A news bit by J. Mervis in Science reports a case in which a professor is suing her institution for reneging on financial commitments made during her recruitment.

Before making a final decision, Suter managed to bump up her start-up package by negotiating for another $100,000 from a pot of state money for computational biology. Then, satisfied that she had done the best she could, she accepted the job in June 2006, packed up, and headed west, primed to take the next step in her academic career.
Within weeks of her arrival, however, she found herself instead hurtling down an academic rabbit hole, as her start-up funds were diverted and her research plans delayed. Last summer, after exhausting other options, Suter hit bottom: She sued the university and six UTSA administrators and professors. She claims in her suit that the university failed to honor its commitment to support her research in a timely fashion and that two other male faculty members who arrived after her received money earmarked for her start-up package.

Good. I hope she wins.

Universities need to receive a little brush-back pitching on this issue. And it goes far, far beyond sex-discrimination that appears to be the part of this that is likely to get traction.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen times. If there is one singular issue, one, that dominates newly-hired Assistant Professor dissatisfaction with their new workplace it is the University reneging on promises apparently made during negotiations.

This why I tell all of those on the job market that they need to get *everything* in writing and not just from the Chair of the Department either. It has to be signed by the Dean or Vice Provost or ViceWhatnot that has the ultimate authority.

Otherwise, things have a way of magically disappearing on you. That lab space? Oh, that’s actually “shared space”. Nice big pool of cash? Did we mention we’re going to subtract your office furniture from that? and you have to pay for your phone line…and internet! Even worse are the crocodile tears expressed by the Chair when he has to report “well, the Dean didn’t go for it. He promised me! What can I do, my hands are tied..

Look, it doesn’t happen everywhere. Sometimes (most of the time?) everything works out great. But when push comes to shove, the University knows that they have you over a barrel and there really isn’t much you can do about it.

And we all know that in this day and age this stuff has major consequences. A few extra 10s of thousands of dollars can mean the difference between being able to generate the data to secure that NIH grant or not. It can be the difference between successful launch and dismal failure.

It is the responsibility of the candidate to make a deal for herself that is going to maximize her chances of making it to tenure and beyond. She may be fielding multiple offers and is taking each University at their word that they will provide what they are promising. It is likewise the minimum responsibility of the University to actually follow through.

I hope Suter wins her case. And that other Universities pay attention and stop reneging on their promises.