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Get It in Writing

In Science, Jeffrey Mervis reports on the case of University of Texas at San Antonio electrophysiologist Kelly Suter, who is suing the school because she says it reneged on promises made during her recruitment. Before making her final decision to go to UTSA in 2006, Suter negotiated for an additional $100,000 in her start-up package from a pot of state money set aside for computational biology research, Mervis says. When she arrived at USTA however, she found her start-up funds diverted, and her research delayed as a consequence. Suter sued the university, claiming that not only did the university fail to honor its commitment to support her research, but also that two male faculty members who had arrived after her had received money originally earmarked for her start-up package, Mervis says.

DrugMonkey is throwing his support behind Suter, saying, "I hope she wins." Universities need to know that if they go back on their promises to faculty, there will be consequences, he says. And cases like this are why DrugMonkey always advises newly-hired faculty to get everything in writing, signed by whoever has the most authority. "Otherwise, things have a way of magically disappearing on you," he says. "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.' This doesn't happen everywhere, of course, but when it does, the university knows there's not much the faculty member can do about it, DrugMonkey adds, so "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."

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