Monday, July 9, 2018

Colorado State biochemistry professor fakes job offer, gets caught

Via Twitter and Denver's local CBS station, quite the story out of Colorado State University (article by Mark Ackerman)
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – A former professor at Colorado State University is facing a felony charge for fabricating an outside job offer to improve his status at CSU. Professor Brian McNaughton, 40, ran the McNaughton Lab, a biochemistry research group at CSU. 
He is now charged with attempt to influence a public official, for presenting his employers with a fictitious offer letter from the University of Minnesota in order to get more money from CSU. 
The falsification was determined through a series of emails between leaders of the two schools. CBS4 obtained the conversations through a Colorado Open Records Act Request. 
“It is my understanding this letter is simply a fake,” wrote Dr. Dan Bush, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs at CSU. “Needless to say we are shocked and dismayed that one of our faculty would fabricate such a letter to advance the status at CSU.” “Quite shocking indeed!” wrote Tom Hays, Professor at University of Minnesota. “I can confirm that I did not write, nor sign an offer letter to Brian McNaughton during my interim term (2014-2015) as Dean of College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota.”
McNaughton resigned his position at CSU. In a letter to the Dean, McNaughton apologized for an “enormous mistake.” He wrote that he got the idea to fake the outside offer from colleagues. 
“It was openly stated that multiple former CSU faculty (now either dead or no longer affiliated with CSU) lied about an outside offer as a mechanism to improve their salary,” McNaughton wrote. “I’m not excusing it, and I’m not excusing my own actions, but these factors are real.”
From conversations with professors at research universities, I have heard departments basically demand an outside offer before considering a pay raise. That said, I think this is reasonably common in many industries (particularly financially-related industries?). I imagine that the demanded raises are relatively large (greater than 10%?)

I do think it is interesting that this ultimately got caught - I wonder when that happened? I suspect that non-email conversations were how this was uncovered, i.e. one department member saying to a friend in the other one, "say, I heard you guys made Prof. McNaughton an offer?" and the response was "uh, what offer?

It's also interesting that Prof. McNaughton claims that faking outside offers was common - I would love to know the backstory on that claim as well...

UPDATE: Anon838 notes The Chronicle of Higher Education has McNaughton's letter. Might offer some insight into his state of mind.

Also, the article makes a vague comment about felony charges. Who is pressing charges? The university? 

23 comments:

  1. I guess there's an opening now at Colorado State!

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  2. He had a decent-sized group of grad students and a postdoc under him. What became of them?

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  3. Looks like he landed at U of Delaware: https://www.chem.udel.edu/people/full-list-searchable/mcnaught

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    1. The fact that B.S'ers like him can be receycled is depressing. Because he was a faculty member (a very cushy position) who was dishonest, he should be hanged immediately.

      Maybe Ive been watching Hulu too much.

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    2. I suspect he approached Delaware when he knew his job at CSU was in jeopardy, and they probably had no idea about the scandal. Considering that CSU pretty much caught him red-handed and still would have only been able to fire him after a long, drawn-out process, he might have just saved his own career by making this move in the nick of time.

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    3. Delaware hired him with tenure? If not, methinks problems.

      Also, IANAL, but being hired under false pretenses is not a protection against dismissal, even if tenured.

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    4. I don't know if he was hired with tenure, but that's usually what happens in a faculty poaching (which is probably what the folks at Delaware thought they were doing).

      It's technically possible to fire a tenured professor, but there's enough red tape involved that departments seldom attempt it. I strongly suspect that Delaware will just wait for this to blow over instead of going through the process to fire him.

      On the other hand, if he hasn't physically moved his lab yet, it would be a heck of a lot easier to pull an offer letter than to boot him out after he's moved in.

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    5. He got an offer from/hired by U. Delaware? He didn't even have to fabricate an offer letter. What a stupid mistake.

      Traded beautiful Colorado for...Delaware. And Delawareans. Sounds like an alien race from Dr. Who.

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    6. Nothing wrong with Delaware.

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    7. Didn't his ex-- take the kids and move to Pennsylvania? Delaware is a lot closer to PA than Colorado...

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    8. Another reason I'm glad to be away from the toxic environment of academia. When I was in grad school, it seemed like the divorce rate for professors was awfully high.

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    9. His offer to Delaware has been rescinded and his grad students are now homeless because they were all prepared to move in a few days. It is unclear as to whether either university is doing anything to help them.

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    10. That's horrible - these kids probably paid through the nose to break a lease in Colorado, paid first and last month's rent plus a damage deposit in Delaware, and now they have to wait and see whether their PI lands at some third-tier university or leaves academia altogether. Even a newer grad student who might be able to change groups within CSU will be in terrible financial shape after this mess.

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  4. A large pay raise is considered 10%? My roommate during grad school is in the financial investment banking sector; when I was offered a new job after my first position, they offered me exactly what I was making. He advised me to ask for 15% or more, or it's not even worth taking.
    I somehow negotiated 12% higher and the new job accepted with my employer at the time also matching a 12% raise, which was a coincidence that my employer came at me with the exact number my potential new employer offered.

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  5. "He is now charged with attempt to influence a public official"

    That is a felony? I didn't even know that is a real thing... Most forgery charges are misdemeanors.

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    1. Kind of like busting Al Capone for tax evasion, this is pathetic.

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  6. He did all that work and ruined his life for a $4000/year raise?? Either he is the most poorly paid professor ever, or the worst negotiator ever, or possibly both. Wouldn't be surprised if the CSU admin folks got suspicious when he so readily accepted their puny half-hearted counteroffer...

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  7. On the other side of the coin, the dismal job market for PhD chemists has lead some to exclude their doctorates from their resumes. This detail seems to escape our friends at C & E News.

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    1. But that would show up on a background check. I fail to see what good it does you to lie on your resume like that, especially with regards to education verification.

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  8. Fake it till you make it. Appear more confident, valuable and creative than one actually is. Then don't get caught...

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  9. His side of the story in a letter to the dean at chronicle of higher ed

    https://www.chronicle.com/article/This-Professor-Made-Up-a-Job/243873

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  10. More recent details

    https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/2018/07/12/csu-professor-forges-offer-letter-increase-pay/777447002/

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  11. Don't most professors only get raises when promoted or changing jobs? I've heard of many cases of new professors being paid significantly more than senior professors because of this lack of raise structure.

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