The Appearance of Conflict of Interest

I’ve recently become president of our faculty union, but have not given up my position as Chair. Is this inappropriate or potentially unethical? Am I setting the stage for a conflict of interests? If so, what steps might be taken to mitigate that risk?–Union President

Dear Professor President,

In a word: yes. As president of the faculty union, you are an advocate for your colleagues in all departments. As chair, you’re an advocate for your colleagues in your department. Even if you were an ethical superhero, the appearance of conflict of interest is too great to hold both positions at the same time. In some institutions, you can put your term of chair on hold if you take other administrative positions — if that’s true of yours, I’d strongly recommend that you do that and then return to it once your term as union president is over. Otherwise, you’ll need to step down from one of these jobs. Since the union president position is new, you’ll probably want to hold onto that and hand over the chairship to your deputy chair, if you have one, or call an emergency election as soon as you can.

On the bright side, it sounds like your colleagues at your institution have a great deal of confidence in your leadership abilities. Congratulations on that and on your new position!

–The Chair