Say there is an influential and popular research professor who is moving up fast in his research areas - and that he heads a big research group at his school. Then he gets an offer that he can't refuse - from a big time university. He leaves six months or so later, bringing some of his doctoral students with him, too. In general, has this professor burned his bridges with his former university? I imagine he is bringing a lot of talented grad students and grant money in to the new school - and a lot of grant money is leaving the old school.

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    No. "The university" is not a divorced spouse. A prof does not take other peoples grant money with him. Half of the students who planned to join his group don't want to move. Usually a successor wil be appointed, who get's additional money to get started, and often uses that to buy equipment that others can profit from, too. The position will be vacant for half a year or more, meaning the university saves mony on salaries. Etc. – Karl Feb 5 '17 at 23:13
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    Sarcastic answer: hell hath no fury as a university scorned. Actual answer: no. – Dan Romik Feb 5 '17 at 23:13
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    Can you be more specific about what you mean by "burned his bridges"? Different aspects of the relationship will be affected in different ways. For instance, it's probably not too likely that the former university X would offer him another job in the future, since he's now indicated that he doesn't think X is the best fit for his career. But there's no reason it should affect his collaborations with faculty at X, other than perhaps making them slightly less convenient. – Nate Eldredge Feb 5 '17 at 23:51
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    @emory Not true. Small scale grants that only include one prof/PI can usually go with him, at least inside a country (for a grant by a national institution). They are bound to the prof, not the university. Makes no sense to hand over a grant to a new guy who does not have the special expertise for which it was originally granted. – Karl Feb 6 '17 at 2:19
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    @Karl actually to be precise, most grants are bound to both the professor and university, and changing either requires getting approval from the funding agency. But the approval for changing institutions is usually granted without much difficulty (if the move is in the same country as you said), so you are essentially correct. – Dan Romik Feb 6 '17 at 5:21

In general, no, it is not a problem to leave to a new position after some month. The colleagues know how the game goes and could be in the same situation.

However, in practice it depends very much on the special situation. Some examples where leaving after a short period of time are:

  • Being hired on the promise to build a workgroup in a new field that is not present at the department.

  • Being hired to teach a special much needed class.

  • You promised to submit a large grant proposal that would boost the universities standing if successful (e. g. NSF centers, DFG Sonderforschungsbereich or such).

  • You got a large startup funding, spend a lot of money on specific equipment, that is of no use to anybody else.

  • You started to supervise many students and other colleagues have to step in to help out.

Probably there are more things, but the bottom line is "Don't be a jerk and you'll be fine".

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In principle no but in practice the decision to leave may lead to some tensions, even if @Karl and @Dan Romick rightly point out that it should not be so.

There is always a element of risk involved in hiring someone: a department has usually invested some time and committee work to hire this person, possibly had to lobby the administration for the position, may have supported this faculty with teaching buyouts so she/he could establish a research program. When this investment suddently disappears, very few will normally congratulate themselves at the thought of starting the process again (especially if the competition to hire the faculty now leaving was hot, and there were multiple good candidates).

Many no doubt will be sad to see a friend leave: there is no more reason to burn bridges than if a good neighbor moved to a new town.

Of course there are people who are truly hated (for legitimate or jealous reasons) and everyone's happy to see them go. In the same category some researchers feel they are not getting the support they rightly (in their minds) deserve. In these rarer cases, the departure can be acrimonious.

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