ever heard of a department head sent a threatening email to a grad student?

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Offline hendrag

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Is the state university being run with a blind eye to state mandated ethics?

I have learned that the head of our Department of Medicinal Chemistry and
Pharmacognosy, College of Pharmacy, University of Illinois at Chicago,
wrote a letter imbued with menace and threat to a graduate student
following a departmental review where students expressed their opinions
about the department’s performance about one and a half year ago and I
would like to voice my concerns and opposition.

At that time, a university mandated review of the Department of Medicinal
Chemistry and Pharmacognosy took place at the college and about a dozen
students participated in this discussion with the members of the external
review team. The external reviewers explicitly stated that everything said
was to be kept confidential and not be shared with the department staff.
Within a day, the issues discussed in the meeting made their way to the
department’s head and much to many honest folks chagrin, compelled the
head to send the menacing letter to the student. This letter goes along
the line of: “…it has come to my attention that you had made comments at
the department review yesterday that were critical of me and three other
teachers. I wonder how a graduate student knows so much about what happens
among the faculty. You are employed by the department to train people on…
and I wonder what exactly it is that you do. We need to meet for a
discussion to decide if you will keep your department job.” Clearly, this
outcome demonstrates an egregious lack of ethics shown in this case. Every
staff member of the UIC is obliged to participate in the university basic
ethics training, and I believe that this is done to make sure that our
university is filled with a healthy, professional atmosphere with
transparency and equality to its members.

I was an overseas graduate student myself less than 2 years ago and I came
here to work, learn and interact with my professor and my colleagues in an
environment with a transparent and open scholarly spirit. This is clearly
not the case in our department; there is very little to almost
non-existent healthy college spirit. This case cannot help but made me
wonder about the previous political clouting scandal and President
Emeritus Joe White being forced to resign. I sincerely hope that the
current university ranking officers would be able to look at this issue
clearly and do what they must do. As far as I am aware, the student still
keeps the department job, but who knows? Are we quietly waiting for the
next victim of student or even faculty harassment?


Offline graham.d

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Clearly this is terribly wrong, especially if it was made clear that the review was supposed to be confidential and, even if it were not, it is just bad judgement to attack and threaten the critic rather than responding openly to his complaints. And, after all, why have a review if you don't want to hear criticism.

However, I expect there is another side to this. It would have been expected for the general results of such a review to be passed on or there would have been little point in having it. I expect it would have to have been expressed that the main criticisms came from just one person, if that was actually the case, and I suppose that all those involved may have deduced who that person was. I don't suppose the department head is an adept politician, and why should he be, or he would have (and should have) handled this differently. It is likely that the criticism hurt and may or may not have been unjust. He certainly made a serious error of judgement under the circumstances but, and it's hard to tell without knowing much more, he reacted in a human (if not humane) way. If the grad student is still there I suppose it has blown over and a few people are feeling some regrets.

Sometimes all the PC pussyfooting about is much worse than just having a good open discussion. It also should be noted that establishments, allbeit universities or companies, are not democracies. So although it's common sense to listen, there is no requirement for the senior management to change policy as a result. And the suggestion that if someone doesn't like it, they can leave, is sometimes the right one.


Offline hendrag

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it's nice to hear comments like yours, graham.d!
the environment here is not the brightest to say the least. and it is indeed sickening.


Offline Bored chemist

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I'm slightly surprised the student didn't contact their lawyer.
Please disregard all previous signatures.