I work at a small for profit company. We won a Fed grant based on some of our previous work, and included in it a university researcher as a subawardee.
The university researcher has done next to nothing. He has been very busy with other engagements and essentially handed off the entire work to a grad student, who has no background in this area and is unable to produce.
For several months, I've tried to right the situation. First I raised the problem. I got a mediocre response, basically telling me that the work is fine, that he doesn't have time to be more involved, that it's taking him away from other responsibilities and lucrative consulting, and that the funding agency is too clueless to know or care anyway, and that my expectations are too high... At one point, he suggested he just cancel his award and refund the money, but that was said in jest. In short, I got no results or even expression of concern.
I then tried to remedy the situation by setting concrete milestones, a project plan, and written goals. The researcher received this well but continued to do next to nothing. The grad student has tried but not been able to do the work. He delivered something which is incomplete, unintelligible, and downright flimsy, certainly nothing we could use in the work or for publication. At this point, I really have nothing to show from their involvement, and am giving up hope that they'll produce anything.
My questions is: How do I handle this? If the contract was with a small business, I'd simply not pay them, and state "You haven't done the job." We'd probably reach some type of agreement and move on. But I imagine that, with a university, its a lot more complicated. The professor can't exactly tell his university "yes, I ended up not having the time to do the work, please cancel it" - I imagine that would get him in a lot of trouble. The university likewise is unlikely to accept my claim and instead, I imagine, would always back their own people. I don't want to make an enemy of the researcher, or to cause him problems at his university, or to get into a protracted lawsuit with the university. But I can't justify handing over the cash to the university when I know they've done nothing. Not to mention that, legally and ethically, I'm responsible to be a good custodian of the funding agency's money.
Given that I've essentially despaired of getting anything from the university researcher, how can I bring this to a controlled landing? Ideally, I'd like to find a way to reach a settlement, giving him a path to back out of the subaward without causing him problems with the university, and avoiding a fight between myself and the university, or myself and the researcher, while reaching a settlement where I don't hand over (most of) the funding.
Handing over the funding would be a real shame, not only because they're not producing anything with it, but, being that their end has not been done, the project will remain incomplete.
(The situation is complicated because the university has already paid him extra summer salary, and I doubt there's a mechanism for him to return it, and, even if there were, I doubt he'd be willing to admit any wrongdoing. In short, I think the conflict and the admission of guilt are greater concerns than the funding itself.)
- Several hundred hours were budgeted for the professor
- The professor provided next to no deliverables; except for a few emails, all deliverables were provided by the student only
- The work provided by the student was clearly flimsy and not suitable; any person qualified in the field would reach that conclusion
- The researcher has done good work in other things; he made no real attempt to hide that, in this case, he basically just handed things off to the student. I've seen his work in other cases, and, if he would even do 25% of his budgeted hours, he could get the job done.
- The student seems to be aware of all of the above; he seems to realize that he's unable to do it by himself, and that the researcher really isn't too involved; he's made gentle statements of such
- I've made many attempts over the course of the work to bring this to the researcher's attention or to help correct the problems; none have brought results. I think he simply doesn't have the time and doesn't want to take time away from more important activities (he's practically said as much)
Thank you for the great answers. Some recommended just paying. My question on that is: doesn't that subject me to liability vis-a-vis the funding agency?
Some recommended trying to have gentle conversations, emphathize, etc. I've done that several times now with nothing to show.
Some recommend reporting it to the ethics agency. I certainly don't want a war. I don't want to harm the researcher. I'm not even sure that not doing work you are supposed to do is unethical. I am sure that the university would not want to make their own faculty look bad (it looks bad on them) and would fight any ethics charges tooth and nail.