update: my employee sent me a “letter of intent” to look for another job

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose employee sent her a “letter of intent” to look for another job? Here’s the update.

I wrote in a while ago about an employee who sent me a Letter of Intent to search for a new job. When I sent in the question, I was honestly confused. I had never heard of such a thing, but perhaps that was the done procedure in some industry. After all, he had a contract (more on that later). My question was: does sending a letter of intent to job search constitute a resignation? (The answer was no.)

I ended up putting a lot of details in the comments. To recap: I’m the chair of a small academic department at a reasonably well-respected University. Fergus, the lecturer in question, had had a conflict with a particular group of students the previous semester, and had basically been told to get his act together, plan ahead, and stop chopping and changing his class at the drop of a hat.

He had several of the same students in the Fall semester, and immediately got up to his old tricks, brusquely informing the students that he was changing a class meeting from online to in-person the first week of classes, AFTER students had already set up their work schedules. The tone of the message was brusque, bordering on rude (“This change is MANDATORY and IMMEDIATE!”). The same group of students complained, as they have professional jobs in the area we teach in, and can’t change their schedules like that. I supported the students, saying that you really can’t change something like that partway in.

Fergus flipped out and wrote the letter of intent, which included a page of his accomplishments in the department. (True, he has been very helpful in many ways.) It also included a number of demands such as, a “real” Assistant Professorship with a “fancy title,” two different salary demands both of which were greater than mine, and equivalent to the Assistant Dean’s, and public acknowledgement of his contributions, otherwise he’d find a new job. It also used the phrases “mean girls” and “cancel culture” throughout. It also said I was undermining his “authority as the instructor of record.” The whole thing was about four pages long and, frankly, bonkers. (Note: a new Assistant Professor line has to be approved by the president of the university. There is no budget for such a thing, and the politics of our situation would make a request seem wildly tone-deaf. The university has no provision for “fancy titles” like what he wants, unless he could find a donor to endow a chair for him. NO incoming Assistant Professorships will offer anywhere close to his salary demands, unless it’s Stanford or Harvard wooing a rockstar. This guy is solid, but no rockstar.)

My first thought was that I had assumed he was looking for another job already, since he had already been complaining about his teaching load and wanted more time for research, and was not happy when I pointed out that he’s a lecturer, which doesn’t have a research component. My second thought was that this was bananacrackers. That’s when I emailed you to try to figure out how crazy sauce this was. The answer was very.

Shortly after I emailed you, I found out that he had not only sent this letter to me, but to my boss and the dean. He had also filed an official complaint against me with the Faculty Senate. I met with the dean and gave him the background and he told me not to worry about it, he’d handle it.

I talked to the contracts people, who told me that Fergus didn’t have a contract through June, as I had assumed (I started after him, so had never seen the contract). No, he had a 3-year contract! And a bonkers letter of intent doesn’t constitute a resignation. I needed him to give me a final date. After several one-on-one meetings, he did finally give me a letter of resignation with an end date of “mid-June.” Asked the contract people, nope, no good, I need an end date. After much fussing, I finally got one. Whew! The job ad for his replacement is wending its way through the university, and should be posted in January. Yay!

So all’s happy, except that he STILL can’t seem to get along with this particular group of students. The dean brokered a deal to allow them to join classes remotely, even when everyone else is in-person, given their schedules. Good, except that, apparently. he refuses to answer questions from them, and if they ask questions, he turns off the sound from the computer where they’re logged in, because “it’s annoying.” Even when in person, he will explain things to other students, but give brusque one-word responses to them. Students not in this group have mentioned it to me.

Most recently, the grandmother of one of these students passed away, and he refused to believe that she needed 3 days for the funeral because “funerals are only one day long.” If she wanted 3 days, he wanted a signed letter from her parents! The student is 25 and lives on her own. The student complained, and when I pushed back, pointing out that the student is of a different ethnicity and religion, and these practices vary, he demanded to know if all of the other faculty were being flexible (Yes, I’m one of them. We are.) and then grudgingly agreed to give her a little leeway.

Honestly, his biggest problem is the tone of all of his communications. I pointed out to my boss at one point, that I probably could have swung the schedule change if I thought it was important enough, simply by listening to student concerns, trying to meet them partway, and just not being an authoritarian jerk. Holding a grudge against three of our best students (all female, all POC) and treating them this way for over 6 months is so beyond inappropriate, and there’s nothing I can do about it. At least none of them have to take a class with him again, and I took one of his classes in the spring away from him and hired a new adjunct to teach it. It’s extra money from my budget, since he gets paid the same no matter how many classes he teaches, but it’s an intro class into a major part of our curriculum, and I need it taught well.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we make it through the rest of the semester and next semester without any more big blowups, that he finds a new job that he can move into, and that I find a replacement who will fit in with the rest of the program.

P.S. I forgot an important point! The letter of intent also included the phrase, “I expect an extremely positive letter of recommendation from you.” And, yes, he has asked me to be a reference for the jobs he’s applying for now! I haven’t been contacted by anyone yet, but I have no idea what I’m going to say if/when that happens!

{ 453 comments… read them below }

    1. Andrew*

      People everywhere are weird, but academia is definitely one of the weirdest environments I’ve encountered.

      1. Slinky*

        Yes, but after working 16 years in academia, this is still one of the weirdest things I’ve heard.

      2. Prof. Kat*

        Professor here…yep. As soon as LW said academia, it all made sense. The vast majority of my colleagues over the years have been lovely people with, you know, a basic grasp on reality, but academia does tend to attract and cultivate some very special egos. Sigh.

        1. Prof. Kat*

          I should add, though, that LW is actually in the best possible scenario: dealing with a *non-tenured* very special ego. Just the fact that they can be rid of Fergus at all is nothing short of a miracle.

          In my grad school department, there was a tenured faculty member who had sued the university (frivolously and unsuccessfully) repeatedly over the course of 15 years and stuck around just to be…well, annoying would be an understatement. He was awful. The week before my dissertation defense, my advisor warned me that this guy was starting up his antics again and might show up uninvited to my defense and make a stink, just for funsies. He didn’t, but clearly, things were…interesting. Ugh.

          1. Still breathing*

            I’m in government and a former coworker sued their supervisor and virtually everyone above them for sexual harassment. Because a professional body did not accept their qualifications to receive the highest designation so if they want to receive the designation (and associated pay raise) they have to get a master’s degree. And the government will pay for that degree but they want their boss to make an outside body accept their work. And since they couldn’t, they sued for sexual harassment. Not discrimination. Harassment.
            That was over 20 years ago and they are still there treating bosses and coworkers alike with hatred and disdain. You don’t want to know how obnoxious they are to (“mere clerical idiots” they call them.) It boggles the mind.

      3. Artemesia*

        I spent 45 years in Academia — and have had a fair number of weirdos AND I have a small collection of resignation or post resignation rants — but this guy wins. No Ast. Professor has a ‘fancy title’ — Named chairs are generally full professors. Lecturers are rarely hired for assistant Prof lines, but in any case, you can’t manufacture a tenure track line out of thin air.

        And for recommendation? You get to be honest; you can be mostly vague, but I would sure mention his difficulty working with women/POC.

          1. Kat in Boots*

            This guy is bananacrackers. What is he smoking?! I had no idea someone could be THIS out of touch!

    2. acl*

      If anyone calls you for a reference, just confirm his title and the dates of employment. If pressed, perhaps you can say that you cannot, in all good conscious, provide any more information.

      If there is a legal or HR department at your University, perhaps they can guide you to better answers.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Honestly? I think it’s worth checking with the university’s lawyers to see if she’s allowed to tell at least some small version of the truth. This sorry excuse for a lecturer has been carrying on a campaign of sustained abuse against multiple women of color. I think people who are thinking about hiring him deserve to hear that truth so they can protect their students from abuse.

      2. AcademiaNut*

        Academic references are a special thing, and come in letter format. The LW can refuse to write a letter, which says a LOT on it’s own. There’s also a special language used for honesty in reference letters. A letter which simply said Fergus worked for me in this position on these dates would be unusual and very, very telling.

        On reading the final paragraph of the update, I immediately started thinking about phrasing. Something like “Fergus would perform best in a job which had minimal interaction with students and other faculty, and in which he had no decision making power.”

        1. Michelle Smith*

          “A letter which simply said Fergus worked for me in this position on these dates would be unusual and very, very telling.”

          I couldn’t agree more.

        2. B*

          I once saw a military performance review that said, “Works well under direct supervision.”

          I could *hear* the record scratch. I think I actually cursed out loud.

          It’s one of those phrases that looks innocuous to a layman, but to another servicemember it was the equivalent of pulling a fire alarm.

          1. zuzu*

            My supervisor said of a particularly lazy coworker when she was asked for a reference, “You would be lucky to get Fergus to work for you.”

      3. DrRat*

        “I can’t provide a reference, but, hey, I was just wondering if you ever read AAM? I love that site! Especially one of the letters on December 2, 2021. What a doozy. Welp, sorry I can’t help you at all, but as I said, I can’t provide a reference.”

    3. R*

      According to Wikipedia, Up with People is “An American nonprofit organization that uses a five-month program involving travel, the performing arts, volunteering, and various workshops focusing on intercultural communication to teach young adults how to interact in a multi-cultural environment and create change in communities with varying needs,” but that’s not important right now.

  1. Hills to Die On*

    Ah, yes, the Brilliant Opus re Intent to Flounce! I love it. I would love to know where he ends up.

    1. Percysowner*

      The new University of Austin? [which as per Wikipedia] has been described as “anti-cancel culture” and “anti-woke”. As of November 2021 the venture was reliant on a fiscal sponsor and was seeking accreditation, and was in the process of securing a site in the Austin area for its campus.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        My prediction: It will never actually teach classes. It looks to me like yet another scam to fleece the rubes.

      2. Free Meerkats*

        Of all the places in Texas to put that institution, Austin would probably be the last I’d expect.

        1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          Oh, I think picking Austin was very deliberate. They want to “own the libtards” on their own ground. Of course, even if it becomes a real thing, it will just be pathetic.

          1. Marlon Brandname*

            I also think it was deliberate, but in the sense that they’ll be able to direct (or “We definitely don’t suggest going to X place to do Y action!” equivalent) their students start fights and civil unrest in the area, for political reasons. Y’know, domestic terror campaigns.

          1. BeenThere*

            As a woman in technology in California I can confirm, the tech bros moving to Texas are the worst.

            Sorry Texas, I know some of you were hoping the West Coast folks would improve things.

        2. dePizan*

          On their website Q&A, there was a “why Austin?” and the answer was that “if it was good enough for Elon Musk and Joe Rogan, it’s good enough for us.”
          Also, their address for this university is currently a law firm.

        3. Spencer Hastings*

          I heard some speculation that they might be hoping that people will confuse it with UT Austin, because of the name.

          1. We gotta go to the crappy town where *I'm* a hero.*

            As someone who has proudly worked for the venerable institution for nearly a quarter of a century, I know I certainly do. My heart skips a damn beat every time I see the name. I hate it.

        4. A Wall*

          As someone who was born and raised in Austin, it totally tracks. Austin has been a magnet for all variety of jagoffs for decades now, on the grounds that everyone wants the same big liberal city amenities (read: businesses, not actual city amenities like transit, which we do not have) that they expect elsewhere, but with the veneer of being a lawless frontier brought to life by pioneering yuppies. Less regulation, no state income tax (they somehow never figure out that it all gets made back in sales and property taxes), and a lot of sprawl that means that there’s a lot of open green space everywhere giving the illusion that you are far from everyone else no matter where you are in town. Because they want to be free spirit rebels breaking new ground, but they’ll be damned if they do it somewhere that doesn’t have a ramen place.

          1. an infinite number of monkeys*

            I am veering further off-topic, but read an interesting plaint on Reddit not too long ago from someone in Portland OR, talking about how the city attracts angry out-of-towners from rural areas who come storming in to harass the locals, but also take the opportunity of enjoying the green space, food scene, coffee, bars, live music and other city amenities while they’re in town. This was loosely referred to as “tourrorism.”

      3. B*

        What’s the difference between “anti-woke” and “pro-racist?”
        Not a rhetorical question. I genuinely don’t understand what that means.

        1. Beth*

          The degree of deniability. If you claim to be “anti-woke”, you’re undoubtedly a bigot of some kind or another, but you can pretend you aren’t. The only people who will believe you will be your fellow bigots, but you don’t care about anyone else’s opinion anyway.

          A good parallel might be “anti-vax” versus “pro-death”.

          1. Amaranth*

            My understanding is ‘woke’ is painted as a false state of indignation built on following popular trend without authentic cause. So, basically, they claim to be against persecution and false flags.

    1. Anonym*

      No disrespect to the (clearly very lovely and sensible) OP, but when I hit the line about his biggest problem being communication, I blurted out “His biggest problem is that he’s a GIANT A-HOLE!” What a piece of work! Good riddance!

      Please, please give honest references for him! He’s an absolute monster-toddler-ridiculous baby, and is only going to torment more students wherever he goes. There are so many great people out there competing for positions like that. He doesn’t deserve one, whatever else he may contribute.

      1. Classic Rando (she/ her)*

        Seriously, this guy isn’t fit to teach arts and crafts at the senior center, don’t help him get a job at some other university!

      2. EmmaPoet*

        Yes, Fergus does not have a problem communicating, he’s just mean. And apparently racist/sexist to boot. Yay.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          Yes – that really stood out to me too. The OP maybe should be asking the university’s legal counsel about how to handle things if Fergus’ abhorrent personality gets interpreted (accurately or inaccurately – hard to tell with some assholes) as blatant racial / gender discrimination. Because there’s a decent chance that any one of the female POC students could interpret his behavior in exactly that way, and lodge a formal human rights complaint – particularly if Fergus marks their work unfairly.

            1. Anne of Green Gables*

              I am flabbergasted that the students have not gone higher above the LW’s head. If anyone high up at my higher ed institution had heard about something similar, the decisions would not be in Fergus’s favor. (Also, there is no way he could have switched the class format from online to in person just because he wanted to. Once a class is in the scheduling system, it cannot be changed Spring semester 2020 being an extremely rare exception.)

          1. GlitsyGus*

            That was my first thought. OP, keep an eye on the grades these three women get from this A-hole. At bare minimum check in with them and make sure they are comfortable with the grading. Not only do they not deserve to be shafted by this guy; your department doesn’t want to deal with a discrimination complaint on top of everything else.

      3. Sales Geek*

        Nope. Giving “honest refences” will just prolong the issue. Do you think the OP really wants this drama to continue after this troublemaker is gone? I doubt it…

        All that needs to be done is to confirm that he was employed at your institution from to and *nothing* else. Let the prospective employer’s imagination do the work for you.

        1. DecorativeCacti*

          About the only other question she should answer is “Would you hire this person again?” Let the “no” speak for itself.

        2. Your local password resetter*

          You don’t have to be dramatic about it. But an honest and straightforward conversation with the (presumably not ridiculous) interviewer can spare other people a lot of pain.

        3. Metadata minion*

          Agree — if the LW wants to give a full and honest anti-recommendation, go for it, but as mentioned above, a brief “yes, this person definitely worked for us on these dates” with no other information is a very well-understood code for “and dear god we’re glad he’s leaving” in academia.

      4. Vito*

        I used to have a good book called:

        Lexicon of
        aka LIAR.
        it gave creative ways to give (not so good) references

    1. TrackingCookieMonster*

      Yes, and “openly displaying prejudice towards POC women students” is something every college program in America definitely wants connected to their faculty these days.

      1. Princesss Sparklepony*

        He’d probably do fine at any conservative college. Liberty U or any of the religious run ones. The anti woman thing wouldn’t bother them, but the anti POC thing might be a problem.

    2. DataGirl*

      Right?! He’s messing with their education in a major way and while LW clearly is sympathetic, it’s not clear if anything is being done to mitigate the terrible job he’s doing teaching this group.

      1. Jasper*

        Doesn’t look like it. They can’t afford to not have him teaching, it sounds like.

        If I were one of those students I’d ask for my tuition back.

          1. Former Professor*

            The LW likely doesn’t have an ounce of authority to refund anyone’s tuition. Plus, depending on the setup, that idea is sticky to begin with. (Did the person pass the class? Are they willing to have it removed from their record and re-take it? If they didn’t pass, they’d have a stronger argument, but that would still probably go through registrar and/or financial aid. Then there’s the issue of whether the school charges per-unit or a flat rate based on number of units–which could be a situation in which a student pays something like $3k per semester for 1-6 units, $4k for 7-11, and $5k for 12+. Of course, these numbers are just hypotheticals, but that kind of pricing structure isn’t uncommon.)

    3. Stitch*

      Like seriously antics like this will lose you partnerships with companies and other organizations. If I was sponsoring an employee’s education and found out they were being mistreated like this, I’d be very upset.

      Allowing this to go on is wrong and it will harm your organization.

    4. Call Me Dr. Dork*

      I know! I was very fortunate to have a supportive undergrad major department, but I ran into jerks like that in grad school.

      LW, is there any way your department can mitigate the impact on the students? Jerks like this are a large contributing factor to the leaky pipeline for women and POC in a lot of disciplines.

      1. mrs__peel*

        YES. As I was reading this, my immediate thought was “What is the university doing (if anything) to protect these students”?? It’s really not sufficient or okay to fob them off with “Sorry, you just need to suck this up for another year because we can’t get rid of him”.

        As you said, these kinds of discriminatory experiences and lack of institutional support absolutely drive qualified people out of many fields. It’s just plain wrong.

        1. Artemesia*

          One of my better grad students was a woman who was harassed out of another doctoral program. She was very bright but this guy was a big grant getter and so was allowed to abuse students and abuse women — he also did his best to destroy the career of a young assistant professor and may have done so. University legal and administrative offices are at least as craven as corporate ones.

          1. Birch*

            Yep, they’re not doing anything because people with power, like OP, think the solution is to write this horrible dude a bland recommendation letter to make him someone else’s problem.

      2. WomEngineer*

        I’m mad on the students’ behalf too! I hope it’s not a prerequisite that will make them fall behind in other classes. I also hope that it’s not one of those required special topics classes that is students’ only training in a specialty (i.e. if they’re not electrical engineers, but this is their only circuits class)

        (Also as someone who dealt with loss twice in college, it’s a stressful time for some of us to talk to professors, much less ask for accommodations, while still processing grief.).

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      This. As a student–even one of the favored ones granted answers while he literally mutes others–this would have me seriously questioning my choice of graduate program.

      This seems to go way beyond “eccentric” into “surely ought to be a violation of this employment contract.”

      1. tangerineRose*

        “surely ought to be a violation of this employment contract.” Yes! Especially since his unfairness seems to be based on prejudice.

    6. not owen wilson*

      I ran into professors like this as a woman in chem. It was so, SO frustrating to have professors on power trips and actively sabotaging students while the administration threw up their hands like “well, that sounds rough!” One professor had a history of sexually harassing women and of racism towards students of color. He taught for over 30 years before retiring; the icing on the cake is that he took advantage of a university program that allowed him to retire a year early with full pay before his pension kicked in. I’m angry all over again just thinking about him.

      OP, I know your current attitude is that he’s leaving and you just need to ride out the storm. But before he leaves, this man is going to drive the targets of his bigotry out of STEM fields — women, students of color, LGBTQ students. It’s not that he “can’t get along” with this group of students, it’s that he’s abusing his power over them. I cannot emphasize enough how the horrible professors, many of them just like this man, nearly drove me to quit chemistry. Not only that, but I guarantee none of these students will donate any money to the department in the future. Why would they want to fund the salaries of professors like this? Why would they want to fund scholarship programs — so other students can endure the same abuse they did?

      I know I sound harsh, OP, but I need to drive home the impact of abusive professors like this on undergraduate students. They are paying quite a bit a money — for what? To be OPENLY discriminated against by their professor? To have their questions ignored in class? I don’t care that this is the last class they’ll have to take with this man, OP. This should never have been allowed to happen for this long in the first place.

      And for everyone who is about to jump in and tell me how hard it is to fire people in academia — I know. And I don’t care. It seems to me from this update that OP thinks the positive qualities of this man as a professor outweigh the negatives, and I’m here to say that they don’t. Full stop. You’ve allowed this man to discriminate against three women of color in your program for SIX MONTHS and you think there’s nothing you can do about it? Really? Do better, OP.

      1. OP*

        The students won’t file Title IX, and I can’t do it for them, unfortunately. I asked and asked, but they know they only have to deal with him for another couple of weeks, and then they’ll graduate. They all have jobs in the field and their salaries will double just as soon as they have that diploma in hand, so they’re ready to be DONE with the whole thing. I understand their point of view, of course, though I wish it were different. Even if they did file something, it would probably take 6-12 months to wind its way through the University.

        When I asked about filing something myself, I was told that, without direct testimony of the students, it would go nowhere. As much as I would love to be shot of this guy ASAP, I really don’t seem to have any recourse. I’m all about damage mitigation at this point. The students know I have their backs when it comes to grades; I took away his intro course, so the only things he’s teaching next semester are an independent study with his protege and the one class of his we’ve never gotten a complaint about.

        It sucks, believe me. The guy is constantly rude and obnoxious to me – he REALLY resented me sitting in on some of his classes! Quiet questions to the Dean and Provost about what to do were met with very firm, “Just wait it out.” I don’t like it, but that’s what I’m doing.

        1. Foila*

          So looking at the details you’ve given, it sounds like you’ve done a lot to mitigate the harm Fergus is doing, but he’s got the rest of this semester and all of next semester where he’s still teaching. He’s frankly such a detriment to the students, the department, and the school, that I think drastic measures are called for.

          Can you or someone with your level of authority sit in on his classes? Not to document, I know you’ve done that, but to actively buffer. He pulls his tricks of ignoring the remote students? The “buffer” interrupts him with their questions. Will he feel undermined? He should.

          I know this would be a colossal PITA, but I don’t think you’ve got this situation stabilized to the point where you can stop focusing on it.

          1. merpaderp*

            I have to agree. Not only would it go a ways towards mitigating the harm he is causing to ALL of your students, it would also allow you to have an impartial witness observing and able to file a tile IX complaint without foisting yet another high stress/high stakes responsibility onto already stretched students.

            I would actually go further too and ensure that all of his digital communication is actively being monitored too.

        2. JSPA*

          Let them know the door is open in the future. Beaten down and ready to flee is not a good position from which to fire a parting shot, but they may feel a retroactive urge to do so when they’re in a better place.

        3. Fellow academic*

          This is not OK. Waiting it out means making him someone else’s problem later, with no guarantee they’d be willing to even do the bare minimum you’re trying to do to protect the students. Of course students are afraid to file Title IX, they have no power and they see those with the power unwilling to do anything to help them, so why would they put their own necks on the line? The power structures are clearly proving to be a block, so change them! Work around them, work outside of them. This man is muting women of colour he has power over in a teaching environment . I’m not even sorry if this sounds harsh– I don’t really care that he’s been rude to you, this situation demands a lot more action from you and pressure from you on the dean and provost. Does your university have an equity-related working group? Get them involved–they don’t need legal proof of anything. Why hasn’t this guy been required to take anti-discrimination training? Go to the press, or have someone else speak to a journalist. Find a blogger, tweet about it, do these things anonymously if you have to. But it’s bizarre to suggest that you can’t do anything else because the students won’t file a Title IX. If we can see good people’s careers sidelined and destroyed by the academic gossip mill, we might as well try using those resources for good. Sorry to say, you aren’t going to be able to keep your hands clean if you want to actually help. It’s risky and difficult, so few are willing to try–that’s how these abusive people keep power.
          –Signed, an ECR who tried to help abused students when no one else would and it nearly broke me, professionally and mental health wise, but I’m now actually learning how to get and use power to make academia better

          1. CalypsoSummer*

            OP was directly instructed by the Dean and by the Provost to “Just wait it out.”

            Yes, it’s a horrendous situation, and yes, OP knows it. And yes, OP’s hands are tied. She has done what she can to safeguard the students, who just want to get their diplomas and get OUT of there. And unless the students are willing to file Title IX complaints, or willing to testify if OP files a complaint on their behalf — which they are not — there’s nothing else she can do.

            You need to read through the comments on the original letter to get all the details of what she can done and what she can/cannot do. I appreciate your indignation on the general situation in academia, but you are totally unreasonable when you aim your indignation directly and specifically at OP and blame her for what she cannot accomplish.

        4. anon328479*

          Are you sure you are not mandated to report to Title IX? At my institution, any employee who becomes aware of a situation that could be a Title IX violation is bound to report it, regardless of whether students want to file a complaint themselves. (Students can choose to be as involved or uninvolved with the report and investigation as they want.) There are very few carve-outs for those in roles like therapist and victim advocates. Your role would not be exempt where I work. And you are now on notice that he is acting in a discriminatory manner.

          I strongly encourage you to bring this situation up with Title IX and legal counsel at your institution. Stick to the facts: X number of female students of color have experienced significant difficulty with this professor. You have credible reports that he intentionally ignores, dismisses, and belittles them in both group and individual interactions. He intentionally impedes their ability to fully participate in their education. Given that the students involved all belong to the same protected classes, you are concerned about the liability he is creating for the institution.

        5. Gracely*

          If you’re faculty in a university, you’re a mandated reporter to Title IX, regardless of what the individual students want to report. I’m assuming the people you’re asking about filing something yourself aren’t your Title IX coordinators–because they would know you need to file a report, or at least report it to whoever is in charge of Title IX coordination/reporting. You need to find that person ASAP and report it. And even if it’s going to take 6-12 months, it still needs to happen, because there needs to be a record of it for this person.

          If you’re really about damage mitigation, that’s the least you can do for people who will encounter him going forward.

          1. Candi*

            OP says in a comment on this page they tried reporting re: IX. It was refused, since the students wouldn’t testify. Even though OP is a witness. (I have all kinds of opinions about the refusal, but they’re not for polite company.)

        6. We gotta go to the crappy town where *I'm* a hero.*

          You know, in Texas, for not filing a Title IX report as a mandatory reporter, you would be terminated and possibly charged with a misdemeanor. They’re not screwing around.

        7. Meg Murry*

          If they only have a few more weeks, start the process of filing now and ask if they will be willing to provide official Title IX complaints AFTER they have the diploma in hand.

          1. CalypsoSummer*

            OP asked; the students refused.

            Quote: “The students won’t file Title IX, and I can’t do it for them, unfortunately. I asked and asked, but they know they only have to deal with him for another couple of weeks, and then they’ll graduate. They all have jobs in the field and their salaries will double just as soon as they have that diploma in hand, so they’re ready to be DONE with the whole thing.”

            1. yala*

              That doesn’t make sense.

              Or at least, according to the Very Human Sounding training videos we watch, you’re supposed to let them know up front “I’m a mandated reporter. If you would like, we can find you someone who is not for you to talk about this with first.”
              I don’t think reporting an incident is filing Title IX “for” them, so much as just…doing the thing you’re supposed to do.

              That said, if he’s gone then good riddance. What a wretched creature for OP and the students to have to deal with.

      2. jj*

        yes yes yes yes

        The fact that the students he actively dislikes with are all WOC is a HUGE red flag. The department needs to seriously look at his behavior toward any other students that are part of minority groups.

        He is literally MUTING these women when they’re virtual and ignoring them in person. This is not even remotely ok.

        I realize that academia is a weird little world, but the school needs to re-evalute policies that don’t allow a contract to be cut short in the face of this kind of behavior.

      3. MamaJo*

        This! I had a math professor for Ordinary Differential Equations, it was his last semester teaching and he put zero effort in it. He blew off questions and held absolutely no office hours. Wound up with a C but needed C+ or better since it was my major. Changed majors after this. Dr Flouncy McFlouncypants needs to be out of the classroom.

        1. Candi*

          Had an ASL teacher at community college who was also going to retire at the end of the year. She did put effort into teaching, but she didn’t use Canvas anymore than she absolutely had to. Lots and lots of papers. There were some shenanigans, but they didn’t get really annoying or pervasive until November, and since she was leaving in June, there was a risk that some of the people involved in handling such things might sit on hers and run out the timer. (There’s always someone.)

          And my mother died during that quarter, and I was dealing with that I was upset even though she was a terrible person and she’d only been involved in my life due to my kids. So that was fun.

        2. not owen wilson*

          I had a physics adjunct who was brought in last minute after another professor unexpectedly retired. He yelled at me in front of the entire class, threatened me in the physics building basement another time, and there was a clear trend that the women in his class didn’t score as well as the men. The physics department decided not to renew his contract but didn’t do anything about his behavior while he was still teaching. I was considering double majoring in physics before I took his class. The attitude from the department was the same as OP: “well, we know this sucks but what can we do! he’s gone next semester! just tough it out!” I never took another physics class after that. University departments will allow behavior like this and then in the same breath wonder why STEM fields are so overwhelmingly white and male, lol

          1. Oakenfield*

            Yup. When I got a higher grade on a Biochem final than the usual high scorer which was a male, I was taken into the office and my knowledge verbally tested, even though I’d scored only a few points under him all semester. That never sat well with me. If he’d blown the curve by 17 points, I have the feeling they wouldn’t have challenged him.

          2. NotRealAnonForThis*

            And currently witnessing a related phenomena, where young engineers see middle aged male engineers get away with nonsense that they shouldn’t (relating to treatment of women/POC/LGBT+) at work, and the cycle perpetuates.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yep. I would be so incredibly pissed off if I were paying for the pleasure of being “taught” by this jackass. When I went, grad school was not cheap, and going to class cut into my work and family time. I needed to get something out of that time to make it worth my while.

  2. animaniactoo*

    I suggest using the wonderful phrase from earlier this week. “Well, he seems to have a problem with authority.”

    EvilMe™ might have made this suggestion and you should carefully consider whether you want to listen to her or not.

  3. The Ginger Ginger*

    He can expect a good recommendation all he wants. The REALITY is going to hugely disappoint him.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I can’t WAIT to read a follow-up to this follow-up when OP writes in to tell us what they said in his recommendation. OP, you could just send this link right here to whoever asks.

    2. Orora*

      A colorful phrase that I have heard: You can expect in one hand and defecate in the other and see which one gets full faster.

  4. CatCat*

    And, yes, he has asked me to be a reference for the jobs he’s applying for now!

    Just give him a 4-page Letter of Intent to Not Provide a Positive Reference.

    1. Hills to Die On*

      Oh, I think just drafting a letter documenting his um, spectacular(ly awful) performance and sending that out whenever you are contacted will work just great!

    2. Selina Luna*

      I disagree. I would send him that “request” and then about 40 memes/GIFs saying some variation of “no.”

    3. mcfizzle*

      I’d just email the 4 page Letter of Intent to any interested party. They can then draw their own conclusions.

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      Just forward a copy of his letter to any prospective employers that contact you, to serve as an illustration of his work. It would be hard for him to claim libel.

      1. OP*

        I just looked. He has a 2.3. Two ones and a five. The 5 is either him or his protege, who is also in these classes.

      2. A Genuine Scientician*

        Eh. Rate My Prof pages are predominantly very negative. I once taught a course where the average evaluation of me from the students on the university’s forms was a 4.3/5, but I got a single review on Rate My Prof for that course, and it was a 1 star and full of inaccurate statements. The students who are most likely to go there are the ones who are very angry and want somewhere to vent. People who teach intro level courses, people who teach courses with substantial work loads, people who teach courses involving any degree of math, and anyone who doesn’t appear to be a middle aged white guy all score worse on student evals (weirdly both looking too young AND looking too old hurts), even if the peer reviews of other pedagogy-focused faculty disagree.

        I really don’t put a lot of stock in those reviews.

        1. Heron*

          I wouldn’t take the official professor perfomance rating surveys too seriously, either. I’ve had not-so-good profs I didn’t give bad ratings to because I didn’t know how honest to be. (Nice people, just not-so-great teachers.)

          1. MoreFriesPlz*

            One of the best professors I had never got tenure and was forced to leave because his student reviews were bad. The classes were tiny and I talked to few other students who basically said he gave them bad grades. Everyone was OBSESSED with their grades.

            The tests were hard but very fair and on basically exactly what the class slides were on. I was a little older than the other students and it just all struck me as very jr high.

            This was at a very elite, world famous college. Not Stanford or MIT or Princeton or Yale. So. Idk. I think student feedback is super important except for when it sucks.

            1. Artemesia*

              It is all well documented that women tend to score lower then men on these evaluations AND particularly if they are rigorous or do not meet ‘nurturing female’ stereotypes.

              1. fueled by coffee*

                Yep. I’m in grad school (so I teach intro courses for undergrads) and my evals every semester are FILLED with “she’s nice!” comments and little substantive feedback about my teaching.

                RateMyProfessor is a dumpster fire, but I think even with formal evaluations some of the issue is that students don’t understand what they’re used for – I think they think they’re giving *me* feedback, and also their comments will show up in the registrar system for students considering taking the class in the future. So “she’s nice” feels like a relevant comment, even though ultimately course evals are viewed by people with decision-making power over whether I get hired/promoted/etc. So it’s benevolent sexism at best, more likely outright discrimination (women, POC, and members of other marginalized groups – like out LGBT folks and disabled people systematically receive lower course ratings).

          2. A Genuine Scientician*

            My unit has moved to primarily using a peer observation based evaluation. It’s likely much more meaningful than student evaluations.

        2. many bells down*

          I never understood WHY TF “hotness” was a rating on that site. SO PROBLEMATIC AND NOT RELEVANT. I’m so glad they got rid of that.

          I’ve got a friend who’s a mathematics professor and also happens to look like Malibu Barbie. She had enough trouble without a giant “hot pepper” on her rating.

          1. MoreFriesPlz*

            I think they added it because so many people were commenting on it anyways and let’s be real their aim is not really any kind of maturity or respect for professors.

            1. PT*

              That hot pepper was there when I started college in 2003. Back then I think the site was mostly used by teenagers behaving like teenagers. This was back in the days of MySpace and Livejournal and flip phones and printing slides out before class because you couldn’t bring your laptop because it weighed 8 pounds and if you did you’d have to bring a power cord and an ethernet cord because the battery lasted 45 minutes and campus didn’t have wifi. It was just stupid and I don’t think anyone put any real deep thought into it or the site as having any meaning.

              I had one professor who was elderly and covered in large visible tumors and would be like “Extra credit if you give me a chili *cackles madly*”

        3. Well...*

          Idk I know lots of people with very positive reviews. Though I never got a page and have glowing teaching evaluations, so maybe you’re right.

          Also Fergus must have teaching evaluations through the department, no? This is why universities need tt teaching jobs and should stop with the fixed term contract nonsense. The only people that stick around through moving every few years/months their whole careers are people who either 1) can’t find better jobs 2) are delusional about how to get a tt job or 3) are being taken advantage of because they love teaching enough to never have stable work or lives. The first two are Fergus.

        4. Sharpieees*

          Yes, this is accurate. I’ve looked up ratings for classes that I took myself and it’s easy to see that a lot of the negative reviews are from students who simply didn’t put in the work they needed to do well.

        5. L'étrangere*

          Generally I would agree that many negative reviews are for reasons that have nothing to do with academic performance. But I looked over the reviews of 2 recently retired professors I know socially and 90% agreed: ‘boring’ for the one, ‘cranky’ for the other. So there’s that

  5. animaniactoo*

    Also – those poor students. They are paying money to be TAUGHT by THIS GUY. Good lord. I’m amazed they’re not demanding refunds.

    1. Littorally*

      Right? That seriously sucks. It’s a shame the contracts people were so strict — the students are really suffering for this.

    2. EPLawyer*

      I don’t think its a coincidence that all 3 of the “problem” students are POC and women. Nope not at all.

      1. animaniactoo*

        EvilMe™ asks innocently: “Wouldn’t it be just awful if somebody made some comments about organizing around that where they could hear it?”

        1. pope suburban*

          I…I don’t think that’s EvilYou. I think that’s GoodYou, or at bare minimum EthicalYou. And I would love it if exactly that happened. People like Fergus have no business in positions of authority like this, and frankly, we ought not to welcome them into polite society unless and until they actually change their ways.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Of course not. It corelates directly with him complaints about “cancel culture.”

    3. Deanna*

      Agreed 100%. Going to university in America is expensive enough as it is, and if I was paying all those fees, I’d want my lecturers to be competent and professional. If I was a student at this Uni, I’d have kicked off about this lecturer as well because he is shit as his job and is detrimental to the students

      1. Beth*

        Hell yes! I’m having flashbacks to a couple of truly awful teachers I had during my last round of schooling — which was at a community college, so at least I wasn’t paying a lot for having my time wasted.

        At that school, there were about 4 exceptional teachers to every total idiot, and the total idiots weren’t teaching key courses, so I figured I was coming out ahead overall. Change any of those factors, and I would have been ready to set fire to something.

        1. Vito*

          Back in 1984 I was in a community college and had the professor from Hell.. He was from a country that didn’t exist at the time (Estonia) and in his 60’s (I think).
          the class was Matricies and linear programming (NOT a computer course) and he was the ONLY professor teaching it. I took the class twice (dropped once and Failed once).
          It seems that the powers that be gave him the results to the class appraisal; his response to the class was that he was a full professor with tenure so there was NOTHING the could do about him. For some reason it was a MANDITORY course for business majors. I transferred to a 4 year school and never had to take that for my bachelors degree. I have NEVER used Gaus-Jordan Row Operations in my adult life.
          Oskar Sassion, I hope you are rotting in HELL

    4. Epsilon Delta*

      Came here to say this. I hope those students got full refunds, or maybe the option to retake the class at no cost if they didn’t fully benefit from it. That’s all just wishful thinking though, I’m sure it doesn’t work that way.

  6. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    “And, yes, he has asked me to be a reference for the jobs he’s applying for now! I haven’t been contacted by anyone yet, but I have no idea what I’m going to say if/when that happens!”

    Oh, how I wish you could just send the four-page Letter of Intent to Flounce as your reference statement. I’m sure his own words will win him many job offers…

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Serious question: Why couldn’t the OP do this, with a cover letter explaining what it is?

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Perhaps an “oops, I attached the wrong letter” on the response to the recommendation request…

  7. womanaroundtown*

    Asking for a reference!

    I recently had an intern who failed to complete any work for us ask for a reference at the end of an email in which he told me that he would not actually be sending in the (much needed – it was a terrible piece of writing, starting with the fact that this is legal writing and it was formatted in both MLA and AP styles, but no blue-booking) edits to his writing project. I actually laughed aloud.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Gotta ask: What was his educational background? I was taught how to blue-book in my summer paralegal course. I don’t do it enough to keep up my skills, but this just means that I still have my physical copy, and I refer to it on the occasions when I need it. I am not entirely impressed by actual law school curricula, but my impression was that blue-booking was one thing they were good at teaching. A freshly minted lawyer may not be able to find the men’s room in the courthouse, but by gosh he can do citations!

      That reminds me that I actually have published in a law review. A law professor (law school currently ranked 88 out of 197, if you believe US News & World Report) wrote a book about the infield fly rule, at about the same time as I published an article about the rule’s origins. His school’s law review was so excited by his book that it devoted an issue entirely to the rule. He asked me to contribute, which I agreed to because I found the idea hilarious. (Is it on my resume? Hell, yeah!) The very earnest law students editing the review were very interested in getting the citations formatted exactly right. Fortunately they left the article itself untouched.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        I was a fiercely nitpicky Bluebook nerd when I was in law school. I have since published a few law review articles, and my attitude on Bluebooking has…relaxed somewhat over the years. I try to be consistent, remember the basics, and not submit an incomplete mess for footnotes. But Bluebooking is what law review editors are for, and bless ’em for it. Some of them even enjoy it, and I’d hate to deprive them of that.

        But they’d better leave my writing alone, because I know the English language better than 90% of them (evidence from my comments here notwithstanding).

        Also: a law review special issue on the infield fly rule is, in fact, hilarious.

        1. pancakes*

          I was a supervising editor of our law review, and co-sign all this.

          Being taught Bluebooking and taking care to do it properly are two different things.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          There was a seriocomic article on the infield fly rule in the Penn law review in 1975, and a couple of follow-ups in the same review much later. This, I suppose, provides the rationale for the special issue: if it is good enough for Penn… These were, as matters of baseball history, not great. More an opportunity for chin-stroking. Google my name and “infield fly rule” and you will find the SABR article I wrote, which cites the law review pieces.

  8. Dr. Rebecca*

    I’m in academia, and either he’s in for a rude awakening, or he’s going to fail upward. I hope it’s the former; we don’t need profs like that.

    1. CoffeeIsMyFriend*

      I too am in academia and hoping for a rude awakening…no one, faculty, staff, students, needs to deal with jerks like him.

    2. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Coming here to say the same thing. Having worked in higher education for 25 years now, this guy is going to make a name for himself within academia pretty quickly as That (Effing) Guy.

    3. Dr. Because Rebecca was Already Taken*

      I remember a professor in my PhD program who said that the fastest way to get fired was to get systemic complaints about your teaching (and yes this was at an R1). You can get away with being a huge a** in academia as long as your students don’t completely hate you. This guy doesn’t have a chance (and when he does fail, its going to be everyone else’s fault).

      1. Anon for this*

        Schools are also really focusing on diversity in hiring, too. My spouse is trying to fledge some baby professors and they’re finding it’s very hard to get male candidates in their field into the interview stage at all.

        A racist incel isn’t going anywhere.

    4. OP*

      I’m very, very afraid that he’s going to fail upward. The field is hot, and a lot of places are hiring….

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            I fail to see how an honest reference is going to harm the students.

            “Fergus routinely flouted the rules of the university in scheduling classes to the detriment of the majority of students paying for his time. He showed a pattern of bias against women and people of color. Further, he had a fundamental misunderstanding of university practices in regards to his place in the hierarchy, authority, and basic realities of the structure of the institution. I believe he will carry these traits to whatever establishment will hire him, leaving them open to possible litigation.”

            Come at me bro. Those students would be long graduated and I’ve got nothing but time and desire to see you crash and burn.

          2. CalypsoSummer*

            OP has already made it very clear that she has worked hard to rein in Dr McFlouncypants and provide the students with the best help she can manage. You make it very clear that you have not read the original post on McFlouncypants or the comments, in which OP goes into a great deal of detail on what she’s done to mitigate the damage he’s done. You might want to do that. You’re missing a lot of pertinent information.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This makes it even more important for you to give honest answers to anyone who asks you for a reference.

        There are a lot of people in these comments who have been demoralized by unethical, power hungry university professors (including me), and some who have given up their educations entirely for it. When we were in those situations, we had no power to fix things for ourselves. YOU have power here. YOU can do the thing that your students can’t and make sure any future schools he applies to have complete and truthful information about his racist, sexist, abusive practices. So do that. Protect the up and coming students in your field by not placing them under the authority of an abuser.

    5. Well...*

      It’s pretty hard to jump from fixed term teaching to the tenure track. He sounds delusional to me thinking he’ll get promoted into a tt job. The only way I can imagine is if he had an ivy pedigree. He sounds entitled enough for that I guess.

  9. AFac*

    If he indicates that he waives the right to see the letters of recommendation, you can be as blunt as you want, about both good and bad things. If he doesn’t waive that right, I’ve seen (and written) letters where the areas of concern are not stated overtly but any academician worth their salt who reads it knows exactly what’s up. There’s probably enough academic people on here that we could crowd-source some phrasing for you…

    Of course, you are also within your rights to refuse a letter when contacted, which is it’s own red flag.

    1. Countess of Upstairs Downstairs*

      “I’ve been looking forward to write a letter of recommendation for Dr. Fergus for a long time. He is an unbelievable faculty member. As the department chair, I can’t say enough about him. He stands out in such a unique way, I’m sure we won’t be able to find a person like him to fill his role anytime soon. His reputation will remain with our faculty and students for a long time. We will certainly never be able to forget him.”

      1. AFac*

        “He has very strong opinions about how courses should be taught, and often makes changes to course material to reflect his preferences. He is very ambitious, and is particularly interested in research opportunities and seeking funding for his projects. Because of that, I expect his tenure with you will be of short duration.”

        1. Countess of Upstairs Downstairs*

          “His interest in seeking funding for projects is well-supported by his ability to write astonishing letters of intent. I am fortunate to have had the chance to become extremely familiar with one that he wrote recently. His had a strong vision for obtaining salary support and gaining a high-level academic rank, and he did not hesitate to use his LOI to challenge the status quo. In my 30 years of teaching and working in university administration, this letter is one of the few that truly have a strong effect on me, so much so that after much reflection, I felt compelled to share my impressions on the internet so we can all learn from him.”

          1. Gracely*

            “I am attaching his most surprising letter of intent so that you will be able to better appreciate his vision as well as his grasp of the reality of academic career trajectories.”

    2. Violet Fox*

      Considering everything else with this guy, I would actually go up the chain to see what to do about a letter of recommendation if he ever asks. More for the OP to protect themselves than anything else.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        I’m in academia, but have only ever written students’ letters of rec.

        What could the fallout be for a negative letter of recommendation that was truthful? If someone asks me to be a letter writer, I always feel comfortable saying no and/or hinting it won’t say what they hope it will say. I realize this might be different professionally, but someone writing an honest letter is the consequence of being terrible at your job. I guess I’m not seeing where the blowback would be.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, there’s a lot of “read between the lines” when it comes to letters of reference in Higher Education.

  10. Momma Bear*

    Wow. After all that he demands a positive letter of reference?

    Good for you, OP, in taking one of his classes away. I bet his students will appreciate that.

    Does the school have any recourse for students to file a formal complaint about harassment or racism? If so, I’d point them that direction.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I saw a post from the OP that she tried to get the most affected students to file complaints, but the students aren’t going to. OP also checked about filing a complaint on her own – but was told without student testimony it wouldn’t be heard. I know people are bashing the OP – but if his students are so beaten down that they just want to survive this semester (and OP is supporting them by refusing to let this guy tank their grades) I don’t know what else they expect OP to do.

      OP, I would get with legal and the leadership about how explicitly you can state all his issues in that reference letter. If they won’t let you be honest about his problems I vote for the following:
      “Mr Fergus taught at University Blah as a lecturer from Date to Date. He did not complete all of his three year contract. We would not consider him for rehire.”
      Just let the the total brevity be brutally clear that he isn’t who you want to hire.

  11. Rat Diva*

    Good grief. I’m sure the fact that the students he holds a grudge against are all female POC is PURELY coincidental.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Yes, it is a complete coincidence that they ended up in the class of a racist, misogynistic narcissist!!!

    2. FrenchCusser*

      Well, of course, it’s their fault for getting uppity.


      The only ‘D’ I ever got in college was from a sexist pig who HATED that I didn’t just keep my head down and be silent.

      I was very proud of that ‘D’.

      1. Essess*

        I had a college professor inform me (a woman) in front of the entire class that a woman cannot be good in Statistics because a person can only be good in one thing in their lives, and women have to be good at being wives/mothers.

        I only wish I’d been quick enough to respond to him “so does that mean you can’t be a good statistician AND a good teacher since you can only do one thing?”

        1. Solana*

          Just tell him that those who can’t do, teach.
          (For the record, I have so much respect for amazing teachers I’ve had that in my writing, I’ve worked in a number of them for character inspirations. One is even my protagonist’s foster father that I considered my finest mentor.)

        2. pancakes*

          There’s a prof at Boise State University in Idaho who was in the news earlier this week for his remarks that “Every effort must be made not to recruit women into engineering, but rather to recruit and demand more of men who become engineers. Ditto for med school, and the law, and every trade.” There’s more, but the gist of it is that he thinks we should just be birthing babies.

          1. Palliser*

            Wow, I just looked up that guy. The nicest thing I can think to say is that I hope he gets therapy. And I hope his female students sue the hell out of Boise State.

          2. NotRealAnonForThis*

            I mean, with the engineers I’ve come into contact with, yes, we need to demand that they’re not $hit humans…so I’m okay with demanding more of them.

            But the rest of it, Mr Sexist Professor can tuck into a barbed enema and forget to use lubricant.

    3. anonarama*

      Yeah especially in a computer sci adjacent STEM program. This is how professions end up disproportionately white and male. He’s gate keeping and its gross

  12. The Cosmic Avenger*

    Hooray for extracting an official flounce date out of him, OP! And if you’re a regular here, you’ll know that even when these problem children are average or even above average contributors, they can’t compensate for the loss of morale, which eventually leads to lower productivity and even higher turnover in everyone else who has to deal with them. You will be much better off without them, and I hope you give a factual and forthright recommendation; that will ultimately serve to preserve instead of tarnish your own reputation.

    1. Candi*

      In the OP’s case, it will directly cost the university money. He’s teaching required material for a degree, based on OP’s comments in the original thread the class options for the reqs at their college are limited, so prospective students will go elsewhere for said degree to avoid such a teacher. Word gets around.

      1. CalypsoSummer*

        They can get someone else to teach those classes. In fact, OP hired an adjunct to teach one of McFlouncypants’ classes next spring, to keep him away from students. He’s not the only person in the world that can teach a particular class — he doesn’t own the data.

  13. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    Yikes, I really hope you don’t have to actually give him a reference. I’d be torn between wanting to give him an ok one and not going into his issues just to ensure that he definitely leaves and doesn’t become an ongoing problem and wanting to tell the truth because … well, it is the right thing to do. Plus, guys like him will file lawsuits or do other things to retaliate if they find out you said anything negative. You might want to talk to the school’s legal representation or just consult with an attorney before you actually get put in that position.

    1. Essess*

      You can say negative things as long as they are factually true. You can’t make negative subjective comments, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with stating actual actions and facts.

      1. Littorally*

        I mean, you can make negative subjective comments. That’s not illegal, and IANAL but I think tortious interference would be a pretty high bar to reach.

      2. Imaginary Friend*

        But you can still get sued, assuming Fergus could find a lawyer who would represent him. (Oh geez, he’s probably the type who would represent himself.)

        1. CalypsoSummer*

          “But you can still get sued, assuming Fergus could find a lawyer who would represent him. (Oh geez, he’s probably the type who would represent himself.)”

          I would pay good money to sit in on that trial!! But I’d probably get escorted out for laughing . . . .

  14. AGD*

    Letters of recommendation for faculty jobs tend to be confidentially submitted, so I’d encourage you to be candid (or at least encourage recipients to very much read between the lines) (or just concisely say that you are not able to recommend him). He can say all he wants about his expectations of you and everyone. The academic job market is so tight that bending over backwards to appease a whiny narcissist is unnecessary. If anything, it could come back to haunt you (I saw this play out when a previous affiliation decided not to share that a candidate for a job had a history of misogyny and online abuse – the place they came from took a hit to their reputation). Students deserve better, as do colleagues.

    1. Damn with faint praise*

      Yes. I love letters like, “Fergus worked here. Fergus worked in our department. Fergus taught x number of classes until he didn’t. Fergus is a professor of Y. Fergus worked in our department for z number of years. Fergus no longer works here.”

    2. datamuse*

      This. My department does reference phone calls, not letters, but what’s said on those calls is confidential as well.

      I’d be stunned that he thinks he can expect a positive reference, but he also basically demanded tenure-track consideration (including title) when he’s a lecturer and…that’s not how that works.

    3. a tester, not a developer*

      Can OP mention that he broke his contract because they can’t offer him (all the crazy things he asked for)? And does that send a box of Big Red Flags to whoever is looking at his application?

  15. my 8th name*

    Maybe I’m missing something, but how is your professor noticeably treating multiple WOC differently than other students not a larger concern for the department? Because he’s resigning? Doesn’t matter! This guy is a huge liability.

    1. Meg*

      Agreed. If something like that happened within my department, it would be a huge deal, and they’d be on verrrrry thin ice, if not out in the cold.

    2. Self Employed Employee*

      I was thinking this was the most important part of the whole crazy story. This needs to be explored first of all. Were they the repeat students?

    3. pancakes*

      Yeah. He’s treating these students like crap, and there’s clearly a racist element to his behavior. It’s also clear that other students have noticed he’s been getting away with it for months. I don’t get why the school is acting like there’s nothing to be done about it besides wait for him to leave.

    4. L.H. Puttgrass*

      If this is not grounds for terminating Fergus’s contract, your contracts are extremely poorly written.

    5. anon for this*

      Bingo. OP, what??? You (as the department CHAIR) know that he is discriminating against WOC in your program and your response is…. there’s nothing you can do about it? Is it only a problem when he’s an azzhat to you?

      1. un-pleased*

        Yeah this is going to be a nightmare if word gets around, and OP, you’ll be part of the discussion.

    6. DarthVelma*

      If I was a student, it wouldn’t matter that Fergus in particular was leaving. The department let this happen and I would have ZERO confidence they wouldn’t just let it happen again with other faculty. That the department didn’t nip this in the bud sooner – well, I’d be pretty much convinced the leadership was all on board with racism, sexism, and misogynoir.

      1. B*

        Yup. And from a legal perspective, it might not matter, either. If someone claims discrimination and sued the school, they could still be liable because they knew about Fergus’ pattern of behavior and did nothing to stop it.

        1. CalypsoSummer*

          OP, posted Dec 2, 2021, 5:49

          “The students won’t file Title IX, and I can’t do it for them, unfortunately. I asked and asked, but they know they only have to deal with him for another couple of weeks, and then they’ll graduate. They all have jobs in the field and their salaries will double just as soon as they have that diploma in hand, so they’re ready to be DONE with the whole thing. I understand their point of view, of course, though I wish it were different. Even if they did file something, it would probably take 6-12 months to wind its way through the University.

          “When I asked about filing something myself, I was told that, without direct testimony of the students, it would go nowhere. As much as I would love to be shot of this guy ASAP, I really don’t seem to have any recourse. I’m all about damage mitigation at this point. The students know I have their backs when it comes to grades; I took away his intro course, so the only things he’s teaching next semester are an independent study with his protege and the one class of his we’ve never gotten a complaint about.

          “It sucks, believe me. The guy is constantly rude and obnoxious to me – he REALLY resented me sitting in on some of his classes! Quiet questions to the Dean and Provost about what to do were met with very firm, “Just wait it out.” I don’t like it, but that’s what I’m doing.”

          OP is currently out of options at the moment — but Dr. McFlouncypants is OUT after the spring semester.

  16. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    Bananacrackers…crazy sauce…yeah. Sounds like a professor I used to work with. Count yourself lucky were you actually able to get rid of Fergus. My guy was tenured. I left that university, came back years later, and he was STILL THERE and still jerking his students around the same way.

  17. Princess Flying Hedgehog*

    I would have reported him to the appropriate university office for discrimination and harassment, given the students in question were female and POC.

        1. Temperance*

          That’s generally not a thing for Title IX violations, and these students are all legal adults. OP might have some internal obligations to share what she knows with her institution, but generally speaking, the students themselves need to initiate the process.

          1. fueled by coffee*

            (I am not a lawyer and happy to be corrected here)

            My understanding of the mandatory reporting laws at my university is that it only applies to sexual assault, so I don’t think that refusing to answer students’ questions and generally being a racist/sexist jerk would fall under that. But the students being adults is irrelevant.

            (Also at my university – faculty/course instructors are obligated to report instances of sexual assault that they hear about, but all that does is trigger the Title IX office to contact the student involved. The student is under no obligation to talk to the Title IX office or initiate a case if they don’t want to. Not sure how other schools do things)

            1. anon38247*

              Title IX covers more than sexual assault. As a mandated reporter, if you become aware of anything that could be a Title IX violation, you are obligated to report it.

              At my institution they would contact both the accused person and the one who was reported as victimized, if they have the identity of both parties. I can’t imagine the accused here would keep their mouth shut when contacted. If anything, his denial would probably substantiate the complaint. Plus any of the other non-POC or non-female students could also file a complaint since they witnessed the discrimination.

        2. Bumblebee*

          Not since Devos got ahold of T9. Depends on your job responsibilities now, not just faculty status.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Devi’s twisted it – and then some universities really ran with further alterations to Title IX. Sounds like OP may be in a university where the Deans and legal/HR offices may have taken some liberties and are trying to avoid a stink.

            OP is firmly behind these students – but those students may doubt the university supporting them against Fergus.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        OP said upthread (search for OP with an asterisk to find all their comments) that they have asked and asked the students in question to file Title IX complaints against the professor and that the students have declined; OP also said that since the students declined, OP cannot file on their behalf.

    1. Double A*

      Yeah, he literally called them “mean girls” and the complaints about cancel culture when he’s specifically targeting POC is a huge racist dog whistle.

    2. NerdyLibraryClerk*

      Agreed. They need to be trying to get rid of him ASAP, and with cause. Unless the university is okay with discrimination and harassment, that is.

      1. CalypsoSummer*

        They have been working to get rid of him, and in fact he’ll be gone after the spring semester. Dr. McFlouncypants will flounce out the door after the spring semester.

    3. Squirrel Nutkin*

      I agree. And OP, if the students in question don’t want to report now, can you ask if they would be willing to report after they graduate (which you said is in a few weeks, I believe) to help make sure that these problems are documented fully and to give the University the evidence they need to protect other students by perhaps getting Fergus out sooner? Even if you ultimately fail, OP, by doing everything you can to protect students from this person and letting students know that you’re doing so, you will be doing a better job than you’d do with the current plan.
      P.S. You have tenure, right? I know an untenured professor who managed to get a well-connected sexual harasser kicked out of her school’s Writing Center for creeping on the tutors, but the fallout was that she had a target on her back and was ultimately forced out herself for totally BS reasons.

      1. B*

        OP totally needs to document the interaction with the students and the fact that they urged the students to report it.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          She is still documenting all his antics per a comment from OP. Sounds like she’s the only one who isn’t willing to just sneak away from the problem.
          Let’s face it – it sounds like the system is tying her hands a bit behind her back, and she’s doing the best she can to protect the students.

  18. Lady_Lessa*

    If you need to do a positive letter, assuming this would be appropriate. “This is a positive letter “a+” The gentlemen would not be considered for rehiring.

  19. LKW*

    Bananacrackers indeed. I think you should start preparing that letter of recommendation now… because it’s going to take a bit of finesse to find the right words. I recommend choice phrases like:

    1. Fergus is very consistent. Despite poor feedback from his students, Fergus maintained his class approach through the semester.
    2. Fergus has an unshakeable sense of self and high self esteem regardless what his peers think.
    3. Fergus has knack for building and ensuring cross-departmental alignment, I’ve really gotten to know my HR and Legal colleagues at my institution.

    1. Camelid coordinator*

      If you haven’t read “Dear Committee Members,” a hilarious novel in letter of rec form, I highly recommend it!

      1. GoryDetails*

        I was going to recommend “Dear Committee Members” too – it’s by Julie Shumacher, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And yes, many of the letters of recommendation that the main character composes are along the lines of “I am pleased to provide this letter at the request of [name], who collared me in the hall five minutes ago to ask for one despite never managing to make it to class”. Well, OK, that one’s pretty blunt, but there are some nicely obfuscatory ones as well, damning with faint praise.

    2. El l*

      So much gold above. I’ll make a few additions in this vein:

      “He brings out the best in people. I personally have developed incredible diplomatic skills while resolving disputes involving him.”

      “He is an authority, and is keen that all his colleagues and students see that in him.”

      Or, that great British coded phrase:
      “He does not suffer fools gladly.”

      1. happybat*

        In my part of the UK ‘does not suffer fools gladly’ indicates intolerance of other people’s nonsense. I would not use it to describe someone being intolerant of other people’s needs, or someone being unpleasant to perfectly reasonable students and colleagues.

  20. Meg*

    1) He can expect a positive recommendation, but by no means do you have to give it.
    2) Given the way he’s treating students, I’d contact 1: your title ix coordinator as well as 2: the diversity and inclusion coordinator at your institution (if you have one). Just my two cents on that.

    1. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

      Yes. Yes. Let those students know you have their backs and are doing everything you can to deal with this insufferable jerk of a professor.

  21. Annoying Jedi Intern*

    Here’s your positive letter: “I am POSITIVE that it would be a mistake in hiring this individual.”

  22. Stitch*

    The way the students are being treated is appalling. He deserves to be fired. The fact that HR is letting him start another class is insane.

    You had better be ready to override any grades he gives, particularly for “problem students”. Do NOT let him tank those students’ grades.

    But why this person is let anywhere near a classroom.is beyond me.

    1. OP*

      I’ve already told the students that I can override grades if necessary. He was fine until last semester when students complained, and he’s just gone increasingly off the rails since then.

      1. JB*

        Are you sure he was fine?

        I definitely recall one absolutely insane professor when I was in college. We all spent his classes silently looking at each other incredulously. He spent a lot of time ranting, and would dive into subjects (not relevant to his class) that he clearly didn’t understand – on multiple occassions he informed us all that vacuums don’t contain any gravity, and that’s why all objects fall at the same rate within them. Because of the lack of…gravity.

        Anyway, as far as I know, nobody bothered to complain – we all passed the class. I had another professor whose regular lesson plan was to assign a student to read from the book while he took a nap at his desk. Snoring out loud. Nobody complained about that, either, because the tests were all open-book and the test questions were ripped from the book – we could just go to the answer key.

        My point being, he may have seemed ‘fine’ to you, but unless you were sitting in that class with him every day, you really don’t know.

        1. Properlike*

          This. I had to take over for an adjunct at midterms who left early (a real piece of work, this one, same level of self-regard as Fergus.) He didn’t leave accurate records, half of the midterms that had been taken (and the grades not logged), AND hadn’t been teaching to the actual course outline. Or teaching the required chapters well either.

          And no one knew until I got handed the situation. Students did not appreciate suddenly being held to requirements.

      2. L.H. Puttgrass*

        That’s good as far as the grades go, but the problems aren’t just the grades. Given that it’s “an intro class into a major part of [the] curriculum,” these students could be put at a disadvantage for the entire program because of one intro-level instructor who has no business teaching.

        1. CalypsoSummer*

          OP’s options are limited and she’s doing the best she can. I admire the way she’s worked around Dr. McFlouncypants in a constrained environment.

  23. No Name Today*

    He systematically treats women differently. He systematically treats POC women differently.
    “and treating them this way for over 6 months is so beyond inappropriate, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
    I think there is. I think that if you see something, say something.
    Or write something down. Write all of it down.
    If the only option these women have is to potentially blow up their academic and subsequent professional careers, or at least derail them burning hours of time, money and emotional bandwidth to fight their mistreatment, then yeah, I don’t blame them for sucking it up. “This is how the world works.”
    Yeah, they know that. They know that academia isn’t a meritocracy. They know that it’s a microcosm of the world. They go over his head and get crumbs tossed at them. “Yes, you can go to your grandmother’s funeral.” “Yes, you can take the class online.” “Sorry he ignores you. I agree it’s bull.”
    I get that you can’t blow up your own life for this guy. You cornered him into a resignation. That is huge. He’s a bully (at the very least). He’s even bullying you.
    Please don’t let him bully you into giving him a reference.

    1. OP*

      Believe me, I have been documenting everything. HR seems to think that because he’s on his way out and I took away his intro class, it’s OK. But I’ve developed a contingency plan if we have to boot him mid-semester.

      1. Anon Y Mouse*

        Good. Because I wouldn’t bet against it. I wish your HR or whoever does the decision-making would grow a spine.

        1. Countess of Upstairs Downstairs*

          Agreed. And students can still file complaints against the school and administrators regardless of whether the individual faculty left.

      2. pancakes*

        It seems that HR really doesn’t have a handle on what kind of liability he’s exposing the school to. Refusing to answer questions from women of color, etc., is a huge and urgent problem. Counting on the students to just endure all of it until he’s gone is seriously messed up.

      3. Sara without an H*

        Glad you have a contingency plan — you will probably need it. I hope you’ve been in touch with your Title IX office, just in case?

      4. Velawciraptor*

        Does LEGAL think that, though? Because the discrimination would give me serious issues if I were your university’s counsel.

      5. Foila*

        Thinking about this further, I wonder if you could argue that he has breached his contract. The thing where he changed the mode of a class abruptly (remote to in person) is really, really not a thing an instructor gets to do, it’s part of course scheduling – which at least at the University I work at is a highly bureaucratic process that even the tenured professors respect at their peril.

        I’m guessing there’s some language in the contract about “teaches courses as specified” or something, and it doesn’t sound to me like he has been abiding by that.

        Any chance you could at least look into that (very) soon? If you think there’s a possibility you’d be able to boot him mid-semester, moving it up to between semesters would be good for everyone.

  24. Classic Rando (she/ her)*

    Holding a grudge against three of our best students (all female, all POC) and treating them this way for over 6 months is so beyond inappropriate, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
    Is there any kind of discrimination claim the students could make against him or the school? I don’t know anything about academia but his actions towards these students looks a lot like racial and/or sex discrimination. Sure, he’s a rude jerk to everybody, but he’s actively ignoring and undermining the education of a select few students that he has a history of conflict with. The fact that he’s complaining about “cancel culture” when people push back against his bs sounds like a dog whistle to me.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      If the OP is in the united states I would think the following would apply:

      Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.
      Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity offered by a recipient of federal financial assistance.

      1. pancakes*

        Right, but that doesn’t mean the students can’t file complaints with the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in the meantime. I hope they do.

        1. H.C.*

          In comments OP already indicated the affected students (for now at least) would rather ride out the rest of the term to just graduate & be done with him and the program.

          1. pancakes*

            I can certainly see why they’d feel they wouldn’t be able to count on the support of the university if they did.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              And unfortunately while the OP has clearly indicated she will support them, they probably are worried the University as a whole won’t support them.

              1. CalypsoSummer*

                They’re just fed up to the teeth with McFlouncypants’ nonsense — they’re about to walk out to good jobs that are waiting for them, with twice the pay they’re receiving now; all they need is the diploma, and they’ll be getting that in a couple of weeks.

                As OP said, “they’re ready to be DONE with the whole thing. I understand their point of view, of course, though I wish it were different.”

                I really don’t understand the eagerness to attack the university for being unsupportive. There are legal and contractual constraints on what the Provost, the Dean, and the Chair can do, but the departmental administration has been working hard to mitigate the damage AND to assist Dr McFlouncypants in exiting the university with all possible speed.

  25. Cherry*

    Sorry – he made a complaint about you, and then said “I expect an extremely positive letter of recommendation from you”? Even for academia that’s bizarro.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I have a lot of friends and relatives in academia and have heard of instances like this, but the reason I’ve heard of them is that they’re bonkers and even the academics were in awe.

  26. Bookworm*

    Lordy, what a handful. Thanks for the update, OP and sorry you all have to deal with that. Flounce away, sheesh!

  27. MisterForkbeard*

    I think you’ve already figured out what to say for the letter of referral:

    “Fergus is a talented individual that brings a lot to an organization, but he is also a poor communicator who insists on getting his own way and doesn’t tolerate helpful criticism from superiors or students. He also had personal conflicts with some of those he taught and with his immediate superior.”

    And so on. Keep it informative but light on specifics so that no one in their right mind would hire him, but also so that if he ever heard about it he couldn’t sue you or the university.

  28. Rage*

    “Hello, Dramatic Flounce Agency, this is Rage, Flounce Intent Specialist. How may I– oh, hi, Fergus. What did you say to her this time?”

  29. Jennifer Strange*

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that…he finds a new job that he can move into

    Given his behavior and treatment of these students, I sincerely hope whatever job he moves into has no authority. It doesn’t sound like he can handle power over others.

      1. NerdyLibraryClerk*

        That still involves interacting with other human beings. Perhaps he could have a job scrubbing city streets. At night. With a toothbrush.

      1. No Name Today*

        Sadly, I bet he did. And that person not only sounded like him, but looked like him, too.
        And he learned a lot about what he can get away with.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I’m wondering if she secretly hoping he finds something with a sooner start date so that she can be done with him sooner. From other posts it sounds like HR et all are crossing fingers and hoping for him to just slink away into the night

  30. Candi*

    It’s here! It’s here!

    So what did he do when you reminded him of the various applicable Title laws he’s violating? I’m betting on him claiming they somehow don’t apply.

    As for the recommendation, part of that would depend on the university’s policies. Being truthful is never wrong, but try for a factual tone in the reporting. If you don’t want to go there, name, position, dates, would not rehire is an option.

    1. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

      Yeeeees, I have been hoping for Flounce Guy! (As the name probably suggests.)

      Alas, he continues to be an absolutely terrible professor I would not wish on anyone, especially not his current students. And not impressed by HR per OP’s comments.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed – it sounds like OP is doing everything they can but HR is soundlessly refusing to support.

  31. tamarack & fireweed*

    Thank you, OP, for making academia a tiny little bit less crazy by making sure this guy doesn’t work out his contract and standing up for your students. I know that department chairs work under complicated constraints that often work out to making as little waves as possible, so I like hearing “it’s money out of my budget but I need this key class taught well”. (Also, I’m *glad* you’re giving NTT faculty multi-year contracts. As you know from this site, crazy employees can happen everywhere.)

  32. FluterDale*

    I recently learned that letters of “intent to search for another position” either are, or were at one time, standard/expected in academic positions. I guess in present-day they’re more of a formality to be handled when you have an offer in hand, but my spouse a professor) recently got caught in a situation where the new institution couldn’t offer him a position until the old institution released him, and the Provost at the old institution found some archaic rule no one remembered that she didn’t have to release him unless she was given X notice and/or a letter of intent. (She was later fired for unethical employment practices, which was no surprise.)

    All of this to say: the letter isn’t something I’d ever encountered before, but reading about this situation, I’m also 2% less floored than I would have been before my spouse’s debacle.

  33. Paleblood Hunter*

    I believe “held a grudge against three of our best students who were all female and all POC for over 6 months” would be an excellent and factual thing to say in his recommendation.

  34. Seriously?*

    If he is being what seems to be openly racist and sexist to three students, why can’t anything be done? I would think this alone would breach his contract as there seems to be sufficient proof.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      Possibly, if he’s not tenured (and it sounds like he’s not).

      If he’s tenured, well, a criminal conviction might not be enough to fire him. (The fertility clinic scandal all those years ago at the University of California involved the professor behind it all fleeing the country to avoid prosecution, and eventually ending up doing prison time, and the university system paying a default judgement – because of misconduct on the part of the defense lawyers – of over $100 million. The professor in question – while he was doing his prison time – lost his tenure, but only *barely*, the vote by other tenured professors was just over 50%.)

      Academia is not like the real world. Not at all.

  35. Snarky Librarian*

    I dropped EVERYTHING when I saw an update had been posted about Letter of Intent Guy!! And I was not disappointed in the level of bananacrackers in the update. I feel so bad for the staff and students that have to deal with this guy.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I’m sure someone else has a better response here but . . . oh, lordy.

      Nothing makes you look like a competent adult like whipping out some tired middle-school accusations.

    2. Florida Fan 15*

      I bet myself we were in for a world class ass when “cancel culture” reared its head. I now owe myself $20.

  36. Magenta Sky*

    “but I have no idea what I’m going to say if/when that happens!”

    “Not eligible for rehire.”

  37. Jam on Toast*

    Fergus is apparently living under a rock. Unlike much of the rest of the work world, the hiring situation in academia is, without a word of a lie, apocalyptic right now. With the exception of the ultra-elite Ivies, universities and colleges nation wide are in an existential fight for their lives, brought about by the congruencies of the pandemic, a demographic shift that means that college age bodies are fewer and fewer, a financial crisis because of lost tuition, a gross oversupply of PhDs and the adjunctification of undergraduate instruction nationwide.
    There are no jobs.
    There are no jobs.
    There are no jobs.
    Rockstars, with degrees from Cornell, six peer-reviewed publications, two books and the ability to turn water into wine are unable to secure tenure track jobs. Po-dunk Fergus, with his very big chip, half assed teaching reviews and his overwhelming stench of entitlement is going to be chewed up and served for dogfood on the hiring market. OP, all you need to is sit back and let karma do its work. And maybe, just maybe, quietly take a moment to enjoy it when Fergus rolls up at the next big conference with a name tag that identifies him as an “Independent Scholar” because no one will touch him with a ten foot pole.

    1. CoffeeIsMyFriend*

      and in many fields lecturers don’t have the time/resources to keep up with their research so he’s probably not even going to get a second glance for tenure positions. If he applies for more teaching positions, I bet he’ll write a cover letter that makes it clear that he’s unhinged….
      for our last search at my CC we had a few cover letters from people who spent most of the letter talking about research (typically stuff that takes a ton of time and money – which do not exist at CC’s) and/or made it clear that if hired they could help ‘teach their CC colleagues how to be better’. These letters gave us a good laugh before we put them in the ‘no’ pile

      1. CoffeeIsMyFriend*

        Oops – wanted to clarify that the examples I gave don’t mean the people were unhinged – just that academics applying for teaching jobs because they are desperate for work are often out of touch with what is really needed for a teaching job, so I would assume some who is VERY IMPRESSED with himself would write a really nutsy letter

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*


      First, I resonate with all of the other comments about OP doing right by her students and Fergus acting bananas.

      That said,blowing up a 3 year contract to teach? What the what??

      That’s…yeah…may Fergus get exactly what he deserves and earns.

    3. Candi*

      The administration at my college is fighting to move all classes back to butt-in-seat soon-as because reasons.

      Health & Safety is fighting them for obvious reasons.

      Several of the professors are fighting back because they found their teaching lives easier when they don’t have to reserve classrooms for material that can be taught online with no detriment. They can teach on Zoom from their offices, and so much of the material is on computer anyway -what’s the difference between sharing it via projector on a screen vs Zoom display? And considering one of my classes takes place in the hardware lab, it frees up the lab for people who need to do hands-on projects.

      Now, there is the issue of low-income students. So there’s also a push to increase the availability of loaner computers and assistance with low-cost internet.

    4. No Name Today*

      This makes me wonder if, in a generation, the understood humor of the university in Third Rock from the Sun will be as foreign to the general public as the scenes in Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy Night.

    5. Sara without an H*

      All true. In addition, more places are requiring “diversity statements” as part of the application package. I would very, very much like to see Fergus’ attempt at a diversity statement. I’m sure it would be memorable.

    6. OP*

      I don’t think Fergus quite realizes this. He seems to think he’ll have Universities in our area *dying* to employ him. He doesn’t plan to move for a new job! Ha!

      1. Gel Pen Destroyer*

        I’m not sure how many universities are in your area, but does Fergus not understand that we do know and talk to each other at conferences and other local events? Chances are good that most of the departments at the other schools have at least some inkling that this guy is a piece of work.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        So he wants to keep playing in the same pond he’s already in – guessing he hasn’t thought through the fact that all of the teachers in this area are probably talking to each other and know ALL ABIUT him already……

    7. Butterfly Counter*

      My department is just about to conclude hiring for a new tenure line. The talent out there of all of the candidates is OUTSTANDING. We didn’t even consider assistant professors who already have tenure track assistant professor positions at other universities because they just didn’t compete with our top candidates. And that he hasn’t been actively researching in the past year…

  38. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    I believe “held a grudge against three of our best students who were all female and all POC for over 6 months” would be an excellent and factual thing to say in his recommendation.

  39. Kevin Sours*

    “I have no idea what I’m going to say if/when that happens”
    I strongly recommend figuring this out before it happens.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      In the spirit of Fergus’ utterly archaic letter of intent, I suggest OP reply, “I prefer not to.”

  40. *daha**

    OP, this is not what I’d call going to bat for your students or your department or the reputation of your employer. The students in your department would be far better off if you simply canceled the classes Fergus is supposed to teach. I don’t understand how any employee could be permitted to continue employment after deliberately undermining their own students. At the very least it is insubordination over behaviors he has already been warned about. This is an educational nightmare and you have not done enough to mitigate it.

    1. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

      Canceling a class can have much worse repercussions for students than dealing with an idiot/jerk for one semester, unfortunately. If students are trying to graduate on time and this is a required course, canceling it can throw things wildly out of wack for their lives. Courses simply required by the institution can sometimes get around this by giving waivers to impacted students, but if the course is required by accreditation bureaus then giving such waivers can be impossible.

      1. Properlike*

        I think what’s meant is taking the class away from Fergus and giving it to a different instructor. Depending on if you have an active adjunct union, this can be hard to do. But not impossible – especially if OP is documenting everything. It would also require having HR doing something, and since they won’t, unfortunately…

        HR not doing anything (often for fear of lawsuits), and people not documenting, are one big reason academic unions can’t get the “bad apples” out of the classroom.

        1. Velawciraptor*

          HR is focusing on the wrong lawsuit. If they were to speak with legal, they’d likely find any action Fergus could take would be less viable than the discrimination suit coming from those three students.

          And the university would look better defending itself in an employment lawsuit made necessary because students had to be protected from an out-of-control lecturer than defending itself from a civil rights/discrimination suit because the institution prioritized the whims of said out-of-control lecturer. And the employment lawsuit is going to have less impact on giving to the university.

    2. Candi*

      Canceling the classes could play merry havoc with FAFSA funding, especially if the students can’t find timely replacements with the same number of credits.

      OP also stated in the original letter’s comments that these are required-for-a-degree classes, not electives. If you don’t take those classes on time, it will delay your graduation -and FAFSA does not have a lot of patience. (I switched a major, and I’ll have to stay one extra quarter, in spite of the partial overlap of classes between Computer Science and IT at this university.)

      In a comment on this page, OP’s clarified that part of their problem is HR’s attitude. HR’s taking the position “he’s leaving, what’s the problem?”

      (A lot. Quite a lot.)

  41. Warm Gooey Cheap Ass Roll*

    Fergus reminds me of several professors I had to restrain myself from donkey-kicking in meetings.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I slightly suspect Fergus might be my former library science prof, who was the angriest Buddhist I’d ever met and also the least helpful instructor.

  42. Esmeralda*

    Hahahahahahaha!!!! This doofus is a LECTURER!!!!!! without tenure!!! Not on the tenure track!!!! He is so fortunate he has a contract, because otherwise, bye bye baby.

    Good lord. Whelp, I hope he already has another job, one that doesn’t need a reference from you.

    Your reference should be complete, detailed, and accurate btw. Most universities don’t do “just confirm dates of employment” for instructional staff. Keep this self-important fool away from teaching — he’s actively harmful to students and to whatever department he’s working in.

  43. drinking Mello Yello*

    Ngl, Fergus doesn’t sound like a solid employee at all. A a very big, very basic part of any job is not being an asshole and not being racist or misogynist, and he’s failing on all three counts. He seems like he can about halfway do his job Okay Well Enough to coast by in a wonky-as-heck employment environment. This is one of many, many reasons why I’m glad my plans to go into academia didn’t work out. :/

  44. Batgirl*

    By “mean girls” does he mean “the women aren’t being subservient enough”, and by “cancel culture” does he mean it’s outrageous he has to stop being overtly racist just because it’s messing with people’s lives? I love how he uses that phrase after constantly cancelling the plans he’s scheduled and communicated!

    1. Florida Fan 15*

      In my experience, “cancel culture” is code for “any attempt to impose expectations or consequences of any kind on a white man”.

  45. NerdyLibraryClerk*

    I’m not seeing any upsides to Fergus here. He sounds like a racist, misogynist asshole on a power trip, who thoroughly deserves to be yeeted from his job, if not into the sun.

  46. breamworthy*

    I work as a contract lecturer at a fairly big university in Canada. Literally everything has to be approved. I could never change a meeting from online to in-person without approval from my Chair. The emails you clipped from him to his students are so adversarial – I can’t even imagine what would happen if I addressed my students like that.

    1. OP*

      I asked. There is no official policy! I wish there were…

      I mean, now I know to write one for my Department, at least, but there is no University-wide policy.

  47. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

    I’m glad you’re about to be well shot of this guy, but I also want to point out that whomever you hire to adjunct his class next term better be number 1 on the list for his contract job should they want it. You’re directly saying that you need this class taught well and it is worth it to you to pay this guy not to teach it *and* pay a new person to do so. That person, by your own admission, is highly qualified for a full time teaching position and needs to be considered for it.

    I know this might seem weird to bring up, but as someone who has spent my life in academia (as both an adjunct and full time), it’s really important to not fall into the all too common mindset of not considering your adjuncts for full time positions. Not only should they be considered, they should be your top candidates.

  48. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    OP, you are not responsible for him or his future. Whether or not he has a job come June, he is leaving. Whether or not he has a job come June is on him, not you. By all means, feel sorry for him–he is human, after all–but don’t let his (likely) explosion/implosion dampen your spirits.

    On top of that, there are several responses in the archives about what to say when you can’t give a good recommendation. Sometimes, it’s good to just confirm the dates of employment. Other times, you can stick to the facts. Ms. Green says it better than me, but whatever you do don’t bring emotion or opinion into it.

  49. Lance*

    I am (very genuinely) curious about Fergus apparently being ‘solid’. I know OP mentioned upthread that this only (apparently) started during that semester, but it’s hard to believe someone this resistant to actually, y’know… doing his job and teaching wouldn’t have had some other issues previously (this of course on top of the sexism/racism).

    1. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

      It’s a sad reality of academia that “knows their material really well” is often the only criteria for being “solid” (also, producing research for TT positions). Anything beyond that (interpersonal skills, organization, public speaking, etc.) winds up being considered nice bonuses if positive and slight drawbacks if negative.

      1. Srsly*

        This isn’t how academia works at all. “Solid” means good research output and quality, and a strong teaching portfolio and evaluations.

        Academia also doesn’t use criteria like public speaking or organizational skills — those are par for the course with teaching. And no one would consider “knows their material really well” to be equivalent to solid. It’s the baseline assumption for teaching and research.

        1. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

          I’ve been in this world my whole career, and have seen many people (scratch that, many white men) who get by purely on knowing their material (teaching tracks) and regularly pushing out researching (TT) without any regards for their organization, student engagement, or other interpersonal/“soft” skills. Good teaching evaluations can be helpful, but they are also easily explained away in either direction when needed. Evaluations bad but you want to keep the (white male) faculty member? They’re (he’s) a hardnose no-nonsense teacher who demands excellence and students who can’t cut it give bad evaluations. Want to get rid of the faculty member but they have great evaluations? They must only get those by pandering to the students and making the classes easy.

    2. not owen wilson*

      I don’t understand how a professor can be solid and also discriminate against his students. I highly doubt this just became a problem last semester — it likely just became enough of a problem that the rest of the faculty had to acknowledge it. Lord I knows I had STEM profs like this in undergrad. You can treat the students as poorly as you want as long as you’re just decent enough to your colleagues.

      1. CalypsoSummer*

        Dr McFlouncypants apparently felt that it was outrageous that OP (a mere female) was hired as Chair of the Department when HE was right there, and the university would have been lucky to get him in that job! Furthermore, he is outranked by not one but TWO females — one of whom is a POC!

        Well! You don’t expect him to put up with THAT sort of thing, do you??

        There were no complaints in the previous year’s classes, so it’s likely that he wasn’t faced with dark-skinned women who were excelling in his classes, as well as the extreme provocation of having a mere female hired over his head.

  50. Meep*

    Three days for a funeral when the girl’s grandma is out of state seems reasonable to me regardless of cultural background.

    Day 1: Arrive & Mourn with close family
    Day 2: Funeral
    Day 3: Go home.


    Then again, the rest of this guy’s attitude was bananas.

    1. fueled by coffee*

      Some professors have a mindset that they need to have an adversarial relationship with students, or that students are constantly trying to “game the system” or “take advantage of them.”

      I… don’t like this outlook. Could a student theoretically lie to me about needing an extension because a grandparent died? Sure. But I am so much less concerned about the possibility of a student who doesn’t really need an extension getting one than I am about the possibility that I would tell a grieving student that I don’t buy their excuse.

      If a student is at the point that they’re resorting to lying about dead grandparents to get out of assignments, something more serious is going on, anyway (and sometimes “grandma died” really means “my mental health is in shambles” or “I need to pick up an extra shift to afford groceries this week” or any of a litany of things that a student does not feel comfortable telling their professor). As an instructor, I have no desire to litigate which excuses “count” as being valid. Let me know you have an extenuating circumstance, tell me when you can get the work to me, and then go deal with your life, because sometimes sh** happens.

  51. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    I can’t help but read the excerpts from the lecturer’s Dramatic Letter of Intent to Flounce in John Lithgow’s most petulant voice. I think the students should pelt him with cheap ass rolls.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Hah! I also read it in John Lithgow – specifically John Lithgow as the father from the movie Kinsey.

  52. X-Man*

    I’ve read the original letter a few times and I always burst out in giggles at the way Alison says “This is EXTREMELY STRANGE.”

  53. Rock Prof*

    I know academics has a reputation of being out of touch, but holy crap this guy!
    Maybe he should look into the University of Austin? It sounds like their goals might align. Plus they don’t even have classes or students yet, so he wouldn’t have to deal any of those.

  54. cwhf*

    Expectations and reality rarely meet when you are as delusional as this person is. Be brutally honest in your references. Save some other institution and students (esp POC) the pain of this person.

    Also, that students, including female POCs he is targeting for mistreatment just have to ride it out til June sounds completely crazy. I hope you can work to hold him accountable and do something about this sooner (like now). This is completely unacceptable.

    1. Candi*

      They might be graduating this month. If my schooling goes according to current plan, including summer classes, I’ll be done in Jan 2022, April if something fixable goes wrong. (Fingers crossed!)

  55. CarCarJabar*

    I hope your institution gets their PANTS sued off for allowing tuition paying, professional women of color to be treated in this manner.

  56. OP*


    I just realized something that I had to share. The adjunct we hired to teach Fergus’ intro class was chosen because she has 10 years solid experience working in the field we would like her to teach. She works full-time for a well-known employer, but we were happy to work around her schedule to get her expertise. She will also open doors for internships at her company for students, so we were very excited to get her. I signed her contract today.

    Not only is she female and POC, she is of the same general ethnicity as all 3 of the students Fergus has issues with! I realized this while walking my dog, so if anyone saw a crazy woman cackling hysterically while walking a pitbull tonight, it was probably me.

    1. not owen wilson*

      Fergus does not have issues with these students. Fergus is discriminating against them on the bases of gender and race. You need to reframe how you are thinking about this situation. And I hope you take steps to ensure your department is a safe work environment for your new hire, because from my experience there is never just one poison apple in the bushel.

        1. not owen wilson*

          By her own admission, this professor is retaliating against these poor students. I don’t think it gets more textbook than that.

          1. OP*

            *I* believe he’s retaliating against them. *They* believe he’s retaliating against them. He denies it completely, and, according to Legal, we don’t have the evidence to prove it. They aren’t the only WOC in the class, so we can’t prove discrimination beyond a reasonable doubt.

            You will say that’s a horrible turn of events, and I agree with you, but that’s the system I’m trying to work in.

            1. pancakes*

              “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a standard that applies to criminal convictions. The relevant standard for Title IX hearings, to my knowledge, is “a preponderance of evidence.” These aren’t synonymous.

              1. Candi*

                From the sound of it, Legal is blowing smoke to avoid having to deal with Fergus and his law-breaking, since that’s such a basic legal difference they should know it.

                This university seems set up to make it as hard as possible to resolve -ist complaints, while keeping things technically legal.

                1. pancakes*

                  It’s not clear that they don’t know the difference; it’s entirely possible that OP, being a non-lawyer, simply mixed up the phrasing. If they have been telling OP the standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” though, that’s a great cue to go back to them and ask for a memo outlining exactly why nothing can be done besides wait for this dude to leave.

            2. We gotta go to the crappy town where *I'm* a hero.*

              I’d like to know what the school’s Title IX coordinators, rather than Legal, have to say about it.

              1. CalypsoSummer*

                The school’s Title IX coordinators say that there’s nothing that can be done if the students won’t file a complaint or won’t provide testimony if OP files a complaint on their behalf.

                This situation has been covered in the comments.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            Yeah, but it ain’t from OP. It’s HR who are content to let this guy serve out his contract.

            1. After 33 years ...*

              Yes, that’s the way it often works. There are people who I would have preferred to see out the door within seconds, but due process kept them around a while longer. I have seen all of these violations of student rights over the years, but it is quite unusual to see so many blended into a single package. OP, congratulations on both having the self-restraint necessary for dealing with Fergus, and taking the initiative to de facto replace them with a competent instructor, even at department expense.
              Priority #1 has to be your students. You’ve served them well by removing Fergus from contact with them (such as it was!).

            2. pancakes*

              Complacent HR people don’t just fall out of the sky and land on workplaces as blamelessly as weather. They are difficult to get rid of, yes, but they don’t have lifetime tenure in their jobs.

    2. Former Young Lady*

      This gave me a delightful case of the warm fuzzies, paired with an incongruously devilish smirk. Thank you!

    3. Insert Clever Name Here*

      OP, you’ve gotten a lot of flak in the comments about not doing “enough” about this situation and you’ve responded with a lot of grace. From what I see, you’ve
      a) taken complaints seriously,
      b) worked with the students to find out what it is THEY want (ie, not a Title IX complaint despite so many commenters insisting that’s what should be done),
      c) taken this issue to every conceivable place in your institution that you can take it and pushed for a solution — repeatedly,
      d) done everything within the power (and limitation) of your position to minimize the negative impact to students, and
      e) made sure the students know you have their back.

      All of these students are lucky to have you as their Chair, as is the adjunct. May Fergus fail spectacularly downward, and may you have success in convincing your institution that if this happens again there should be swifter and harsher repercussions.

      1. Fellow academic*

        This is kind of the point though, OP has done everything in their power *within* these structures, but it’s not enough because the structures are designed to keep racism and sexism a systemic issue in academia. The system works this way intentionally, so it will never be enough to work within the system until the system is changed. Is it risky? Yep. That’s also the point. If people in power aren’t willing to risk their own privileged position, the institutionalized problems are going to continue to exist. Not everyone is going to be able or willing to take those risks, but we have to live with that, and it’s not harsh or rude to say it wasn’t enough to actually make change. “I did the best I could in that situation” is not the end of the story for the students who are being harmed.

        1. Cordelia*

          As someone who works in academia, but on the staff side, I am wondering what avenues outside of the system you think the OP should explore. Is the ultimate goal to ensure that Fergus is never allowed near a student again, and has to pursue a different career path outside of academia? I agree that the system is a self-insulating one, but I am genuinely interested in effective solutions to this problem that don’t rely on the structures of the institution to make them manifest. I always pull back from solutions like going to the media, or making info like this broadly public (the primary way that I can think to subvert the institution) because I don’t know if the people who were directly affected (the students in this case) would all be comfortable with that. If they aren’t, what unilateral actions would be appropriate for this chair to take, do you think? A large part of why I am asking is that there is an analogous situation at my institution, and some of us who have knowledge, but not direct involvement are at a loss as to how to proceed.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          I mean, that was pretty much the point of “may you have success in convincing your institution that if this happens again there should be swifter and harsher repercussions.” OP doesn’t really strike me as the kind of person to say “whelp, this single situation resolved my work here is done.”

          So then, as someone in academia, what specifically would you recommend the OP do now? What concrete, actionable things should they attempt? Obviously you consider that what they did paled in the face of…something…so what is that something?

          From a woman who has frequently been The Woman in a room, because while it can suck to not make major change I will fight you if you tell me that since I couldn’t make “major change” the fact that I got PMs to stop calling a younger woman “little lady” wasn’t enough — don’t shit on my small victory in the bigger war.

          1. Beth*

            As someone who has been “little lady”-ed before, and similar, I thank you personally for getting those dudes to stop doing so!

            A lot of these bigger wars we’re fighting have to be fought with lots and lots and lots of small victories.

  57. Prof Space Cadet*

    Another academic here. Fergus’s behavior is completely appalling and quite frankly, faculty like him are why so many people have a negative opinion of higher education. If this were happening at my university, we would be looking for a way to terminate him at the end of this semester rather than next. I realize that may not be a very easy option based on how his 3-year contract is written, but it might be worth asking your dean if it would be possible to buy out his remaining classes just so that he goes away.

    As for the positive letter of recommendation or reference, just say NO. You don’t owe him anything.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Oh, I’d agree to write a letter in this case as long as he signs the confidentiality waiver. Then write a completely accurate letter.

      Otherwise he will find someone else to write a bland or positive letter.

  58. Karen from accounting*

    He reminds me of the harvard professor who claimed to be the target of a witch hunt and decided to completely cancel his own class (ON THE HISTORY OF SLAVERY IN AMERICA) because two students complained, directly to him, about racist things he said in class (in a completely unsurprising twist, they were both black women).

  59. Evil PR Pro*

    Document the shot out of this and talk to your general counsel about exactly what you can and can’t say. On some cases I have only verified employment. No comment on their work. Don’t let this guy go on to abuse female POC elsewhere.

  60. Alice Watson*

    Him: I expect an extremely positive letter of reference

    OP: I’m sorry professor but I mustn’t tell lies

    1. wendelenn*

      The students who have the new lecture can now say they received excellent marks in all examinations SET BY A COMPETENT INSTRUCTOR.

  61. Lobsterman*

    I truly, deeply hope that OP’s school gets wrecked by a Title IX suit because they wanted to save a few bucks by hiring a lousy lecturer.

    1. CalypsoSummer*

      How very kind of you to say that. Especially since it’s very clear that you don’t understand the situation because you haven’t read the comments. You might want to do that. OP has posted a LOT of details in both comment sections.

  62. Mopey zoo lion*

    I work in HR and faculty affairs in a university dean’s office. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I feel this in my bones. Truly bonkers! Even more so that this guy is a non tenure track lecturer on a 3 year contract. And apparently expecting a magical transformation into a tenure track position? It’s like he doesn’t know academia at all. We would have to move heaven and earth to do this for a superstar, let alone a mediocre teaching professor without significant research, funding, or publications (assuming, but I’m probably not wrong). I’m sure the dean was amused!

    1. Orora*

      Same here. I just read this whole letter thinking, “Well, aren’t you just the adorable thing with your demands and expectations! Bless your heart.”

    2. Prof Space Cadet*

      We had a lecturer sort of like this at my last university, who was furious that we couldn’t magically him into a TT position. But unlike the guy in the OP’s letter, he didn’t take out his issues on students (his student evals were fine and there were no complaints to the chair).

      He eventually resigned in an epic “I hate my job and it’s all your fault” email that he sent to the whole department. It was the most spectacular flameout I’ve ever seen.

    3. Prof Space Cadet*

      We had a lecturer sort of like this at my last university, who was furious that we couldn’t magically him into a TT position. But unlike the guy in the OP’s letter, he didn’t take out his issues on students (his student evals were fine and there were no complaints to the chair).

      He eventually resigned in an epic “I hate my job and it’s all your fault” email that he sent to the whole department. It was the most spectacular flameout I’ve ever seen.

    4. Prof Space Cadet*

      We had a lecturer sort of like this at my last university, who was furious that we couldn’t magically him into a TT position. But unlike the guy in the OP’s letter, he didn’t take out his issues on students (his student evals were fine and there were no complaints to the chair).

      He eventually resigned in an epic “I hate my job and it’s all your fault” email that he sent to the whole department. It was the most spectacular flameout I’ve ever seen.

  63. quill*

    Final verdict: catapult him into the sun!

    Or you know, realistically, do a dance when he’s gone.

  64. Anonymoose*

    OP, quick question – Fergus is in his 50’s or 60’s, over weight and perpetually red faced? Moreso over the last 2-3 years or so?

    Just collecting a data point about behavior and poorly managed blood pressure.

    1. happybat*

      Red faced is often rosacea? As someone who went from vanilla to strawberry faced quite recently, it’s an embarrassing enough condition without knowing that everyone around me assumes that it is a) alcohol related b) blood pressure related c) an indication of a choleric temperament d) an indication of reactionary political opinions. I’m quite nice really…

    2. CalypsoSummer*

      Dunno about the weight or the red face, but OP said (in one of her many comments) that he was in his early to mid-30s.

  65. Calamity Janine*

    dear god and also jesus,

    for a christmas miracle, please bless me with all the self-confidence of a Fergus and all his ilk.

    actually i think i’d be fine with about a quarter of it. that’ll sort out the imposter syndrome just fine.

    xoxo, me

  66. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    OP, you say that you have no idea of what you’ll say if you’re contacted by a prospective employer. Well, I can think of several things that you COULD say but they’d all get you in serious trouble with the authorities! ;)

  67. bunniferous*

    Regarding that last paragraph-well, people in Hell want ice water, too.

    Bananacrackers. Hoo boy.

    1. Candi*

      There’s one letter in the archives about a worker who came in with a glowing recommendation, and turned out to be very, very awful at the job, their attitude, their personal hygiene… it was some type of grant or otherwise funded position, and the guy’s supervisor wrote in to ask what they could do to deal with him. One of their worries was losing the funding for the position.

      In the update, they did lose the funding, but the workplace was much happier having Mr. Awful gone. Buuuuut the OP had seen the person who had given the recommendation at a convention (or something) in the interim between letter and update, and asked them what happened -why did someone so awful have such a great recommendation?

      The recommendation was to get rid of the guy, since that was easier than finishing the discipline-PIP-firing process they were working on with him. Yes, the recommender was entirely truthful that when they were called for a reference, they lied, since it was easier on them.

      The comments spent a lot of time discussing how this simply tanked not just the reference’s, but the entire organization’s credibility.

      1. GlowCloud*

        I’m relating this third-hand from a long time ago, and I might be missing some of the details, because I’m the relative of a vague colleague of the reference-giver in this scenario – stuff like this gets around in horrified whispers over cups of coffee.

        The most terrifying instance I have heard of this practice of giving a glowing reference in order to get rid of an employee… the terrible employee was a surgeon. Not egregiously terrible enough to be struck off for malpractice, but doctors in the local area wouldn’t let their wives undergo breast cancer surgery at his hospital, his patient mortality rates/ post-op outcomes were known to be that poor.

        People in a position to give references should never, ever, ever allow someone like this to fail upwards, and yet that’s what they did at their first opportunity to get rid of him.
        My relative didn’t have the kind of professional proximity to be able to blow the whistle on this, but they were utterly repulsed by their colleague’s willingness to give such a reference.
        Terrible all round.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Oh man, that one was wild! Posting the link in a follow up, but in the meantime you can search for “someone I’ve known for years lied to get me to hire someone terrible she wanted to get rid of”.

  68. Panhandlerann*

    I had a long career in academia, including serving as a department chair, and I can tell you that this is totally, totally bonkers. An instructor simply does not and cannot change the time of a class like this person apparently did. And that’s just the start of the many, many completely unacceptable things he has done. This stuff would never have flown for two seconds at my university.

  69. Ori*

    “All female, all POC.” – is there anything to disprove that these protected characteristics are *why* he’s mistreating these students?

  70. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    This is bonkers. He can cancel himself which would have been nice to have done for January and not June as his letter stated.

    He may try sabotage so it may be a good idea to have someone keeping an eye an this. Taking the class or auditing?
    And those students he is screwing, can something be done, he may be gone soon but not soon enough, he has and can continue to do a lot of lasting harm. Is someone keeping an eye on what he says and does and that he is not marking students he doesn’t like more harshly? Discrimination comes in many forms and if you find out from a lawsuit he screwed some students from a protected class then your institution is really screwed.
    You need active management on this, not waiting until something blows up becasue you will miss a great deal that way.
    Frankly if you could replace him now and have him not teach that would be ideal, but not likely with your budget. But you still need to do something more proactive.

  71. EE*

    3 days excessive for time off to attend a funeral regardless of the person’s cultural background? Best that Fergus never takes a job in Australia where he might have to cope with Aboriginal students taking weeks off for sorry business.

  72. After 33 years ...*

    As one of my colleagues said when a similarly problematic professor left for a position elsewhere:
    “Our loss is their loss.”

    Best of luck in surviving the remaining semester!

  73. Aunt Vixen*

    All I can think about is how practically every New Yorker cartoon can be captioned, “Christ, what an asshole.”

  74. anonymous73*

    His biggest problem is NOT the tone of his communications. His biggest problem is his arrogance and the tone of his communications is the result of his attitude.

    If you’re contacted as a reference you need to be honest and not hold back. After having worked with someone like him, wouldn’t you appreciate an honest reference so you make the best decision for your department and not end up with Fergus 2.0?

  75. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I think what LW needs here is some red flag confetti that will spill out all over the desks of the folks who request references.

  76. Dr. Smartypants*

    OMG, I could have sworn this was written by the chair of my department, up until the point it turned out that the person was not tenured. I don’t understand why academia is like this, with people being essentially unfireable, and even if they provenly commit crimes, nothing happens. It can get very frustrating. As a female early career scientist that has been harrassed by another female scientist, and nothing got done about it (except hearing “we can’t fire either, so let’s see who lasts longer”), it is so frustrating. We are entirely replaceable, but I guess some people don’t wanna hear that.
    OP, please, make the best to ensure this person never comes back there, and doesn’t get a chance to harrass other people as well!!

  77. Hapax Legomenon*

    To be clear, I can see OP is doing the best she can to mitigate the damage being done within a system that doesn’t care about protecting its minority-category students, and I don’t wish for her to get in trouble. I just want the Power of the Internet to be directed at someone who deserves it.

    1. CalypsoSummer*

      There are limits to what can be done, and OP is pushing every option to that limit. However, those limits do exist, and legal requirements have to be followed.

      “The students won’t file Title IX, and I can’t do it for them, unfortunately. I asked and asked, but they know they only have to deal with him for another couple of weeks, and then they’ll graduate. They all have jobs in the field and their salaries will double just as soon as they have that diploma in hand, so they’re ready to be DONE with the whole thing. I understand their point of view, of course, though I wish it were different. Even if they did file something, it would probably take 6-12 months to wind its way through the University.

      “When I asked about filing something myself, I was told that, without direct testimony of the students, it would go nowhere. As much as I would love to be shot of this guy ASAP, I really don’t seem to have any recourse.”

  78. phira*

    OP, what subject is this guy teaching? I’m an experienced college level biology instructor with plenty of remote teaching experience (thanks, COVID!) and experience teaching both traditional college students and non-traditional students who are returning to finish a degree or program. If you need someone to take over for this clown, just let me know :)

  79. Librarian*

    WHen called for a reference, he deserves my favorite reference phrase for poor employees “He didn’t reach his potential while employed here.” People can read between the lines, it’s true, and you likely can’t be sued over it.

  80. Orora*

    OP, I think you should absolutely write those recommendation letters. Write them completely honestly and send copies of the blog along with them.

  81. Lilian Field*

    OMG OP can you do anything else here? Faculty member here, pretenure, gay and female and therefore experienced in getting harassed—this is a nightmare for these students and the most damaging thing for them may be that you didn’t do anything to help them. Congrats on getting the June firing done, but holy shit, did you hold his need for a letter over his head and threaten not to write for him at all? Yes, reach out to your title nine office, or another office of compliance? Threaten him with only 8 am teaching? Offer to come observe his class without warning? Read him aloud some university policy that he’s violating and describe the consequences of violating it? (We have those deep, deep, in the darkest archives of the inter webs.) Threaten him with infinitely long, infinitely numerous meetings with HR representatives and infinite training modules to be taken in horrifying windowless rooms? Taken away all his chances to do all those useful things for the department that are so obviously feeding his ego? Please get creative in limiting the damage he can do this term. What you do here will determine whether or not you hear about this kind of harassment when it happens again by another professor. Most chairs don’t. If your big goal here is to just avoid blowups, you’re not going to handle it right.

    1. Candi*

      Search OP* in the comments on this page and on the original letter. OP describes in detail all the ways she’s been trying to get something done, and how HR and Legal have taken the essential attitude “he’s leaving, why do anything.”

      She can’t file Tile IX complaint herself as a witness(!) -the students have to get statements, and they’re very close to graduating, so they just want out. Legal won’t do anything without “enough evidence”. HR is all “we got an ending date, what’s the problem?”

      Note according to several academics on this page, at their institutions, OP absolutely could file that IX complaint, so this is the college being obtuse, not a legal issue.

      No one seems to care that, once they’ve graduated and decompressed, the students could come back with a lawsuit. When the statute of limitations begins varies according to state, as does the length, but no time is less than a year. Some are three years. And they aren’t even trying to mitigate the possiblity.

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