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I recently received an offer to join another university (in the US). I have not told my new university this, but one of the main reasons I want to leave my current university is because of another member of the faculty (let's call him "Joe").

Joe and I were in the same lab as PhD students and quarreled a lot. Later, we ended up on the faculty of the same university. I have moved on from these quarrels, but Joe continues to hold a grudge. Over the years I have tried to ignore him, but he continues to go out of his way to make my life miserable.

I'm leaving to be rid of Joe. However, my new university wants to hire more faculty in my research field, and Joe was suggested as a possible target for recruitment. They are prepared to make their next recruit a very attractive offer, so Joe may accept.

I haven't yet signed my offer, and I am not interested in it unless I am assured that Joe will not come to my new university. I can think of two ways to make a case against Joe to my new chair.

  1. The diva approach

    I directly tell the chair that I won't come unless they agree not to hire Joe. After their considerable time investment into recruiting me, they may agree to seal the deal.

    The obvious downside is that this approach makes me sound immature, gripey, and dramatic to my new chair.

  2. The good citizen approach

    I make the case that Joe is bad for the department.

    One major downside is that Joe did not have issues with many faculty at my current university. If my new chair tries to vet my claim with one of his contacts at my current university, my story may not hold up. Also, this approach won't provide an assurance unless I make it about me (e.g., "Joe is bad for your university, and I can't join a department with someone like him in it"), which still makes me sound like a diva.

Can anyone suggest a way for me to keep Joe out of my new university while minimizing the damage to my own reputation?

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    Does Joe mind your presence in the same department as much as you mind his? If so, I can imagine the possibility that by joining the new department you will automatically make the idea of moving there unappealing to him.
    – Dan Romik
    Jun 29, 2023 at 2:31
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    @DanRomik: On the other hand, I've known personalities who enjoy bullying certain people (in their minds it's "being provocative" or something, for the lulz), and thus this might be extra attractive for the bully. Jun 29, 2023 at 7:21
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    Of course you let them know why you're leaving! If you don't, then you will only have yourself to blame if Joe gets hired. Just imagine how you'll feel then! It's not worth the risk.
    – TonyK
    Jun 29, 2023 at 13:14
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    @Daniel R. Collins +1. We don't know about academic job availability in OP's field but it's odd two antipathetic people end up working together for this long. Someone or other of the two is getting something from this situation, Joe most likely.
    – Trunk
    Jun 29, 2023 at 17:01
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    Would they be recruiting this summer? Or is this a next year problem you can deal with once you have made friends in the department and have some sway?
    – Dawn
    Jun 29, 2023 at 19:51

5 Answers 5

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You could let your new chair know that part of the reason you left your previous institution is because of personal differences with Joe. You don't have to give any details or make accusations against Joe. You can just say that the two of you don't get along well. It's important to avoid assigning blame to Joe, because that can make it seem like you might be the problem. By maintaining a neutral tone, you are communicating that you are capable of maintaining professionalism despite interpersonal conflicts. After explaining the problem in a neutral tone, you can then express your concern about Joe joining your new department without making any immediate demands.

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    To add to this: after explaining as you said, OP can wait for the answer, and then she herself should decide whether to join or not. I.e., steer the discussion in the direction of whether that guy will be taken or not; not that he should or should not be. This way she avoids putting the new department under decision pressure.
    – AnoE
    Jun 29, 2023 at 10:27
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    I also agree and wanted to add - communicate with the new place you'd prefer to not work with Joe and the old one. Just say it's your preference, no ultimatums. If Joe follows you to the new place, your old one is out of two members. Since they will know you only left because of Joe, they should be happy to take you back.
    – vspmis
    Jun 30, 2023 at 7:31
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    A few days ago, I received an unexpected office call from my new chair. He seemed to be wondering why I haven't signed my offer yet. Without time to plan a response, I went with your advice. It worked, and my chair offered to leave Joe out of their next search. Thank you!
    – microbiome
    Jul 4, 2023 at 7:20
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While this is not yet a completely adequate answer I think it is important to note the following insight which may help the OP from inadvertently underplaying their interaction relative to the hiring committees possible future activities.

There is a danger to OP that the hiring people might think OP would appreciate a familiar face and that may count in Joe's favour (not knowing the impediment) and so some information may need to flow about the interpersonal conditions.

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    Walk left of road, good. Walk right of road, good. Walk middle of road, get squished like grape. If you don't yet have enough rep to comment, try to engage with the site for a while. The site frowns on posting comments in answers. That said, welcome. Jun 29, 2023 at 12:05
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    @MindwinRememberMonica Love the Miyagi quote.
    – Deepak
    Jun 29, 2023 at 14:30
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    This could be turned into an answer, remove the part about it being a comment and re-phrase this as "This is why it is important to address this in a neutral manner so that the chair knows OPs concerns. But as it stands it isn't an aswer.
    – Doryx
    Jun 29, 2023 at 18:14
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    This is certainly fine as an answer and I think it's a good one, and it's obviously well received.
    – uhoh
    Jun 30, 2023 at 0:15
  • @MindwinRememberMonica Though Mr. Miyagi, in that quote, may have forgotten the many divided highways and streets some indeed with pedestrian friendly medians, so often there is a middle way. My 'answer' has now afforded me the ability to 'comment', I appreciate the patient forbearance.
    – civitas
    Jun 30, 2023 at 1:52
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If you do not state your unwillingness to work with Joe again, e.g. by delaying your decision till it's clear whether an offer is made to Joe or not, you run a future risk of your new department wanting to hire Joe again.

Moreover, if you only raise objections to Joe when you are hired and someone at a faculty meeting next Spring says Joe's good hand and should be hired, they'll think why didn't you tell us all this beforehand ?

On the other hand, if you are candid about Joe, the hiring department may well choose to hire neither you nor Joe - and of course word of your mutual antipathy may well leak out.

That's the risk in the present situation.

But I think your present situation exists in the first place because you haven't said too much about it up to now. And it will continue until you explain to the hiring HoD your issues about this other member of your present faculty and why you think such issues preclude the level of collegial relations that a successful department must have.

If you are hired and Joe isn't, fine.

If you don't get hired and Joe does, fine.

If neither is hired, it is really high time for you to talk to your current HoD about this situation with a colleague that has gone on for quite long enough now.

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If you really don't want to work with Joe again, I would be as clear as possible about this.

It does not help to find a weak and polite formulation. I would say something like:

"There is an important thing I need you to know: I heard that you consider to hire Joe. Joe and me do not get along at all. If you hire him, I will probably leave."

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  • Okay but the short statemetn above is not complete. OP has to explain how things have come so far without him making any objection within his current department.
    – Trunk
    Jul 2, 2023 at 22:02
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Unless I have read this incorrectly, surely, if Joe is leaving, then there is no longer a need for you to leave your current university (unless Joe isn't the only reason that you wish to move, although you haven't specified that)... Joe moves on and everyone is happy. You could even turn down the offer from the new University and recommend Joe in your place, that way you increase the chances that Joe leaves.

However, if Joe is leaving and applying to the same university that you are applying to, purely because you are moving and applying, then that changes things - if you then decide to stay put, Joe could also do the same, just so that he can continue annoying you.

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  • You have read it incorrectly. The author of the post is leaving, and is concerned that Joe may follow.
    – Dawn
    Jul 1, 2023 at 18:03
  • But the main reason for the OP leaving is Joe being in the same Faculty. To quote: ... but one of the main reasons I want to leave my current university is because of another member of the faculty .... Therefore, if Joe is planning on leaving anyway, then there is no need to leave. Jul 1, 2023 at 18:04
  • Why do you think he is planning on leaving?
    – Dawn
    Jul 1, 2023 at 18:46
  • Ah, yes... the new Uni is planning on head-hunting him, my mistake. Jul 1, 2023 at 18:54

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