Author Topic: What is this called?  (Read 2167 times)

milliemchi

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What is this called?
« on: April 07, 2017, 06:53:18 PM »
I have a terminology question. Here's the situation:

Being in charge of safety at our facility, I made a decision that a certain procedure should not go through. Now the faculty running the study is upset. He pulls rank and tries to go over my head. My decision trumps his here (or it should). This is in the technical half of my appointment.

In the academic half of my appointment, not directly related, he is my supervisor though. He supports 15-20% of my salary. We have been on excellent terms so far, and he is generally a nice guy, but he gets assertive, and could hold this against me. He can make decisions such as which papers I get put on, how much of my salary is supported, and he would be one of my references if I needed those in the future.

So... In terms of me making the decision, I have "conflict of interest". He has "undue influence". (Correct?) But what term describes the relationship between us, and specifically the situation I am in? It would be similar to a supervisor asking an employee to cheat or compromise safety. Is it "double jeopardy"? Any other ideas?

I'm sure there is a term that describes the situation. The faculty is working on an MBA, and the higher up we both report to (very supportive of me) holds an MBA, and if there is a term, they are likely familiar with it. It could make resolution easier if I could point to an example, which might make the faculty more aware of the problem.

maizeman

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2017, 07:15:30 PM »
Has the faculty member actually asked you to cheat or compromise safety? Or are you worried about the consequences of taking a decision he might not approve of?

I believe the former would be called an "unlawful order" if you were in the military. The latter case really is simply a conflict of interest, and whoever the person the two of you talk to when he goes over your head should be willing to offer you the chance to recuse yourself from decisions that have impacts on one of your other employers.

If it makes you feel any better, I was once fired by my faculty mentor because she was upset about a decision a committee I sat on came to about her access to some research facilities.

marty998

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2017, 07:16:37 PM »
Seems to be mild ethical dilemma regarding incentives and base instincts (power, money etc).

You need to convince as many influential people as you can that the decision you took was the right thing to do.

Document and evidence it.

milliemchi

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #3 on: April 07, 2017, 08:23:26 PM »
Yes, I worry about the consequences of asserting my rightful authority after being blown off. It has to be done, for a variety of objective reasons (not my personal need to assert myself).  With someone other I wouldn't worry much, but with this guy I have quite a bit to lose.

So yes, I have a conflict of interest, but that's not the issue, since I've already made the decision that puts my interests in jeopardy. The issue is his power over me and possible retaliation - how is that described?

BTW, I can't recuse myself. There is only one other person qualified to make these decisions in the department, and he has nothing to do with the facility. I will involve him, and some other relevant people, and will try to downplay my opinion as much as possible, pointing to established standards, etc., but I can't abdicate the decision-making. If things go wrong, it's on my head either way.

maizeman

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #4 on: April 07, 2017, 08:42:17 PM »
Hmm. So if not recusing yourself from the situation, what is the ideal resolution from your perspective? I certainly don't doubt that you needed to assert your authority for objective and valid safety reasons. The problem is that, since things like how much funding is available and what the priorities for those funds are and who contributed enough to a given project to have their name on a manuscript are difficult to quantify objectively, if the person in question really does decide to take it out on you it will be difficult to prove. It's a sucky situation to be in, and I'm sorry that you've ended up in it.

I don't know that there's a better word for the situation you're in than that you're worried about "retaliation.*" It will be difficult to discuss with the faculty member because he may see the very fact that you're worried about retaliation as an attack on his integrity. May make more sense to discuss your concerns with the boss you both share directly.

*The closest analogy I can think of is whistle blowing. You took action about an unsafe situation, which, while good for the organization as a whole had a negative impact on your (part time) direct supervisor.

milliemchi

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #5 on: April 07, 2017, 08:52:16 PM »
Ideally, I have people at and above his level explain that what he wants cannot be done the way he wants it done and that it's not my whim, and they are convincing. There are about 3 or 4 that could be involved, but it would likely take more than one because of different areas of expertise. So this is really about organizing support for myself, and I think language matters. BTW, we are all on good terms with each other, there are no sides/cliques (at least not yet).

maizeman

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2017, 08:58:32 PM »
Gotcha. Okay, I think that's a perfectly achievable goal.

The way I would phrase it is that you're a little worried that this decision may seem like a personal whim to faculty member X right now and you're worried that could have negative consequences for your ongoing professional relationship, and that you think a united front with some institutional support and backstopping for your decision would help ensure that doesn't happen.

And yes, we should have a word for the situation where you have authority over a person when you're wearing one hat and report to them when you're wearing another hat. It's a surprisingly common situation in academia. But I don't know that such a word exists.

milliemchi

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2017, 09:08:47 PM »
The way I would phrase it is that you're a little worried that this decision may seem like a personal whim to faculty member X right now and you're worried that could have negative consequences for your ongoing professional relationship, and that you think a united front with some institutional support and backstopping for your decision would help ensure that doesn't happen.

Great, I like your phrasing. Let's try to go further...

The last email I got was along the lines "I make these kinds of decisions in the clinic, so I have decided to go through with this". His reasoning does not apply to this specific study. There are nuances, and I'm afraid that looking through the fog of a wounded ego, the nuances might be difficult to appreciate. (He also does not get to make these decisions, which is a separate issue.) How to approach someone who had just pulled the authority card on you, and may to have to walk it back (and yet does have authority over you in another context)?

maizeman

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #8 on: April 07, 2017, 09:22:54 PM »
I'd be very careful of the other person's ego. Which isn't fair, but as discussed above, if he does decide to retaliate it's going to be extremely difficult to prove that's actually what's going on, which makes it hard for you to be properly protected. It'd phrase it very much in terms of "I completely understand where you're coming from [even if you don't]. The problem is that, unlike in the clinic, X, Y and Z apply, and because of my role as $job_title, that means that if I don't raise a red flag about this I'm going to get in lots of trouble with $shared_boss. We can certainly go to $shared_boss together and see what he says about the project. If he gives me explicit approval to make an exception we can certainly go forward with this."

Then you can brief your shared supervisor about the situation and why the procedure/study cannot go forward, and if $shared_boss is a good supervisor, they will understand that part of their role is taking the heat for being the final "no" in this particular circumstance during the meeting between the three of you.

This won't feel good for you because you really DO have the authority to tell this guy no without referring the final decision further up the chain of command, but it is clear this person is treating you like a subordinate rather than an equal or supervisor. Letting them get the final "no" from someone where there is no risk of confusion about who answers to who lets them save face, and reduces the risk of a damaged working relationship going forward.

milliemchi

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2017, 09:52:42 PM »
OK, thanks. So, yes - the first thing I did when I got that email was to forward to our common supervisor. Your post is making me realize that there is a choice to be made here: I can have the supervisor back me up on my decision, or I can have the supervisor deliver the decision instead of me doing it. Very subtle difference. There are pros and cons. The second scenario is easier on me in the short run and protects my position in the academic realm. The first scenario builds up my authority in the technical realm, which I need to get the job done more easily in the future. I am currently appointed 50/50 between the two realms. So, I need to decide what to ask of the supervisor. Or, I can ask her what she thinks would be better.

[...]

Upon 5 minutes of reflection, I think I should probably go with the second scenario. My relationship with the faculty is much longer than the supervisor has been around, and she may not be around to back me up in the future, or to back up the research facility. It is also a very professionally valuable relationship for me. If my authority is not fortified with one person where the lines of authority are ambiguous, it may not necessarily reflect on my authority with other investigators. The supervisor is aware of the conflict of interest and would not hold it against me for not confronting the faculty. I think I just talked myself into a line of action.

So I think I will approach the only other professional in the department qualified to make this decision (also faculty, but nothing to do with the facility), and explain the situation and get their support. Then I'll go back to the original faculty and say that they made me rethink, so I went to other professional for an opinion. Then I let the other professional talk to the faculty. (And if I don't get the support, then that's a whole different game, but it's unlikely.) The supervisor can back me up with the other professional.

Thanks.

milliemchi

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2017, 09:56:14 PM »
Basically, what you said. Now I just have to pacify my own bruised ego, but I have the whole weekend to get that done.

maizeman

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2017, 10:06:26 PM »
Sounds like a good plan. Sometimes just talking things out helps, so happy to have served as a sounding board.

Condolences on the bruised ego. Hopefully the weekend away from the office takes some of the sting out of it. I've definitely been on both sides of this, both having to swallow my ego even though I _know_ I'm in the right, and pursuing conflicts when I know it's not a productive use of the time, resources, or social capital because I'm convinced I'm on the side of truth, justice, and the american way.

milliemchi

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2017, 10:10:07 PM »
Made me have an honest laugh because I know the feeling. :)

Laura33

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #13 on: April 09, 2017, 08:07:51 AM »
FWIW, I'd recommend paying close attention to the nuances of maizeman's 9:22 post.  This is not just a question of whether you inform your joint supervisor -- if this guy perceived you as going over his head to his boss, that will damage the relationship more than you just laying down the law yourself and arguing it out.  He has committed himself to a position, and so you proving you are right and he is wrong will provoke hard feelings, period; forcing him to be wrong in front of his boss is even worse.

You need to find a way that allows him to save face, if at all possible.  I.e., give him an out, give him a way that he can say, "oh, sure, you never told me about *that* -- that changes the issue entirely."  I like the idea of the email where you are very complimentary of his experience, and then point out the things that you have been told *by your supervisor in the clinic* you need to do, and that this puts you in an awkward position, because you see his point but feel stuck, and so you'd appreciate his help figuring this out -- would it make sense to set up a joint meeting with [joint supervisor]?

Do not, under any circumstances, run around and curry support from everyone else for your position behind his back so you can then demonstrate in front of everyone that he is wrong and you are right.  That is a last resort if he will not comply, because it WILL generate hard feelings and WILL be held against you.  Try to involve him in the fix, be open and respectful with him, and avoid embarrassing him if you have any other way to fix the problem.

The thing to realize here is that a successful career requires both substantive knowledge and people skills, and the more difficult the people you are working with, the more finely-honed your people skills need to be.  So even though you have the superior technical knowledge here, look at it as an opportunity to build your "soft" skills -- it will serve you well in the future.

Case

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Re: What is this called?
« Reply #14 on: April 09, 2017, 11:22:16 AM »
Hard without specifics.
Poor safety in academic research labs is rampant and well known.  However, often brushed under the table.  Be prepared to throw gasoline on the fire and share your story with external media and whistle-blower groups and blogs if the school tries to shut you up.  Go nuclear.

I have a terminology question. Here's the situation:

Being in charge of safety at our facility, I made a decision that a certain procedure should not go through. Now the faculty running the study is upset. He pulls rank and tries to go over my head. My decision trumps his here (or it should). This is in the technical half of my appointment.

In the academic half of my appointment, not directly related, he is my supervisor though. He supports 15-20% of my salary. We have been on excellent terms so far, and he is generally a nice guy, but he gets assertive, and could hold this against me. He can make decisions such as which papers I get put on, how much of my salary is supported, and he would be one of my references if I needed those in the future.

So... In terms of me making the decision, I have "conflict of interest". He has "undue influence". (Correct?) But what term describes the relationship between us, and specifically the situation I am in? It would be similar to a supervisor asking an employee to cheat or compromise safety. Is it "double jeopardy"? Any other ideas?

I'm sure there is a term that describes the situation. The faculty is working on an MBA, and the higher up we both report to (very supportive of me) holds an MBA, and if there is a term, they are likely familiar with it. It could make resolution easier if I could point to an example, which might make the faculty more aware of the problem.