Sometimes, just to rid themselves of an academic deemed unsuitable on character and/or ability grounds, a university Head of Department glowingly talks up the abilities of him/her to colleagues in another university. In due course that unbiddable but riddable academic is approached by colleagues at the other university and invited to apply for a new vacant position there. He/she applies for the tenured vacancy and, with stellar references from their current Chair, is duly appointed.

During implementation of a new course module the professional and personal limitations of the new appointee become glaringly clear to his/her new colleagues. The others in the Department collude to persuade their incompetent new colleague that difficulties with teaching/organizing the new module are actually a failure by the students and "for the time being, till we provide better prerequisite modules for students taking it" they should transfer this module to another senior colleague who will guide students along more traditional content. This swift action averts further revolt by students and calls from worried parents.

The question of what to do with the new misfit appointee is another matter however. Tenure has been given and the prospect of "hiding" Prof P within a very busy department for the next 35 years or so is a daunting prospect.

Is their any legal route out of this situation for Prof P's university ?

Can they apply for some sort of contract annulment since their appointing Prof P was mainly down to the glowing praise of his/her previous employer ?

Or is this sort of deception - and that is exactly what it is - just something that is "all in the game" of academia ?

If I wanted any non-legal but commonly-used alternatives I would post this on SE Academia. But I don't. I ask this in a purely legal sense.

  • 1
    Related, and possible duplicate: Does a work reference have liability?
    – user35069
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 12:40
  • @Rick Interesting. I suppose the counter case would be that employers hiring into an area in which they have a lot of skill themselves are in a good position to evaluate regardless of a misleading reference. For example, a garage manager and his foreman are both qualified and experienced mechanics. If they are interviewing a new mechanic they are skilled enough to assess if he is as knowledgeable as his glowing references suggest. Of course other aspects of his his work like speed, willingness to work overtime, willingness to help train apprentices are another thing. These can't be assessed.
    – Trunk
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 13:14
  • (1) What's the jurisdiction? (2) Did the letter contain objectively false statements (e.g. that the candidate has specific credentials or accomplishments that they actually don't), or just subjective opinions that you believe are not genuine? (Or perhaps ambiguous phrases like these, that the writer could argue were literally true?) (3) Is there evidence that the candidate was complicit in getting the writer to provide the false recommendation, or did the writer do it on their own initiative? Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 13:45
  • More about ethics than law, but another issue is that in soliciting the recommendation, you probably pledged (explicitly or implicitly) that its contents would remain confidential. Any legal action would probably require making the contents public, which would breach your pledge. You could argue that the writer's deception invalidates your duty to them, but it's still not a good look. And if in the end you can't prove that the letter was dishonest, conceivably the writer could countersue for breaching their confidentiality and defaming them as a liar. Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 13:51
  • 1
    @NateEldredge confidentiality agreements do not survive contact with the courts.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 21:13


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