Monday, July 1, 2013

Where is your loyalty?

There is a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about what role, if any, "loyalty" should play in giving permanent jobs to faculty on "casual contracts" [referred to as adjuncts in the article]. The article and the comments highlight, at least to me, how the notion of "loyalty" is an ill-defined and highly emotionally charged concept.

Surviving and succeeding in science [and academia in general] requires building, maintaining, and preserving a complex array of personal relationships. The notion of loyalty can have a significant effect, both for good and bad, on these relationships.
The problem is that different people may have very different expectations about where loyalty should lie and what it means.
Loyalty can affect information flow, response to criticism, and the sharing of resources.

Here are some situations where loyalty may play out:
  • A student takes a postdoc with a competitor of his advisor.
  • A graduate student is taking a class taught by her advisor. Some of the other students make a complaint about the teaching of the faculty member.
  • A collaborator publicly criticises a paper you wrote without them.
  • A new faculty member receives substantial start-up funds which are key to their success. They receive an offer from another institution. 
I welcome comments.


  1. I feel that the first three are somewhat straightforward (if the competitor is doing good science, the student's advisor shouldn't have a problem, assuming standard practice regarding authorship, etc.; the student should probably stay uninvolved, and loyalty shouldn't really be a factor; if I talked to the collaborator before publishing and he didn't say anything, he's rude but I need to cope - if I didn't, then I have no complaint).

    In the last case, it seems that there's a lot of room for different expectations. The faculty member should try not to leave the university's research project in an awkward position. But if there's a real toss-up between the faculty member's and the university's interests, I'm inclined to give more weight to the former because I value people more highly than institutions.

  2. Thanks for your comment. It is helpful to hear your perspective.

    You may feel these are straight forward. However, my point remains that different people may have different views and this is where problems begin....