorAhai-him- Never heard this term outside of family/relationship context, but ok. May 4, 2021 at 15:49
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    @CaptainEmacs I totally agree that I've never heard it in a different context than that of a family household, but I guess it makes sense because "domestic" means something along the lines of "local to the place where you live/reside".
    – natiiix
    May 5, 2021 at 20:44
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Nothing you said makes this person categorically unqualified to teach students. Your descriptions also fail to demonstrate that this person is untrustworthy.

This is a person who openly flouts page limits, writes in a needlessly convoluted sentences and has shown repeated patterns of not respecting other people's time.

The above does not justify the conclusions you have reached about this person. Plenty of people are chronically late with their morals intact. As for flouting page limits or writing long sentences, last time I checked poor writing style is not a mortal sin. Now, you have two years of experience with them as a roommate and sometimes our beliefs about another person are difficult to articulate, yet by no means less justified. So I believe you when you call them extremely manipulative. Unfortunately, your personal experience with this person in informal contexts does not meet the burden of proof for professional disqualification or even reprimand. I predict that if you were to raise an issue, you would be stonewalled with skepticism and assigned a reputation as a gossipmonger.

Warn your friends and favorite colleagues in private and let this person fail on their own. Your own career is more important than this battle.

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    I think the issue is this person's history of flouting rules -- course syllabi, contracts and so forth. Naturally, it is hard for me to be unbiased; but this situation may be best handled outside of our shared professional lives.
    – user139131
    May 3, 2021 at 18:53
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    This seems to advise gossiping in the last paragraph. Don't. May 4, 2021 at 3:45
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    I don't consider warning your trusted friends about a malicious person "gossiping." If you were my friend and you knew I was working with someone very manipulative but didn't tell me because you didn't want to be seen "gossiping", let me tell you, you wouldn't be my friend anymore. I would be pissed. May 4, 2021 at 16:16
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In the US, stepping in to the hiring process would likely be illegal due to privacy laws. You would be open to slander/defamation charges. What you propose isn't whistleblowing under the law since you aren't reporting governmental misconduct. So, your claims have no protection.

If you were asked by this person to comment officially, then you can be honest, of course.

But, imagine a situation in which someone just wanted to carry out a vendetta against another person, making similar claims. You would expect a thorough examination of the claims and the motivations of the person making them.

I suspect that the behavior of this person isn't invisible to the faculty. If they see it and ignore it then it is an issue for them.

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    I don't believe such privacy laws would apply to someone not affiliated with the employer. Any statement is open to slander or defamation charges, but if the statement is true the charges will not be successful. There are no claims that have "protection" from false charges. May 2, 2021 at 23:44
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    That is terrifying to think about. Perhaps it helps that there is more than one person who has had the same experience with the individual. Anyway, as I've commented on Anonymous Physicist's question, I seem to have conflated the personal and the professional. While I see some instances of overlap, there is no evidence of misconduct.
    – user139131
    May 3, 2021 at 3:12
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    @Buffy: Your claim that OP would need to prove truth is inapplicable to the US, where the burden of proof is exactly the opposite.
    – Kevin
    May 3, 2021 at 19:46
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    @Buffy: Now you're conflating the actual malice standard with the false-statement-of-fact standard. Those are two entirely separate steps. First the plaintiff has to prove the statement false, then the plaintiff has to prove actual malice.
    – Kevin
    May 3, 2021 at 20:27
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    No, I'm not conflating, actually. My intent here is to warn the OP of the danger of making statements that might be construed as defamation, not predicting the outcome.
    – Buffy
    May 3, 2021 at 20:51
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This sounds like a really difficult situation and I think you are right to be concerned for the welfare of this person's students. With emotional abuse, personal and professional lines can be blurry.

I have limited experience here, but I did once become personally involved with a colleague and through this discovered they were emotionally abusive (I suspect also narcissistic personality disorder). I was concerned that their behaviour was affecting other colleagues and decided to speak to HR - but the person was able to talk their way out of the situation with no consequence, even though they had received complaints from others before. I didn't want to escalate to a formal complaint, since the situation was blurred and not purely work related. I was right to be concerned though - as I spoke to more people, I discovered this person was generally considered unprofessional and a drain on their team. I can relate to your concern.

I was unsure from your post what your professional overlap with this person is. It could be difficult for you to have any impact on the situation, which could end up being upsetting for you if the university doesn't have the wisdom to take the situation seriously, particularly since this person is manipulative.

From my personal perspective - and this may differ from the judgement of others posting here - if you have any kind of relationship with e.g. a trusted individual in HR or colleague I would consider letting them know your concerns informally, make it clear that you are only doing this out of concern. Keep your examples limited to the ones that you feel comfortable discussing and are a little more black and white. I imagine what you decide to say might depend on how strong you feel.

Good luck and I hope you find a solution. I would also say it's likely you are not alone, it might help to reach out to people who you suspect could have also been affected by this person.

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The other answers all offer wise recommendations and cautions and raise good questions. Here's another perspective; "I feel your pain." :-)

This is a question that does not quite fit the bill on any particular SE forum...

So this is more of an Interpersonal Skills SE-like answer to your Academia SE question and is meant to complement and add to the other very good answers already posted here.

I'm old(ish) and have seen a few cases of what I have armchair(=without qualifications) labeled as "narcissistic personality disordered" or even "psychopathic" academic individuals. Watching over years to a decade what happened is exactly what's mentioned in articles about those pathologies, a trail of trauma and collateral damage to those charmed, convinced or otherwise unprepared for what was happening.

What I'm saying is that what you fear certainly might be right.

However...

Whatever you do poses substantial risk to you, and the (probably) socially skilled/clever person would receive at most a temporary setback. If what you suspect is true, they will simply learn from the situation and adapt, and possibly seek out the cause (you) and take retribution for fun.

Imagine being on a long flight and an aggravating, troublesome passenger walks past your aisle seat. Should you stick out your leg and trip them to interfere with their behavior? Will this quick action produce a net-improvement for all the passengers during the remainder of the long flight? Will it for you?

If you want to use your (perceived) newly gained ability to recognize and perhaps understand manipulative behavior to improve your life and those of others, use it long term:

  1. Be more alert in your own interpersonal interactions.
  2. Be very carefully helpful to friends by asking neutral questions that may help them recognize their own situation on their own terms.
  3. It is good and noble to want to intervene, but the how's and why's of how we choose to do it is what separates wise from foolish actions.
  4. Be aware of subconsciously trying to right some wrong in your own experience by intervening on behalf of someone else. Helping others in these kinds of situations requires skill and wisdom to decide if and how it is really possible. Be cautious not to subconsciously conflate helping others with righting some wrong you've experienced yourself.

Remember that each person's reality is usually pretty different than anyone else's. What feels like an "objective" perception at the time may never translate to other people's "objective" perception.

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