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I am a new tenure-track faculty (just completed my first year). Recently, I realized that two groups of senior faculty members have been spreading rumors about me: one group walked around saying that I lied about the PhD program I graduated from (I never said such a thing); the other group walked around saying that I spoke very negatively about my colleagues to them (a faculty member in the group asked me to do very unreasonable things (cook for her, take care of her plants, book a restaurant for her) and so I had distanced myself from her).

I talked with my division chair. The advice is to "let all go" because there is nothing I can do; I can submit a petition in case I fail in my reappointment or tenure review because of the rumors.

However, I now understand why my chair and colleagues were very tough to me when I interacted with them. Any advice will be really appreciated.

By the way, I am in a very huge department — about 40 professors. From the first group — a person started the rumors; and from the other group — two people started them. However, as I heard, almost all professors in my department heard about them, especially since these three professors are very active and influential in my department.

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  • How big are these "two groups"? A few people in a large faculty or most of the department?
    – Buffy
    Jul 21, 2021 at 19:47
  • Did you speak negatively of the second group? Jul 22, 2021 at 11:16
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    @cag51 In the UK "Professors" are a subset of "Faculty Members" BTW :-) Jul 29, 2021 at 20:47

3 Answers 3

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At some universities there will be a faculty ombudsman or ombuds, whom you might consider talking to. Their job is to listen to faculty concerns, discuss your options with you, and offer advice.

Generally speaking, they don't have any formal authority, they maintain confidentiality, and they don't intervene in conflicts. In your situation, you might expect the ombuds to: listen sympathetically; let you know how common your situation is; make you aware of any relevant formal processes you could consider, and discuss what the outcome might be; offer advice on how to "let it go" in practice, if you choose to go that route.

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I can make a few suggestions. One or the other might be worth considering.

If it is only a few people in a large department then you can probably safely ignore it, especially if they form a clique and if you have the support of the head.

If it is worse than that, they consider moving to a different position. It isn't necessary to make a panic search, but keep your eyes open for opportunities and try to meet people who might turn in to collaborators at conferences and such. Make a few discrete inquiries. Hostile environment is a valid reason for moving.

If neither of the above seem right then spend some effort making allies/friends/collaborators within the department so that many people have a more positive view of you and your work. A few jerks in the department isn't necessarily a serious problem, though the gossip can be problematic. But if you have a circle of friendly voices to quiet the jerks you can do ok.

Building a circle of "friendly relations" in a department is always a good idea in any case.

Note a possible issue. I've been places where the opinions and suggestions of the new person are definitely not welcome. They have their ways of doing things and resent any suggestion that change would be good. You may need to "keep your head down" if you detect that attitude.

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  • Good advice regarding the "we don't want to change" attitude. But such an attitude would be a reason to let me feel uncomfortable.
    – usr1234567
    Jul 22, 2021 at 13:11
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What relief are you hoping for here? You don't claim to have suffered any tangible harm yet. Unless you work in an unusually restrictive society or department, gossip alone is probably not against any laws or employment rules that the administration can enforce. You can document it in case it becomes relevant later.

Advancement at most universities is supposed to be based on performance, not on whether some faculty like or dislike you as a person. If/when you fail to achieve advancement (salary raises, promotion, etc.) while having met or exceeded performance standards, then you can appeal to the chair or other administration for relief.

In the meantime, you can try to make friends with those or other faculty to reduce their motivation to gossip about you. This should not be necessary though; performance alone should be sufficient for advancement at your university or being hired at other departments.

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    Most places that I know of, tenure is granted by vote of a committee of tenured faculty, with the possibility that administration can say no for financial reasons. But a negative vote of the committee would probably be the end. What is "supposed to be" and what "is" might be quite different. Likewise, moving usually requires favorable letters from colleagues when tenure fails. You make the answer too facile.
    – Buffy
    Jul 21, 2021 at 19:44
  • @Buffy Yes, I agree that is the normal tenure process. It's possible for the dean to override when tenure is denied due to politics or other dislike (I've seen it happen to my friend), which is why I suggested an appeal after having been denied advancement. As for "favorable letters", why would OP ask gossipers to be references instead of more favorable colleagues? Anyways, OP can control their own behaviors but not the others' choices. I prefer to advise them to perform well (which they control) instead of convincing others to like them (which they don't control).
    – Elodin
    Jul 21, 2021 at 21:48
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    Far too much “should” and “is supposed to be”. The OP (and the rest of us) inhabit the world as it is, not as it is supposed to be.
    – bubba
    Jul 22, 2021 at 10:46

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