Blog confidential: Silly, don't be a superhero

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online.

July 29, 2010

This week: Silly, don't be a superhero

I am an economics professor and have worked at the same institution for 25 years. I'm about to throw it in for early retirement at the age of 55. I feel ethically compromised about what is happening around here.

There is a massive ongoing building project at my university, but I have heard that the tendering process was questionable. I have known our administrators for many years and they have seen various vice-chancellors, business managers and self-styled saviours of the academy come and go. However, they seem to trust me and told me that the tendering process for our latest escapade was rigged, with relatively large sums of money changing hands - certainly more than my lump sum. I have been told that this information is available for me to expose, if I have the guts.

My partner is very anxious about my involvement and has told me to retire and leave it all behind. However, I feel compelled to do something about the corruption as a parting shot.

I'll be blunt - you are not going to eradicate the malpractice you have been informed about with a parting shot at those you despise.

There may be corruption at your institution: indeed, it sounds as if there are some very questionable practices going on. But as I have done many times before, I point you in the direction of the past experiences of whistleblowers who have been punished by taking up the cause of the righteous.

I know I will be criticised for this. There are those who contribute to Blog Confidential online who are simply out to discredit my advice, whatever I say. They are the people who speak the loudest from the safest places.

If you feel so inclined, go to the website Public Concern at Work (, but please take note - the path of good intentions is not golden or made of yellow brick.

You could give the information you have to the union, which may be willing to do something. If one of Times Higher Education's readers would like to offer their advice, I would be happy to pass it on.

The academic world is fast-changing and becoming tarnished by external forces. I have received correspondence from a number of academics about their experiences of work, bullying and concerns about their role and function. So, over the summer (yes, unlike many of you, I am working over the summer), I am going to lead a debate and a problem-solving exercise on a range of subjects. I hope we get some decent responses.

I am rather tired of the naysayers. I like to think I do my best, but I have to err on the side of caution and give people the best advice I can.

For this week, my advice is don't be a superhero: when there are structures in place that provide genuine protection from the wrath of the unrighteous, by all means right the wrongs, but now is not that time.

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