student employee keeps venting on social media about a work decision

A reader writes:

Something happened a couple of years ago that I’d like to get your take on. I work at a university in a student-run program with a few departments that state law requires us to have. The students have a great amount of autonomy in this program and interview and hire their own employees. Every summer pre-Covid, one of the higher-ups of the university would take six of these students, including the leader of the program, on an all-expense-paid 10-day trip to another country.

One student/highly respected department leader, whose position also went on the trip until the year this happened, had been previously told by the leader of the program he was going. The student, Fergus, was of course very excited. He turned down other opportunities for this and spent a lot of time reading about the places they would be visiting. Unfortunately, about six weeks later, he was told that plans had changed and that he would not be going on the trip after all. He … did not take it well. He was very vocal, going as far as to vent on Facebook about it. As a result, the student leader intervened and had a conference with him explaining the rationale behind the decision and that his Facebook post wasn’t okay. As a sort of apology for his disappointment, the leader arranged for the student to attend a week-long statewide conference at a nearby city and arranged a large purchase Fergus had wanted for his department.

All seemed well, until about a month later when Fergus went back to not just posting on Facebook very publicly complaining about the decision not to take him on the trip, but making an entire blog about his disappointment (not a single blog post, an entire website). He posted on this blog and on Facebook several times about how upset he was, lambasting the decision not to take him, etc. He ended up having to get professional help due to how upset he was.

Due to the bylaws of the department (another aspect required by the state), Fergus could only be fired by a vote of the department. Something which they bafflingly never even considered. It seemed that there was nothing that could be done. But looking back, I’m not so sure. I feel like there must have been SOMETHING we could have done, and I’d really like to get your thoughts on that and this whole situation.

Oh nooooo.

Everyone messed up here.

Why did the program leader tell Fergus he was going if that wasn’t fully settled, and why did those plans change? That would be understandable if it was something like “we just had sudden dire financial news and cannot pay for the trip and we are very sorry” or “you have been harassing other people in the program and one consequence will be that we will not ask them to travel with you.” But if it was more like “eh, we didn’t fully plan things when we first told you that you’d be going” … well, that is crappy! And it’s understandable that Fergus was upset since he had turned down other opportunities based on what he’d been told.

That said, his reaction was wildly over-the-top! He created an entire website to post about how he’d been wronged?!

The Facebook venting … eh. I’d certainly advise anyone in his shoes not to do it and it wouldn’t reflect well on them, but people have weird judgment with what they post on Facebook and he’s a student. I wouldn’t be terribly impressed, but assuming we’re talking about one or two disappointed posts and not a long ongoing saga of vitriol, I don’t know that it’s an outrage. Bad judgment, yes, but not necessary something that requires Action.

But creating an entire website about it and having to get professional help because of how upset he was … I’m thinking there was something else going on there. That’s a really intense reaction to a single disappointment. So was there more context? Had he already been struggling in other ways?

As for what could have been done, it sounds like someone in a position of authority really needed to talk to Fergus and see what was going on. Had he already been feeling done wrong by the program for other reasons and this was the last straw? What was behind the reaction? If it it was really nothing more than “this is unfair and I was disappointed and thus I will make sure no one ever forgets it,” then you’d want to (a) acknowledge that it was unfair and shouldn’t have happened the way it did, (b) apologize and explain what would be done to ensure it didn’t happen again in the future, and (c) talk about what it looks like to handle disappointment professionally and why it matters … because when Fergus is working post-graduation, he definitely can’t do this in a job if he doesn’t get to go on a business trip he was originally told he’d go on. But (a) and (b) are important — you shouldn’t skip those and just do (c).

If he still continued with his campaign after that, look at how disruptive it really was. Because he’s a student and acting in a student role, I’d give him more leeway than I’d give an employee. You should have the “you can’t do this at a job in the future without probably getting fired” talk because he needs to know that. And if his behavior was truly disruptive, you’d need to have a “figure out if you can move forward reasonably happily or not, because you can’t keep disrupting the team’s work with this” conversation and then hold him to that… but in general I’d try to give students a lot of room on speech, and base any further actions on whether it was impeding his and other people’s abilities to do their jobs or not.

{ 663 comments… read them below }

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      I started to say, “Who?” but decided to google first. I definitely see the parallel.

  1. Excel Jedi*

    This feels like a terrible situation all around. We don’t give entry level employees straight out of college the responsibility of a whole department with budgeting and purchasing decisions, never mind the level of people-management the student leader seemed to have.

    It seems all the university employees with experiencing managing employees and helping young adults learn to enter the workforce completely dropped the ball here. There’s a certain amount of leeway the student leader should have had, but at some point, the employee in charge of supervising and mentoring these students should have stepped in.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      “We don’t give entry level employees straight out of college the responsibility of a whole department with budgeting and purchasing decisions…”

      I was thinking the same thing. There’s now way when I entered the workforce I would have been able to handle budgeting and purchasing decisions for a whole department. Unless the workers were being heavily mentored and coached, which apparently did not happen, I cannot see this working out too well.

      1. GreenDoor*

        Also the bylaws stating that employees can only be fired by vote? So underperforming employees or those who violoate policies or break the law can stay on…if they’re popular enough? Or, on the flip side, if the team just doesn’t like someone, they can be voted out of their job? I would think a government run program would have much more due process than just “the team voted you out.”

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      I was a theater tech crew lead in college. I was told I could have X number of employees, they had to be students, and they would get $Y per hour, needed to work about Z hours including a base number of hours in training. So I could hire any student, but I didn’t really ‘control’ the budget.

      It was not the best system, but I think they did interview the students I wanted to hire to make sure they were minimally competent.

      1. Excel Jedi*

        Exactly! I worked in the Women’s Center in college, and I was thinking an affinity-related center, or something around Greek life. All of those organizations had faculty or staff whose job it was to mentor and keep student organization on track, though. Event planning and advocacy were all based on the students’ agendas, but something like this would have risen to the level where the professional staff should have intervened.

        (And for the record, I could have TOTALLY seen some of my peers in college making a whole blog against the organization of Greek life or something like that. That wouldn’t have seemed outlandish to me at 19 years old.)

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I absolutely leapt to a theater student. I suspect it’s not really the specific group, but the age.

          Be gentle, OP, be gentle.

    3. Arctic*

      Sounds like a newspaper (which some universities take very very seriously but are often student run) or theater group.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, my university’s student paper was student-run, with a faculty advisor but otherwise the ed board was in charge of hiring and firing and whatnot. We didn’t get paid well or anything, but it was a small stipend. (I went to a pretty small university; I imagine this scales accordingly.)

      2. Save the Hellbender*

        Yeah, I was thinking newspaper or some other flagship thing staff are involved in but the university wants to be student run – my school’s politics institute was kind of like this, as was the social justice/community service center.

    4. lapgiraffe*

      The LW didn’t actually mention that the person has control of the budget, but the level of student worker people management was very common at my college. I went to a liberal arts school with a heavy emphasis on student work, and for three years I was totally in charge of the computer labs. I had a full time professional manager, but he had other IT responsibilities beyond managing me and was really more of a mentor I checked in with regularly.

      I got to hire the full staff, create and manage the schedule, and deal with any staff issues, on top of other responsibilities related to making sure the labs functioned smoothly. My manager was there if we needed to escalate and I was given such a wide latitude that I struggled in my first “real” jobs with not having enough autonomy.

      Many other jobs on campus also gave student workers real responsibility, and I agree that this letter sounds like it could be campus newspaper related. Our paper was very much student run, again with a professional overseer/manager (in this case the journalism dept chair) who was rather hands off intentionally. I guess it’s our school it was the idea of here’s a safe-ish space to figure it out on your own with a mentor to guide you, but for the LW it doesn’t sound like there was, for lack of a better phrase, an adult in the room to step in when things truly got messy. Or if that board was the figurative adult here then yeah, sounds like they didn’t want to touch that hot potato. I can only imagine they figured that student would leave soon enough and it wouldn’t be their problem anymore, unlike in the real world where the role isn’t likely to be a term position.

      It’s not a good example to set and they did no one any favors, but I guess long story long just wanted to say that some colleges do let their students have real responsibilities.

    5. JustaTech*

      My question is, is this student an undergraduate (so possibly as young as 18) or are they a graduate student (so possibly considerably older and probably also an employee of the department as a TA or RA)?

      There’s a huge range of life experience covered by “student” that impacts a lot of how we perceive this question. (ie, if they are a grad student it makes more sense that they would have control over a department, but their reaction makes a lot less sense.)

      1. Sam*

        Turns out they were an undergrad! Their reaction honestly makes sense to me regardless, but that fact makes the whole firing-by-committee/budget control/”Be happy – we bought stuff for your department” so much weirder.

    6. LizM*

      I was on the Student Senate as an undergrad. We allocated the student fees budget, which was several million. It included organizations like the Black Student Center, Women’s Center, International Student Center, etc., that were student run and had paid (student) employees. We had faculty advisors and occasionally got advice from the University’s general counsel, but they mostly advised on what we could and couldn’t do, not necessarily what we should do.

      My good friend was the student body president, she basically ran an office, she had multiple direct reports, was responsible for the budget that wasnt specifically allocated to student associations, and didn’t have a ton of oversight.

      (For what it’s worth, I got to see the inner workings of a lot of the student life parts of the university from those experiences. Many of the student run organizations were better run than some of the offices run by permanent staff)

  2. twocents*

    So much relevant context is missing! Why was he told he could go and then was axed? Why did it take 6 weeks to tell him plans changed? Why wasn’t be advised of the real reason until after he made an angry post?

    I’m a little skeptical of the slant that Fergus is just an irrational person when all the reasons that led to his response are just completely glossed over.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I mean, he shouldn’t be blogging about it, but yes, why was he cancelled from the travel program? That’s a really mean thing to do.

    2. Anononon*

      I think the issue is that, unless the reason was legally discriminatory, Fergus’ reaction was over the top. Even if he was told they changed their mind because they no longer liked his haircut, creating an entire website about that is very odd.

      1. Andy*

        At first, he created one complaining post on Facebook. That was rewarded. Why not continue? I don’t think this is full story nor his full psychology. But the fact is that if he had not complained on Facebook, his department would not get what he wanted and he would not go to conference.

        1. Anononon*

          We’re not going to know his full story or full psychology. I can only say that creating a blog to complain about a bad work experience is, generally, not the best idea. It rarely continues to work out in the complainer’s favor.

          1. pancakes*

            Yes, but this is about a bad student experience, not a bad work experience amongst professionals. The blog isn’t necessarily going to work out to the school’s detriment, either. If there is something unfair or messy about the way this program arranges trips, it’s to be expected the community will want to discuss that, and not unfair or illegitimate for them to discuss that online.

        2. MK*

          Or, he complained on Facebook in the heat of the moment, the department realizes how much they screwed up and try to rectify the situation. Then he finds out something that makes this even more egregious and becomes enraged.

          We don’t know what happened, but I find it more likely that something happened between the Facebook post and the blog to make him more angry, than that he is an evil genius trying to get more rewards.

          1. Cj*

            This. They didn’t explain the rationale behind the decision until after the Facebook post. When he found out the reason, he was even more pissed.

            If it was actually a good reason, it seems like the OP would have said what it was. I suppose they thought that info could make this more identifiable, but the whole situation is so unique, it would be pretty identifiable to anyone involved anyway.

            I hope OP chimes in here with what the reason actually was.

            1. OP*

              The reason is a bit complex. Every department head in the program up to this point got to go on the trip. The student leader of the program told him originally he would be going on the trip because the leader thought it was largely a department head trip. But when the university exec gave him more details, he learned the trip was more so that the university exec could get to know people who worked directly with the leader, which this department head did not. I can’t go into the reasons why that is the case for fear of revealing information that could potentially reveal who this person is.

              1. Sam*

                Why wasn’t all of this communicated to Fergus immediately? Hell, why was the student leader given bad information/spreading wrong information?

              2. Sondheim Geek*

                So it sounds like the student leader is the one who really messed up here. Did they face any consequences? Also, why did Fergus not work directly with the leader when it sounds like those who had held his position did (since they all went on the trip)? And why wasn’t an explanation/apology made upfront rather than after he posted about it on Facebook?

              3. Lyra Silvertongue*

                That seems like a big rule change not to be communicated clearly at the very start of the program. Presumably the paid-for trip is a significant part of why people might get involved in the first place.

                1. k*

                  After thinking about it some more I’m almost wondering if the trip is not an officially publicized part of the program — maybe because it’d look weird for a university exec to take a bunch of undergrads to another country on an all-expenses paid trip where alcohol is probably involved. Which would explain why the blog would be such a big deal despite, as described, not really seeming all that negative.

              4. AspiringGardener*

                How was Fergus’s role of department head different than every department head before him that was deemed acceptable to take on the trip? Had the role & responsibilities been materially changed from what they were in prior years, and was Fergus aware of those changes?

                1. Momma Bear*


                  While I don’t condone the whole “vent by website” thing, I don’t think the complaining on FB warranted much action.

                2. IEanon*

                  What I’m reading through these updates is a bit worrying in light of Fergus’ need for “professional help,” as mentioned in the letter. I know this is speculation, but I’ve spoken to several faculty members about their attempts to exclude students from programs or trips because of known mental health struggles (which is very much NOT ALLOWED). I wonder if some of that was in play here.

                  It shouldn’t happen, but some in higher ed will try to use any workaround to exclude students whose mental health conditions might make them “unpredictable,” “disruptive to the experience” or “too much work to monitor.” In nearly all of these situations, the students had simply disclosed that they were seeing a therapist or had medication that would need to travel with them, or had struggled in a class before their condition was under control.

                3. Lilo*

                  Reading through the lines it sounds like a popularity contest, to be honest, or friends of the student leader.

                  You’re picking someone who works with one person instead of a department head? Honestly Fergus has every right to be upset. Extremely so.

              5. Lilo*

                “But when the university exec gave him more details, he learned the trip was more so that the university exec could get to know people who worked directly with the leader, which this department head did not. ”

                Red flags all over the place here. Huge honking red flags.

                1. AntsOnMyTable*

                  Yep. The time to make changes for this is after this trip since Fergus was told he was going, he made plans based on that information, and there was a history of his position going. It truly would not be the end of the world for the organization to let him go and then make it clear next year that the role is not included.

                  I would not have done what he did but, as someone who loves to travel, I would have been EXTREMELY upset to lose out on a 10 day all expenses paid trip to another country. Like, I would probably randomly years later tell people what they did to me if it was relevant to the conversation.

                  Yes, he needed to back off of his campaign but I think the organization was hugely at fault over this.

              6. Nancy Flynn*

                I think this new detail makes it even worse for the university. The appearance is that in previous years the person in this position apparently did work with the univ exec so was included but now, this person is not considered to be working closely enough with the exec to warrant being included in the trip. Sounds like the exec is just picking who he/she wants to join him/her on this trip and who he/she wants to reward with this opportunity. University money being spent in an arbitrary fashion to reward those you like is inappropriate.

                I can totally see why Fergus might want to make this known widely. While he is employed by the university, he is also first and foremost, a student. I do not see the same rules applying to students, even those employed by the university, as they do in the work world. Depending on the actually wording of his posts, there may not be anything wrong with them. Did he lie about what happened? Did he say things that were untrue about specific people? Or did he just complain and say it was unfair and provide the scenario of what happened? The same holds for the blog posts. How else does a student get the word out about possibly questionable actions of the university?

                In this case the university holds all the power. Fergus was told he would be going and those in his position in the past had been included so there was no reason to doubt what he was being told. He made decisions about what what opportunities to take advantage of based on that information. Then he was told he wasn’t going without an explanation. After venting on FB, he was provided a reason – that he did not work close enough to the exec leading this so the exec did not see a reason to get to know him – though in the past the person in this position apparently was worth getting to know. I can see how this would be taken very badly by Fergus and I don’t blame him for his reaction.

                Should he be fired for this? Probably not. Is there a formal policy that limits what student employees of the university can say publicly? Did he say anything that was a lie or false? Or did it just make the university look bad? Seems to me this might be dirty laundry that needed to be aired!

                1. Momma Bear*

                  This is an important detail. When did this role change? Was it before or after Fergus took it? Was this the “reason” before or after Fergus got upset about being excluded? Does have shades of grade school favoritism here.

                2. MCMonkeybean*

                  Especially since it sounds like a fairly arbitrary decision made after they already knew that Fergus turned down other opportunities because of this trip.

                  Obviously Fergus didn’t handle things well, but I’m gonna give him a lot of space on this one. I would be extremely upset as well.

              7. Overripe Banana*

                So because he didn’t work closely enough with the leader he didn’t get to go?
                Oof… this sounds like it’s wading into dangerous territory.

                Does this departments have a history of being excluded by other departments? Is this department often undervalued like this just because they don’t work in close proximity to the leader?

              8. EventPlannerGal*

                This whole situation sounds weirder and weirder, and worse for Fergus, with every new detail.

                So based on your comments through this post it sounds like that was an all-expenses-paid overseas networking trip where undergrads get the opportunity to get to know this university higher-up. Fergus was apparently great at his job, everyone else who had had this job had gotten to go, and yet he got dropped in favour of someone else who worked more closely with this “leader” – who is just another undergrad student?

                Combined with the terrible communication throughout I really am not surprised that something like this ended up happening. I mean, I’m pretty sure that Fergus’s POV is “I lost out on a massive networking/academic/career opportunity and trip of a lifetime because Leader wanted their buddy to go instead”. Like, this is a setup literally begging for weird student interpersonal conflicts to interfere with very real career/academic opportunities. If your comments are accurate I hope that someone re-evaluates how this programme works and communicates decisions, because otherwise stuff like this is going to happen again.

                1. EventPlannerGal*

                  Okay, I see below that it has been changed and that’s great. I still feel really bad for Fergus and it’s a huge shame that a very predictable yet shitty thing like this had to happen to him in order to change how selection for this programme worked.

              9. cmcinnyc*

                This 100% confirms my hunch that the trip, who goes, and why is under the power of someone who can’t be meaningfully challenged. The whole set up is bad and beset with red flags and potential for actual badness. OP, stop defending this silly situation. The Great One’s feelings got hurt by a an FB post because this was never a job perk, it was a personal favor. But it was presented as a job perk. It’s a chocolate bon-bon hidden in a dog turd. It’s not good. No matter how good that bon-bon was pre-turding, it’s no longer good. It never will be. Bad. Just bad.

              10. Tiger Snake*

                So Fergus was given information from someone in authority, and acted on the information in good faith. He’s also an undergrad (not yet used to the whole ‘wait for the official email’ on these events and not getting any good guidance from said authority).

                And then the opportunity was taken away from him, leaving him worse off, with no explanation. Because the explanation effectively comes down to ‘places are decided arbitrarily instead of by merit’, and that exclusion will actually impact his work opportunities here in future (because now there’s a clique who had unique network opportunities with the leader).

                Yeah, I think one vent post on Facebook was a fair reaction, and that the university should have just taken it on the chin. Complaints about unprofessional behaviour just seem to be stones flung from the greenhouse at this point.

      2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        I’d want to know more, both about his reasons and about the blog. I mean, creating a blog is often more like creating a social media account, even if you use a Wix site or whatever to do it. So it could be just of the level of “I had something to blog about so I made a blog.” Especially if he was having mental health issues and wanted an outlet.

        But yeah, I really don’t think we can judge his reaction without knowing more about why he was cut. The letter just really makes me feel like something is missing. If I signed on to a program in order to get the apparently guaranteed free 2-week trip, I would be pretty outraged if it didn’t happen.

        But of course, students can be very righteous about perceived injustice, so I would also not be surprised if it was all completely over-the-top and out of line.

        1. Llama Llama*

          I think it’s also important that he “turned down other opportunities” in order to go. Depending on the student and what kind of an academic program they’re in this could be huge. And regardless it could feel really huge at the time. Did they give up a job or internship that they otherwise would have taken? Sacrificing money and connections to be made? I can totally understand feeling betrayed by the program – this was handled extremely poorly.

          1. Spicy Tuna*

            Yes – that was the bit that made my eyebrows raise. Turning down other opportunities is a huge deal for students!

            1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

              Especially if they were weighing the cost. He might have taken on additional debt to take a course to make this program viable, with the understanding that he would get a free trip to make it worthwhile. What’s more, people involved in the program might have sold it to him like that.

              1. Paul Pearson*

                That’s what makes me think – I mean, if this trip is well known, has a reputation and is so good how much of even being involved in the program hinges on this trip? To put it in an employment context – if this joy is sold around this huge benefit and then that benefit is yoinked, would he even have taken the job in the first place?

                1. T. Boone Pickens*

                  That’s well said. Reading this made me think of the letters we’ve seen over the year where a LW will write in with a question like, “I negotiated the ability to WFH and now the company changed their mind. Can I leave?” Almost universally the site seems to come down on the side of the LW.

            2. JohannaCabal*

              If he did have to turn down internships, the school really should have reached out the community to place him in one. My program had an internship class and while students had to find their own internships, if any of them fell through due to no part on the student, the coordinator would find them one with one of his connections.

          2. Lacey*

            Yeah. I know his reaction is a too much… but it doesn’t feel like a lot too much. Especially because he turned down opportunities and he’s a student and students don’t really have any other leverage beyond making a big stink. It’s not a great course of action, but, he was treated poorly and what were they going to do about it? Nothing.

          3. Edward Williams*

            +10. I’d apportion blame 1% to the jilted student; 99% to management.
            How would the manager who yanked his permission (why??) feel if:
            1. You’re invited to a destination wedding!
            2. You buy airline tickets and reserve hotel accommodations and revise your vacation plans.
            3. Bride and groom uninvite you!

            1. Natalie*

              Don’t forget 2a, you turn down invitations to other weddings or big events because you’ll be at the destination wedding.

          4. MissBaudelaire*

            This was what I figured, too. Something was promised to him, maybe before it really should have been, he made plans for his whole summer based on it, got told “Oh yeah, nah, sorry.”

            I don’t know if I would make a whole blog about it. An angry Tumblr post, probably. But a whole blog dedicated to how mad I was? Not worth my time. Apparently he felt like it was worth his time, though.

            1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

              I want to know the form of this blog. Like if the name is “X School’s Crimes Against Me” that’s pointed. But if it’s just “My Diary,” and the situation is that he was upset and it drove him to want to journal, that’s different. Also, aren’t Tumblrs technically blogs?

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                The whole Tumblr that you run is technically called a blog, yes. Most people don’t tend to use them in the traditional way you consider a blog. Some do, sure. Most? Not really. So a post on Tumblr might be what you would consider a written blog post… But the whole of that Tumblr might not be dedicated to Ways This University Burned Me But Good.

                For example, on my Tumblr, I talk sometimes about parenting my kids. But it’s also sandwiched in between pictures of Batman, terrible puns, stuff like that.

              2. Archaeopteryx*

                To be fair, if I stumbled across some rando’s only-moderately-hinged blog cataloguing their work/school’s offenses against them, I would find it fascinating.

                But yes, this definitely sounds like he was treated really unthinkingly by the school, and was choosing a not-so-mature but relatively age-appropriate (for undergrad) means of grievance. He was owed far more mea culpa than he got.

          5. TootsNYC*

            I worked at a company that went out of business in the late spring. We had two interns scheduled for the summer. As soon as the writing was visible on the wall, when I got a “field promotion” into a department-head job, I contacted them and told them that we probably wouldn’t be around for the summer, and that I was so sorry, because I knew they had been counting on the internship.

            I offered to call around and see if I could recruit another company in our industry to take them on (and, surprisingly, was able to for one of them, and rejected by another).

            I felt awful–as someone whose entire career was kicked off by my internship, I knew how crucial those can be. But I didn’t create the problem, and I did my best by them.

            One of them was SO mad (understandably), and called to argue with me about how her dad had said, “How can they be going out of business? They’re a nationally recognized organization!” Figuring it was an educational opportunity, I laid out how the industry had changed, and how the specific business’s CEO had goofed.
            When she argued more, I pointed out, “Look, I’m about to lose my job, and I have a mortgage to pay and a family to support. I understand that this is devastating news, but you are not the only one suffering here, and it’s insulting to be told that I’m making this up.”

            1. JustaTech*

              Dude, that student was so far out of line. You were going way out of your way to help her, and she’s arguing with you?

              That’s how people (that student) don’t get any more opportunities. Sheesh.

              Good on you and boo on her.

            2. Anonymous Hippo*

              Even if it were true that you were lying to what, kick her out of the internship, how would calling you and confronting you about your “lie” result in her still being in the program? People really need to think things through better.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Tumblr users sometimes refer to their accounts as “blogs;” I wonder if it was something like that.

          1. TWW*

            Whatever the platform, in the year 2021, moving complaints from FB to a blog would probably be a de-escalation in terms of visibility.

        3. Weekend Please*

          I agree that more information about the blog would be useful. Was every post about not going on this trip or was it about problems with the program in general? Was it about whether this was a good use of funds? Discrimination? More generally about the students life at the time?

          1. LTL*

            Yeah, this is what I’d like to know. I’m really skeptical that a month later the student created a blog based on the incident with the trip, and that incident alone, no other issues going on, and then… just talked about that one incident in every single post?

            I’m also wondering how OP found out about the blog.

        4. meyer lemon*

          I am kind of amazed by the fact that he would even have enough content to sustain more than one post on the subject. After saying that he was promised the trip and didn’t get to go … what else is there? Unless there really was a lot more dysfunction going on behind the scenes and this opened the floodgates, which seems possible.

          1. BubbleTea*

            I once came across an entire blog devoted to complaining that the author of the blog was only offered a place on a graduate course at one of the (in his view) “inferior” Oxbridge colleges rather than the older more prestigious ones. It was an impressive dedication of time and effort that can only have succeeded in ensuring no Oxbridge college ever considered him ever again and very likely no other university either.

          2. OP*

            The blog wasn’t just complaining about the trip. But a lot of it was. We saved all the posts in Word docs as he published and shared them and the total word count came out to 1,000 words across MULTIPLE posts. Amazingly, not one word complained about the organization (Fergus LOVED the program and the organization and basically lived for it the last half of his college career). But the entirety of each post complained about not getting to go on the trip.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                That’s, what? Four tweets? 500 words is the general average for a tumblr post (give or take), so that may well have been only two or three posts.

              2. LTL*

                Yeah, 1,000 words is nothing.

                Putting aside all the other issues with the organization apparently tracking the blog and word count (!!), I’m wondering how 1,000 words can amount to a lot of the blog. Unless this was a blog he had for like a few weeks, barely posted on, and then abandoned?

                It’s still not the best move on the student’s part but this whole situation seems so odd.

            1. BPT*

              This makes the organization look even more egregious. You have a student leader who put a ton of time and effort into this organization, who was promised to go on a trip to Europe, who turned down other opportunities to go on this trip, that was then yanked out from under him, with no real explanation provided until he posted about his disappointment (and still no real explanation provided here), and then the organization is making a point of tracking his blog, where he says NOTHING bad about the organization, but rather his disappointment about what happened? It’s not uncommon at all for students to write about missteps a university makes, and especially ones that upend their own opportunities. Yikes.

              1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

                Yeah this sounds really Orwellian, especially to do to a student. So he expressed himself in a way that was interpreted as negative, about something that really did happen to him? And he didn’t even malign the program?

                When you screw up as an organization, people are allowed to talk about it. The consequence of events is that they are known to have happened. Maybe the organization can ask him to stop posting about his negative experience, but honestly unless they do something to PERSUADE him, like make it right in some more realistic way, that’s just how it shakes out. You get to talk about things that happen to you, unless you are contractually obligated not to.

            2. Arctic*

              Have you ever been to this site on an open thread weekend? There are hundreds of comments that get to more than 1,000 words…

            3. Sondheim Geek*

              We saved all the posts in Word docs as he published and shared them and the total word count came out to 1,000 words across MULTIPLE posts.

              I have to be honest, it sounds like you and your group were overreacting here. Saving it into Word and sharing it? Why? Also, 1,000 words across multiple posts? That’s nothing. I probably had a higher word count about much more trivial things back when I had a LiveJournal.

              1. Kramerica Industries*

                Yes! It sounds like Fergus had a blog about his overall experience and included a few of his negative experiences with not being able to go on the trip. I originally thought from the letter that he put the organization on blast and was SUPER negative, but it actually sounds like he was airing his frustrations in a healthy way!

                1. Beth*

                  I also assumed from the original letter that the employee had gone out of his way to create an entire website from scratch just to smear the employer over this experience. The original post is wildly out of line with this updated info, which makes the employee sound super reasonable.

            4. Nia*

              Wait it only came out to 1000 words when counting multiple posts? That’s a laughably small amount of complaints. Why on earth was there so much pearl clutching over this.

              1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

                Yeah the letter made it sound almost like he made a website called “THIS SCHOOL IS TRASH” and every post was about it. I doubted that from the beginning though, because the phrasing in the letter sounded like a mischaracterization of what I understand to be a blog. Many people don’t understand the ecology of places like Blogger.

            5. IEanon*

              Saving a bunch of this student’s posts as he shared them and cataloging his complaints (only 1,000 words?) feels like it’s approaching bullying territory. Why were they being passed around: to mock him or to gather evidence to push the student board to fire him?

              This seems like a lot more investment on your department’s part than the student’s.

              1. Overripe Banana*

                I’m purely speculating, but I’m also getting major bullying/exclusion vibes from all this.

                It’s one thing for the appropriate staff member to take a couple screenshots to keep a record of the incident for future reference and for the organization to learn from.
                But putting it into a word doc and sharing it around? Judging it based on the (pretty low) word count? Him getting cut from the trip solely because he doesn’t work closely with the leader? It’s all feeling very clique-y and I’m wondering if his complaints were more about a pattern of exclusion culminating in being cut from the trip.

            6. Cj*

              Do you know how many words are in your letter? 406. And there are 584 words in Alison’s reply. So you are complaining that he wrote roughly the number of words in today AAM post?


              1. twocents*

                That seems really appropriate especially for him to give context on what’s happened. And multiple posts makes perfect sense given that he got information about this in pieces.

                I’m actually squicked that this was then turned around to present him here as if he’s mentally unstable.

            7. Starbuck*

              OP, your letter explaining the situation (with lots of details missing) was already 400 words. With your comments just in this thread so far you’re up to 800+. So 1000 words over multiple posts is really not that much, and your added details only make Fergus seem more reasonable.

            8. Lyra Silvertongue*

              The more I read this, the more sympathetic I am towards Fergus. Multiple posts that come out to 1,000 words isn’t exactly a lot of writing. It doesn’t sound like he made a whole blog just for that, as you said in the original letter, and he didn’t badmouth the program, and had shown a lot of dedication to it. And you guys made a little dossier about it? Something’s just not right here. I don’t think your university/program treated this person right at all.

            9. Sasha*

              OP, this response makes things even worse. So it sounds like he had a blog where he talked about…his life (?) and within the context of that, discussed in a few posts about this extremely disappointing experience he was trying to get over. 1,000 words is not very much at all especially if it’s spread out across multiple posts.

            10. k*

              There seems to be a major missing piece to all of this that would probably clarify a lot of what’s going on with the politics of the program/department, but has not been directly mentioned:

              Who’s “we”?

            11. EventPlannerGal*

              … I’m pretty sure that counting the letter and your follow-up comments you’ve easily hit 600-800 words already, OP. If you keep commenting you’ll have outwritten Fergus pretty soon. Do you feel like you’re writing a wild unreasonable amount? No? I would imagine that he didn’t either, because less than 1000 words over multiple posts/comments is not that much.

            12. Lilo*

              I withdraw my comment that Fergus was over the top.

              This definitely smacks of “the beating will continue until morale improves”. This poor kid. A couple non negative (OP’s comment) blog posts after getting screwed and you thought his job should be taken away?

            13. Eye roll*

              There are more than 1000 words complaining about unique aspects of the terrible behavior of your organization on this one post. If Fergus only wrote 1000 words and wasn’t negative about the organization, be happy.

            14. Your Local Password Resetter*

              For comparison on the amount of words:

              Your comment on it’s own is 85 words.
              Your (fairly short) letter is 414 words.
              The letter + Allison’s response is 1074 words. It’s less than two pages of text in total, line breaks included.

              1000 words might seem like much, but it’s actually quite short if you’re going in-depth on something.

            15. Beth*

              Wait, you’re accusing him of unprofessionalism over 1,000 words on his private, pre-existing blog? Where he didn’t even complain about the organization that screwed over his plans, and just expressed disappointment at having this big-deal thing revoked? That actually sounds like an extremely reasonable way for him to have handled this, to me. Employees are allowed to express their feelings in their own non-work spaces! Even when those spaces are online! And 1000 words is nothing, length wise. I would bet many of the posts on this site are that long.

              It’s more and more sounding like the ‘unprofessional’ one here is the organization—which offered him this trip, then yanked it back, then monitored his private blog and got upset when he mentioned the experience on it, even though he continued to give them exemplary work for years afterwards and never said anything bad about the organization. What a shitty way to treat someone who offered that much dedication to you.

            16. MCMonkeybean*

              That is wildly different than what you presented where you *really* made it sounds like the entire website was only about this one incident. 1,000 words is really not that much and honestly I think the fact that you guys saved multiple word documents and ran word counts on them is almost weirder than him making the posts in the first place.

              I am now solidly team Fergus.

            17. MissBaudelaire*

              I guess my question here is; for what purpose did you track that? He didn’t say anything bad about the program. He was on his personal blog talking about how upset he was he didn’t get to go on this trip. Because it was a terrible situation that wasn’t his fault, and had a lot of damage.

              He was screwed over, and he’s allowed to be upset and talk about it.

            18. Momma Bear*

              This also feels like the Powers That Be were way more invested in covering their own butts than anything else. Fergus complained about a specific crappy thing that happened but managed not to trash the org – IMO kudos to him. Why there was so much drama around it is another red flag for this org. I hope Fergus went on to much bigger/better things.

            19. Paul Pearson*

              “(Fergus LOVED the program and the organization and basically lived for it the last half of his college career”

              See this makes me cringe more – it sounds like he invested so very much into this program and then was last minute cut from a major reward of it because someone else was closer to the boss…

        5. Pescadero*

          He may be over reacting – but this appears to be a real, not just perceived, injustice.

      3. MK*

        I don’t think creating a blog equals creating a website, I mean, I doubt he paid for a domain name. It was probably in social media site like tumbrl.

        1. KateM*

          Or wordpress or blogspot. I made one just to use in my class, minimal trouble on my part.

      4. Le Sigh*

        It seems like it was, but in general I feel like there’s missing context here about why the trip got nixed and what Fergus actually said publicly. I wonder what was actually written in that blog — was it something generally documenting his experience? Or was it a angry screed? LW also says “He ended up having to get professional help due to how upset he was” — I don’t know exactly what that means, but what if it was simply that losing the trip was the cherry on a terrible year, he was going through depression, and decided to seek treatment because he realized he needed help in general?

        In general (and I might be projecting) it feels like the LW glosses over the reasons the trip was cancelled, the fact that Fergus turned down other options for this trip (and that cancelling it might have had financial or career implications for him), and jumps to how they should have tried to fire him. In general the vibe I’m getting is that there’s more to the story, the uni bears some real responsibility, and the context might put his reaction in a different light.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          This is also important to realize. I have GAD diagnosis and depression. Sometimes, something happens and I need an emergency appointment with my therapist. It is very rarely just that the one event occurred, it’s that the event is triggering something else, or that I’ve had a rough time in general and that event was the tipping point.

          If Fergus needed help and got it, good for him.

          1. LizM*

            I’m assuming Fergus is late teens or early 20s. This is also the age that mental illness can start manifesting itself for many conditions.

        2. OP*

          OP here. It is important for me to clarify the trip itself wasn’t cancelled. The student leader of the program told him originally he would be going on the trip because the leader thought it was largely a department head trip. Every person in Fergus’ position had gotten to go up until this point. But when the university exec gave him more details, he learned the trip was more so that the university exec could get to know people who worked directly with the leader, which this department head did not. I can’t go into the reasons why that is the case for fear of revealing information that could potentially reveal who this person is.

          1. Sam*

            So he basically was removed for reasons that had never applied to previous trips? I can imagine being pissed!

          2. KoiFeeder*

            So, to be wholly clear on this: Fergus did not get to go on the trip and someone else took his place, correct?

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  Oh, I would have done a whole lot worse than 1000 words. I’m petty and spiteful, but Fergus was admirably restrained.

                2. k*

                  Also want to point out since people were wondering that the new/stronger reactions in this thread based on the levels/honesty levels of information given are the most likely explanation why Fergus suddenly seemed more upset a month later. If random Internet commenters hear the full story and feel worse for Fergus, certainly Fergus probably felt worse for Fergus too. Especially if the commenters are adults and Fergus is a college kid.

                3. Paul Pearson*

                  Holy moly my response would not have been a blog – I’d have written such a long elaborate condemnation you could have bound and published it!

              1. Phony Genius*

                I think the student leader of this program needs to learn from this. They passed along assumed information, rather than verifying it. And that assumption was acted upon. If I was in charge of this program, I’d be looking for a new leader. (Honestly, if the leader really was responsible for Fergus having bad information, they should step down, at least from the leadership position.)

                1. Momma Bear*

                  Absolutely. How would anyone else feel if they were told they were going to do the Big Important Thing, moved their life around, and then got it pulled/got replaced? YOU would be angry, wouldn’t you, OP? So why isn’t this student allowed to be angry? We don’t know from here how much he sacrificed to go on this trip but it certainly doesn’t sound like he got much sympathy about it. This was handled very poorly. Sure, the blog was over the top, but imagine the Most Important Job Thing Ever getting pulled from you. I really feel for the guy. And who was spying on his FB account? Let him be.

                  As for the “something” that should have been done? Space should have been made for him, IMO. Or at the very least he should have been treated better from the start. I hope the department learns to treat their students better.

                2. Nic*

                  Also, a precedent had been set in earlier years – all the previous people in Fergus’s position had been on the trip. Fergus had two reasons to think that the trip was his, firstly because it appeared to be a known part of the position he held, and secondly because the student leader had confirmed it to him. And then he’s unceremoniously kicked out? Wow.

                  Worse than that, all the “department heads” of the program were part of the trip (and had been for multiple years), so kicking Fergus out and substituting someone else presumably meant that he was the only department head excluded, while someone else who wasn’t part of the department leadership was taken instead of him. Combine that with the supremely bad timing of the revoked invitation – after Fergus had turned down multiple other opportunities for work experience/earnings – and even if it wasn’t intended that way, that really sounds like a targeted grudge against Fergus.

                  Bottom line: I get that the student leader offered Fergus a different opportunity and a really big gift for his department, but “10 days of fully-funded team leaders holidaying together in an exotic new country” is a very very different thing to “well I guess you could go to this professional conference…on your own and btw you’ll probably be the youngest person there…and maybe we’ll buy your department that professional supply order you asked for a while back, so that makes up for everything, yeah?”. No. No it doesn’t. Professional equipment shouldn’t be used as a bribe, and it’s certainly not a gift.

              2. Lora*

                Oh that is…not good. I can see why Fergus took it VERY personally, because the way you describe it – as an opportunity for leadership to get to know people personally – the university is effectively saying, “Fergus, we don’t like you as a person” as opposed to “we are so sorry, this is a business decision that had to be made for budgetary reasons.”

                Did they say “I didn’t WANT to invite Fergus to my birthday party, Mom made me but I think he smells like dog barf and he’s ugly!” like a spoilt grade schooler? No, but…pretty close.

                In some programs/fields internships and extracurricular experiences really are critical to success levels early on in your career. I can see how turning down a respected internship or similar for an opportunity that the university reneged on, only to be told “leadership doesn’t think you’re interesting or cool enough to hang out with them, so you don’t get to go on this trip,” would be The Worst, especially when it is effectively coming from a peer (another student).

                The right thing for the university to do would have been to suck it up that they made a mistake and they’re going to have to include Fergus like it or not, dip into discretionary funds and make an extra slot for Fergus by hook or by crook.

              3. Lilo*

                To be blunt, was the person who took his place a friend of the student leader?

                Fergus got screwed.

          3. Deborah*

            I don’t think anyone is misunderstanding that the whole trip was cancelled. But honestly, that would have been kinder to Fergus!

          4. Le Sigh*

            I mean, if I were Fergus, I’d be pretty upset about this. I realize no one tried to actively mislead him, but he made choices based on past data and info he was given, the change wasn’t communicated well, and he didn’t learn until it was too late that this information was not correct.

          5. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Did something change in the department head’s position before/during Fergus’s tenure that made him not work directly with the leader? Because it sounds like previous people in that position did so.

          6. Rusty Shackelford*

            So it sounds like “every Head Teapot Inspector in the past has gone on this trip, and you’re the Head Teapot Inspector, but I just found out the purpose of this trip is for my closest colleagues to get to know this particular exec, and since you’re not one of my closest colleagues I’m rescinding your invitation.” That’s… not helping your position.

            1. MissBaudelaire*

              That is the very uncomfortable feeling I got.

              Kinda like one of your friends at school telling you “I’d rather not eat lunch with you because I’m sitting at the cool table. And you’re okay and all, but, well—I really wanna be a cool kid. So… Thanks for understanding!”

          7. Beth*

            This clarification isn’t doing your organization any favors. So Fergus had his participation in this trip revoked because he wasn’t working closely enough with the leader? Even though everyone who had been in his position in the past had gotten to go? Which implies that everyone in his position in the past DID work closely with the leader?

            So…why wasn’t Fergus working closely with the leader? It sounds to me like this wasn’t just the revocation of one trip (which would already be shitty, under the circumstances; once he’d been told he was going and had turned down other opportunities in favor of the trip, your organization should have brought him along, even if he wouldn’t usually have been invited). It’s also a sign that he’s received less access to leadership than his role warrants, which is a much longer-term problem. It sounds to me like your org F’d up seriously here.

    3. EvilQueenRegina*

      This, all of it. What WAS the rationale behind the change in the first place? Was “plans have changed” or something equally vague all the explanation he was given in the moment?

      I’m not saying Fergus was right to respond to it with public rants but I do feel there’s a lot of background to it that hasn’t been shared here.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Maybe the LW will weigh in, but I pictured it as something like:
      1. Informal discussions about the trip are happening — it’s discussed as if Fergus will be going.
      2. Official arrangements are made and Fergus isn’t on the list, maybe due to something disappointing but understandable like the number of people eligible to attend this year. That’s explained to him but kind of glossed over; apologies aren’t made or aren’t sufficient.
      3. When it’s clear how upset he is, someone has a one-on-one conversation with him to explain what happened (not that any “real” reason was kept from him until then)

      1. Mental Lentil*

        I’m bothered by the fact that the reasoning behind the decision to leave him behind was not (seemingly) explained until after he made his initial Facebook post.

        Fergus was very wrong, but the uni was much more in the wrong here.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          Plus, the wording “had been previously told by the leader of the program he was going.” reads to me like he was definitely promised a place, as opposed to an informal conversation where it had been assumed.

          1. Bumblebee*

            Not only that…Op also stated that everyone in this student’s “position also went on the trip until the year this happened.” There’s no way he could have even assumed he wouldn’t get to go, since every person in that position prior to him also went on the trip.
            The university complete mishandled this, imo.

        2. Rayray*

          Agreed. Fergus was right to be frustrated. He absolutely could have handled it better, sure, but I definitely think he was wronged here.

          1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            Also, unless Fergus is a scion of a very wealthy family (and statistically speaking, he probably isn’t – most of us aren’t!) a trip to another country would have been a VERY big deal indeed; most people aren’t able to simply take international vacations as easily as we’d hop over to the next town. Being sent to an in-country conference isn’t even close to being comparable to an overseas adventure! Yes, he made too much of it, but he’s likely very young and in no position to pay for such a trip himself – and won’t be until he’s worked for years, possibly even decades. His disappointment is understandable! And yes, whoever promised him this trip and then pulled the rug out from under him flubbed this very, very badly.

            1. Archaeopteryx*

              Yes, international vacations are a few-to-one in a lifetime opportunity for a whoooole lot of people. The same-country trip doesn’t compare, even if it’s to a fun city.

            2. Nic*

              Plus, the two trips are so very different – go on a group holiday with your student organisation peers, or go to a professional conference on your own where most everyone else there is significantly older?

              If he hadn’t had the rug pulled out from under him with the other trip, then the conference might have been a nice opportunity for his CV, but it’s pretty insulting when offered as a substitute.

      2. Elenna*

        What really confuses me is that apparently before Fergus started complaining publically, there was either no explanation or insufficient explanation, and apparently no attempt at reparation? He apparently turned down other opportunities for this trip that he wasn’t going on! Depending what “other opportunities” means, that could have a significant impact on his finances or career. It shouldn’t have taken angry Facebook posts for people to realize that Fergus deserved some sort of explanation and/or something to make up for it.

        Like, Fergus definitely handled this poorly, but he’s a student, he’s still learning professional norms. Someone should definitely sit down with him and talk about professional ways to handle stuff like this (i.e. not just “don’t post on Facebook/blogs”, but maybe also coaching him through how he could have talked with his manager about his disappointment and whether he could get any compensation for the opportunities he missed out on). But the university screwed up first.

        1. LunaLena*

          In addition to the lost opportunities, he may have had to make some financial investments as well. Like if he needed to get a passport, for example, he may have paid a rush fee on top of the processing fee so he’d get it in time. That alone would be easily over $200, which is a lot when you’re a college student.

        2. Krabby*

          That piece though could have been discovered after the fact. Like, no one thought it was a big deal he wasn’t invited on the trip, then he made that first FB post saying, “I turned down X, Y and Z for this, etc.” Now they realize it was a much bigger deal than they thought and try to make amends.

          Obviously we don’t know the timeline everything was discovered in, which is why I think this letter is so difficult to parse.

          1. Nic*

            I think they should have been able to realise it was a big deal without Fergus complaining at all.

            Like, overseas trips require passports. Not everyone has a passport, and there are expenses and organisation involved in getting one.

            Like, a lot of students get summer jobs/internships. It’s more difficult to get one of those if you have to say “Well actually I won’t be available for these dates during the limited time I have to work for you”.

            Like, apparently everyone knew that in previous years the holiday had been something that all department heads went on, and Fergus’s predecessors had been part of that “all department heads” situation. It should be painfully obvious that the optics of leaving Fergus out are bad. And not just a little bad but very bad. Like potentially, everyone else in the organisation wondering “what is wrong with Fergus that made the top boss drop him from the holiday?” bad.

        3. Arvolin*

          I’m still not seeing that Fergus handled this poorly. Fergus gets shafted. He writes a Facebook post about getting the shaft. Then he is given a really lame reason why he was shafted, and writes about a thousand words criticizing the decision (we’re told elsewhere that he did not criticize the program). We don’t know if Fergus would have done that if he had a real job. Was he deliberately taking advantage of his student status, or does someone need to tell him this would be bad form on a real job?

          Really, if Fergus had written in describing what happened, we’d be thoroughly on his side and talking about how badly he was treated. The OP has described Fergus’s situation in enough detail that no amount of being charitable towards the OP can excuse what happened. To be as charitable as I can towards OP, OP simply hasn’t considered Fergus’s position in all this.

          1. DyneinWalking*

            Keep in mind that when this letter was posted, OP had not yet provided all the additional information. The comment you’re replying to is more than 3 hours older than yours, so the commenter likely knew much less about the situation than you do now.

            I’m pretty sure most commenters significantly changed their mind about this once OP chimed in.

      3. Eye roll*

        Saying it was discussed “as if” he would be going doesn’t match the letter though. He was directly told he would be going. I think that makes the university’s decision to not send him, and not telling him until 6 weeks later, when he’d turned down other opportunities, really so egregious that it outweighs everything but maybe the blog.

        1. Tuesday*

          Yes, “had been previously told by the leader of the program he was going” sounds very definite. And then to just say “plans had changed” six weeks later sounds like it was pretty dismissive of the fact he had lost out on other opportunities by that point.

      4. Temporary Throwaway*

        There are parts of this story that make it seem as if Fergus is a grad student rather than an undergrad, particularly that buying the department a piece of equipment (which enriches the university first and foremost) is considered a reward/consolation prize. I wonder about the significance of the opportunities that he turned down after being told he was going on this trip (I’m sure he fully expected to go, if that had been the norm for the team lead every year prior – maybe that is the reason he signed up to this program?). The details here are so scant it’s hard to really come to any particular conclusion. I’m biased as many friends and loved ones are in grad school, but in general grad students are working loads for absolute pittance, are constantly under a lot of stress, and have to constantly make decisions with huge impacts on their future, and I wonder how much that contributed here.

        1. pancakes*

          Maybe, maybe not. My undergrad school didn’t have majors but I took a lot of film classes, and the school purchasing equipment to be used by that department in an effort to right a wrong definitely would’ve been seen by us as a benefit to us, even though we wouldn’t be taking it home after graduating. Students focused on science, computers, etc., would probably feel the same.

      5. Cj*

        I know you’re just guessing about the number of people eligible, Alison, but it sounds like the leader of the group has always been one of the students selected to go. OP also says he was a well respected leader of the group, so if somebody had to be cut, it doesn’t sound like it should have been him.

        1. Momma Bear*

          If I were Fergus, I wouldn’t feel so “well respected” after this. Is he or isn’t he? Sounds like the department decided he was not actually.

      6. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I think it sounded the STUDENT leader of the program told Fergus he would be going because Fergus held a leadership position that always went on the trip in the past. It sounded to me like it was more direct than an informal conversation. So possibly the student leader got it wrong?

        1. AutolycusinExile*

          But if we’re holding Fergus to the norms and expectations of adult, for- profit professionalism, we also have to hold his coworkers to the same standard, no? In which case the employee who let him operate under bad information screwed up royally and the org should probably work to make things right a little more actively if they don’t want a big hit to employee moral (which manifests, among other ways, in employees griping about their employer outside the office). Like, sure, they *could* have fired him. But it would have been a bad idea for their longterm employee satisfaction, even if he didn’t blog about it.

    5. kittymommy*

      I think the devil is very much in these details. 10 days, all expenses paid in another country (and it sounds like this trip/perk is routine and known about) to just be yanked?? I really hope there was a very good reason, especially if he had to do prep work on his own (passport, etc.). His reaction is definitely waaaayyy over the top but I can’t help but wonder why this rather important detail was left out.

      1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

        I was also thinking the passport angle: if he just shucked out $100+ for the passport and couldn’t nail down summer employment because no employer would accept “and I have to leave for two weeks mid-summer” as a condition of employment, well…he’s potentially out a whole lot of money at a time of his life when he probably doesn’t have a ton of money! I’m not excusing his (very poor) behavior, but you guys are gonna want to button up your policies and protocols to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

      2. Shhhh*

        Yes, the details really matter here. I can think of a few reasons the LW might have left those details out – such as anonymity – but I feel like it’s hard to really weigh in on this scenario without knowing exactly what happened.

      3. Ace in the Hole*

        Agreed… especially for a presumably part-time student worker, the value of that trip could easily exceed the value of their wages for an entire year! I’d be pretty upset if I took a job after being told about such a significant benefit, only to have it yanked. Especially if I’d passed up on other (possibly huge) opportunities for it.

        I agree that Fergus didn’t respond professionally… but also, he was a student worker. I don’t expect student workers to have the best professional judgment.

      4. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I also wondered if he put out any expenditures in preparation for this trip, like a passport or vaccinations or something.

      5. Bostonian*

        Yeah, I think it’s important to consider how life-changing a trip like this could be depending on the amount of privilege Fergus has. I didn’t travel to Europe until my 30s for my honeymoon- I was never in a place to be able to do that before. A trip like this to a lower-middle income college student would be a life-changing experience. (I mean, it would be pretty awesome for anyone, but for someone who wouldn’t get to do this otherwise, I think it holds more weight.) Add to that the “missed opportunities”… we don’t know how serious those were, but that adds to the rub.

        I don’t blame Fergus for being upset. Honestly, I can’t even say I blame him for venting on Facebook. (How many times do we say people should “name and shame” companies that do crappy things to their employees? This might not be the same level of crappy as, say, withholding wages, but it’s still crappy.) The second blog is… probably over the top, but without knowing the details (did he start a reddit thred? did he post it a second time on IG and that’s it?), I certainly wouldn’t jump to “we should have fired him”.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          I’m really interested how “We should have fired him” came about. For what? Being mad that a promise made to him wasn’t kept and it sounds like the amends made were kind of shoddy?

          He’s allowed to say on Facebook something happened in his life. If he wasn’t saying “My boss named Florence McPicklepants is a terrible person. Everyone go and harass her!” If he wasn’t violating confidentiality of other people, I would let the Facebook post go. I kind of sounds to me like the everyone wanted to rug sweep what was done to Fergus, and Fergus didn’t stand for it.

          If Fergus came to work and was working just fine, then he just went on Facebook and vented his spleen for something that, quite rightly, was awful.

          I wouldn’t have made a whole blog about it, either, but I’m not Fergus.

    6. Richard Hershberger*

      I am definitely in the “devil in the details” camp. I can imagine context where he is legitimately pissed, but I can also imagine context where he is a precious flower and this is the first time in his life he didn’t get something he wanted. Or anything in between.

      That being said, I belong to a closed Facebook group of people I have known online since usenet days, and whom I trust. That is were I do my online venting. It will never see the light of day.

      1. D'Euly*

        I’m not really sure why the number of previous disappointments this student has suffered would have any impact on the situation.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          An outsize reaction is more understandable if this is the first time something went massively wrong. “You have to learn to roll with the punches” implies a background of punches.

      2. Yorick*

        Agreed. I can imagine this either way. I can actually imagine that “he was told by the leader of the program that he’d be going” was how he interpreted those conversations, but really it was less concrete. Or I can imagine that the leader of the program is one of those jerks who thinks telling you something doesn’t count because they didn’t say “I promise.” I had a boss who would go back on stuff and then claim, “I didn’t PROMISE you that!”

        We don’t really know for sure, and a lot of commenters are just picking an interpretation and commenting on it as though it’s true.

        1. Sondheim Geek*

          I can actually imagine that “he was told by the leader of the program that he’d be going” was how he interpreted those conversations, but really it was less concrete.

          Considering the OP confirms that I don’t see any reason to think Fergus misinterpreted that conversation.

          1. Cj*

            Agreed. If it was Fergus writing this, I can see where there might have been a misinterpretation on his part. But OP, who is quite upset with what Fergus did, is the one stating this, I take it to be true that he was actually told that he *was* going.

    7. Lora*

      Yeah, this seems odd. I’ve seen similar things happen a LOT though, where the reasoning was weird or asinine and the person in question was righteously pissed that they had lost other opportunities (potentially quite valuable ones) because of shenanigans.

      In the real world when opportunities are offered and then yanked, even if for very valid reasons, you’ve burned a bridge with that person and should expect them to start looking for a new job. I’ve seen loads of people who were offered opportunities to move up only to have the opportunity evaporate in a re-org or hiring freeze, and opportunities that were promised but then given to someone else – in every single case, at the very least the employee quit shortly thereafter and sometimes other people looked at how Fergus had been treated and said, “I don’t want this to happen to me, I better go somewhere the career path is clearer/fairer” and left. This may not be feasible for Fergus though, since he’s presumably in some kind of program that wouldn’t be easy to leave early or transfer out of. So, yeah, of course he will be pissed: He’s missed opportunities for growth (which is presumably why he’s in school) and he’s at the mercies of people who don’t value him for whatever reason.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I do cycle back to “Fergus is a student, so what options other than making a fuss and pouting a lot does he have?” Quitting school is pretty extreme; so is transferring to a different program.

        By how things played out, it seems the correct response was for management to a) have their shit together re who is or is not going on the very desirable, big time commitment trip; b) refer the lashing out student to an EAP so he gets the mental health counseling he seems to need.

        1. Lora*

          Yeah, basically the Alumni Association cannot count on Fergus for help during their annual telethon. That’s about it.

          And hey, now that I think about it – there’s one professor at my undergrad who was a disgusting notorious harasser of women students, who frequently got in big public middle-of-the-student-center arguments with his wife who also worked for the university. He’s retired now but for years when the Alumni Association would call asking for money: that pervert Steele still works there? Forget it, I’ll send you guys a donation when you fire him.

          1. Web Crawler*

            I do that too, over my university’s awful treatment of trans students. They haven’t fixed any of it yet, so they’re not getting my money. It hasn’t made a difference yet, but it’s something.

          2. Junior Assistant Peon*

            Trashing the university online is pretty much the only way Fergus can get back at them. I know better than to trash an employer on LinkedIn, but I’m in a small industry and have plenty of opportunity to say “s0-and-so was a horrible boss” in private conversations with industry friends. Fergus is unlikely to have a chance to do something similar with people in the academic world.

    8. Detective Amy Santiago*

      The fact that OP left out the reason why the plans changed leads me to believe that Fergus’s actions were not as over the top as they are making them seem.

      Is Fergus a different race/ethnicity than previous students in that position who did attend?

      1. TWW*

        There’s a version of the this story where Fergus is a legitimate whistleblower.

        But perhaps speculating about that goes against the spirit of taking OP at their word.

      2. OhNo*

        A valid question. Even if that wasn’t the (stated) reason for him being dropped from the attendance list, that would certainly be a reason for him to be upset. And it might explain why he went so far as to make a whole blog about it – that sort of thing is a Big Deal, and deserves to be called out in a big way.

      3. Richard*

        I had similar concerns. At a lot of schools today, if Fergus were a member of an ethnic minority, the school could have put themselves in serious hot water here.

      4. TyphoidMary*

        OP has also clarified that it actually wasn’t “a blog about missing the trip,” but in fact a handful of social media posts along with other complaints. So I’m a little skeptical of OP’s characterization of Fergus in general at this point.

    9. MK*

      Whatever really happened, I would think that the answer to the OP’s question is obvious: they didn’t fire Fergus because they were mostly in the wrong and probably afraid of more bad PR. Or is the OP under the impression that people who heard this story were so horrified with his unprofessionalism that they didn’t see how badly he had been treated?

      Even assuming that the reasons for excluding him from the trip were out of their control, and granted that he lost the high ground by his over the top reaction, the department failed Fergus, a student for whose benefit this program is supposed to exist. It was disgraceful enough that they rewarded his hard work with disappointing him and depriving him of other opportunities, firing him on top of this would not look good for them.

      1. AnonForNow*

        And the fact that the LW is here, years later, still lamenting the fact that they didn’t fire this kid? YIKES. This letter honestly has me completely furious on Fergus’ behalf.

      2. Paul Pearson*

        I forgot that part – I think this is a major point and I’d gently suggest the OP re-evaluate what happens here if they thought firing was appropriate considering how absolutely appallingly the university treated Fergus.

    10. Binderry*

      I also think the content of the blog post is relevant here, which is not described. If it was a purely venting or complaint blog, sure, that’s extreme and uncalled for. But, I could also see him writing about this experience as a warning to other students so that it doesn’t happen to others. From the student’s perspective, the university handled this very badly. He gave up other opportunities for this trip. A trip that he had been told he was going on only to much later be told he wasn’t. This was likely a once in a lifetime opportunity that was taken away from him without any context or information given at the time. It sounded like the university handled this very poorly and I can understand him being upset. I can also understand if the intent of the blog was to make sure that this doesn’t happen to others.

      1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

        This. In grad school, getting the straight dope from other grad students is vital and if that information only circulates privately it creates a bad dynamic – putting it out there publically for others could in some cases be the ethical thing to do.

    11. BRR*

      We’ll never get all of the details in a letter but I find it important here. I don’t think anything changes the answer that Fergus went too far but the letter omits or only hints anything where the non-fergus side might have made an error. And i don’t think it’s a stretch to say his reaction might have been amplified because of a lack of compassion or even acknowledgement (this is why the LW will provide further details that’s going to make me eat my words).

      As to the LW’s question what else they could have done. If they didn’t explain the rationale clearly when they told him that would be the first step. The more transparency the better. If the week-long conference and expensive purchase were only offered after he posted on Facebook, they should have offered it sooner. And the university-side needed to be apologetic, the letter does not give any indication they acknowledged their mistake.

      1. Nic*

        Plus, on the surface the conference and expensive purchase seem like a good apology, but the more I think about it…they really aren’t on the same kind of level.

        The holiday is a student organisation thing, sure…but it’s also a group holiday with Fergus’s peer group. The conference on the other hand, is a professional opportunity where it sounds like Fergus is going to be on his own with a bunch of older people at different points in their career; it’s a great opportunity (if it’s not compared to the other trip that Fergus missed out on) but it has the potential to be quite lonely.

        And the expensive purchase isn’t anything that acknowledges Fergus as a person or defrays any costs he’d already put towards his trip costs (passport, vaccinations, lost earnings); it’s them buying something for the department, and saying it’s for Fergus because he was the one that suggested it a while back.

    12. TWW*

      We have no idea why he was cut, and no idea why the department didn’t consider firing him? There’s seems to be more to this story.

      Perhaps the the department didn’t fire him because they know something the OP doesn’t know?

    13. Artemesia*

      I’m sort of on team Fergus here. He was royally screwed over by the program. It isn’t that the trip didn’t happen; it was he was promised the trip and gave up other opportunities and then got cut; this is pretty inexcusable (no mention was made for a behavior of Fergus’s that caused this — it sounds like incompetence on the part of program leadership). Of course he was blazing mad and of course he expressed that on facebook.

      The website makes him look stupid too but I suspect he would not have created it if not for the ham handed attempt by the program to chastise him for the facebook posts and smooth over the situation.

      He may have burned some bridges here but I have to sympathize with the total injustice of what happened to him. This was a big deal to be promised and then denied for no reason I could ascertain here except program management incompetence. (WHY was he actually denied — was pressure brought to have the CEO’s nephew go instead? or some other person with influence?)

    14. Dust Bunny*

      The post says “whose position also went on the trip until the year this happened”, which suggests the trip was scaled down due to budget and/or safety concerns.

      I really feel like Fergus is being absurd here. Insistence that life proceed as before despite [waves hands around at all this] is childish. Literally everyone has been missing out on most things for the past fourteen months.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        The LW says this happened a couple of years ago – Covid is not to blame.

      2. Sondheim Geek*

        Okay, but then they shouldn’t have told him he was definitely going if it wasn’t confirmed. And if that did have to happen they should have explained the reasoning and apologized to him for it from the start, not only after he posted about it on Facebook.

      3. Cj*

        I’m pretty sure “until this happened” means until Fergus was the first leader that didn’t get to go on the trip, not that there was an “this” that made him not able to go on trip.

        1. Bumblebee*

          What?! So, not only is the trip yanked away, he lost other opportunities, got a poor consolation prize only after he complained, and then it turns out his position on the trip was replaced?
          No wonder he was mad. I’d be livid, too.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          Wow, that makes it a lot worse. He was promised an incredibly valuable benefit as part of his employment, passed up other (presumably similarly-valuable) opportunities for it, and then had this part of his compensation pulled for no clear reason? That has a big, long-term impact on a students academic and professional success.

          I take it back… I don’t think Fergus’s conduct was unprofessional. Assuming his website was not actually lying about anything that happened, it’s good that he decided others needed to know how terribly this program treats student workers. A student worker doesn’t really have any other recourse, and it sounds like this program is terribly mismanaged in a way that harms at least some of the students.

        3. I'm that guy*

          This is up there with the person who wrote in to complain about how her employee quit because she wasn’t allowed to go to her college graduation.

    15. Beth*

      Yes! A 10-day all-expense-paid international trip is a huge thing to have yanked out from under you—yes, creating a whole website to complain about it seems extreme to me, but this is a huge thing to offer and later take away from someone, especially when it’s so much later that they’ve turned down other plans for it. Did the employer not expect this to be a problem?

      Especially since “all-expense-paid trip” doesn’t sound like a business trip to me; it sounds like a reward or prize. (Which…come to think of it, why is a student job offering this in the first place?) Telling someone you’re revoking a prize they’ve already been offered is a much bigger deal than telling someone that they’ve been shifted off a work trip. There’s a big difference between “you’re not going to go sit in meetings for 10 days and maybe have an hour to yourself in the evenings to explore” vs “you’re not going to get to go on a free whirlwind tour of Rome.”

      1. Beth*

        Having now read some of OP’s comments that clarified this employee’s actions, I take back the part about it “seeming extreme to me”. He wrote a facebook post expressing disappointment about the change and mentioned the situation in passing a couple times on his pre-existing private blog; there’s nothing extreme or unprofessional about that. The only one that comes off looking bad here is the organization.

    16. Well...*

      Yea honestly this sounds weak. Is the university mismanaging it’s department and it’s money? Students (and if it’s a public uni, all of us) have a stake in this and should be able to complain. Fergus probably should have directed this towards more effective activism, but the root of this problem seems deeper than. Firing the guy who won’t blindly go along with this nonsense.

  3. Roscoe*

    I’m not defending Fergus here, but… I think he has a right to be pissed. He not only was excited, but turned down other things for this. I can imagine he turned down useful internships or summer programs for this, which could really impact his post college opportunities. Again, he seemed to go kind of far. But OP doesn’t sound really all that sympathetic to how much he was actually screwed over.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      This was my thinking exactly. He missed out on other opportunities. Europe is great, but that’s not going to look as good on a resume as an intern.

      The university really screwed up here.

      1. rachel in nyc*

        I wonder what is part of that trip to Europe though. I imagine it’s more then just going and seeing the Eiffel Tower- but may include networking or meeting contacts/going places that college students don’t typically have access. (in addition to being a tourist)

      2. meyer lemon*

        Unless I’ve missed something, I don’t think there’s any indication of where the destination was, just that it was in another country. (For that matter, there isn’t any indication of where the university is located either.)

        1. Cj*

          Good point. It’s different if it was a US university taking the students oversees somewhere, or if it was a university in France taking the students to Spain. I’d still be really upset if I was Fergus, but he would have a much better chance of eventually being able to take such a trip on his own if it was, for instance, students at a European country going to another European country.

          The later actually makes more sense, because it’s difficult to conceive of a US university spending the amount of money it would need to to take 6 students to another country every year. Unless it was Canada or Mexico, I suppose.

          1. Cj*

            He still gave up other opportunities whatever countries this involves, which is why I’d still be really upste.

            1. meyer lemon*

              Oh, I understand why he would be upset anyway, but I just noticed a number of posts seem to be assuming this was a trip from the US to Europe, and I think that was just an assumption, not a detail included in the original letter. It doesn’t even say “overseas.”

    2. Ashley*

      But there is a big difference between being pissed and creating a blog. I have an inner safe circle for venting when I am pissed and I could see in my younger days a Facebook post about being pissed. I also am not sure how much he was screwed over — the phrase don’t count your chickens before the hatch comes to mind.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        According to LW, they literally told him he was going. I think it’s one thing to not count your chickens before they’re hatched, but at what point is he supposed to know that he’s really going? When he’s on the plane taking off? If LW had said he was told that he was possibly going or provisionally going, that would be one thing, but unless there is a lot of missing vital context here (and as other commenters have pointed out, there apparently is), it sounded like they said “Fergus, you’re going to Europe with us.”

      2. Colette*

        I mean, I have 3 blogs – they’re not hard to create. But the unrelenting focus over “I didn’t get to go on a trip” is disturbing – and I wonder why he’s so upset. It seems like there is more than the trip falling through. (Does he think he’s being illegally discrimated against? Is he upset because the people who are going are a different race or gender? Is there other stuff going on in his life that makes this disproportionally bad?)

        1. Artemesia*

          Someone else got to go. Why did that OTHER person get to go? It is no accident that this little detail is left out of the tail.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Where do you see that someone else went in his place? Or do you mean the other students still got to take their trip?

          2. Colette*

            Maybe – or maybe no one got to go, or he was 10th on the list and they only took 8.

          3. OP*

            Because that other person worked directly with the student leader. The leader originally thought the trip was for department heads. But when the university exec explained it to him further, the leader learned it was so the exec could get to know people who work directly with the leader, which Fergus didn’t but the other person did.

            1. Arctic*

              But the person in Fergus’s position all the other years did work closely with the exec?

              Who paid for all this? Is it out of the exec’s pocket?

              1. BPT*

                Yeah, why all of a sudden did this year the department head (Fergus) stop being the one who worked with the student leader? And why were those responsibilities shifted to someone else? And why wasn’t that explained well ahead of when Fergus took on the role?

                1. DC Cliche*

                  There also seems to be some shadiness/defensiveness of the student leader who …. made a Very Bad Call. Like, was the student leader naturally more inclined to work with his friends/students from similar backgrounds, and that’s why he didn’t work closely with Fergus? Did anyone sit down this kiddo, who had a lot of budgetary responability, to talk about good management? Why isn’t his behavior a focus but Fergus’s is?

            2. Sam*

              How long did the student leader wait to reveal this very important information to Fergus? Were they apologetic? Because it certainly sounds like they failed the hell out of communicating anything at all to Fergus.

            3. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

              Do you know why Fergus didn’t work with the student leader, despite holding a position that previously always had?

              1. LaylaV*

                Yes – it sounds very, very much like Fergus’s position no longer works directly with the Student Leader because the Student Leader doesn’t want to work with Fergus. I can think of many reasons Student Leader doesn’t want to work with Fergus, such as: “Fergus is not SL’s good buddy and SL wants his good buddy to have a place on the trip even though Good Buddy is not a department head.” Or: “Fergus is black / LGBTQIA+ / neuroatypical / otherwise not like Student Leader” Or: “Fergus is not an attractive example of the gender Student Leader and/or Faculty Member are attracted to, and thus can’t be creeped on during a trip that is highly likely to involve alcohol consumption.” I haven’t yet seen anything from OP that implies that Fergus’s actual job changed at all, or that the program had a structural reorganization that involved anyone other than Fergus with a reorg that was anything other than “Student Leader doesn’t want to work with Fergus.”

            4. Rusty Shackelford*

              I’m confused. Was this a policy change from previous years? Why was the person in Fergus’s position always included on the trip before this year?

        2. Double A*

          OP followed up in another thread and the “unrelenting focus” on the unfairness of the situation was…1000 words over about 4 posts.

          Which the OP only knows because they copied it into a word document to do a word count.

          The more I read the OP’s follow up the more I feel this is a leap-year birthday situation. The leadership was spectacularly wrong and just digging in more to that wrongness.

          1. Panhandlerann*

            I agree. For years, I headed a university writing center staffed by undergraduate students, and I can tell you that in my considered opinion, the leadership of this outfit (whatever it was) was spectacularly wrong in the way they handled this entire matter. I feel for Fergus.

          2. cmcinnyc*

            2nd-ing this. And the constant “I can’t tell you but if I did you would agree with me” is getting ridiculous. Don’t write for advice if you can’t reveal enough to get meaningful feedback. OR, I suspect, we don’t need all these supposedly exonerating details and OP is stung that we’re slowly turning into Team Fergus the more we find out.

        3. Nic*

          OP talks as though he had unrelenting focus on not going…but OP also talks about people in the student org copying his posts out and counting up the words, and apparently he posted approximately 1000 words about it! Which is…probably four or five fairly short blog posts, and could potentially be something as simple as the trip was actually ongoing and he was wondering what he was missing out on.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        How is it counting your chickens when
        A. it sounds like people in Fergus’s position have always attended in the past
        B. they literally told him he was going

      4. Rusty Shackelford*

        They told him he was going, and the LW points out that the person in that position had always gone up until this point. It doesn’t sound like there was any premature counting of chickens.

      5. Roscoe*

        I mean, creating a blog isn’t that difficult. People do it over TV shows, exes, sports teams. But you have a problem with him doing it because he gave up other opportunities for something they yanked away.

        Also, this isn’t counting your chickens before they are hatched. He was told he was getting something, then it was taken away. Its more of a bait and switch than anything he did. Again, I think he went a bit far, but the Univesristy handled it horribly and he has a right to be upset.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          It sounds like it wasn’t even a blog created ABOUT this incident, from one of OP*’s comments. Sounds like Fergus just talked about his disappointment on his blog.

      6. Artemesia*

        If I am TOLD I am going and I turn down other perhaps important summer professional opportunities because of that, I am not counting my chickens, the program is killing them after they are hatched.

    3. Eye roll*

      A trip like that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people. And it requires expenditures like a passport. And he turned down other opportunities because he was directly told he was going and they didn’t tell him they changed their minds until 6 weeks later. Not to mention THEY TOLD HIM DIRECTLY HE WAS GOING and the person in his role has regularly gone before. The university’s behavior is so egregious that a blog is on the tame side of what I’d expect from a student. I think the reason for the change is likely to be terrible, which is why it’s missing.

      1. Nia*

        Agreed that the reason for the change was probably terrible. If it was understandable the LW would have included it. Have to assume the same is true for all the other details missing as well.

      2. Carlie*

        And given that this was the norm, it may have factored into his acceptance of being a department leader and how hard he worked on it. This wasn’t just a surprise perk, it was a benefit of the more intensive position he held relative to other students in the program, he worked the whole time expecting to get it, and then at the end was told he wouldn’t be going. It’s not just the treatment of him that is awful, it’s the cavalier decision to totally change the trip parameters without consideration of how that would affect the structure of the whole program.

    4. Washi*

      Am I reading right that person who told Fergus he was going was also a student? And OP is basically an advisor but has no real authority? If so, I think what some people are describing as “hand waving” over the details makes more sense, because maybe typically the OP would not be super involved in the nitty gritty. And a student telling a fellow student he can go, then saying he can’t after all would also make sense as a thing that would happen when college kids are supervising each other (it’s not a good situation AT ALL but sounds pretty par for the course based on my experience of student orgs.)

      I think my big question with OP is whether they sat down with student leadership and had a bigger conversation about how although Fergus is maybe taking things a little far, they need to come up with a plan/procedure so that this doesn’t happen again! After a debacle like this, I would expect that an advisor might get a little more hands-on to prevent repeats of the situation.

      1. Yorick*

        This is an important point. I think you may be right that the person who told him was another student leader of the program, but I’m not certain.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          That’s what it sounds like. It’s pretty crappy that they couldn’t have just left it the way it was promised this year, and allowed Fergus to go.

          It sounds like this is all badly managed anyway.

          1. There is a program where students manage students. A good opportunity.
          2. There is a professional person involved with this program, who every year, on their own dime (it sounds like), takes the students who “work with the student leader” on an unofficial trip (if my understanding is correct). A vacation and a networking opportunity.
          3. There is no effort to make it clear to students that this trip is at the discretion of this person, and what the criteria is for going, but the trip is well known and information about it assumed and acted on. Even the student leader does not have the criteria clear unless they enquire specifically about it.
          4. When this system backfires and someone gets shafted out of a promise, absolute minimal effort is expended to make it right. And no effort NEEDS to be expended, because the trip is not a guaranteed part of the program, so the university feels no need to make it right.

          There is no accountability in regard to the implementation of this trip, and there needs to be. I hope the school made the rules and criteria clear after this and formalized the system.

          1. Nesprin*

            5. When the shaft-ee complains, he’s treated like a problem child instead of an incredibly disappointed teenager or young adult who is a valuable member of this program.

            I gotta say, OP, I work in and around academia and with undergrad and grad students – this whole setup is very very sketchy. You have a faculty member who both springs for (out of pocket no less!) and gets to pick and choose which students to take on a very expensive international trip that may involve <21 yr olds drinking. This has boundary-crossing nigh-on-predator vibes all over it and I'm shocked that no one has tried to formalize this trip.

    5. MsClaw*

      Agreed. Also unless he was threatening to burn down the department building or something, I don’t see how posting about his disappointment on facebook was such a bad thing. If I’d gotten screwed around like that I would definitely be letting people know about it! If the school/program is worried that the post makes them look bad, well…. they earned that.

      So I can sorta see that- to Fergus – this is indeed an ongoing blog-worthy saga. They did him wrong, they tried to silence him, they tried to buy him off, they tried to silence him again. I’m not saying that’s a mature or rational response. But it’s not unhinged either.

      1. Web Crawler*

        I get the feeling that if Fergus threatened to burn down the department building, that would have been in all caps on the first line. OP seems to be making a mountain out of a molehill- rounding up “1,000 on Fergus’s existing blog” to “making a whole website dedicated to his mistreatment”.

    6. Richard*

      Another way to think about it is that the college got lucky that Fergus is behaving so inappropriately because it’s overshadowing poor management on their part.

    7. Well...*

      The tone of this letter is so typical of university admin (I mean the very highly paid staff) that I am completely convinced Fergus’ response is being overplayed/demonized. They mismanaged this and did a disservice to their students, and now they are trying to cover it up and blame students for not being sufficiently accommodating.

  4. Person from the Resume*

    I feel for Fergus for a bit of this letter because he expected because of tradition and then was told he was going on this trip. He turned down other summer plans because of it. I mean, not only the lost trip but I’m picturing that he did not apply for summer internships or jobs so he could go on this trip. It’s terrible to have it yanked away. I sympathize with the immediate disappointment and venting even on FB (because he had probably previously posted about how excited he was to be going on the trip on FB). And then in his disappointment and anger he behaved in an over the top inappropriate way. Sigh.

    But it was a terrible thing to do to the student.

    OTOH who/what could cause Fergus to be fired? Because surely these student employee are not untouchable employees. Fergus is doing enough to get him fired by any reasonable employer. Why didn’t the department vote to fire him? (That is a terrible policy BTW.) This part is weird too.

      1. BRR*

        I believe the bylaws were mandated by state law, not the actual firing processes. But I agree its
        a weird set up. What is this, survivor? And being told “we all voted and decided you’re position is being terminated” is pretty terrible.

    1. Bee*

      Honestly I don’t know if I’d ever fully get over this! His reaction is super over-the-top in a concerning way, but you can bet that I would still feel the sting in this ten years later. An free trip to another country is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! To be promised that – and to turn down other opportunities based on that promise – and then have it taken away is a pretty devastating blow.

      1. Shhhh*

        I’m still upset I wasn’t able to go to Italy in high school because my parents said I could go senior year and then the 2008 financial crisis hit and my dad was on the verge of being laid off for over a year. Do I understand what happened? Yep. Am I or was I ever mad at my parents? No. Did I have an over-the-top reaction like Fergus? No. But 12 years later, I’m still sad about it.

        Not to mention that I’m still sad I wasn’t able to go to a conference that was being completely paid for by my organization in the UK last year because of COVID. Again, no extreme reaction, but I’ve had multiple travel-related disappointments in my life. I kinda get it.

        1. Lilo*

          I was supposed to study abroad for this really cool opportunity in my major but instead my older brother wanted to go to Austria to follow his girlfriend at the time.

          I’m still pissed at my parents for that choice. I’m the only one of my siblings who didn’t get to study abroad.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Is it okay that I think your parents suck? Or at least made a very sucky decision in this case? Because that REALLY sucks!

            1. Lilo*

              My mom has an extreme blindspot when it comes to my brother. I have learned to live with it.

            2. AntsOnMyTable*

              I have a friend who is clearly the favorite amongst the three children and she got to do a study abroad thing in high school and then also decided to go do a couple years in Australia for college and her mom was like “we will find the money somehow.” Did her other siblings get any study abroad experience at all? No. Does my friend see how that is unfair? Nope.

        2. MK*

          I am still upset I missed out on a visit to the ICJ and the EU courts. It was all planned with my goverment training program and then there was a general election called, with election day in the middle of the trip dates. Couldn’t these bloody politicians hold on to their majority for a couple more months?

        3. wickedtongue*

          Choir in high school was set to go to Washington DC the summer of my senior year, then W. raised the “terror threat level” for DC to “high” (this was 2002-2003) and my choir teacher cancelled the trip and we used the funds to go to…San Antonio (in-state small trip). I was so bitter!

          In retrospect, I sort of get it –she’d just taken the senior choirs to NYC the summer before 9-11, so maybe she considered it too close a call and was scared of the potential for terrorist attacks. But I’m still mad! My younger friend got to go to Boston a few years later on her senior choir trip and it felt deeply unfair.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            My last year of junior high, for our big trip, they planned a DC tour. I was so excited, I had never been (and still haven’t). Fund raised, went to the meetings.

            A few parents were vocal that it was just too dangerous, and this was in 2002, so I kind of understood. But then the other kids all decided to go to the amusement park four hours away we had all been to multiple times and gave us no value. Still pissed off that a cool trip to see neat shit was traded for roller coasters and sunburn.

        4. Nic*

          Twenty-ish years later, I’m still pissed that I chose my university because they were one of a handful in my country to have an Astrobiology module, and then it turned out that it was a short summer course held abroad at another European university and only had the funding to send five people, instead of a proper module at our university with a full class size.

          (The first year I enquired about signing up, the organising tutor said “oh we didn’t have enough people ask about it ahead of time, so we’re not doing it”, and the second year (my last opportunity) I made sure to get a bunch of people interested and then on the module sign-up day, I turned up early to be first on the list, and that’s when the course organiser hit me with the 5 person limit and decided that it wouldn’t be fair to do first-come first-served, so we’ll get everyone’s names and draw them out of a hat! I didn’t win a place in the draw but one of my best friends did…She hadn’t been that interested until I talked it up to her, but she had a great time and I was glad she got the opportunity – I was just really disappointed not to be able to do the module myself, given that it was one of the reasons I’d picked that university).

      2. Yorick*

        I was a TA for a professor who was planning a study-abroad trip. I was supposed to be going as a TA/chaperone/whatever. I was super excited, but then for some reason the trip ended up not happening at all. It was disappointing but I was ok. If they had taken someone else instead of me, I would’ve been super pissed and I wouldn’t have gotten over it as easily. BUT I already knew about not posting stuff like that on Facebook.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      @treeway speculated below that it could be a position in student government or on a student-run newspaper. I could see either of those positions being protected by state law at a state university (i.e., no, you can’t fire the editor of the student newspaper just because you don’t like what is being printed.)

      1. Reba*

        I wonder if there was also some avoiding the issue of a decision to fire/pursue discipline, because it’s a student position and therefore has a built-in end date.

    3. MassMatt*

      I find the whole “expected to go because of tradition” to be very weird. My take on it is “people in this position have always gone, but we have no actual rules or procedures, so who gets to go and who doesn’t can change at any time, we have nothing in writing and won’t consider our own verbal assurances as binding in any way”. I mean, who could possibly take issue with that? /S.

    4. MK*

      I am guessing the department didn’t vote to fire him because they had already screwed him over this trip and didn’t want to come across as cartoon villains.

      I am also guessing that something else happened between the first reaction and the second. Venting on Facebook is something anyone might do in the heat of the moment. Creating a blog post after some time has passed is what someone might do after finding out they got screwed over not for neutral reasons, like budget constraints, but because of discrimination or nepotism.

    5. CatCat*

      Why didn’t the department vote to fire him?

      Probably because this event basically brought them the money to buy the equipment he advocated the department needed.

      And it just isn’t going to look good for a university to fire an otherwise highly respected student leader because they are saying true things on the internet. Like is it a bit much to have a blog about how the university wronged him? Yeah. But did they wrong him? Yep.

      1. MissBaudelaire*


        They didn’t fire him because he didn’t do anything that was worth it. He was the one who was wronged, he said things that were true, the university only tried to fix it after they realized “Oh, he’s telling people what went down and that makes us not look so awesome…”

        Again, I wouldn’t go out of my way to make a whole blog about it. I probably would tell anyone who asked about it. For all we know, maybe he created the blog because so many people were asking him about it and he got tired of telling the same story.

        1. Lily of the meadow*

          It turns out it wasn’t a whole blog, it was about 1,000 words over the course of numerous blog posts. And how do we know? The university SAVED HIS BLOG POSTS IN WORD, so they could do a word count on his complaints, and also passed said Word document all around the staff. I am pretty sure that the unreasonable one here is NOT Fergus.

      2. Natalie*

        If this was a state university, they also have to be careful wrt his constitutional rights.

    6. Cj*

      I think he wasn’t fired because the university knew they were the ones that screwed up. If not, why would he have gotten the consolation prize of a local conference and the equipment after the Facebook post?

    7. OP*

      I agree it does sound weird from the outside. I promise if I explained the organization fully it would make 100% more sense. But unfortunately I can’t do that without the risk of this becoming possibly more revealing about who I am or where I work and what organization I work for.

      1. Sam*

        I think it’s going to be hard to get useful advice here, then.

        People here are working under the assumption that this is a normative environment, even if a bit of an outlier as a student-run part of the university. Without knowing why things are different at your organization, I think it’ll be tough for people to say how much is normal behaviour by Fergus, how much is egregious, and how much Fergus’s responses should be affected by your organizational structure.

        1. Kiwiapple*

          Plus it happened years ago! What has happened since then? Do new Fergus’ get to go on a trip?

        2. LTL*

          OP clarified that Fergus’ blog was a general blog that also had a few posts complaining about the thing with the trip that amount to about 1,000 words (OP and others (?) tracked the word count). They also mentioned that Fergus did not complain about the program itself on his blog.

          I’m having trouble imagining any scenario where Fergus’ behavior was outside the norm.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Here is what it’s sounding like.

        Fergus = Head Llama Groomer

        In the past, the Head of the Zookeeping Department took all of the Head Groomers plus the Student Zookeeper on a trip. The Student Zookeeper assumed that Fergus would be going. But, for some reason, despite the fact that the Head Llama Groomer has always gone in the past, now that Fergus was Head Llama Groomer, that position didn’t interact with the Head of the Zookeeping Department so he was excluded.

        1. DC Cliche*

          Frankly, I’m getting more vibes that it was the Student Zookeeper’s call, not the Head of the Zookeeping Department’s. So the student who should have been coached was Student Zookeeper, who for some reason (?) wasn’t interacting properly with his department head.

      3. Lyra Silvertongue*

        I’ll be frank – I never fully understand why people write in to advice blogs about stuff that happened a long time ago but then can’t give pertinent details. Naturally it is going to be very difficult to give you advice if we can’t know the parts that make it make sense. All we can tell you is that with the current information we have, it sounds like the program/university screwed Fergus over unfairly and that he was far less in the wrong than the institution/you/the other students/whoever.

      4. TWW*

        This is an inexplicably eccentric organization, where something unprecedented and surprising happened that had a negative (possibly life changing) impact on Fergus? And the explanation for the whole snafu is sketchy at best.

        Good on Fergus for blowing the whistle.

      5. Beth*

        I hope you can see why “I know all of this makes us sound really bad, but I promise there are secret details that would make it make sense. You’d agree with me if you knew them, but I won’t tell you, because I’m such a good guy that even though I’m already telling you all about this very specific scenario (which I can’t imagine has come up all that often, how many student orgs are taking their members on all-expenses-paid international vacations?), I’m all about protecting privacy” is not the most convincing statement.

      6. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

        OP, I really wish you’d do some explaining, because based only on the information you’ve given…your organization sucks, your management sucks, and you—not Fergus—are the one having a ridiculously over the top reaction. You seem to want to be able to screw people over, suffer no consequences from it, punish them for calling you out on screwing them over, then—years later—come to an advice blog and get the commentariat to take your side and pile on the person you screwed over in the first place. That, in my book, is a bit more extreme and much less justified than a few Facebook posts and 1000 words on a blog within a month of being screwed.

        1. münchner kindl*

          Reading the additional info, I suspect most likely that Fergus is different from the other heads – because he’s a non-white minority/ QUILTBAG/ disabled person – therefore, despite being in the same position as previous students, the leader makes no connection with him, therefore, screws him over with the special trip, therefore all the other leadership people, including OP, don’t understand the big deal about excluding Fergus, and why Fergus felt he had to point out the blatant discrimination.

          Because what other reasons could there be for blatant disfavouritism like this?

      7. Roci*

        If this is such a unique situation that it can’t even be explained without sharing the specific organization, I don’t blame Fergus for also feeling confused and hurt at what is clearly unusual treatment.

  5. Still A Little Biter*

    I am sure more was going on with Fergus.

    When I was in college, I was prevented from going on an amazing overseas trip my junior year because a staff member had complained about me to those planning the trip. I did not know such things could prevent trip participation, nor did I find out until it was too late to do anything about it. My senior year, I did go to China, but it’s been nearly 15 years, and I don’t think I’ll ever be okay with missing out on that other trip. I love to travel, but can’t really afford it, nor do I have anyone to travel with, and travelling alone to other countries (which I have done a few times) is mostly depressing.

    The only suggestion I could offer would have been to have intervened sooner/more strongly. I don’t mean someone should have laid down the law…but telling him to cut out the Facebook posts, and assuming the anger would just magically go away is not going to be effective with most people. Heck, sometimes people just want to vent, and sometimes they just want to feel valued.

    I’m curious whether or not the alternative trip was received well by him. When I was younger, I probably would have been offended by a far inferior option…heck even as an adult, I’d point out a trip abroad trumps nearly any trip I can conceive of domestically.

    1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      Especially since the nice trip sounds like a vacation/learning experience, while the alternative sounds like a conference.

      But yeah, I bet to an outraged student (and a high-achieving one, if I have a good comprehension of this interesting program), being told you can’t complain about being wronged on Facebook probably felt like having his speech stifled and being told he couldn’t be mad.

      I’m not surprised a student, unfamiliar with professional norms, did not react the way his superiors wanted.

    2. Smithy*

      I do think that so much of this letter is better viewed from the lense of working with students vs working with employees. Opportunities during school are inevitably more fleeting and as such can come with a lot more loaded emotions – both in terms of over eager excitement as well as larger disappointment if things fall through.

      My industry has a particularly fancy conference that I’ve been able to go to twice. When I stopped being able to go, it was entirely understandable for work reasons but something I’ve always held onto as “maybe I can find a way to include this in a future job”. If it ends up being ten years between the last time I went and then next time I’m able – so be it. Those emotions just are not as regulated when you’re in college and the difference between an opportunity in your sophomore year vs senior year.

      My Still a Little Bitter moment is more that in my junior year, I had two trips to pick from and to this day bemoan picking the “wrong” trip. The trip I did choose would have been available my senior year, whereas the one I passed on wasn’t. I can entirely acknowledge it as being bitter and a petty, but those emotions just hit so much harder at that age – the reactions can as well.

      1. Bee*

        The longer view I have now makes a big difference, as does my ability to pay for my own overseas trips! I didn’t go to a big fancy conference in Ireland a few years ago because it happened three months after I changed jobs, so the new job wouldn’t pay for it and I didn’t have any vacation time accrued yet. I’m still a little regretful that it didn’t work out, but also: I know I can go to that conference wherever it is next year, and I can plan & pay for my own Ireland trip any time I want.

      2. Elliott*

        I agree. I also think it’s relevant that student employment/volunteer opportunities are often heavily focused on providing benefit to the students. Yes, the school usually benefits from their work, and there are advantages to being able to employee students in short-term positions. But colleges also create these opportunities to give students experience (and if pay is involved, give them opportunities to fund their education). I feel like the dynamic is different than with a job where the employer is primarily invested in their own profits/success.

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        Agreed, and I think it also makes Fergus’s actions a lot more explicable. When I was at university I can think of all sorts of weird, internecine student politics that were played out largely through the medium of the long-form Tumblr post or student newspaper editorial. It wouldn’t have been at all strange for someone to have a conflict with the university and air the entire thing out via social media, and I don’t think that’s much different today. It would be really bizarre for an adult employee of a company to start a blog complaining about their employer, but a student complaining about the university? I can absolutely see that and wouldn’t necessarily think it unreasonable.

    3. AnonForNow*

      Truly would’ve been heartbreaking to give up other career opportunities or internships to work for a program that pulls this shit. And then to be offered some bullshit trip in state in lieu of all expenses paid 10-day trip overseas?? Absolutely tf not. This was so badly handled, I’m mad for Fergus, and the director who promised this then pulled it should honestly be ashamed of themself. Sounds like their program is getting the press they deserve to me.

    4. KoiFeeder*

      Yeah, I was torqued enough when I turned down an internship because I’d gotten a letter that appeared to be a confirmation that I’d gotten into a grad school and then turned out to be an in-person interview (that I flunked, tremendously, because I’m autistic and interview terribly even when I’m actually prepared for it). I probably wouldn’t have made a furious facebook post over missing out on a trip, but just from the context given I’d be bitter about it, and it sounds like there was more context than has been offered here.

      1. Lily*

        I once called my future employer asking “this is a confirmation, right?” and when they reacted confused, I clarified “I can call the other interview places and cancel, right?” and they laughed and said yes, the offer is safe.
        I didn’t find it easy to understand those kind of letters to be honest.
        TL;DR I totally get the confusion.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          I can do that? I can ask for clarification without people getting mad or pulling the offer?

          I mean, I guess I wouldn’t want to work at a place where an offer got pulled because I needed clarification, but I think I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been able to ask for further clarification without people getting angry at me…

  6. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Let’s just say I’ve got over a decades worth of experience in the railway and rarely do I see a train wreck this bad.

    Almost everything that could go wrong did. Lack of information, wrong information, invitations to events rescinded with no explanation, venting one’s spleen about one’s employer over public internet, getting so anxious/angry/troubled that you need professional help (note: not judging this, I’ve seen a lot of psych people myself), absolutely untrained or inexperienced management…

    An utter mess on all sides frankly. I do hope various people have learnt from it though.

    1. Myrin*

      I honestly can’t help but think that this entire programme sounds like a bit of a mess.
      Or, maybe not a mess exactly, but I’m definitely surprised that this was apparently the first time a problem like this arose – seeing how this whole thing is set up, I’d have expected something to go extremely sideways much sooner.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        As @Excel Jedi said earlier, these students are given an awful lot of responsibility. I agree that it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

      1. BRR*

        And that’s not just a sassy comment. There are just so many things that could have been handled differently by all sides.

  7. RaeofSunshine*

    The part that sticks with me is “He turned down other opportunities for this…”
    I think if the reason he was cut was for an incident or failing, the OP would have specified that. Fergus not only didn’t get to go AFTER BEING ASSURED HE WAS, but he literally turned down other opportunities which were then not available to him. It’s like being accepted to Harvard, so turning down Yale, Brown, and MIT, only to be told that Harvard made a mistake – you can’t go to the other places and say ‘oops’, so those are gone forever too.
    Fergus took his response too far, but he is a college student not versed in professional norms, whose brain is literally not finished forming (assuming a US-normal student age). He is pissed, and deserves to be.

    1. Kyrielle*


      And it’s also possible that had they not come down on him about the FB post and given him some consolation prizes seemingly _because_ of the FB post, that he wouldn’t have gone so far in his reaction. It’s a huge disappointment and I can understand his feelings. But it was then compounded by how he handled it, how others handled how he handled it, etc. Would the blog have ever existed if someone had just said they were very sorry, they screwed up badly, and could he make his FB post private to just his close friends please? Maybe, maybe not.

    2. Paul Pearson*

      This very much. Those opportunities could be major for a student – and I can understand him wanting to warn other students about the bad faith here

      1. Lilo*

        I mean I wouldn’t do a blog post, but I’ve definitely verbally warned off people about organizations that don’t keep promises.

        1. Paul Pearson*

          Exactly – I mean, depending how egregious it was and how much this trip is presented as a reason to take this position in the first place, I can see Fergus regarding himself more of a whistleblower than disgruntled employee. And I’m not sure he’s wrong

          1. cryptid*

            same, I’d want to know the contents of the blog to decide if it was out of line or not. was it “school x wronged me, wahhhhhh!” or was it “school x made specific promises and reneged, beware” (or “school x discriminated against me on the basis of this protected class”!)? they’d each change my sympathy response.

    3. AthenaC*

      Exactly – we don’t know what the “other opportunities” were that he turned down … but at that stage of life, turning down opportunities can literally change the course of your life. I’m not surprised that rose to the level of mental health issues!

      Not the same situation (obviously) but in my early 20’s the entire course of my life was significantly changed, by other people, in a way that I did. not. want. I figured out a Plan B pretty quickly, but it still took a LOT of work on myself to get over the anger of having the future I planned taken away. And until I finished working on myself, the Issues(TM) completely consumed my thoughts and emotions.

      So, I totally get Fergus’s reaction. He obviously needed to do some work to get over his disappointment, but the whole “you’re not allowed to post on Facebook about a thing you experienced” does come across as a bit victim-blamey.

      1. SweetestCin*

        Same here – back in my early 20’s, lets just say that one extreme external to me event wound up changing my overall career path, in my case it was a cancelled academic based overseas trip as opposed to a trip I didn’t get to go on. Suddenly I needed to find a job – yesterday. Suddenly I needed living space – yesterday. Suddenly I wasn’t sure I wanted to go out of state to program XYZ now that I wasn’t going to have six months of experience in XYZ with this overseas trip. (I was incredibly lucky that my “college job” allowed me to rescind my resignation, so that was at least a fairly quick resolution) Figuring out Plan B at all of 22, when I’d been working my tail off for Plan A since I was 16….well. Someone further downthread hit the nail on the head here – when change happens and you’ve experienced a few doozies, you roll with it better. When its the first one, and its a massive one, its hard to figure out how to roll with it as an adult.

        1. AthenaC*

          I think that might have been me that pointed out you get better at Cataclsymic Life Changes(TM) when you have a couple of them under your belt. Ask me how I know. :)

    4. Smithy*

      I also think a thing that impacts these reactions is that often these kinds of decisions are made with other social factors influencing choices. It may have been that Fergus had friends/peers going on this trip – and so to not go with them and then perhaps turn down other opportunities that also might have been with friends/peers was doubly wounding.

      The choice might not just have been about holding on for Opportunity A and declining Opportunities B and C, but rather – holding on for Opportunity A with Buddy X and declining Opportunities B with Buddy Y or C with Buddy Z. And instead the remaining offer is to attend a conference alone.

      Again, Fergus’ reaction with the website wasn’t professional – but I think most of this goes to more around the sensitivities around students and the choices they’re making. That a lot of opportunities really do have hard deadlines, and telling someone they can “just do something next year” may be deeply wounding if it means dividing them from their social groups. I know people who declined taking a year abroad because most of their friends were seniors when they were juniors and that did not sound like a tradeoff they wanted.

    5. LDF*

      I agree it was supremely uncool to take the trip away, but this metaphor os taking it too far and I think making us lose sight of that Fergus actually lost. He turned down other opportunities already; he wouldn’t have gotten those other things even had the trip gone ahead. If the other opportunities were so major and important and life changing then they shouldn’t have been turned down for a trip. College students aren’t always making every choice based on Max Career Impact but that’s not OP’s fault.

      I’m not on “OP’s org’s side” like I’m sure some will think, they really messed up, I just can’t agree with all the comments that they’ve basically ruined Fergus’s future.

      1. AthenaC*

        There’s a difference between “I see this tradeoff and I choose it” vs. “I see this tradeoff, I choose it, and now the thing I chose is being taken away so I’m left with nothing.” If Fergus had known all along that he would not get to go on the trip, he would have presumably made different choices, but now those other options are not open to him anymore.

        1. Kelly L.*

          This. And I’m thinking the trip itself might have come with career-related benefits, if he had gotten to go.

          1. Beth*

            Yes, it’s hard to imagine this trip is being fully funded without there being any professional motivation behind it. At the very least, Fergus could have expected a decent amount of networking to come out of it.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yes, this. It’s incorrect to describe this as an opportunity cost. Fergus isn’t upset because he chose X and therefore can’t have Y. Fergus is upset because he chose X and therefore can’t have Y and then X was taken away from him.

      2. Smithy*

        Presenting this as a ruined future is extreme, but at that age and the way opportunities are shared – I think it’s potentially closer to a “ruined future” than “no big deal”. The reality of these kinds of opportunities, particularly if they’re paid in their entirety or via scholarship, is that they really can’t be replaced. Particularly if the other opportunities that were declined were also going to be free or at a reduced cost to Fergus.

        The flip side being that were the opportunities declined competitive internships – either due to their stature or the fact that they were paid – again, that can’t just be replaced. Those are opportunities with fixed timelines to accept or decline, and once declined are either completely gone or will require another competitive application process to potentially receive.

        At that age and time of those, those opportunities can be fairly significant enrichment experiences that don’t have the same correlation to other fulltime employment where trips/conferences get pulled. And for millenials, those types of experiences have been made far more valuable than spending the summer at home seeing what can be pulled together last minute.

        All of which to say, the school had a greater responsibility to only confirm that Fergus was on the trip when fully confirmed than another kind of employer would. In many work settings, a boss asking “hey – what’s your schedule like this October – there’s a cool travel opportunity we have in mind for you” and then having the opportunity go away is different than with students. Especially undergrad students.

        1. Metadata minion*

          Agree. No, his Entire Future(TM) obviously isn’t ruined; people get opportunities and course changes throughout their lives. But in choosing between the trip and other opportunities (jobs, internships, major volunteer commitments), Fergus is potentially taking or turning away from major opportunities for his future career and life goals, and having to start from scratch at least as far as the immediate future is concerned is a seriously big deal.

          1. AthenaC*

            Plus, the first time you go through a Major Life Shift(TM), especially one that is externally caused, is a big deal and can really mess you up if you’re not careful. After you get older and you’ve had two or three of these, you know to shrug and just get on with it, but man – that first time is really a huge shift, mentally!

          2. Smithy*

            Definitely. I also know a lot of people who when they look back on how they chose any given career path – one of those experiences can have an outsized impact on the decision to go that way. Getting to go on one ten day trip abroad can influence a student to then pursue ways to go back be that graduate school, teaching English abroad, Fulbright scholarships, etc. It can jumpstart an interest in taking a language course or continuing with a language that’s been a struggle.

            It can also serve as an effective bucket of ice water on a previous “dream”. And that decision can be made after a ten day experience as opposed to signing up for a full graduate program or planning a serious move post-graduation.

    6. Beth*

      Yes! By the time an organization has student workers and other low-level employees turning down other opportunities for things this organization has offered them, I think there is a duty (morally if not legally) to either follow through or offer something pretty significant to make up for it. It’s just exploitative to pull the rug out from under a vulnerable employee like that. Expecting them to keep quiet about it because ‘professionalism’ is just adding insult to injury.

  8. CatCat*

    As a result, the student leader intervened and had a conference with him explaining the rationale behind the decision and that his Facebook post wasn’t okay.

    I’m sooooo curious about the details of how the aftermath was handled here. Sounds like no one had explained the rationale behind the decision until suddenly the university looked bad because of Fergus’ facebook post. And what was it about the facebook post that wasn’t okay? Was it, “outside the university in the working world, this kind of thing can hurt you”? Or was it some sort of CYA because the U didn’t look really great here?

    It just seems like there was a disorganized scramble to “fix” the broken trust rather than thinking ahead how it was going to be resolved ahead of time with a clear explanation of what happened and the U’s plans to ensure Fergus would still have a development opportunity. No wonder Fergus had a These People Cannot Be Trusted reaction that he shared with his peers (I’m assuming his facebook is mostly his peer group).

    At the end of the day, how the U handled this probably impacted what Fergus perceived as “normal” in the working world. Total ball drop on the U’s part.

    That said, Fergus totally went over the top though with the website and long blog posts. He was probably struggling in other ways, but the way the U treated him… it didn’t help.

    1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      Honestly, depending on how it was (which we don’t have much info on), I would not consider a blog to be an escalation (aside from continuing to post stuff after being told his Facebook post was “not okay”). He took it off Facebook, onto a less wide-reaching platform. My perception of blogs, as a millenial, is (and was in collge) that while they CAN take off and become popular, 99% of them are just people’s journals that they post publicly, and most are read by a handful of people or none. If a student nowadays wanted to escalate a situation by posting about it, they would use Instagram (in which feeds are considered blogs), Facebook, or Twitter.

      So while the blog may still be “not okay,” without specific context I don’t really interpret it as something as over-the-top as everyone seems to think.

      As a student in a program with lots of autonomy and responsibility, he’s probably a high achiever and maybe an activist, and would probably not appreciate what he perceived as being “silenced.”

      1. Smithy*

        This is a really good point, and again the line between student and employee makes things a lot different. There are plenty of student employees at universities at a wide variety of levels – but students are also supposed to be beneficiaries of the academic institution. And therefore, their standing around certain topics – like speech – is just going to be different. Either practically or philosophically.

        The idea of a university – particularly a public one – telling a student employee in the cafeteria that they could be fired for publicly speaking about food safety/handling just seems set up to be received far more differently than most other food service employers.

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          And food service is one thing. Even if this is a job with pay, the fact that you need to be a student, possibly enrolled in a certain major or program, to hold this job, sort of walks the line even further to the student side of student employee. If this job is a part of a program, then the students are paying tuition partially for the privilege of working there. If this program attracts people to this institution or this department, and I was shafted and then silenced while participating, I would feel I had the vigorous right to public discourse about that.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yeah, I agree that a new blog is significantly less public than Facebook or Twitter. Fergus may well have thought he was downscaling his venting by taking it from his identifiable 500+, 1000+? friend Facebook to a blog nobody might even read.

        Obviously there are popular blogs (!) but a new one started by a student isn’t going to do numbers.

        1. pancakes*

          Definitely a possibility. I read something just this morning, a post by a guy with a substack, that was pretty much exactly that – he wanted to post about something and make his thoughts on it available publicly, but didn’t send it out to subscribers via email.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            That’s still less public than posting it as a FB status. Click-through from posts is pretty low, and that’s for posts that even cross someone’s timeline to see.

          2. TL -*

            I work in comms in academia and honestly if someone came to me with this blog, I would ask if it was factual, and since it is, I would then shrug and say I don’t know what you want me to do about. If it blew up, my suggested strategy would be apologies and transparency into efforts to address the error going forward.

            Y’all got bad press because you deserve bad press. All you can do is apologize, fix the broken system, and make sure you do better going forward.

            By the way, who went the years after Fergus? Was it the person holding his position?

      3. The Green Lawintern*

        I think blogging about it made it both less viewable AND more targeted. A blog post probably won’t blow up the way a facebook post would – but someone googling “my experience with Teapot Program” is going to find the blog post a lot quicker than an old facebook post.

    2. Elenna*

      Yes, that also jumped out at me. If I’m reading this right, apparently they didn’t offer him a full explanation or any sort of compensation until after the first set of angry Facebook posts? Did they… somehow not realize he would be upset?? Losing out on a free multi-week trip abroad is a big deal! Not to mention the potential costs of turning down other opportunities, which could also have been very large.

  9. treeway*

    The way the anonymisation reads to me is this sounds close to a students union, student representative council or student paper. I was really involved in student politics for years at and after university and this kind of sounds like normal level student politics drama. Not that that drama should happen! It just does, because tempers run high, no one has any money, young people have less experience with decisions like this, student politics are very personal, and are often combined with cultures that incentivise heavy drinking and partying, which further impairs your decision-making (even if just by making you super tired all the time!).

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I can see a student paper being run by students who interview and hire employees. Would student government involve that? (And if Fergus had access to a student paper, I guess they’re lucky he didn’t vent there, instead of on Facebook.)

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        A journalism opportunity would also make the blog far less of an “over reaction” in my mind. If Fergus was planning to have X experience, turned down Y & Z, and then had nothing, I could see the logic in blogging to document what he was doing during that period when others in his cohort were doing things like X, Y, & Z.

      2. treeway*

        I dont have American university experience, but in the UK student government is usually quite a powerful position, elected by the entire student body, involves paid positions, and involves hiring and firing your own staff, so I didn’t think it was impossible

    2. Anononon*

      Yeah, my friend and I ran the college yearbook our senior year, and looking back (and even then) it was super weird how much freedom we had. Fortunately, I was a boring kid, and my friend even more so, so there were no issues, but we had access to some decent funds and essentially total control over the content of the book.

    3. Koala dreams*

      My mind went that way too. If the student role is something like that, it’s expected that you criticize university decisions. It’s very different from a standard employment relationship. Even if the criticism is unfounded or exaggerated, it has to be really off to be worthwhile for the university to push out the student.

    4. Amey*

      I agree, Students Union here in the UK springs to mind for me too in this particular context (although the OP mentions state requirements so probably not here). Student unions are very student led with paid (elected) student officers in senior leadership roles – but there are also paid permanent (non-student) staff. I work in a university and could totally see this situation happening in our union.

    5. DC Cliche*

      I got student newspaper vibes — ours was independent but we had a 1M+ budget, our president was both the head of the board of trustees and also the person in charge of beer runs, and we did everything via council, so yes, you couldn’t be fired without a majority of your peers voting to do so. We watched adult videos during production once, smoked weed on the roof regularly to unwind, operated a panini grill in the bathroom, hooked up in the conference room, dated writers if we were editors, did Power Hours during major editions, and had extremely dramatic breakups of the friendship and romantic variety. Once before a board of trustees meeting (which was 1/2 students, 1/2 adults and the adults were like, some big-name journalists that today would be extremely online/recognizable) one of the professional staff (e.g., the grownups in the room) opened the freezer for something and found a pair of frozen boxer shorts from a game of strip beer pong truth or dare the night before. She then went into the bathroom and found hastily cleaned-up projectile vomit from the same. Nobody ever got fired. And if we had the option of an all-expense-paid international vacation, and someone got yanked, that reaction absolutely would have happened.

      FWIW I’d guess student government at a smaller public university, given the state requirements and the close relationship with the administration.

      1. PT*

        My college newspaper was famous for putting together the Friday paper drunk. Which made sense, because the Friday paper was often full of mistakes, typos, and incoherent articles.

        Their office had an inch of grime on the floor, beer cans everywhere, and holes punched in walls. I went there once, in sandals, spent the whole meeting wishing I’d worn actual shoes, and never went back.

    6. treeway*

      Late addendum but I’d add that student leaders often have very limited ways of holding the university to account, and if they don’t get traction internally, going public is often their only leverage. This isn’t a traditional student-employee relationship, this is a student at a university with a duty of care to its students and responsibility to treat them fairly – and it sounds like Fergus probably had some kind of responsibility to hold the university accountable. If Facebook and social media is the primary way this student body communicates, this was probably his best method of making this public to fellow students.

  10. I should really pick a name*

    I’m curious how the LW saw the facebook posts. Were they facebook friends with Fergus?
    Also how they came across the website.

    A good lesson for Fergus would be to increase his Facebook privacy settings, and to not friend coworkers.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Depending on the size of the university these things can spread pretty quickly – and if it were public I’m not surprised the LW came across it. You wouldn’t even necessarily need to be friends.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      If Fergus made them public, anyone could see them and it wouldn’t be hard for people within the same university to be led there by a chain of friends/associates.

    3. MassMatt*

      Why would Fergus want to make his complaint posts less prominent? The whole point of them was to make his grievances known. And the LW says that only after he made the posts did someone explain the rationale and get him the consolation trip to the state capitol. His public complaints got results.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        I feel like the outcome would have been more negative in a normal job.

    4. OP*

      People in the organization saw the posts and alerted me. He shared the blog posts on Facebook.

      1. Zoey*

        People “alerted” you? You were another undergrad in this organization, right? At the same level as Fergus, with no authority over him?

        So were you all just treating this as grist for the gossip mill or what?

  11. Paul Pearson*

    In addition to the many other absent information others have mentioned, I also note the very quick glossing over of multiple opportunities Fergus turned down because of this broken promise. How important were they? How much did he lose? He’s at a time in his life when these could have made a major difference and this cannot be handwaved. While I think he should have acted more calmly, I can equally see why he’d feel the need to warn other vulnerable students that this was not a position that could be trusted and that they’d need to take precautions if they entered into the same role. I’m especially concerned that this is a student role so we’re talking people who generally will have less capacity for push back, less experience and generally be more vulnerable – I can definitely understand wanting to warn others in that context

    1. Paul Pearson*

      To add – I think it also depends a lot on what position he held. I mean, if it’s a good position and has this wonderful perk that’s a world of difference from it being, say, a generally poorly compensated, onerous position but this trip makes it worthwhile

      Similarly I’d want to know how much this position is advertised, promoted or otherwise appears on the university’s own online presence? Is it conspicuous? Is it highly praised as a good thing? Is the trip highly emphasised as part of it? The more your university promotes this, the more I can see Fergus feeling the need to counter what he sees as extremely bad faith misinformation

    2. kittymommy*

      This is a good point and one that’s dawned on me reading the comments: I’m curious if Fergus’s over the top reaction with the blog/multiple posting is more in reaction to the way that (it seems) the organization is not realizing that what they did to him was pretty damn egregious (especially in light of his turning down other opportunities). Perhaps if they had approached it better with true contrition Fergus may not have escalated so much???

      1. Binderry*

        Yep, that’s what I wondered also. Without knowing the content of what was said in the blog posts and what his intent with them was, it’s difficult for me to see this as an inherently bad thing. It’s possible he was writing these blog posts as a ‘this was my very bad experience that I am sharing in hopes it doesn’t happen to anyone else’ scenario. If that’s the case, I don’t think this is necessarily problematic. Sure, it makes the program/university look bad, but it sounds like what they did was pretty egregious and they didn’t handle it well. If the student is unconvinced that this won’t happen again to someone else, the blog post could be trying to make future students aware so they can protect themselves.

        1. Velawciraptor*

          OP said further up that it was about 1000 words (i.e., the length of OP’s letter and Alison’s response combined) across multiple posts. Not excessive. Not unhinged. Not what the letter makes it sound like at all.

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        You know what the whole ‘send him to a conference and buy equipment’ reminds me of? When you hit your sibling and they cry for Mom, so you’re all “Shh! Shh! Here, you can hit me!”

  12. Aquawoman*

    Many universities are state-run and even if they’re not, I think they have different considerations regarding free speech, transparency, and the like. Student leaders are supposed to be vocal about the way the university is operating. This was a really shitty thing to do to Fergus and there seems to be no recognition of that at all. They didn’t even tell him the reasons for the decision until after he made the facebook post. It’s totally understandable that he was upset about this objectively rotten thing they did to him without explanation. Maybe his response was extreme but I think dumping him without explanation from an opportunity that people in his position historically got, he told he would have, and he turned down other stuff to do was more wrong than an aggrieved facebook post.

    1. TeacherTurnedNurse*

      I Waldo wonder what exactly Fergus’s position was within the student culture. We’re contextualizing this as though he’s equivalent to “random employee at a job” but if he’s a prominent or well known student (I.e. involved with organizations or campus politics), and if his position is at all related to that prominence, he may have felt it was natural or reasonable for him to speak publicly about what he perceived as mistreatment by the university. If he’s seen as a representative of the student body or student voice in any way he may see it as important.

      Or he could just be very upset. Like others have said, it’s really tricky to interpret this without more information.

  13. Heidi*

    I’m still thinking about what it must be like to have the kind of free time needed to put together a whole website about how I didn’t go to Australia. Or wherever it was. That being said, I don’t think that it’s something you could fire him for unless there was some sort of policy violation, like a breach of confidentiality. Honestly, how many people would have even seen this post? Or cared? Of course, WE would want to see this post to see what Fergus’s take on this was, otherwise I’m not sure that this feeling of “something needs to be done” is really justified.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I’m still thinking about what it must be like to have the kind of free time needed to put together a whole website about how I didn’t go to Australia.

      Not much. Sign up on blogger or tumblr and you’re off to the races with your own custom URL. Takes all of two minutes.

      Even if you want a custom domain (mystupiduniversitysaidtheyweretakingmetoeuropeandthendidnt dot com), depending on where you are, you can often get DNS to propagate in about half an hour and spin up a WordPress site in no time.

      1. Llama Llama*

        Yeah with Wix and Squarespace you can make a custom website in like an hour. Especially if you already know what you’re doing.

      2. Bee*

        Yeah when I set up a blog for my semester abroad on Blogspot the most time-consuming part was coming up with a name for it.

      3. Heidi*

        See, I’m imagining long essays about how wronged he was, like the length of the Unabomber’s manifesto. But if it’s basically a couple of tweets, any response on the part of the OP’s organization seems even more unnecessary.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          Yeah, I was thinking it was probably a few one-page or less posts. Something written in white-hot anger.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Free time? He isn’t going on the big trip and he isn’t taking up the other opportunities. He has plenty of time.

    3. IndustriousLabRat*

      If the “other opportunities” that Fergus declined, expecting to be out of the country for two weeks, were a summer internship or a job, that would explain where his free time was coming from. I really wish we knew more about what he had sacrificed to go on the trip.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      It is kind of ridiculous to start a whole blog about. It’s not like there’s going to be a lot of fresh news or interest in the situation to have an ongoing blog about nothing BUT that.

      1. pancakes*

        There’s no requirement that a blog be about an ongoing concern or frequently updated. The format can just as easily be used to gather a few thoughts on a very narrow topic, in a spot that may or may not be found by people looking for information on that topic.

      2. Lily of the meadow*

        It wasn’t a whole blog; OP stated themselves that it was about 1,000 words over numerous blogs, that the university saved to a Word document so as to do a word count, and which they passed around to staff to read. Fergus is not the unhinged one here.

  14. the cat's ass*

    Definitely one of those cases where so many dumbs on every side don’t make a smart. Whew.

  15. Lilo*

    Fergus definitely went over the top, but your organization needs to have controls in place and ensures that what happened to Fergus never happens again. He turned down opportunities to go on the trip and got it yanked. Why would any student trust your organization in this again. Again, he went over the top, but that doesn’t change that what was done to him was very bad.

  16. MassMatt*

    I too wish we had more info but with what we have, wow what a train wreck.

    My take is that there was probably a bureaucratic error or miscommunication that resulted in his not going and no one bothered to tell him or told him in a pretty casual way in line with how teachers and professors often treat students, i.e. “chalk it up to experience. Life isn’t fair”. And what is with the explanation that “traditionally”, someone in his position would go? Are there rules and procedures, or is this all based on someone’s whim? “Tradition” is what dishes you serve at Thanksgiving, not how you determine who is going to Europe for a summer on a school program.

    It’s bizarre to me that he would be treated this way when simultaneously having this level of responsibility and supposedly a state mandate makes him all but impossible to be fired. These things are very much at odds.

    And I think the fact that the board or whomever “never even considered” firing him is a telling piece of information–maybe they didn’t consider it because what the director/school/program did was egregious.

    That someone so prominently running a program had the major benefit yanked out from under him probably has many other student volunteers wondering whether they too will be told “Naah, sorry, you won’t be going” after putting in who knows how much work. A weeklong trip to Albany or Bismarck was obviously not comparable.

    You asked what could have been done–I just hope that in the years since many steps were taken to reform this program, as it seems to have many problems.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      Something is so rotten in the state of Denmark. There is just no way this was a “clerical error” that was for some reason not communicated until the angry Facebook post. Somewhere along the way, I will bet you real cash money that this is personal. This smells like petty university politics, and somebody on high made this decision for petty, indefensible reasons, or because the budget won’t cover taking Fergus and taking petty-administrator’s girlfriend or whoever–and no one can call it out or deal with it directly. Naming whatever the issue really was would probably blow OPs anonymity on this, so it’s all been left dark. Actual errors and mistakes–people usually own up to those. Shady, weird, can-only-get-away-with-this-because-of-who-I-am/am-connected-to–those things stay dark.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        I kind of got this feeling, too.

        The university did a crummy thing. They didn’t own up to it until they realized other people would realize that it was a crummy thing. Then they got mad when their half hearted “Sorry, dude.” wasn’t met with all loving forgiveness.

        I honestly think there was something nasty going on here and Fergus paid the price. And people are shocked that he’s not happy about it. If the trip was cancelled all together, that’s one thing. But just “Oh, this person in the position we almost always take is suddenly not going for Reasons.” smacks of something nasty.

      2. Starbuck*

        Right, the fact that Fergus only got the real explanation after complaining, and that WE still weren’t given the real reason, is pretty sketchy. My sympathies are pretty much entirely with Fergus here. My impression is that he was wronged, and the university was more interested in keeping him quiet about it rather than actually fixing the issue or making amends. We are definitely missing some pretty important context.

  17. Pink Basil*

    But he got to go to a conference! In a nearby city! That’s the detail that killed me. Maybe I’ve gone to way too many conferences over the years but they’re rarely an award or compensation for missing something really cool.

    1. Murphy*

      haha, obviously not as good as a trip abroad, but when I was a student I would have been thrilled if anyone paid for me to go to a conference.

      1. Pink Basil*

        Me too, given my college career, but not if I’d been promised something a lot better and turned down other opportunities.

    2. Lilo*

      I literally only go to conferences for CLE (continuing legal education) credit. Networking events are my secret nightmare.

    3. Nia*

      Yeah that would have just made me more mad if I was in Fergus’s position. The fact that they tried to pass that off as equivalent to an all expense paid trip to another country speaks volumes about the people in charge of this program.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        But did they try to pass it off as equivalent, or was it just an attempt to give him *something*? The OP says it was done as a sort of apology, not that they treated it as the same thing as a free overseas trip.

        1. Eye roll*

          “Sorry we yanked your once-in-a-lifetime trip abroad. And oops, hope the opportunities you turned down weren’t too good. Here’s a chance to eat rubber chicken buffets and nap during speeches!”

          1. IndustriousLabRat*

            I see you enjoy conferences just as much as I do! Beware the rubber chicken with an Ambien cream sauce.

    4. Andy*

      He also got large purchase for his department. And for young people, students and even many experienced people, conferences are something cool.

      1. PT*

        I went to a conference alone once in college, and because I didn’t want to drink in hotel rooms with people I barely knew I turned down the after party invites. When I got up the next morning for breakfast the hallway looked like a hurricane hit it…and when I got downstairs my fellow conference goers looked like they’d been through a tornado.

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        It’s very nice they purchased something for the department.

        It sounds like it was a purchase that ultimately benefited the department, and therefore also the university.

        It does not sound like something that was given special to Fergus.

        1. Andy*

          When you are the one who made it happen, it feels good and like victory. Even if the benefit don’t go directly to you.

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        I mean… it has strong “Happy Birthday, darling! I got you a new vacuum cleaner” vibes.

    5. kittymommy*

      Lol, I mean I like conferences but yeah an in-state conference vs. 10- day overseas trip? Would definitely be a letdown.

    6. rachel in nyc*

      to me it’s even worse that they thought going to a conference nearby and approving some purchase made it better.

      when i was in school, if i wanted to go to a conference, it was real easy- volunteer for a couple of hours and most conferences will let you in the whole time.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        Yeah I was about to say, the conferences that were around when I was in school were all about “Come help and you get a free plate and can listen to the presentations.”

      2. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

        I’ll bet you that they even made Fergus volunteer at the conference. Sure, they paid for his room, travel, and registration fees, but I’ll bet you anything they signed him up at a student rate which included a few hours work in exchange.

        (Nothing concrete to back this up, but given how terrible OP has shown everyone involved not named Fergus to be…)

    7. JohannaCabal*

      Is it bad that if I was Fergus I would have figured out a way to have the school pay for expensive meals every day of that conference? It sounds like he had some responsibility with budgets and I could see a savvy college student figuring out how to charge the school for $500 steak dinners and bar tabs as revenge.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        It probably wouldn’t do you any favors, but if they claimed budget and then backtracked on it (or lied completely and the budget wasn’t the reason at all) I absolutely would be tempted to go all in there with you.

  18. row row row your boat*

    I think Fergus learned some really important lessons while he still had a safety net as a student – organizations are there for the benefit of the organization, and the conditions of the job can change any moment.

    It sounds like this news was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but I bet if the letter writer hadn’t hand waved over most of the context that the deeper source of Fergus’s disappointment would be more apparent, and the blog nor the fb post would have been shocking. Also, it sounds like his reaction helped him get some professional assistance he needed. Dare I say, I think Fergus came out ahead?

    1. Lilo*

      It’s such an old story too. Companies dangle or hint at promises and promotions in the future. Bad companies renege on those promises. My sis in law was promised partner at her accounting firm, only to be told “next quarter” or “next year” over and over. She went somewhere else and has never been happier.

      The problem is Fergus can’t exactly go somewhere else and keeping the longstanding org on his resume is probably a good idea for him. His choices were bad, but they were understandable.

      1. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

        I love when companies that do this are astounded and clutch their pearls when employees talk. During my one job outside academia, there was a new position opening up, and to coworkers and I were in the running for it (we were all close, and it was completely amicable between us). One of them, cal him Paul, got an offer from another company that would have been a promotion from our current role but lateral to or slightly below the new internal role. Paul went to our boss with the offer, boss told him it was worth promoting him to keep him around, started the paperwork and told me and my colleague that the position was going to Paul. Whole thing made sense; Paul was probably the front runner anyway. Well, three weeks later, Paul let us know that boss decided he didn’t need the position they were going to promote into after all, and Paul would just be staying on our level. Luckily for him, the other company was happy to let him accept their old offer. But on the way out, our boss apparently **screamed** at Paul in his exit interview for telling the other two of us what happened. Then a few days later, boss called us into his office and gave us this really weird “loyalty” lecture… yeah, we were both gone within three months, and guess what happened to us in our exit interviews…

        1. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

          FYI, OP… that post above is 239 words. I hardly think four of those in response to how you screwed over Fergus is unjustified.

        2. Bluesboy*

          Wait, so… “boss told him it was worth promoting him to keep him around, started the paperwork and told me and my colleague that the position was going to Paul”

          The boss told you and your colleague that the position was going to Paul…and then screamed at Paul for telling you what had happened?

          I mean, did he think you wouldn’t notice when Paul didn’t get the promotion? You would just happily butterfly around the office assuming that Paul was in a different role now?

          That guy is nuts, you’re well out of there!

    2. Luke G*

      I wouldn’t say he came out AHEAD, but I’d agree that an object lesson in exactly what can happen after you hear beautiful promises from a smiling authority figure might be of longer-lasting value to him than any other part of what he ended up with.

      Of course that may be my own bitterness talking, I was (briefly) expelled from the honors program at my university because a heavily-flaunted university-based communications system failed and I missed out on some important deadline information. Their response was a shrug and “you could have [cumbersome way to check for messages that makes no sense unless you assume the comm net is secretly hiding messages], not our problem that you trusted us” until I raised 9 kinds of stink about, well, pulling a Fergus, and going fully public on their deceptive marketing. That whole incident instilled me with distrust in casually-made assurances that’s saved my ass in professional life a few times.

  19. Andy*

    > Fergus could only be fired by a vote of the department. Something which they bafflingly never even considered.

    Fergus just arranged them a large purchase. The large purchase for the department is not something the department will punish. That should not be baffling.

    Fergus might have been dysfunctional in all kind of ways. But, his department is more likely to see things from his point of view. People are tribal and people often naturally adopt leaders point of view. People who don’t like Fergus likely left the department before. People who worked in the same team with Fergus are much more likely to tolerate him posting Facebook message, much more likely to see his trip cancellation as unfair and generally being on his side when getting into fight with larger organization. They could also have been scared of him, but even then, they will still be more likely to be on his side.

  20. deja brew*

    For the “website,” I wonder if it was something as simple as a tumblr. It takes a couple minutes to create one and, if you pay for a premium plan, you can get a custom URL.

  21. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

    I’ve worked my entire career in academia, and I’ll bet anything that there’s some piece of the puzzle we’re all missing (and Fergus isn’t sharing). These kind of wildly out of proportion responses (particularly when the student hasn’t shown a pattern of going wild over little things) pretty much always are actually reactions to some outside trauma, depression, etc. For many understandable reasons, we still erroneously make school—at all levels—out to be a place where if our students do their jobs well, they will be rewarded. Even the students who have fully internalized that this is not the case outside the academy have trouble when it happens within. And if that coincides with a major life event caused by the same things outside school, it’s quite natural to lash out at the school because “I get that this is normal in the larger world, but I thought the university cared about me the person.”

    1. Temperance*

      This doesn’t sound like a little thing. It sounds like an epic trip that he passed up other opportunities to take.

      1. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

        Absolutely. I wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean to imply that this was a little thing. I meant that I would look back to see if the student had a pattern of out-of-proportion reactions to truly minor things to get a better judgment on what might be going on in the larger sense.

      2. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

        Also, I’m mostly thinking about this in the context of having everything come back up a month later. In the moment, his reaction made complete sense. A month later, it still does, but I would also be asking what triggered its recurrence. If it were right when the trip was supposed to be happening, that makes sense, but there could also be something else happening in his life and this trip/job became his target for releasing his frustration.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I wonder if the trip as a whole was canceled.

          If the trip still happened and they typically took six kids, did they tell Fergus they were cutting spots on the trip or did they replace him with someone else? I could see it coming back up if Fergus was told “oh, budget issues” and then later found out that another student was going in the spot that should have been his.

          1. Cj*

            I think the OP would have been very clear about it if the whole trip was cancelled. Instead, they just say that “he would not be going”.

          2. Bumblebee*

            The whole trip was not cancelled. Fergus was (apparently) the only one uninvited.

            1. Carlie*

              This is where I want more information. OP said that the parameters of the trip changed from “all student department heads” to “all of the student leaders who worked with adult supervisor X”. That itself is a bit strange and should have been communicated much more broadly and right at the beginning since it was a huge change in the standard. But even before the decision was made, someone involved should have looked at the two lists and realized Fergus was the only person who would then be cut and said “We can’t do that this year because it singles one person out”.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                Did the parameters of the trip change? Or did Fergus’s position, for whatever reason, no longer qualify? It’s very unclear from OP’s comments specifically what changed.

          3. Lily of the meadow*

            No, OP made it clear that the trip was not cancelled, and, further, that someone else replaced Fergus on the trip.

  22. SheriffFatman*

    I am not a lawyer, still less an American lawyer, but, from the lawyers I follow on Twitter, I gather that it can be tricky for a U.S. public university to fire an employee for stuff they post on Facebook etc., because of the 1st Amendment. (Not that it can’t be done at all, but government employees have greater protections for this sort of stuff than employees of private enterprises. Or so I understand, anyway.)

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      There’s a case before the US Supreme Court right now that is about that, though it’s about a student participating in an extracurricular (non-paid) activity instead of a student employee. It will be very interesting to see the ruling in a few months.

      1. Natalie*

        Although it’s worth noting that case is about a high school student, so a legal minor – colleges are far more limited in how they can regulate student speech than K12 schools.

  23. Vimes*

    I think, in addition to having the trip pulled, there are issues with telling a student they’re not allowed to post about it on social media. As someone said earlier, it sounds like until the student posted (a) nobody bothered to tell the student exactly why the trip was yanked out from under them and (b) the only reason they were told wasn’t because it was the right thing to do —it was because the job wanted them to take down the post. I do think that someone has to explain to the student the likely future consequence of those kind of posts buuuuuut, it also seems that the job is shooting for social media blackout instead of actual organizational competence, and that is the kind of thing that does tend to inspire more rather than less posting. As they found out.

    Is a whole blog about it over the top? I would say it depends not just on the details of how the trip was pulled, but on how the job runs otherwise. “Hey, I should probably write something letting people know that this place is an oasis of suck that they should avoid at all costs” could be so over the top and histrionic that it really does show the need for tge writer to receive some professional help in learning how to deal with setbacks and disappointment OR it could be a dramatic but accurate account of a terrible job that can’t be rated on glassdoor because it’s a student position. We just don’t have enough information to tell which it is and speculation isn’t awesome.

    1. row row row your boat*

      +1 in particular for “speculation isn’t awesome”. That made me chuckle over a letter that honestly made me feel a little sick to my stomach for Fergus.

      1. Vimes*

        I actually had something like this happen to me in college, though it wasn’t really anybody’s fault, and it sucked. I screwed up by applying directly to a study abroad in China program rather than through my school, which was my error. But they formally accepted me, complete with letter, so I didn’t register for classes for the next term—-and then they yanked my acceptance. It was not awesome. I basically groveled before my school and they let me register late, but it wasn’t enjoyable, like, at all. It would have been so much worse if it had been someone else’s screwup. I hope Fergus is doing okay.

  24. Academia Blues*

    I bet the trip was pretty much entire compensation. The student was probably told to work super hard for peanuts and out of sense loyalty to the program (we are all one team here!). And then it turned out that all that hard work was for naught and the student hadn’t been part of the team (that went overseas) at all. It must have sucked.

    My theory is just that – a theory, however, the mental health crises would be explained by the loss of identity, feelings of betrayal and suspicions of exploitation.

    1. Temporary Throwaway*

      Yes, I’m wondering about the whole “but we gave him equipment!” thing – realistically, this is a gift to the department, not any particular student, and is presumably something that they actually needed. This, to me, sounds like a grad student pushed to the limit.

  25. SoftwareTesterForLife*

    I literally have nothing but questions, but as I doubt we’ll get answers, I’m entertaining myself imagining under what circumstances Fergus’ reaction was not necessarily over the top. An entire month passed between Original Facebook Anger/The Appeasement and Anger Part II: Scorch the Earth. That’s not an escalation; that’s going from disarmed to a declaration of war.

    I’m not sure how significant it is that the department didn’t vote him out but I’m going to say I err on the side of assuming ‘didn’t think of it’ was not the reason it didn’t happen.

    1. Vimes*

      I would say if the trip yankage wasn’t super inconsistent with how the job as a whole functioned. But you’re 100% right that we’re never going to know.

    2. Binderry*

      Perhaps it was that the timing of Anger Part II: Scorch the Earth, as you call it, coincided with the timeline of future students applying for similar positions and this student wanting to give them relevant information of how he was treated?

      If the student that ‘traditionally’ held this position was part of this potentially one in a lifetime trip abroad opportunity and that suddenly changed without warning or explanation, as a future applicant to that position, I would definitely be appreciative of that information beforehand.

      There’s a lot of context missing here to really say whether this was an appropriate reaction or not.

  26. Wendyroo*

    It seemed that there was nothing that could be done. But looking back, I’m not so sure. I feel like there must have been SOMETHING we could have done, and I’d really like to get your thoughts on that and this whole situation.</i)

    Yup you could have addressed the leadership failures and miscommunication that caused the problem in the first place. Or update your social media policy for student workers moving forward. Firing Fergus because he was upset that he got screwed would have been really petty on your side, and just provided more ammo/content for his blog.

    1. Andy*

      This is university. They cant exactly prevent students from criticizing the school. Students are free to criticize the school and often encouraged to do so.

      For that matter, university profs do often have their fights right there in public too.

      1. IEanon*

        Amen to your last line. A beloved faculty member is currently going to war (along with the union) against the governing board, and the whole thing has been playing out on FB for nearly a year. He’s completely justified, but it has gotten nasty.

        “Don’t badmouth your employer” really doesn’t apply in the same way once you’ve gotten tenure.

  27. Jesse*

    There are so many missing details that would change my opinion, but as the post is written, I’m on Fergus’s side. And this workplace comes off sounding really dysfunctional and chaotic, which makes publicizing those issues on social media seem even more defensible.

  28. NYWeasel*

    You know, I get all of the comments above about professional norms, dealing with disappointment maturely, etc., but as someone connected to academia through my spouse, colleges and universities treat students like consumers. They woo them with the benefits of going there and use past graduate achievements to market to future classes.

    If you were sold a top of the line furnace and then when it was delivered, they substituted a cheaper discontinued model, it wouldn’t be seen as irrational to take to social media to complain. And yes, if they tossed you some extra goodies to try and make up for the disappointment, you might take your post down, but if you then found out that they were doing other questionable things you might go back online and complain more. 10 years of blog posts might be overkill, but I could see posting 3-4 to fully explain the situation.

    In other words, I totally get all of the points about “you shouldn’t burn bridges at jobs” etc but I also see the point (somewhat) in his nuclear response. He lost out on a specific opportunity that he had every reason to believe he would get, and that he sacrificed other opportunities for. As a consumer, I’d be very upset about that experience, and it would continue to piss me off if I saw them promoting that to new students, or worse if they wanted to use me as an example of a satisfied customer.

    TL/DR is yes, it was definitely overkill from a professional standpoint, potentially overkill from a consumer standpoint…but far more understandable in that context.

    1. IEanon*

      I posted something very similar in a comment that has now seemed to have disappeared… But yes, the dynamic between student employees and the university makes for strange norms. They’re getting paid, and paying to be there (and to have their position, to some extent).

      My thinking is that the blog post months later came at or around graduation, when students feel more free to reflect on the negative experience(s) they had with their university.

    2. Greige*

      Yeah, I’m inclined to see this from a consumer perspective, too. And it does seem that he was wronged, (assuming this is what it sounds like, and not a response to egregious behavior on the part of Fergus.) One response OP could have considered was to reply to his post acknowledging and apologizing for the mistake, maybe offer some explanation of how it happened if appropriate, and outlining their plans to a) make it right with Fergus to the extent possible, and b) ensure this does not happen to any future participants. And then implement those plans. A response like that might have validated his perspective and also allowed him to feel that he had done his duty to warn others. This would also function as some PR damage control. He might have been assuaged before creating the blog.

      I mean, sure, you could talk to him about professional norms and posting about your employer, but this isn’t a straight-up labor-for-money transaction, and I’m not sure how well the lesson would set on when you’ve already lost your credibility with him.

  29. IEanon*

    I’m curious what ended up happening to the program leader. I work in higher ed and have a hard time believing there wouldn’t be any consequences for that person.

    Also, I get that the dynamic is a bit different when dealing with student groups, but I’ve supervised plenty of student workers and have never been all that concerned with what they put on their social media. There were plenty of sour grapes over the past year with graduation ceremonies postponed, programs and trips cancelled, on-campus employment evaporating as budgets were slashed, etc. No one from the institution was asking the students not to vent on their personal accounts. Sure, it’s a bad idea to badmouth your employer, but I think it’s unlikely that future potential employers would see a post like that and hold it against an applicant. Complaining about your alma mater is distinct from complaining about your employer. Fergus is getting paid, sure, but he’s also paying to be there. It’s a strange dynamic.

  30. Nikki D*

    I also wonder what his Facebook post said. He’d probably been telling people in his life that he was going on this trip, so maybe he saw his post as more of an update. All the LW says is that he “vented about it on Facebook,” which could mean anything from a paragraphs-long tirade to a “Well, it looks like I won’t be going to Europe after all. The university pulled me from the trip and I’m not sure why :( “. I mean, since he later went on to create a blog about it, I’m guessing he was a little more on the angry side, but the content makes a big difference.

  31. Vaca*

    I’m not sure Fergus did anything wrong TBH. He signed up for a job that took a big chunk of time in exchange for going on this trip. He turned down other opportunities. Then he was told he couldn’t go. And your problem is that he complained about it too much? FIGURE OUT A WAY TO GET HIM TO GO. If he was promised a spot, he goes. End of story. If you don’t have the budget any more, well, cut something else. If you can’t find something else to cut, you shut the program down. Think about it if this was outside a university – somebody took a job to get a guaranteed bonus of $25k in six months. Then when it came time to pay, they were told “oh, we decided not to pay it.” It wouldn’t just be complaints thrown around, there would be a lawsuit. Apologize profusely and figure out how to get him on the trip. Fire the leader for screwing up. Fergus didn’t do anything wrong.

    1. Colette*

      I disagree. Certainly the univeristy mishandled it (was the person who told him he could go in a position to make that committment? Why was he told he couldn’t go, and how was it explained). But that doesn’t mean he did nothing wrong. Making repeated public posts about how your employer wronged you is a good way to not have an employer anymore. And depending on the reason why he didn’t get to go, there may be more as well. (e.g. Fergus didn’t get to go because he was under investigation for sexual harassement/ involved in a hate crime / failing his classes/embezzling from the area he was running/hadn’t shown up at work in 6 weeks )

      1. Pescadero*

        If it’s a state or federal employee – if the meet the following conditions:

        1) Speaking as a private citizen
        2) Speaking about a matter of public concern
        3) employee’s interest in speaking freely is greater than the employer’s interest in efficiently fulfilling its public services.

        You CAN’T legally fire them for their speech.

      2. House Tyrell*

        I think if the reason has been something severe like that then the LW would have mentioned it. I’ve worked these kinds of student jobs before and work in higher ed now. These students are probably paid a small stipend for tons of work- think $100/month with no benefits and the usual big draw to convince students of this is getting to go to conferences or trips and make a lot of friends. So if he turned down internships or a paying job for this opportunity and now he gets nothing at all then that sucks and I’d complain about it too! I am very over this idea that we have to be professional at all times in every part of our life. I don’t know how bad the FB post was but honestly it’s his personal Facebook and people are allowed to complain to their friends and family about work online!

        Also depending on his SES, this may have been the only opportunity he will ever have to travel. I’ve never left North America and I only went to Mexico because I got a scholarship to study Spanish there for a month- and I took that opportunity over another job because I knew I may never be able to travel anywhere again like that because my family is poor! So if I had given up a job for the trip and had the scholarship taken away or told I alone couldn’t go anymore, you can bet I would be pissed and online about it as a 19yo. He’s having a really strong personal reaction to this and there’s probably a reason why.

        1. llamaswithouthats*

          Honestly, a lot of the time “professionalism” is a weapon wielded to silence the less powerful (in this case a student employee) to favor the powerful (the employer aka an entire higher ed institution.)

      3. Lily of the meadow*

        There were no repeated public posts. It was about 1,000 words over numerous posts wherein Fergus never complained about the program itself, but instead did nothing but support and praise it. OP stated this upthread. And OP knows this because the university saved the posts in a Word document so that they could do a word count. And they also passed around the documents to staff to read. Fergus in not the unreasonable one here.

  32. Joan Rivers*

    My guess is that Fergus was dropped from the trip BECAUSE of some irrational behavior / possible mental instability, and no one wanted to admit it. So then he REALLY acts out in an unstable way!
    Because it can be hard to distinguish “young student” acting out from truly “unstable” acting out. Even in the workplace w/adults, or in other life, when we’re faced w/mental instability, sometimes the response is to do nothing. Until it’s over the top.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        It’s not “unkind” to say he might have a mental illness. It’s an illness — one that people don’t know how to deal with. Or identify.

        There’s no SHAME in it; some are able to work w/medication and therapy. You may not even be aware someone you work with has a condition they’re being treated for.

        Late teens is when some mental illnesses kick in, and they get diagnosed when the behavior reaches a more extreme point. People often don’t know that.
        His behavior since being told he won’t get to go makes me wonder.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Some college students have always gotten what they expected, and they have never had to deal with unmet expectations. This does not make them diagnosable. It just makes them immature.

  33. jj*

    Without knowing more about the student, how much of an over reaction this is is also hard to say.

    As people have pointed out, a lot of the bitterness may have stemmed from missing the opportunities he had turned down in favor of the trip.

    But an added layer I am seeing addressed less, is class and opportunity.

    Does Fergus come from a family that can afford to travel? Had he ever traveled before? Could he reasonably hope to travel again? Was this perhaps, the Only Chance to Travel he anticipated having in his 20s (/ever?). I just want folks to keep in mind how much higher the stakes are, the less you have.

    And that compounds the distress of missing other opportunities as well. Did he weigh the cost of professional development against a one-time chance to see the world, and then wind up with nothing? Does he have a safety net to fall back on if he doesn’t graduate with a job offer? Did he take a risk with his career to have a life changing experience, and then wind up empty handed?

    Or, ya, he might be a relatively middle class person with middle of the road chances to travel and middle of the road chances to develop his career, and this is a total over reaction and/or sign of other mental health struggles? That could be.

    but honestly the level of disappointment being described is not even that over the top depending on his background. It might *not be conducive to professional development* but it might not be out of proportion, really.

  34. Esmeralda*

    Sorry, Alison, your answer is fine until the last part. Absolutely making an entire website to complain is fireable. In fact, any venting/grumbling/bitching and moaning after Fergus was told, you cannot do these Facebook posts, is fireable although of course have a Serious Talk that includes a clear statement that continued venting etc will lead to firing.

    Just because Fergus is a student and perhaps troubled, does NOT excuse the behavior. I’ve worked with college students for many years, and supervised them, and fired them too. Not often, but for less outrageous behavior (such as, not completing required work over a period of 4 or more weeks, or frequently not showing up for work; yes, the students met with me, I explained why this was a problem, discussed with them whether they could complete their work going forward, explained the consequences of not following through).

    Fergus is a student leader, which makes his behavior worse. Not fired = other student employees and student leaders are getting a very bad example of how to act on the job. As a student leader, Fergus has higher expectations for appropriate behavior — on the job, related to the job, and often completely off the job. And I am pretty sure that at least some of the other students were embarrassed by Fergus’ behavior, felt uncomfortable or upset about it, but felt that they could not say anything since Fergus was getting no consequences. It makes the program look bad, too.

    In other words, with student employees, yes, you give them some leeway and help them understand why their behavior is inappropriate/unprofessional/unacceptable, and work with them on how to behave going forward. But you do NOT let them get away with outrageous behavior.

    That’s my professional opinion, based on more than two decades of working with college students who are employees and/or leaders.

    1. Sam*

      This is a lot of absolute statements that don’t seem to align with either the ethos or the abilities of the OP’s institution, though.

      Plus, it sounds like you’re talking about student employees, not ones where there’s some sort of committee that votes to fire them, they have budgetary discretion, etc.

      Also, none of this seems to address the issue that Fergus felt wronged about, or the behaviour of the OP. Is your advice just “fire people who complain about their jobs”?

      1. Esmeralda*

        No, my advice is not “fire people who complain” and if you read my comment a little more carefully, you would see that. My advice is, talk with students who are complaining in an inappropriate way, explain why it’s inappropriate, and explain consequences if the complaining continues. If the behavior gets worse, as it did in this case, have an even more serious talk with the student with more serious consequences.

        Things go wrong for students that are unfair. Students can work to address these things — Fergus had many options, including going to the department chair, going to the campus ombuds, talking with a trusted faculty member, and so on.

        Students who are troubled deserve kindness and compassion and help; because they are young and inexperienced, it’s right to give them some leeway and second chances. But they do not get to behave inappropriately without consequences — that’s not right, and it’s not wise either.

        The situation the OP describes is made more difficult by the fact that students in charge and are making budgetary decisions, etc., but that’s not unusual on college campuses. Typically there’s a faculty advisor for student organizations and student-run programs; I’ve served as faculty advisor, and part of my job is to help students understand norms, address sticky problems, etc — they make the decisions, but I ask questions and walk them thru the issues, processes, possible outcomes good and bad, and so on. The really sticking point here is that the entire dept faculty have to vote on firing (!) — it’s what makes this situation really untenable, and one hopes that it can be changed.

        1. Arctic*

          So “improper” is anything that exposes what happened to the wider student body rather than keep it all hush-hush within the department?

        2. k*

          If I were Fergus this whole situation would make me no longer trust the department chair, faculty, etc. — with good reason, as they have proven themselves untrustworthy.

          This is also assuming they would even care, which in my experience they probably would not. At my former university if a student tried to escalate this kind of thing to campus administration the response would be something between nothing and recommending them for expulsion for being “disruptive.”

          And yet you want to make it even easier to fire people. Unbelievable.

      2. Esmeralda*

        Just to add: what happened to Fergus was really crappy — there are all sorts of non-nefarious reasons why he was told he could go on the trip and then told he couldn’t, but of course it was a terrible decision and the action taken to “make it right” was inadequate. I completely understand why he was so angry and upset.

        That still doesn’t make his initial posting complaints on social media proper — and he was spoken to about that, and seems to have complied for awhile. And it really doesn’t make his later behavior — making a website, writing a blog — at all acceptable.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’d like to point out that a couple of years ago, there was quite a financial crisis. It’s entirely possible there were budgetary reasons for the trip being canceled. We just don’t know.

        1. Arctic*

          The LW never says Fergus was told “that he would not be going on the trip after all.” Not that the trip was cancelled altogether.
          Maybe it was but that would be huge information to be leave out.

        2. Sam*

          We don’t, but the OP does; I imagine that if the answer was “we can’t afford it”, that would have come up in the letter.

        3. Sondheim Geek*

          It doesn’t sound like the trip was cancelled, just that Fergus was no longer going. Even if that was based on finances, they should have apologized and explained the reason from the beginning, not only after he posted about it on Facebook.

        4. Bumblebee*

          The trip was not cancelled. In fact, they filled Fergus’s spot with a different person.
          OP states that herself down thread.

    2. Arctic*

      Also, I think it is fundamentally flawed idea that faculty of a university (perhaps a public one) can behave arbitrarily and poorly and the person who outs them is the problem. It’s making students more accountable than the staff.

      Nothing suggests he wasn’t completing his work or not showing up for work, which are, despite what you claim, significantly more concerning than being open about a poorly run department.

      Yes, this behavior wouldn’t be okay in a real world job. But there is no reason to think he doesn’t know the difference between a place where he is employed full-time and a place he pays to attend.

    3. llamaswithouthats*

      Firing a student employee for not doing the work they were hired to do is justified. Firing them for complaining about a legitimate problem caused by you, the employer, is not.

      1. Colette*

        I disagree. Part of being an employee (rather than a customer) is that you need to refrain from publicly badmouthing your employer or otherwise making your employer look bad. If a student is deliberately trashing their employer online, that’s something they can be fired for. I don’t know if it would have been justified in this case, but “I didn’t get to go on a trip I wanted to go on” is not the kind of justification that would make this behaviour OK (rather than, for example, “I have proof my employer is discriminating against people of colour”).

        1. llamaswithouthats*

          Sure, they *can* get fired for that. But it’s really petty and shady of the employer to do something like that. Also, if revoking a trip isn’t all that bad, there is no reason to be worried about it being on the internet.

          Employees and former employees aren’t PR agents for employers, plain and simple.

          1. Colette*

            OK, but “not badmouthing” is not the same as being a PR agent – it’s just not taking action to hurt the organization that is paying you. I think the whole trip issue was mishandled – but based on the information we have, it may have been a reasonable decision.

            The content of the blog posts may not be that damaging – but the look of paying someone who is badmouthing you may be. I don’t think the university would be out of line to give the student a warning and then fire him if he doesn’t stop, nor do I think that would be petty or shady.

            1. LTL*

              Honestly, that’s still shady. It wouldn’t surprise me if an employer behaved that way but being normal doesn’t equate to being okay. I don’t want to live in a world where employers can do whatever they like with no one knowing because it’s on the employees to keep it all hush hush. People should know.

        2. Arctic*

          I completely disagree. This is a university. The language used about state law dictating what programs they must have suggests it MAY be a public university. How funds are spent are completely the business of the student body. Whether funds are being expended arbitrarily or in a poor fashion is absolutely the business of the student body.

          Sure you can fire people for exposing your bad business practices. But it doesn’t make exposing bad business practices a bad thing to do.

          1. Colette*

            But telling someone they can’t go on a trip isn’t mis-spending funds – if anything, it’s saving money. I don’t see any evidence in the letter that there are bad business practices going on here (possibly poor communication, but I’ve never known a large organization where that hasn’t been an issue).

            1. Sam*

              Bait-and-switching a student like this is obviously a bad business practice when it leads you to panic about accurate criticisms being made public.

              1. Colette*

                I don’t see any evidence of a bait and switch – sometimes plans change; sometimes people make promises they aren’t authorized to make; sometimes people hear what they want to hear (i.e. “yeah, the person doing that job usually goes on the trip” becomes “I’m definitely going on the trip!”). Nor do I see any evidence that anyone is panicking – or even that the blog posts are accurate. I suspect the blog posts are likely hurting the student more than the university – but that doesn’t mean that the university has to continue to employe someone who is deliberately trying to harm them.

                1. AutolycusinExile*

                  OP, who clearly dislikes Fergus, openly admits than he was explicitly told he was going on the trip, then left to operate under than assumption for half a semester. Maybe it wasn’t malicious on the part of the trip organizers, but being told ‘this trip usually happens’ when you’re hired, ‘this trip is happening’ after you’ve done the work, and ‘nope, sorry’ when it’s time to leave looks a heck of a lot like a bait and switch, whether it was intended to be or not. And assuming the blog posts will in any way harm the university is a stretch – blogs get minimal viewership, especially new ones, and who would bother reading it other than people already aware of the situation who Fergus could probably vent to privately anyway?

            2. Arctic*

              Making arbitrary and capricious decisions is misusing funds. Spending a lot of money on a conference and stuff for the department to bribe the student into not being mad anymore is misusing funds.
              And nothing suggests they took nine students instead of ten this year. So nothing was saved.

              1. Colette*

                Nothing suggests they replaced the angry student with someone else, other, nor that this was an arbitrary or capricious decision. The student obviously thinks it’s wrong; that doesn’t mean someone else who had all the facts would agree.

                1. Arctic*

                  Well, the student can put it out there and the school can release all of the relevant facts if such exist. Student still didn’t do anything wrong.

                2. Colette*

                  Strong disagree. The university isn’t obligated to employ a student who is badmouthing them.

                  The university appears to hold most of the blame, but the student is not in the right.

                3. Arctic*

                  If it a public university it may very well be obligated to keep a student who is “bad mouthing” them employed.

                  And even if they aren’t they can face the consequences of firing a student for only daring to speak the truth.

                4. Sam*

                  They’re not obliged to, no, but guess what? They don’t get to complain when the publicity from firing someone is negative for them, which seems like it would be distinctly possible in this case.

                5. Bumblebee*

                  OP said down thread they filled Fergus’ spot on the trip with a different person.

                6. BG*

                  OP has said in the comments that Fergus’s spot was instead given to someone who had a closer relationship with the student organization president, despite the person with Fergus’s title going on the trip in all previous years.

                  Fergus wrote about 1,000 words about his disappointment on a preexisting blog covering other topics, and never said a negative thing about the organization itself, just the decision to bait-and-switch him about this trip.

        3. pancakes*

          Nah. I sell my labor to my employer, not my approval of anything and everything it does, and certainly not my enduring loyalty.

          1. Colette*

            You are being paid both for your labor and for your support of the business (to the extent of not trying to damage the business). You don’t have to approve of everything it does; you do have to keep your disapproval private if you want them to keep paying you.

            1. pancakes*

              Publicly criticizing an employer or a school isn’t inherently trying to damage it. Particularly when the scenario is an undergraduate expressing disappointment on their blog. Whether they’re paying to attend the school or attending on full scholarship, this is akin to saying mice should be punished if they try to damage elephants.

        4. Pescadero*

          You need to understand that when your employer is a government agency – you have significantly more free speech protections than under a private employer.

          1. AutolycusinExile*

            And not just a government agency – one whose services you’re paying to access. We can talk all we want about the ethical and practical problems with students feeling that they are customers of a university, but at the end of the day it’s a fact of the for-profit model.

    4. OP*

      Under other circumstances, I would agree with your post. However, it is important to bear in mind that due to state laws, Fergus could not be fired without a vote of his department. Trust me, I know it sounds weird. But for me to elaborate further would, while also make a lot more sense, reveal potentially identifiable information.

        1. Momma Bear*

          I’m curious as well. That seems like making him a scapegoat and shoving the really horrible way this was handled under the rug instead of really trying to fix it/change the system.

        2. Butterfly Counter*

          I have to support this question. From everything that you’ve contextualized, Fergus did nothing wrong.

          Let’s say this was a school paper. The editor of the whole paper is the student leader and Fergus is, let’s say Science News editor. Science News editors have always gone on the trip. The editor of the the whole paper said that Fergus, as Science News editor, is going on the trip. Under Fergus, the Science News section is largely autonomous without a lot of work with the full editor to get everything done.

          Now, the person paying for the trip says I only want the full editor to come on the trip and those who worked closely with him. This might be an old rule that was unknown because previous Science News editors have always worked closely with the full editor in past years OR they changed the rules this time. Either way, Fergus doesn’t get to go and they don’t tell him until AFTER he’s already turned down other opportunities for this vacation.

          So: Fergus goes on Facebook and says, “I am so mad that despite doing all of this hard work on the university paper and being promised that I was going on this vacation, it turns out I’m not and it sucks.” Maybe he uses more word and more colorful language, but meh. Facebook is for venting for a lot of people.

          His reaction is not unreasonable.

          Fergus is given the opportunity to go to a conference and purchase something for Science News. Okay? Yay?

          Another month goes by and Fergus gets a tumblr blog where he decides to warn others that being the Science News editor does not mean that you go on the trip. He’s still mad that he thought that it did and he lost a lot as a result. I assume he was giving context and warnings for others. All in about 1000 words where he does not disparage the school paper at all. He links Facebook posts to his blog.

          I still find this reasonable.

          Please, OP, show me where you think they should have been fired.

          If universities start firing student employees for telling the truth, even if that truth makes the university look bad, that is a university to avoid.

          1. Data Bear*

            Yup. If OP wants to win the commentariat away from Team Fergus, OP needs to spill some details about how the actual situation differed from the scenario laid out here.

            I’ll acknowledge that it’s certainly possible that Fergus massively overreacted because he suffered from affluenza and had never had to deal with disappointment before, but given the details that we do know, it seems more likely to me that it was a legitimate and serious disappointment for someone with less privilege rather than more, and that if the omitted details were exculpatory, OP would have found a way to anonymize them…

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        If nothing else, I’m starting to get a feel for why those laws might exist.

    5. Lily of the meadow*

      It wasn’t a a whole blog. It was about 1,000 words over numerous posts. OP stated this upthread, and the reason OP knows it is because the university saved the posts to a Word document so that they could do a word count, and also so they could pass around the documents to staff to read. Fergus is not the unreasonable one here.

  35. Richard*

    The school really messed this one up. Depending on the details, this could have become a big PR or legal headache, especially if Fergus is a member of a marginalized group that could raise discrimination questions, and/or if Fergus is connected to major donors. It sounds like Fergus overplayed his hand and is probably getting diminishing returns with his social media posts, but this could have gotten pretty ugly. It sounds like the department needs to be a lot more disciplined about communicating major decisions.

  36. Spicy Tuna*

    Maybe someone asked this earlier, but was the whole trip canceled so NO students got to go? Or was just Fergus excluded and his peers still went? If it was the latter, that feels like an extra slap in the face

    1. NYWeasel*

      My read was that Fergus was the only one excluded, and that despite “having no $$” for him to go, they were able to pay for him to go to a seminar AND get stuff for his department. Which just adds to the impact of that slap to the face.

    2. TyphoidMary*

      not only did the trip continue, they sent another student in Fergus’ place (according to OP’s comments)

      1. Spicy Tuna*

        Yeah, I posted this before the OP but saw the responses. Now I’m probably as steamed about this situation as Fergus was, poor guy.

    3. Lily of the meadow*

      No, it wasn’t cancelled, and not only did Fergus not get to go, but they replaced him with someone else, per OP, in comments upthread.

  37. Cj*

    Who saw the Facebook post? If was the person in charge of the trip, why is he Facebook friends with Fergus in the first place?

    I agree that an entire blog was way over the top. But unless Fergus had messed up in some way, I’d be really upset, too.

    1. Snazzy*

      Post like the ones Fergus made are reposted and screen shot everywhere, you wouldn’t have to be friends it would be everywhere at a university.

  38. Joan Rivers*

    If they realized that he had some problems or issues and decided it wouldn’t be good to let him go on the trip, they can’t really tell everyone about it, can they? The fact that he’d go to these lengths to complain publicly just confirms my suspicions that they had realized after saying he could go that he might not be safe to go.

    He could just be very immature.
    He could be very neurotic in a way that distracts others.
    He could be inappropriate around females, or other males, creepy but not illegal.
    Or he could have more serious mental problems.
    They can’t talk about any of these publicly, so it’s awkward.

    1. Cj*

      OP says Fergus was a highly respected department leader. Seems odd if he was any of the things you mention above, they would have realized this before they told him he could go on the trip in the first place.

    2. Sam*

      Or he could just be angry that he didn’t get to go on the trip?

      What the hell does “very neurotic in a way that distracts others” mean? Do you mean that people with stimming behaviours should be removed from the trip?

      Also, all of these things should be publicized, so as to avoid exactly this kind of guesswork and response by the student.

      stop inserting mental illness into this story just because mental health care is mentioned.

  39. Just @ me next time*

    I feel like having a system where a select number of employees get an extravagant reward (10 all-expense paid days in another country??!!) and select others don’t is just a recipe for disaster. Then add the extra layer of these being students, many of whom are probably still learning how to navigate workplace politics and major disappointments? YIKES.

    1. Carlie*

      Right? I got really stuck on “and takes six students” on the trip. Six? Why a specific number rather than a certain category of worker? Is this the Hunger Games?

  40. Arctic*

    Obviously, the blog sounds like it was way OTT but if faculty are acting in arbitrary ways they should be exposed. Fergus and his fellow students aren’t just employees they are also paying all of your salaries. And that means accountability. If staff is making arbitrary decisions it should be exposed.

    It reminds me of the situation where the entire staff of the NYU newspaper resigned.

    1. llamaswithouthats*

      Yeah – a lot of the times when employers get annoyed by online blog posts or Glassdoor reviews, it’s because they are being revealed for for behaving badly and they know it.

      1. Nikki*

        Yes, and because students graduate every 4 years or so, blogs/articles can be one of the only ways that information persists.

        There’s a ongoing problem at my alma mater that the university refuses to fix. I’ve met activists working on the issue 10 years older than me and 10 years younger than me, but only because we’ve seen each other’s writing. If students are afraid to speak out about their bad experiences, the information easily gets hidden or lost.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Hah, I’d love to “blog” about the ongoing problems that my alma mater refuses to fix, but I don’t want it tracked to me. I’m definitely afraid of speaking out. I do daydream that other people with no ties to me find out what’s going on and decide to raise a fuss about it….

  41. Hell in a Handbasket*

    “Started a blog about it” sounds really extreme on its face, but I can imagine scenarios where this would be more reasonable. Say he was a grad student and the blog was about poor treatment/exploitation of grad students by universities. Or maybe he had some kind of disability which was the real/suspected reason for the “change of plans”, and the blog was about lack of support and accommodation. There could be any number of scenarios where this is not as crazy as it sounds, and the lack of detail provided by the LW makes me think she’s glossing over some info that would make the university look bad.

    1. a sound engineer*

      Yeah, when I first read this I read the timeline as an angry Facebook post, cooled down, then a blog post or two about the experience to warn other, incoming students about the program. I remember that when looking at universities and later applying to study abroad programs, talking to students was the only way to really get a picture of the programs, how you would be treated, etc.

      Of course, it also could have meant rant, still mad, more rants, but that’s not the only interpretation.

      1. Hell in a Handbasket*

        Agreed — it seems hard to imagine that he had some kind of blog (presumably with multiple posts) just repeatedly ranting. It’s possible — but given the fact that LW described him as a “highly respected department leader” prior to this episode makes me feel that it’s not likely.

  42. Essess*

    I want to say that I could see myself being Fergus back when I was a student. I grew up without any opportunities to travel for vacations. My family couldn’t afford hotels and big trips. Our big vacations were to pack a tent and camp in free or almost-free locations and bring our own food to cook. As a college student, I was working two jobs and the only reason I was able to afford to go to college was through scholarships. I would hear people talk about going to other countries, but that was so far out of my experience and was something only very rich people were ever able to do so it was unlikely I’d be able to do it in my life for myself. So if I’d been told I was going to be taken on an all-expense paid 10-day trip to another country, that would be modern-day the equivalent of someone telling me that they were giving me a million dollars. The college was completely in the wrong. They made an original commitment to Fergus. They owed Fergus a way to make it happen.

    Then if I’d turned down other opportunities in order to go on this trip, but then had it yanked away from me, I can see myself screaming about it to anyone who would listen. Think how you’d feel if someone had told you that were definitely going to receive a million dollars, you start making plans and turn down other opportunities that could have brought in other money, then you’re told “Oops, you aren’t getting it now. So sorry, here’s a coupon to Starbucks since you’re upset”. This had to be so devastating for the student. The student probably felt so helpless that they didn’t know how to handle it.

    As adults, we become used to disappointments and professional behavior, but I see this as something that would have easily caused me to completely mentally collapse when I was that young.

  43. HannahS*

    When I was a new grad applying to professional school, a researcher in an academia-adjacent space promised me a job that would really strengthen my resume for a certain salary. She later emailed me before the start date, letting me know that whoops, she’d made a mistake and actually my hourly wage would be 40% of what she promised. Believe me, I’m still mad about it! I didn’t write a blog post, but it sure messed up my plans. People going back on their word and messing with your opportunities is sucky. It’s not the same, because in our jurisdiction what this researcher did was contract violation, but you can’t sort of glide over the fact that young people structure which opportunities they take around their career goals.

    1. llamaswithouthats*

      I feel like this is not uncommon with orgs run by college students. In my junior year, I was promised a summer internship by a local nonprofit (entirely run by other college students). I was told last minute I “wasn’t accepted” after they had offered it to me. I had already planned housing and everything. I. Was. Livid. I spent the summer working at our local grocery store instead.

  44. llamaswithouthats*

    What is it with manager’s desires to control what their employees post on social media?

    Fergus is overreacting, but he is allowed to post what he wants. It’s the department who screwed up.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Campuses LOSE IT these days if they find out anyone talked about the school online, though.

      I am surprised they found the blog, though. If it’s not on social media, nobody finds anything any more and lemme tell you, this guy blabbing on Facebook is what suddenly makes a school care….

    2. Roscoe*

      They think that anything that makes them look bad is out of bounds. Its really ridiculous,

    3. llamaswithouthats*

      Update: After seeing OPs comments, Fergus definitely wasn’t overreacting.

      Also something I didn’t consider in my original comment is that Fergus probably wasn’t just disappointed by the trip falling through, but all the opportunities he turned down in its place.

  45. PlantProf*

    I think the fact that Fergus is a student makes a huge difference here. On many campuses, there’s very much a culture of students contributing to building the community in really fundamental ways, which often includes protesting, writing letters, blogs, etc. Most of the campuses I’ve worked on have had various public online student voices, ranging from funny memes to supporting unions on campus to advocating for increased racial justice on campus. As others have noted, it’s a really, really different dynamic than you get in a typical workplace. And yes, Fergus is an employee. But he’s also a student who was treated pretty terribly, and in the context of current undergrad responses he’s really not that far off from the norm (the real surprise is that he’s on Facebook, I’ve gotten the impression that most of my students have moved on.) Not to mention that one of the most visible professional role models during student years are the faculty, who are largely self-governing and also prone to publicly airing disagreements. In this context I could see maybe mentioning to him that it would be an issue with future employers, but I wouldn’t go further than that.

    And I hope everyone involved in putting Fergus in this position feels terrible. It’s really awful.

  46. Nikki*

    I’m with Fergus on this one.

    I went to a very prestigious, very expensive university that had a habit of screwing students over. They’d make big promises behind the scenes and then utterly fail to deliver. If students got upset, the leadership would feign concern — about the student’s attitude, their performance, their mental health, whatever would scare students into silence.

    In university, I spoke out about a university policy that was a danger to student safety. I don’t regret it, but the university did give me a really hard time about it and family/friends were concerned about my career prospects. Some of my friends even thought I was overreacting until the full truth came out! It has never been a problem, even when it has come up in interviews.

    I’m going to take LW at their word that Fergus’s posts were over-the-top. For his own sake, he probably shouldn’t have made those posts and maybe one day he’ll realize that and take them down.

    But IMO, the lion’s share of the blame lies with the university / program here. Students *aren’t* the same as regular employees, and I’ve seen universities use that to their full advantage. I’m guessing that this trip is a significant part of Fergus’s compensation in the role, and he’s right to feel extremely frustrated about the lost compensation and the late-broken promise.

    1. Lily of the meadow*

      Don’t take OP’s word; she later stated in comments upthread that the “over the top” blog posts were about 1,000 words over numerous posts. OP knows this because the university saved the posts to a Word document so that they could do a word count. They also passed around the documents to staff to read. Also, not only was the trip yanked out from under Fergus, but he got replaced by someone else. Do not take OP’s word for anything.

  47. Elbe*

    “… and having to get professional help because of how upset he was…”

    My gut feeling here is that it was probably the other way around. He was likely already having some mental health issues, which is why this disappointment hit him so hard and it prompted him to seek professional help. As Alison mentions, this reaction was so over-the-top that there must be something else going on here. It’s entirely possible that he has been struggling and this trip was the positive thing that he was looking forward to.

    I also think that colleges should be more lax about public criticism than a standard employer would be. He’s an employee, but he’s also a student paying an institution lots of money for an education. He’s allowed to let people know when something of great value was rescinded after being promised to him.

    1. Allypopx*

      Yeah I agree. What level of student was Fergus? PhD candidates are notorious for hitting burnout so hard something like this would push them right over the edge, but I can certainly see it in other graduate programs or competitive undergraduate programs. Being a student is hard and we usually do it during a time in our lives where we aren’t at peak mental performance.

      I also agree with your last paragraph but I think in practice they are WAY more rigid about it. Word of mouth is a college’s most effective marketing and public criticism freaks most universities out way more than is warranted.

    2. Lilo*

      I will say I never got to go overseas until I was out of college and could pay my own way. My mom didn’t get to go overseas until she was an adult either. If Fergus grew up poor this could have meant a LOT to him.

      1. PlainJane*

        That’s the vibe I got from it, though I can’t pinpoint exactly why. If I thought I was going to get a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something, based on my performance in a program that very important to me, and then after I’d turned down other opportunities for it, it was yanked away–I might lean toward the postal, too. People who have money do not fundamentally understand the emotional weight of anything that involves it for people who don’t.

        1. Lilo*

          The added details do not help OP at all. Fergus posted a thousand words in which he didn’t attack the organization. Uh… okay? Sounds like a pretty proportional reaction.

    3. Spicy Tuna*

      Given the context from the OP’s comments, I wouldn’t be surprised if “professional help” was just that Fergus talked to the school’s mental wellness professional once or twice about the experience. I get the sense that the organization was poorly run and is trying to place blame on Fergus where it might not belong.

      1. Velawciraptor*

        Seriously. Especially since it sounds like the 1000 words or so were published not long after the whole thing blew up (per an OP comment above). It’s not like the person is still hanging on to it enough that they’re writing to an advice column years later painting someone who was genuinely damaged by their organization in the worst possible light.

  48. anone*

    “But creating an entire website about it and having to get professional help because of how upset he was … I’m thinking there was something else going on there. That’s a really intense reaction to a single disappointment. So was there more context? Had he already been struggling in other ways?”

    This whole story doesn’t sound confusing or strange to me at all because it sounds like completely normal dysfunction for academia. Like, bad choices make with poor transparency, worse timing, and dire communication, and students who are powder-kegs of explosive stress and anger about things not going to plan and not being able to get over it (this isn’t all students, by any means, but a small regular percentage of folks, yeah). I have stories of my own of both students and faculty with *terrifying* tempers who could not handle things not going as expected or not being ‘just so’. It always felt like a mix of “person with this controlling personality is attracted to and thrives in this environment”, “culture with lack of appropriate standards for behaviour/tolerance for a wider range of human behaviour as normal and ok”*, and “high pressure environment where there are high expectations for performance and equally high expectations for pay-off”.

    Anyway, shitty situation, but the fix was in the management and maybe in the larger culture (if the management of the situation was reflective of bigger patterns). The student still might have had an extreme reaction if he was truly inclined that way, but it might have been mitigated or at least not exacerbated.

    * admittedly, that feature of academia could be a blessing for behaviours that *are* completely fine and harmless but are considered too “weird” for other professional working environments; it’s just that there’s not a lot of discernment between the “weird but harmless” and “weird and actually harmful” ones in some settings

  49. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Fergus, I understand that we severely disappointed you. The good news is that your supervisor and grandboss have talked it over and all have agreed that we won’t disappoint you again after today.

    The bad news is that you’re fired, effective immediately. We took the liberty of notifying Mr. Zuckerburg for you. Your effects have been packed up and we’ll ship them to you along with your Scarlet F once it arrives.

    1. Sam*

      I mean, the letter is extremely clear they can’t unilaterally fire someone, and the comments are clear that the university is concerned with the badmouthing more than any wrong they’ve done to Fergus.

      Firing someone rarely disincentivizes someone from criticising the company that fired them!

  50. Rusty Shackelford*

    Honestly, now that we’ve heard from the LW, I’m getting a my best employee wanted off for her graduation, should I tell her how inappropriate that was vibe. I mean, Fergus was promised something huge. It was clawed back for no good reason, and at the last minute, and after he had already missed out on other opportunities. And he wrote a thousand words about it. If Fergus had a Gofundme to pay for an overseas trip, I’d contribute.

    1. TyphoidMary*

      Totally agree with your read on the LW’s vibe. “We severly screwed over a hardworking student” — can we stop simply characterizing Fergus as an employee? — “and he had the gall to make a few tumblr posts about it! Why didn’t we fire him?”

    2. KoiFeeder*

      Solid agreement. As I said above, while I’m petty and spiteful, Fergus took the high road so hard that he’s practically in outer space. 1000 words, which seem to have simply been factual reporting of the situation and not a rant, plus he praises the good pieces of the program? Firing someone for honesty would’ve been a bad, bad look.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      And the OP is wondering why the rest of the group – presumably other students? – chose not to fire him. Maybe they all agreed with him?

    4. Velawciraptor*

      Seriously. And, as I mentioned above, from what we see here, it’s OP bearing a grudge years later, while Fergus just understandably vented at the time.

    5. AngryOwl*

      Agreed, at this point I just feel bad for Fergus and think the OP is seriously overreacting.

    6. Archaeopteryx*

      Plus, the difference between college and a regular job isn’t just age and expectations. If I get screwed over by my employer, that’s one thing. But if I am treated unfairly by an institution to which I pay approximately One F***tillion Dollars per semester in order to attend? You bet I’d feel a bit more justified in raising a fuss!

  51. OP*

    His posts were ranting. He didn’t praise the program in his blog, but he didn’t say anything negative about it. This is someone who basically lived for this program the second half of his college career.

    1. Sam*

      You seem to have a really limited amount of empathy for Fergus. Do you agree that he was wronged at all? If you don’t think he was wronged, then I don’t know you’re going to get much out of the comment section, or even Alison’s answer. Other than the way your program is being managed basically sets you up for this kind of mess.

      Seriously – why did the position that Fergus was in change between him being told about the trip – either in advance of the job, or directly by the Student Leader? Why wasn’t Fergus working closely with the Exec?

      It’s starting to feel like the university is trying to hide some sort of discriminatory reasoning behind the changes in Fergus’ role vs. every single person who held it before him (and went on the trip/interacted with Exec).

      1. Ginger Baker*

        ^This. If for example every past Student Llama Groomer interacted with the Exec (and thus got to go on the trip, but *this* year that Student Llama Groomer was a woman and Fergusina did NOT interact with the Exec…why? Maybe there’s a really good reason why the role was changed but maybe…there isn’t. What happened to the role that Fergus, while in it, did not interact with the Exec, and did that change continue after Fergus was replaced by a new Student Llama Groomer or did the role suddenly revert to previous level of Exec-Interaction??

      2. OP*

        I have immense empathy for Fergus. In fact, if the decision were mine he would have gone on the trip. But it was not up to me and I also had a duty to protect my employer. Unfortunately, the information I can give is very limited, as I don’t wish to reveal any potentially identifiable information. What I can say is that Fergus was not part of a protected class, and there was no discrimination. As to why things changed between him being told about the trip, I cannot say. I wasn’t super involved in the dynamics of the trip. In fact, this was the most involved with the trip I had ever been.

        1. Sam*

          Then forget about it! Damn!

          Also, your organization is a straight-up disaster, it sounds like.

          1. Lilo*

            Lw needs to understand, protecting your employer does not mean that all criticism is squashes or results in firing. That’s not an okay attitude to have. That’s not an appropriate reaction.

            1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

              Maybe I am reading it differently, but I do not necessarily read OP’s letter as suggesting that firing is the right approach (though she does seem to think it strange no one even considered it). I took her question to be more along the lines of, “ok, due to this state law and the unusual setup, normal disciplinary actions in a workplace were not available, but do you think there is something/anything we could have done?” But I may just be in a strangely generous mood today … I should probably avoid opportunists for the next few hours while I wait for my true jaded and cynical personality to reappear!

        2. Sam*

          Like, the fact that you’re asking this question when you don’t know why Fergus couldn’t go means you’re not going to get any useful answers here.

          Fergus thinks it was a bad reason, you don’t know the reason at all. Who are you to say that he should stop (accurately) stating what happened to him?

          The details that you elided in the original letter, as well as the reluctance to actually explain what’s going on here, does leave a bad taste in my mouth. It all seems like you’re trying to portray Fergus in a negative fashion, to the point of doing things like exaggerating his blog posts (4 tweets worth) which didn’t talk negatively about your institution.

        3. AngryOwl*

          And yet years later you’re lamenting they couldn’t fire him? In all kindness, I’d examine why this matters so much to you, and also really look at who was in the wrong here.

        4. Delphine*

          It’s incredibly suspicious (from the outside) that the program mysteriously changed and singled out one student when in past years he’d have been on the trip. And then when he rightfully got upset there was a move to try and have him fired? I don’t like it.

        5. Natalie*

          You’re not really acting like someone with immense empathy? The way you described the situation in your letter is so different from how you are describing it in comments that it’s hard not to see it as being deliberately misleading. And you’re literally doing what you accuse him of – holding enough of a grudge about something long after it’s done and dusted to write extensively to an audience about it.

        6. EventPlannerGal*

          Honestly, you need to let this go. I presume that writing to Alison was just a passing curiosity, but this situation depends HEAVILY on specifics that you either can’t share or don’t know because it sounds like it wasn’t ever really your concern. Like, if you don’t even know the specifics of what happened then it kind of seems like it wasn’t your business, you know? This just doesn’t seem like something that anyone can give you good answers to and dwelling much further on it is not very productive.

        7. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think because you weren’t super involved and don’t know what the reasons were, you’ve got to just accept that this bad thing went down and you’re not privy to all the details. I know your point in writing in was “what could have been done?” but I think now, realizing that you don’t know what happened behind the scenes, it’s really hard to give practical advice on that! I’d still go with the basics in my answer — look at how disruptive it really was and calibrate the response to any disruption — but yeah, as others have said, it sounds like you weren’t close enough to the situation to really assess.

        8. Nesprin*

          I’d argue (as an academic adjacent) that faculty advisor springing for 6 students to travel internationally out of pocket, and instead of the same 6 positions being eligible, the advisor gets to pick who goes is a weird setup even for academia. This whole setup reminds me far too much of a friend who was abused by her advisor- he was lavish with his favors as well, and excluded students who didn’t fall in line.

          I may be completely off base- you’ve been careful to omit most of the useful details. Even if nothing untoward is happening on this trip, the dynamics of this trip are dangerous to your program as this whole incident demonstrates.

          1. Arctic*

            It wasn’t even the advisor who gets to pick. It was the student leader. Meaning a student was told by faculty he could choose to just bring the people he liked best and he went with it.

        9. Practicing VSW*

          Oh, dear. You don’t have a duty to protect an employer. That’s not a thing. That attitude is what enables and endorses abuse and discrimination.

      3. Shan*

        Yeah, I’m getting some real suspicious vibes about this sudden change in the role.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      So by your own words, Fergus “lived for this program” and was told that he’d be participating in this trip and then it was pulled away from him and, years later, you are still upset that he had the audacity to complain about it?

      The Iranian yogurt (Fergus) is not the problem.

      1. Lilo*

        Poor Fergus. The added details really show this poor kid got screwed.

        My initial reaction stands. Your organization better make darn sure this never ever happens again. It’s not okay.

    3. Sasha*

      How is 1,000 words (the length of your letter + Alison’s response) spread out over multiple posts ranting? Of course he was upset, it appears he dedicated a lot of time and energy to this program and it left him completely out in the cold. And you still haven’t explained why people in his position had been allowed on this trip up until then and why it was decided that this time, he wouldn’t be included.

    4. T. Boone Pickens*

      This whole situation is so weird. It’s too bad that Fergus couldn’t have made any money off all the rent this situation seems to have occupied in your head. He probably could’ve paid for that trip.

    5. Momma Bear*

      I’m failing to see the problem in his posts, then. He put his heart and soul into a program for a few years that screwed him over. His ire is even more understandable given this comment, IMO.

    6. Nerdling*

      Then surely you can see why he would be upset to have this opportunity taken away without explanation, then? And understand why he would spend 1000 words to express his disappointment in this program (which is fewer words than you’ve spent here explaining the problem, lamenting being unable to fire the student your organization wronged, and defending your position)?

      Also, I have a really hard time with your description of his “ranting” here. That’s a term that has negative connotations, which I assume is why you used it, but all you’re saying is that he didn’t speak positively or negatively about the program. That’s… not what ranting is. It honestly makes your entire accounting of the scenario suspect and makes me incredibly grateful you didn’t have the ability to fire this kid for the situation your organization created

    7. Marillenbaum*

      Genuinely, nothing you have said in the original post or in the comments gives reason to believe that your assessment of the situation is accurate. The insistence that there are details that would completely exonerate your perspective, but that you can’t share, doesn’t help either. I just don’t see why you are so invested in getting a bunch of strangers to think the guy who got screwed over and wrote a few short paragraphs about being disappointed is the villain here.

  52. BPT*

    OP, can you explain why exactly things changed that year and it was the first year Fergus’ position didn’t go on the trip, and was replaced by someone else? You keep glossing over this and it’s really the crux of the issue. If there was a good reason, it would be very helpful to share it. However avoiding it makes it seem like the student leader had a friend they liked working with more closely, and wanted them to go on the trip, or it was for a discriminatory reason, or something like that. And after this year, did the person in Fergus’ position go back to being someone that went on the trip?

    1. OP*

      I’m not super involved in the dynamics of the trip and I wasn’t brought into the conversations until all this started coming up. Is it possible that the leader just didn’t like Fergus and/or wanted someone else to go instead? Yes, but it’s unlikely and doesn’t jibe with how the leader normally acted – with integrity, dignity, and honesty. Then again, neither do Fergus’ actions – someone who was typically calm and reserved, and very intelligent and dedicated. Unfortunately, the information I can give is very limited, as I don’t wish to reveal any potentially identifiable information. What I can say is that 1) Fergus was not part of a protected class, and 2) there was no discrimination, protected class or otherwise. Believe me, when he started complaining about this we were all triple-checking everything to make sure there wasn’t a hint of discrimination. After this year, we changed the dynamics of the trip so that it wasn’t just “Bob and Linda determine who goes”.

      1. BPT*

        I’ll be honest, the fact that you say you were all triple-checking the reasons behind why he wasn’t invited, so you’re sure it wasn’t discrimination, but don’t actually know the real reason, doesn’t make a lot of sense. To ensure the reason was above board, you would actually need to know the reason.

        I think we’re definitely all appreciative of you being responsive to the comment section. But I think the clarifications in your answers make it very clear that your organization was in the wrong, and should have done a lot more to make it up to Fergus. Further, you need to ensure you’re being fair to Fergus about how you describe the events that took place. In your letter, you state that Fergus made “an entire blog about his disappointment (not a single blog post, an entire website),” but then change your wording in the comments to say it wasn’t an entire blog or website, but just about 1,000 words over a few posts. That’s widely misleading and unfair to Fergus.

        It’s good that your organization changed how determinations about who goes on the trip are made, but without some real accountability about how Fergus was treated, it’s hard to say your organization has made up for the harm caused.

        1. BPT*

          And also, to clarify, you need to be sure you understand “protected class.” Fergus was absolutely part of a protected class because everyone is. Protected classes are race (not certain races), sex (not just women), etc. Now, some races/sexes/nationalities are of course discriminated against more often. But if all you did was look at Fergus, say “well he’s a white guy, so it can’t be because of a protected class,” then I’d suggest some training on how to evaluate these issues.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m the one who added the clarification “not a single blog post, an entire website” after some back and forth with the LW*. So that was stressed by me, not them. That said, the LW sent me the blog posts and it did indeed appear to be a blog set up to talk about this incident (the intro post says that), not a blog that was about other stuff and then happened to touch on this.

          * Because some people say “blog” when they mean “blog post” – like “I’m going write a blog on horses” when they mean they are going to write a single post on horses. It’s odd! That wasn’t the case here though.

          1. Skeptical*

            An entire website of all of 1000 words? Did LW send you their “multiple word docs” or did you actually see the site itself to confirm it was only about the missed trip?

          2. Sam*

            If this is the case, I don’t think it’s a huge difference; there are plenty of university students who have the ability/knowledge to whip up a new WordPress instance on a domain/start a tumblr/post 4 tweets and never post again.

          3. MCMonkeybean*

            Oh honestly that makes a pretty big difference–the fact that the letter had that line emphasizing a whole website and then OP seemed to be saying something different in the comments made me feel like I couldn’t really believe their take on any part of the situation…

      2. Eye roll*

        >> Is it possible that the leader just didn’t like Fergus and/or wanted someone else to go instead? Yes, but it’s unlikely and doesn’t jibe with how the leader normally acted – with integrity, dignity, and honesty.

        Except that for some reason the Student Leader didn’t interact with this one single department head and used someone else for that purpose.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Yeah…perhaps they acted with dignity toward most people but that doesn’t seem to have applied to Fergus. Someone can both be nice to you and a jerk to someone else.

        2. LTL*

          The two times that I’ve faced the most overt discrimination was with people who were kind and sociable with everyone else. Neither of these women were mean to me. But both would smile at everyone, exude warmth with everyone, and as soon as it came to me, they were stiff, formal, and they’d never smile. It’s hardly something I could complain about, but to someone who’s experiencing it, the change is very overt.

          All of which is to say, it’s easy to imagine a student leader who acted with honesty and integrity, but just had a thing for this one guy that they knew better than to be too public about.

          1. Nesprin*

            Yep, this is how discrimination happens. You decide that that guy is just too much work, or clearly mentally unstable, or wouldn’t gel with the vibe, or would be disruptive, or would stand out. And instead of giving that person an opportunity, you give it to someone who reminds you of you.

      3. AutolycusinExile*

        Well, to be honest, the fact that the policy had to be changed to ensure that tells me that Fergus had good reason to be critical of the program. This was probably to be expected in a student-run program – cliques and petty grievances and decisions made based on friendship rather than fairness or organizational benefit are kind of inevitable in student organizations. (I have some questions about why there aren’t any non-student ‘adults’ overseeing a program that’s government funded and with such strict bylaws, but that’s besides the point.)

        Given that your organization was structured to act more like a friend group than a professional business, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to judge Fergus for responding like he was hurt personally rather than professionally. I get that it’s uncomfortable for you as someone who represents the organization, but unfortunately that’s just the nature of the gig. I’d stop putting too much thought to it for your own sake, honestly – some other drama will come to replace it eventually. And if you’re looking for a job where your coworkers all behave maturely and professionally, your best bet will be to leave student organizations behind. (And probably academia, too, tbh – it’s only a matter of time before someone fakes their own death online in an attempt to avoid legitimate academic or ethical criticism. You think I’m joking, but I’ve seen it happen in three separate fields! A couple paragraphs of justified griping pale in comparison. )

      4. Rusty Shackelford*

        After this year, we changed the dynamics of the trip so that it wasn’t just “Bob and Linda determine who goes”.

        You haven’t come right out and said it, but everything you *have* said makes it sound like a case of “Bob liked Jane more than Fergus, so he decided Jane was going instead.” And then you wonder why Fergus felt the need to vent, and why his coworkers didn’t band together to fire him.

        1. Elsajeni*

          Especially given — this is from one of the OP’s comments far upthread — that the student leader initially told Fergus he would be going because they believed all department heads were automatically invited on the trip. It really sounds to me like what happened is “Fergus, you get to go on this cool trip! … wait, I get to choose who goes on the cool trip? Oh, in that case, get lost, Fergus, I’m inviting someone else.” I mean, you’d be furious if a friend pulled this on you with their birthday party at the bowling alley, never mind a trip abroad that you’d given up other opportunities for.

      5. Arctic*

        Thanks for answering. I get that none of this was your fault. Everything about this sounds like Student Leader figured out he was allowed to bring a friend instead of Fergus and shut Fergus out. I know you want to think better of SL but if it were anything but that couldn’t a clear answer have been provided to you by now?

        I think if this kind of situation comes up again it would be best to handle it from the outset rather than wait for the student to get on social media.

        If you do that then the ranting on social media will genuinely be unjustified. Then you can go the paths Alison suggested.

      6. Skeptical*

        You aren’t addressing the question – has the trip been structured so that future people in Fergus’ position are included, or are they all now excluded?

      7. IEanon*

        Changing the selection process seems really important here, and I would suggest creating clear selection guidelines for the trip going forward. Anytime you have staff triple-checking a decision after the fact to make sure no discrimination occurred, you know you have a questionable or dicey decision.

        I do think you should reflect on why you’re still dwelling on this, years later. It feels like you really feel that Fergus got away with something by keeping his position, and by airing his grievances. I want to gently push back on the idea that it’s your responsibility to defend your employer when the university has plenty of resources to take care of that itself. The powers that be can remedy the situation by making the student whole, being clear and transparent about the decision-making process or even by enforcing a social media policy.

        I don’t know what your specific role is at your institution, but if you’re working closely with students, I would argue that your priority should be to facilitate and support those students. I don’t want to come off too much like I’ve drunk the “Student Affairs Pros” koolaid, but the students are the point. We should never look for ways to tear them down, even when their behavior is egregious. (Which, to be clear, I don’t believe was the case here.)

      8. Velawciraptor*

        “Then again, neither do Fergus’ actions – someone who was typically calm and reserved, and very intelligent and dedicated.”

        Nothing in what you’ve said about Fergus’ actions sounds unintelligent or less than dedicated. Dedication does not require lying back and thinking of England when your employer treats you the way your university treated Fergus.

        Moreover, 1000 words over multiple posts (again, approximately the same length as your letter and Alison’s response combined) doesn’t run contrary to Fergus being calm and reserved. Calm and reserved people still react to being treated unjustly and from everything you’ve said about this undergraduate student, his frustration and response were pretty measured.

        The tone you take in your letter and responses here smacks of wanting to smear this kid for having genuine and justified complaints. That’s not part of protecting your organization. If anything, it makes both you and the organization look worse.

  53. Amethystmoon*

    There are 2 sides to every story. I have to agree that a lot of information was left out. Yeah, it’s not good to go and rant about your job using your real name and not changing the names of those involved, including the company, but young people don’t always think about future consequences for their online speech. I’ve myself vented about work online, but not on Facebook and not using real names. People do need outlets of some sort.

  54. Heffalump*

    I wonder what his domain was–HowIWasScrewedOutOfATrip[dot]com? It should have been (but probably wasn’t) IAmAnInjusticeCollector[dot]com.

    1. Sam*

      Ah, this seems like a needlessly shitty comment.

      Is your argument that anyone who complains is an “injustice collector”?

      1. Heffalump*

        At the time I posted that, I hadn’t read the additional context. With the additional context, I’d say Fergus got a raw deal. But the blog was still a bit much.

    2. Natalie*

      Nope, from the OP’s added comments it was just a run of the mill blog with what sounds like a totally reasonable amount of grousing mixed in with his normal life posts.

  55. Delphine*

    I want to say that generally when people become so upset about something that they need professional help, it’s not a little thing. Yes, sometimes people overreact, and yes, some minor events can just be that last straw for a person who is already struggling. But it’s also possible that this was a Very Big Deal and a major mistake on your organization’s part.

  56. OP*

    I’m signing off for now but I appreciate everyone’s POV. I might be back on later tonight. A couple of quick things before I do:
    – I have since left the university, But this situation has always stood out in my mind as the one time where I really wish I could have done more, on both sides of the situation, but I don’t know what more I could have done. And I really feel like there is something for me to learn here. That’s why I wrote in when this happened so long ago.
    – The blog posts were well over 1000 words, but also far less than 5,000 words. I’m not sure if that makes any difference to anyone but FWIW. The posts said nothing negative about the organization itself, or even the person who made the decision not to take him. He even blatantly said he had nothing against the person. The posts, which consisted of at least half the blog, were purely about the decision not to take him and how upset he was. That probably makes me look even worse but as I said I sent this in hoping to learn something and I’d rather do that by looking objectively bad than by lying and making myself and the organization look good.
    – The following year this trip was changed to such a way that it wasn’t just a matter of Bob and Linda determining who gets to go.
    – While I have immense sympathy for Fergus, I also felt at the time I had a duty to protect the organization and I was largely concerned about damage control, especially since the leader had made overtures to the student in an attempt to apologize. Were my concerns misguided? Perhaps. Some comments on here have given me reason to reconsider.

    1. Lilo*

      I’m going to repeat my comment above: you need to rethink how you define damage control. Trying to suppress legitimate criticism makes the situation worse.

      1. Lilo*

        (To be clear: firing Fergus would have been throwing gasoline on the fire of this situation. It would have made everything about this worse and gotten your department a lot more negative attention.)

    2. Sam*

      I feel like part of the question for you, looking back, should be about your role. From the comments and letter, it’s hard to tell whether you had authority over *anyone* in the organization, or whether you were tasked with damage control.

      But, regardless, I’d be very careful about taking the company’s side when they’re not willing/able to tell you why they made a decision to harm someone.

    3. Sam*

      Also, your repeated focus on the blog makes it seem much weirder. People are allowed to write blogs about the abstract decisions a company makes that hurt them. Especially given how he seemed to be very clear that he was taking issue with the specific decision, not the person who made it, and not the organization itself.

      All in a blog that was not, in fact, dedicated to this issue!

      In your mind, can someone criticize their workplace? Because what you’ve described so far has been… well, underwhelming, compared to rants that I’ve encountered on the internet. Hell, even here in the comments!

    4. Arctic*

      Thanks for updating! I tended to be sympathetic to Fergus but I think there is nothing you could have done here. And it isn’t on you.

      To take things from the future from this. I think 1) it’s best to head off these issues before it gets to the ranting on the internet phase. This was a pretty massive pulling of the rug for Fergus and the organization should have been aware that could lead to fall out. 2) If you do do everything right next time and you just get someone unprofessional going off then it’s time to use Alison’s suggestions.

      Honestly, here it seems clear that Student Leader realized he had total power to invite someone he was more friendly with instead and bumped Fergus. Student leader should never have been in a position to be making those choices. I know you want to think better of SL and they probably felt bad after the fact. But if it were anything else you would have an answer as to the why of it all that makes more sense.

    5. Ferdie*

      The continued focus on the word count of the blog is just…I don’t know. Very weird.

    6. twocents*

      I appreciate the additional color you’ve added in comments that was left out of the letter.

      In addition to what other people have said, beyond the actual work situation, it makes me really uncomfortable that Fergus was blatantly, repeatedly wronged and then got presented as being here as needing “professional help” with the undertones being that he’s maybe not mentally stable. If you are the wronged party, and then treated as if you’re overreacting, it’s beyond understandable that he level set with a professional to help him see through that manipulation.

    7. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Thank you for being open to some critical feedback. It can be overwhelming to get a lot at once, but you sound very open to hearing what people are saying.

    8. Sondheim Geek*

      especially since the leader had made overtures to the student in an attempt to apologize.

      Only after Fergus complained, though. Why weren’t those attempts made from the start? Also, were any attempts made to help Fergus regain opportunities he turned down because he had been told he was going on the trip? And did the student leader – who truly messed up here – face any consequences?

      1. Sondheim Geek*

        Also, you talk about damage control, but I can guarantee that in trying to stop someone from posting about a something you think makes you look bad (especially when, as you have stated, they didn’t insult the program or even the person, just vented about disappointment) is going to do far more damage than anything else (see the Streisand Effect).

    9. Starbuck*

      Like others have said, it’s hard to say what you could/should have done differently when it’s not clear what your role actually was. Did you supervise or manage Fergus? What was your authority, if any, to make or change the decisions here? What did YOU actually do in this situation, other than compile the blog posts? Because unless you added other details in a comment I missed, I can’t tell. It kind of sounds like you just got invested in the drama but didn’t really have a specific role in this. If that’s not the case and you can be more clear on what your relative position was, you’ll get better advice.

    10. Tinker*

      As of this comment, you’ve now directly posted 1,158 words to a long-established and popular blog about this situation and have an additional 409 words attributed to you in the post published by Alison.

      Do you perhaps want to revise how you have characterized the volume of Fergus’s writing on a situation that he was directly impacted by, approximately contemporaneous with when he experienced it?

    11. Smithy*

      Thank you so much for this additional context.

      From my read of the letter and a lot of the follow-up, I think the best reflection that I have regarding the letter and follow-up is that should you work for mission based organization again (university, school, other nonprofit) – is that it would probably be helpful to have a better personal relationship to the mission and who is intended to be served.

      Mission based organizations all too often can do things that can hurt those intended to be reached, intentionally or unintentionally. And when that happens – it is embarrassing for the organization. It’s also antithetical to the organization and is worth flagging as a serious red flag in need of being changed. While you’ve said the reason wasn’t discrimination – cronyism isn’t wildly better – and again, particularly when there are students involved.

      The policy was changed for the next year, which hints to me that whatever happened was not a decision that could be justified. Which for mission based organizations ALWAYS looks worse. Our reputations aren’t going to be preserved by hiding the the mistakes but rather building trust with the communities where we work.

    12. Data Bear*

      I think the big lesson to learn is that while your heart was in the right place, you had your priorities in the wrong order, and that putting protection of the university’s reputation ahead of righting a wrong done to a student worker was a mistake. If the aggrieved party is the one with less power, usually that’s who needs your support. Plus, letting the public see an organization acknowledge and fix its mistakes is a lot more powerful than pretending that it doesn’t make them.

      Also, the leader’s response sounds like an object lesson in how not to apologize, so it may be worth thinking about how it probably came across to Fergus and how to avoid making similar missteps. Like, did the leader acknowledge the hurt done to Fergus and express remorse for it? Did he use the words “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry” or “I apologize”? Or did he just offer Fergus a conference trip and buy a shiny new printer for Fergus’s department? Because the former matters a whole lot more than the latter.

    13. Tinker*

      I’m going to endeavor to be less jerkish in this observation because I think it is critically important.

      “I was largely concerned about damage control” — This is an understandable thing to feel, it’s an honest thing to say directly about what you were feeling, and also frankly you MUST contain it. Even if you just want to protect the organization, ill-founded “damage control” type reactions are the classic way that repairable missteps become “hmm, why is the name of my company trending on Twitter”, to say nothing of the potential of contributing materially to doing another person serious harm.

      It’s easy to fall into thinking, especially as someone who has been socialized around occupying lower-level roles in hierarchical organizations, that it’s not your place to concern yourself with whether the right thing is being done — in fact, that it isn’t Fergus’s place to concern himself with whether the right thing is being done, and that correcting or at least repudiating his impertinence is something that IS within your wheelhouse.

      I’ve characterized this somewhat negatively because I have a negative view of it, but of course the matter is more complex — large-scale human enterprises have the potential for significant positive impacts, and their operation often depends on some degree of appropriate trust in the organization and in the work of specialists who are directing some or another response. Sometimes you don’t want to tilt at windmills — but, I’d suggest, that sort of decision is better done intentionally.

      Personally, I’m technically sort of a Methodist: Do you accept the freedom and the power God grants you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? It sounds grand and large, but the ability to say in the course of these apparent gossip sessions “hey, the school actually didn’t treat Fergus right and we ought not to be making him out to be some sort of nut” is a freedom and/or power, if you’re inclined to accept it.

    14. Sasha*

      Wait, way more than 1k but far less than 5k? You said yourself that it was 1000 words spread out over multiple posts. People have really latched on to that because it’s a strong example of how you may have mischaracterized Fergus’ reaction in your original letter. Many, many people have been citing that comment in their responses throughout the comment section. Why are you just correcting that statement now?

      1. OP*

        I could have sworn I wrote over before I put the number (as in, over 1,000 words). It wasn’t until now that I looked back and realized I didn’t. My mistake. Reading through the comments, I just assumed everyone latched onto the 1,000 words thing and sort of disregarded the over part. I didn’t say anything about that because the way I see it my place here is to learn and not to criticize anyone’s opinion. And based on what I’ve seen, I don’t feel like the word count matters to people so much as how Fergus was wronged and how the organization reacted to his reaction.

        1. Data Bear*

          Hey, I want to acknowledge that listening with the intent to learn is hard, especially when the tide of public opinion is not favoring you. I think it’s really admirable that you’re committed to that. You are doing something valuable but difficult, and you’re doing it well. Good work, and thank you for making that contribution to the discussion and to the community.

          1. Seige*

            Yeah, I agree with Data Bear. Even if I disagree with your (the letter writers) take on the whole situation, it takes a lot of grace to engage with the comments the way you have. I appreciate it! It’s interesting to get more information.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          I appreciate your dedication to listening and learning from the responses to your question, even when they are emotionally tense and may contradict your previous beliefs or perceptions. That’s not an easy thing to do.

          Thanks for writing in and for participating in the discussion… it has been very interesting to see the range of perspectives! Although this particular situation is long over, hopefully someone facing a similar scenario in the future will be able to put the information to good use.

    15. münchner kindl*

      If you want to learn something:

      stop going into automatic defense mode. Which you’ve been doing with your comments. You don’t have enough details to know – not just that you can’t tell details: you later say you don’t know the details – to understand why Fergus was excluded, but yet you are confident that Fergus wasn’t discriminated or there were no bad reasons?

      No. This is wrong. Dig deeper instead of trusting authority because Leader seems nice to you. That’s how abuse of power continues in all areas: Abusers seem nice to others.

      Criticism is not ranting. Telling that you’re disappointed by a huge setback is not ranting. Try to understand, because if you put all legitmate criticism of the organisation (Company) you work for into the “ranting” box, then you can never accept criticsm, hence never notice mistakes, thus no correcting, learning and improving from mistakes.

      As you still don’t seem to understand that this was a Big Deal not just for Fergus personal feelings, but where leader and the people around them made a mistake and then didn’t realize how big and bad that mistake was.

      That’s how both toxic workplace culture is perpetuated, and how organisations ruin themselves by being blind to mistakes.

    16. MCMonkeybean*

      I think I still don’t really agree with your take on the situation or the need to “protect the organization” from a few online complaints of a college student that apparently didn’t even say anything bad about the organization itself or anyone in it–but I do understand that I don’t have the whole picture.

      I also want to say I think it’s great that you stuck around here and are listening to the comments defending the other side of things.

    17. Anonymous Hippo*

      I’ve been scrolling through an reading your additional comments, and somehow this seems a little worse. Not in that the organization was some horrible boogey monster (although let’s admit it wasn’t good), but more in how they handled the aftermath. This sounds like he didn’t have anything against the organization or any of the decision makers, he was just expressing his feelings about a disappointment online. To police someone’s online interactions to that point is more damaging to the organization’s reputation than the fact that they disappointed him. I don’t think the the leader reaching out and apologizing makes a difference. You can still be hurt and disappointed after an apology is made and accepted, it isn’t a magic cure all. This seems like it was wildly blown out of proportion. If anyone brought such a post to me that one of my employees wrote I would hope I would focus on my fault in the matter and allow them space to feel their feelings.

  57. Prof T*

    Honestly I’m confused about Fergus’s role in general. I can’t ever see putting an undergrad student in a position like that (paid, dept leadership, with hiring abilities). That’s the weirdest part to me. That said, I’m assuming he’s an undergrad, but if it’s grad it’s a different story, and I’d give different advice.

  58. PlainJane*

    So, my first inclination is, “Hey, be glad it was just on his personal social media and not on Glassdoor where people will be looking for it.”

    That’s pretty much my second-to-one-hundredth inclination, too. Fergus got screwed over and fumed about it socially. Maybe–MAYBE–the college should, in the interest of his future career, tell him that it could get him in trouble in a future job. But honestly? It shouldn’t get him in trouble in a future job, either, if he was actually treated like this. Maybe just advise him to do it anonymously next time.

    And, you know, don’t give another student such a good reason to fume.

  59. Mental Lentil*

    I appreciate that OP chimed in often to provide some much needed context. After reading a lot of their responses, I am firmly Team Fergus. This university really screwed up, and also screwed over what seems to be in all other ways an excellent student.

    If you ever see this Fergus, I hope that you are doing well.

  60. Eefs*

    For a moment I did feel pretty bad for Fergus, but then I remembered my company has promised four or five major (we’re talking long term, capital cities, famous projects) trips to me that at the last minute I haven’t been able to go on, and I’ve never reacted like this (and certainly not on a public forum!). I only graduated a couple years ago and this is my first job out of college. While the company in this instance were disorganised, I wouldn’t want to normalise or perpetuate the idea that all recent grads (or worse “Gen Z” or even worse “Millennials” ) cannot behave professionally, or handle disappointment without it affecting their mental health. These are the sorts of stories I hear all the time that put off employers from hiring people of my age demographic (or I suppose, enables them to hire us at poor wages while also speaking so derogatorily of us). I don’t mean to make sweeping statements, but it concerns me. I know many managers that pussyfoot around critical feedback and lower their expectations of young workers directly because of behaviour like Fergus’.

    1. Sam*

      If you read the comments, I think you’ll see that a lot of these comments are about assumptions made by the letter writer.

      It is possible to be wronged on the job and be upset about it; I don’t even know what reasonable feedback the organization would give.

      1. Eefs*

        Hey Sam! Just finished combing through the comments and you’re right; I certainly feel different about Fergus’ actions – but I think OP’s original letter stands to support my overall conclusion about how young people are viewed in the workplace. Here’s a situation where because the employee was a young student, and used social media to vent his actions, the situation is remembered (at least in the OP’s eyes) as “one time a student employee didn’t get a trip and published a massive website about it”. That sort of story – and the way the OP tells it before actually being probed – makes young employees look bad, and feeds into ideas like “young people today need to publish their entire lives on social media” etc. In reality though the situation is far more nuanced, but you wouldn’t know without spending an hour of your time reading the comment section!!
        At this point though it’s barely even worth discussing. The OP either didn’t have as much understanding of the situation as the original letter implies, or is too scared (rightly or wrongly) to share any helpful details for privacy reasons.

    2. Arctic*

      How many opportunities did you turn down in order to do those programs? Were you just replaced with someone else the leader preferred more?

      I don’t think never standing up for yourself is as admirable a skill as you think it is.

      1. Eefs*

        Hey Arctic,
        When I wrote my comment I took the LW at face value when some more digging in the comments is necessary.

        In my own case, I certainly did turndown better opportunities to stay with this company for long term trips that didn’t pan out. And the situations I was passed on varied in fairness including: 1) my company was disorganised, 2) they reevaluated and needed to send someone more experienced 3) they sent an intern who would work for free, 4) they sent someone who knew someone in the city who put them up for free, 5) the timelines changed for the project 6) someone else had a better established rapport with the client, 7) they wanted an intern to “get a chance”. Etc etc. I was commenting on the original letter, and there it seemed like Fergus was venting his frustrations and we would assume the reasoning for him not being included on the trip was oversight/confusion but still for a sound, practical business reason. Only after reading the comments is it clear that the actual reasoning is murkier. So no, I’m not certain I was ever not picked because someone else was liked better (can’t rule it out though), but it does get annoying when you’ve spent months working for free as an intern with a promised trip at the end and then your trip goes to the next intern instead (!) after I’ve been hired and started getting paid.

        But at the end of the day, when I leave my company, despite the fact that I have a lot of negative things to say, (not just regarding trips) I’m certainly not going to write on any public forum with my name attached. I think it would reflect badly on me in general, and clearly it has reflected poorly on Fergus for doing that (whether he was in the right or wrong, we’re never going to know with this particular OP).

        The final part of your response – that I never stand up for myself and I think that’s admirable…? Umm… I can’t decide if you think I never stand up for myself – which obviously I do. Or you think Fergus writing the blog post was his way of standing up for himself. I don’t think we can draw conclusions about that because I haven’t seen any comment about whether Fergus has coworkers connected to him on Facebook, whether he assumed his blog would be read by his management or he was just venting his emotions to what he thought was his private blog that his chosen Facebook friends could see. Either way, with the information presented so far, while Fergus’ actions were more understandable, I don’t think it was the right call to produce the blog to vent his frustration. In circumstances of whistleblowing about sexual misconduct or discrimination or something really egregious, attaching his name would add weight to whatever his allegations were. But it doesn’t seem like those were the reasons and if I were Fergus I would’ve either asked for more clarification from my superiors, or maybe simmered on it til I left the company and then wrote a fair Glassdoor review about the experience.

        1. Sam*

          He’s a student at the university he’s working at, and has a responsibility to the other students to make clear what’s going on.

          I really don’t think lessons from corporate offices are necessarily equivalent here.

    3. twocents*

      There is a difference between not going on a true work trip (which honestly, conference rooms in fancy cities look basically the same as the conference rooms you’re used to) and what happened to Fergus, which was a capstone, all expenses paid visit to a foreign country was taken away from him, despite is basically being a feature of the program. And even if OP thinks the university wasn’t in the wrong, the university at least decided this looked so bad that they gave him a different trip, stuff for his department, and rewrote the policy going forward.

      1. Eefs*

        You’re right twocents, a conference type work trip versus a ten day foreign excursion is totally different. I feel for the guy. But I’m sharing my experience as a young person in an office who has dealt with this exact situation and I would never write a blog post, both because I think it would tarnish me professionally and gives young people a bad rep.

        With the risk of revealing a bit too much information on myself, one the most egregious cancellations I had was for a four month (but potentially/probably longer), trip to London (at the time I was working in NY) to work on a hugely famous musical adaption of my favourite film trilogy, working one on one alongside a massively famous composer, and attending opening night. This was discussed for months, I renewed my British passport, and I was on a long phone call with admin in the middle of the night booking my flight (the following week) and accommodation when my boss called it off and didn’t tell me why, said he was going to talk to the CEO about it. I eventually found out they chose to send my peer (who I was going to be living with in London) and to find a random intern in London who would help for free. A few weeks later, hiring an inexperienced teenager hadn’t gone so well and the production (in my department) was becoming a disaster due to it’s scale, so they ended up paying for someone higher up than me (one of the only other British passport holders) to go out for a couple weeks and mitigate. He didn’t particularly want to go as he has a wife and family and didn’t want to spend as long on the project and needed his own accommodation and another American project he was on suffered in his absence. It has been since stated to me by coworkers that my company regret and would’ve saved money and hassle in the long term if they’d stuck with the original plan and had me and my peer live together and be there longer term. The situation was entirely born out of disorganized cost cutting. Was I gutted, yes. Did I keep it to myself? Yes!
        It’s not exactly the same scenario, but I’ve been promised many situations in my work that are slightly more or less akin to Fergus’ situation. Perks and gigs and work trips and for one reason or another they often fall through. I don’t think Fergus’ was treated right, he didn’t deserve what happened to him, the university were in the wrong and from what we know of the situation handled neither the lead up or the aftermath of the news to Fergus well. But, unless he was discriminated against which it appears he wasn’t, it seems more like confusion on the student leaders part, I just can’t bring myself to say it was an appropriate idea to produce a 1,000-5,000 word blog describing how sad he is about it.

        1. Sam*

          You’ve written at least that much here about how he shouldn’t have written what he did there; it’s really not that much effort to write some stuff.

          “Appropriate” is a vague standard to hold people to; discrimination isn’t the only scenario where someone is wronged.

    4. Tinker*

      Not to be all waving-hands-guy-with-conspiracy-string-and-pictures meme, here, but totally going to be conspiracy guy: I’d suggest that there’s a pretty direct connection between “the sorts of stories I hear all the time” and “enables them to hire us at poor wages while also speaking so derogatorily of us”.

      Who’s telling you these stories? Particularly, who is telling them to you in ways that frame them as evidence that everyone under the age of 40 is economically useless? I might be wrong, of course, but I’m betting there’s a pretty significant overlap between that and folks like these managers who “pussyfoot around critical feedback and lower their expectations of young workers”.

      In this I’m mostly not actually suggesting anything nefarious but rather more just human. If you’ve got a bunch of people you’re managing and you’re being low-key shitty to them and they don’t perform too well, some awkward thoughts might arise. “I’m not being a good person”, for instance, or “I’m not being very effective as a manager, which is my job”. One might think that one might need to stop pussyfooting about critical feedback, for instance.

      The thing about that, though, is that it’s not pleasant to think about and effective management behavior might involve sitting with those really uncomfortable conflict-avoidant feelings that inspire a person to be passive-aggressive instead. Worse, it’s possible that the attempt to change might not be immediately successful, and then you’re both aware that you suck and also still sucking, and that feels REALLY bad. Why not, instead, just shove your entire face into a bucket full of Minions memes and bask in the certain knowledge that they stopped making kids correctly in 1980?

      Some folks are going to go for the bucket, needless to say, and it then becomes necessary to decide what to do about that. I’d suggest that taking collective responsibility for all young people who exist and some who don’t isn’t the best course, and instead that the best description of the way to go is:

      “Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste… years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just… take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that and walk away. But that’s hard.”

  61. Annnon*

    As an undergrad, members of my program had the option to pay to attend a 5-week semester abroad. Unmistakably exciting. The only way it would have been possible for me to attend was with a full-ride scholarship, so of course I applied. The two scholarships were given to the other two applicants (there were only three of us) with the justification that they had slightly more need than me. Of course, I didn’t end up going on the trip, and later on one of the two scholarship recipients actually left the program before we completed our final semester (it was a teacher education program).

    Unrelated, there was a time in my life where I created a vent blog, with an audience of one — myself. It’s impossible to say what kind of blog Fergus had based on this letter and OP’s information. It is true that there are blogs (such as the one we are on) that cater to thousands of people, but plenty of people have blogs that are treated as personal journals. It sounds feasible that Fergus was writing about his emotions as an outlet, not even speaking negatively about the organization or people involved.

    All of this is to say, right now I feel almost fully sympathetic to Fergus. People make mistakes on social media all the time, and it sounds like he deserved to have the tiny platform his Facebook posts and his blog allotted him. His one mistake in my mind was not altering his privacy settings so that people used his emotions as further fuel against him.

  62. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    Honestly, Team Fergus. The university where I did my Masters was a nightmare of poor communication and service. I’m a smart person, I meticulously read and follow instructions, I email the appropriate people with questions if I have them, and I have 20+ years of experience working in bureaucracies and generally know what to look out for, etc. Yet every transaction I had at this particular university seemed to go completely awry, and always at the worst possible moment due to some key piece of information being missing, not posted, or just assumed that we would know by staff/faculty who could not give less of a sh*t about customer service. It was a nightmare.

    By the end of my program there, I was extremely depressed and FUMING with anger at what an awful experience I had had there, and the “oh well, get over it” attitude by department staff and faculty when these service failures would have a huge impact on me–including that I didn’t even get to walk in my own master’s graduation because of a miscommunication of graduation dates. I never wanted another student to uproot their lives and invest tens of thousands of dollars at that university like I had. And I am still mourning the lost experience I could have had if I’d chosen another university for the final leg of my education.

    This whole thing reads to me like that university royally screwed Fergus over, and were more concerned about their image than making it right for their student.

    “but we sent him to a conference . . . ” LOLSOB. That . . . that is not even remotely the same thing. Come ON.

  63. Former Employee*

    The only way I would have felt that Fergus went over the top would have been if the entire trip had been cancelled due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Examples would be a natural disaster or revolution occurring in the destination country.

    In other words, there was no excuse for this student to be treated the way he was and it certainly appears as if the real reason had to do with favoritism. All the rest sounds like excuses/a cover up to me.

  64. Tofu pie*

    It sounds like there are other issues going on with Fergus. A part of work life is dealing with disappointment and unless Fergus was exposing some serious, systematic abuse or fraud or whatever, I can’t imagine any situation that justifies his behaviour. Facebook rants I can kinda understand (not wise, but a common mistake) – but making an actual website?

    The employer was definitely in the wrong. And so was Fergus. But Fergus unfortunately had much more to lose by reacting this way.

    1. Sam*

      I think you may consider this after reading the comments; he wrote some posts on his blog, which had other posts on it.

      The original letter exaggerates a lot of the details in a way that makes Fergus a lot more sympathetic.

      I hate how many people are putting together “was angry” and “accessed mental health support” and getting “Must have had something else going on/must be mentally ill/must have experienced the age-related onset of some sort of mental illness”, all of which have come up in this comment section. I really wish the commentariat here was a bit better-educated on what mental illness is and is not. It’s not something you can just apply to anyone who behaves in a way you wouldn’t.

  65. RagingADHD*

    Okay, so piecing together all the omissions and misrepresentations that the OP admitted in their follow up comments, we have this:

    Fergus turned down good opportunities for an amazing educational/growth opportunity that he was directly promised by the person who made decisions about the trip.

    Later, he finds out that he’s being dropped from the trip for no apparent reason other than that the decisionmaker found out he wasn’t required to bring Fergus. So he gave that slot to someone he favored more.

    Fergus makes a social media post about his disappointment.

    Then, he’s pulled aside for a simultaneous apology and scolding. Where the leadership tells him they were wrong, but they still aren’t taking him on the trip, and they need to make amends, but he’s being very inappropriate to express any disappointment over the way he was treated.

    Whiplash much?

    So he starts venting his feelings about the bizarre way this was handled on a personal blog, along with posts about other things. And in this blog he says nothing negative about the program, or about the person who jerked him around.

    And all the while he is very dedicated to the program, working with the very people who are dicking him around. And does such a good job that he’s considered very effective. There are no complaints about his work or his leadership of his own department. And apparently, he utters not a word of complaint at work.

    But for some reason the leadership of the program starts tracking his blog posts, downloads them, catalogues, and apparently discusses them at some length behind his back, along with gossiping about his mental health.

    Yeah, I think a lot of people might need to talk to a professional to sort their feelings out if they were enmeshed in a school and work environment that was this screwed up. Hopefully his counselor was able to give him some perspective that yes, it really is exactly as messed up as he thinks it is.

    1. tra la la*

      Plus, years later, a colleague from this situation is able to pass on his website and even the wordcount of his “rants” — to a workplace blogger.

      I hope Fergus has gone on to better things.

  66. Peter B*

    University Compliance Officer hat on, if you are a public university you should understand that students have significantly more rights under the first amendment than employees do, and also that employees enjoy more protection for that matter than they would have in the private sector. So make sure that any employment action is discussed with your HR and legal teams.

    Hat off: I tend to agree though that it is a kindness to let students know what would and wouldn’t be accepted in future jobs. It is one of the benefits of student employment, getting a taste of professional work expectations.

  67. AS87*

    Fergus’ reaction was of course not the way to go about dealing with the disappointment. If anything, I think he weakened his legitimate stance by his reaction. But I cannot blame him for being upset. As mentioned, he passed on other opportunities for this. Flip-flopping is not ok. With that said, it seems like the student leader who flip-flopped on Fergus is escaping any consequence which I don’t like.

  68. Gerry L*

    Call me old-fashioned (and I am officially old), I never, ever identified where I worked on social media other than LinkedIn, and in that situation, I would not post any personal opinions or gossip about my workplace. We were told that only people who were assigned the role of writing about the company or its products on social media should be posting about such things, and I decided I would play it safe and never even reveal the name of my well-known employer.

    Even now that I am retired, the only place my former employer is identified is on the retiree Facebook page, which is closed to non-retirees. All other references are “Megacorp” or “high-tech company.”

  69. Brooklyn*

    In high school, I was part of a club focused on a particular competition. There was a regional level, a state level, and a national level – the first two being a Saturday bus ride, and the last one being a 4/5 day event out of state. I was good at this thing. My first three years of high school, we qualified for the national level. First year, we went and I told my friends how great it was, so many of them signed up. Second and third year, despite qualifying, the school didn’t have the money to send us (right around the financial crisis when the US defunded everything worthwhile). The last year, I got caught up with college applications, senioritis, etc and did not do my part well – we never made it past the local level. Disappointing, but certainly not life altering.

    I’m now about 10 years out of high school. When I moved back to the area, I went to a get together with the old crowd. I got chewed out for the way I let them down back then and was ganged up on to apologize for making them miss the opportunity to spend a long weekend away from home.

    Having moved around the country ever since, I could not understand why spending 4 days at a state school 5 hours away was such a big deal, but I realized – these are people who basically haven’t left the state before or since. A 5 hour drive is an unbelievable adventure to them. Anyway, the story is to say that Alison is a little in disbelief that someone would take it so seriously – I’m not.

    1. Lilo*

      My husband qualified for ISEF one year but his school refused to pay for him to go. His parents volunteered to fundraise to send him, but thr bylaws at the time said it wasn’t allowed. He was able to qualify again the next year and go, but that’s actually decently rare, something like 80% each year only qualify once. It sucks.

  70. GovProf*

    I think previous comments about public v private are important–public universities can’t restrict student speech.

    From a faculty member’s perspective, this looks like a very badly managed situation for reasons previously stated. If the student had complained to someone like me, rather than writing a blog, we might have ended up in a senior administrator’s office together chatting about how the program needs different oversight. Tenured faculty members can sometimes make people miserable for the wrong reasons, but we can also insist that things be changed for the better in a way that can’t be ignored.

    I’m glad the selection criteria have been become formalized.

  71. Sondheim Geek*

    One more thing that occurred to me. OP, you mention that as a mea culpa Fergus was offered an opportunity to attend a week-long state conference and he received a “large purchase” that he had wanted for his department. Obviously I don’t know the specific costs associated with anything in this scenario, though having attended a week-long conference before I know they aren’t usually cheap (especially if hotel is provided) and large purchase leads me to believe this was at least $1K+. Is there any reason the funds used for these things couldn’t have been put toward allowing him to go on the trip (and pull from a rainy day fund to cover the rest)?

  72. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Comments on this post are now all being moderated so there will be a delay before they appear.

    Please follow the commenting rules of this site, which require you to be kind and constructive. Do not pile on the LW, please.

  73. Laura Pearlman*

    It sounds like Fergus stayed on in the organization after that summer, and I’m guessing everyone involved knew that he would — so why didn’t anyone think of guaranteeing him a spot on the trip the next year?

  74. Prof Space Cadet*

    I’m two days late to this post, but I wanted to comment. I work in higher education at a major university. Based on the details provided here, my impression is that beyond the decision not to send Fergus on the trip, the situation was made even worse by poor communication choices. In my opinion, student organizations still need staff guidance to avoid situations like this one. I recognize that sounds paternalistic on some level, but avoidable conflicts can sometimes spiral out of control because student leaders lack the experience or knowledge needed to de-escalate the situation.

  75. MollyG*

    Reading all the OPs comments, there seems to be too much of a focus on “the leader”. It is a student group, the focus should be on all the students, not just one person. If the whims of one student can make or break such big opportunities for others in the group, then that is a huge problem. Yes, this happens in sometimes in businesses (still not good practice) and in cults, but needs to be avoided in educational settings.

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