Blogconfidential: Flatter to deceive? No thanks

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Flatter to deceive? No thanks

January 27, 2011

My field of research focuses on genetic technology and manipulation, environmentalism and food production. It is complex, demanding work at the cutting edge of the subject.

Recently I was approached to write for a free magazine produced by a multinational company. Thirty-five scientists from around the world will contribute to the publication, in effect promoting one apparently well-known conglomerate.

I turned the offer down, primarily because I know very little about the company and where the magazine is going to be distributed. However, I have come under intense pressure from my vice-chancellor and head of school to contribute.

They claim the company may become an important source of funding for the university in the future, but I do not want to compromise my integrity. The magazine, I have been told, is designed to impress shareholders and potential investors. What on earth has this got to do with me?

The situation is really difficult and has ramped up the tension at work. I know nothing about the business world and really do not want to get involved.

I am a leader in my particular field, but this does not and should not mean I am available to promote any company, no matter how deep its pockets. Am I right to think that my bosses have no right to demand this of me?

Here is yet another example of universities undermining their own scholars' academic freedom. You are right: your institution has no right to attempt to compromise your integrity in this manner. You are also right to think that the situation is unfair.

There seems to have been an increase in the production of this sort of reprehensible magazine in recent years. Big business hardly needs (or should be given) the encouragement.

If your vice-chancellor and head of school feel so strongly about the issue, perhaps they should supply the organisation with the information it needs themselves.

If you are really set on digging your heels in, you need to be prepared: if you continue to refuse your managers' requests, it is extremely likely that your relationship with them will sour even further.

Document everything and if possible record any conversations you have with your managers about the situation. Contact your union and get representation in place in case of need. If your employers refuse to desist and ultimately push you into a corner, hold firm and tell them in the nicest possible way that this is a resignation issue for you. As you are at the cutting edge of your field, you should find it relatively easy to move on and find a new position.

I consider your principled stand to be absolutely wonderful and am sure you have the support of your colleagues in the academy.

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