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(This problem takes place at a university, but I still think it belongs here, as it is more about colleague relationship / work ethics than about academia.)

I work as an assistant at a university. My professor retired this year and after a while it turned out, his successor would not employ me, despite my prof was repeatedly urging him to do so. Because of this I now work at a different chair but at the same institute. My new position is not bad but not exactly what I had planned for myself. So much for the setting.

Now that successor has employed someone else as his assistant. This person now approached me, asking for the teaching material that I created while working under the old professor. Which brings me to my little dilemma:

  1. I could just give him the material. Of course this means that the successor will have access to my work 'for free', without employing me. This just doesn't seem right to me.
  2. The other option is of course to deny him my material. My old professor also advised me to do so. However, I would probably make some enemies for myself at the institute. Also I would feel bad about making the life of his new employee harder by not giving him something to work with. It's not his fault that his boss didn't want me.

So I am pondering what to do. On the one hand I don't feel comfortable giving something for free to someone who did not employ me. Then again, I don't want to be mean to his underling, and I don't really gain anything from withholding my material. Maybe I just need a little impulse to do the right thing.

Maybe someone can give me his/her perspective on this. Thanks!

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    This is up to you, we can't really help you answer this other than saying what you've already said to help you make a decision but you'e already covered that – Twyxz Oct 4 '18 at 13:22
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    Maybe ask as academia.stackexchange.com Remember that syllabus is something different than regular materials created for trainings. – SZCZERZO KŁY Oct 4 '18 at 14:01
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NB: I'm not entirely familiar with university employment conventions so this is based off what it would be like if we were talking about commercial entities. What I know of from my brief stint as a research assistant tallies with this but it was 15+ years ago so may be inaccurate!

If you created this material in the course of your paid employment at the university then it's not your material, it's the university's in which case it really isn't you giving them something of yours "for free" - it's providing a colleague with access to materials paid for and owned by your common employer.

EDIT: As commenter jcmack points out (based on his previous experience in University lecturing) if the new person is asking for teaching notes or personal teaching materials not published to students, this is not considered university property and you wouldn't be obligated to provide the materials.

Setting the question of who own's what aside for a moment though a quote I like to apply to situations like this comes to mind:

Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping someone else dies.

So I'd still suggest you should provide the material, withholding it from the successor would be a very petty form of revenge by itself - all because he had the temerity to choose his own assistant? I've been turned down for a few jobs myself over the years (it's a normal part of life for most people) and I hold them no ill-will. It's just business not personal. And potentially making life difficult for someone who literally hasn't done anything wrong to you here (other than happening to get employed in the job that you wanted) would be petty in the extreme.

If you want to look at it purely pragmatically by refusing the new assistant's request (lets call them Sam) you could damage your professional reputation not just with Sam but beyond.

Think about what would happen if someone asks Sam about you, do you want their response to be:

metaclypse is great, they gave me some really helpful materials from when they worked with Prof Retired.

or

metaclypse is an douche, I asked if they could help me out with some materials from when they worked with Prof Retired and they blew me off. Guess they resent me for getting the job they wanted.

I know what I'd rather be seen as by my peers!

  • Thanks for your answer! As for the legal situation, my old professor made it clear to me that the material belongs to me, although I am not sure if this is 100% correct. Anyway, you are of course right in that I shouldn't punish someone who didn't harm me (Sam). Actually I didn't think of it as 'punishment' for the new professor, but simply not giving away things for free to someone who is also not giving me anything. But yes, this probably doesn't make a difference and will turn out as simple pettiness. I suppose you are right and I should just provide the material for everyone's sake. – metaclypse Oct 4 '18 at 13:58
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    @metaclypse If they were asking you to do new work for "free" I might have a different view - but in this the cost to you is (I'm assuming) nothing more than sending a few files over by e-mail. Which feels like a bargain for potentially building a good relationship with a colleague. In many workplace situations perception essentially is reality and if you end up with people perceiving you as petty or difficult then that's how people will end up treating you. Who knows.. one day you might find "Sam" is in a position to do you a favor! – motosubatsu Oct 4 '18 at 14:06
  • Not a lawyer, but if the new person is asking for teaching notes or personal teaching materials not published to students, this is not consider university property (I used to be a lecturer at a big public university). – jcmack Oct 4 '18 at 14:09
  • @jcmack thanks, I'll update my answer to include this info – motosubatsu Oct 4 '18 at 14:22
  • Heh, I read your answer right after I posted mine, and thought, "Ah, this person basically gave the same answer, but better". +1 from me :-) – Kevin Oct 4 '18 at 14:23
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In these sorts of situations, I'd always take a step back and ask yourself - removing emotion from the equation, what have I got to gain or lose?

It strikes me that aside from the quick kick of "Hah, that'll make people's lives difficult and teach the professor for not hiring me", there's not really anything to gain here (other than a reputation for being an arse.) On the other hand, if you pass the work over, then there's nothing particularly to lose, and you potentially gain some respect for handling the sitaution like an adult.

I could have missed things above, in which case re-evaluate - but I'd always advise following the same logic, and seeing where it leads you.

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    Thank you for your comment! You are right, the underlying problem for me is probably an emotional one. I should probably give in, as I have nothing really to gain from withholding my material. – metaclypse Oct 4 '18 at 14:04
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    It's likely that the small kick of "ha that'll show 'em" will be far outweighed by knowing you helped someone out and how much time you may have saved them. – Tas Oct 5 '18 at 0:45
3

Note: Not a lawyer and you should review your employment contract.

I would heed the advice of your former professor.

I've spent a fair amount of time in academia as a graduate student, teaching assistant, lecturer, etc. Teaching notes are generally not university property and professors don't typically share this material. If the new professor has chosen to employ this new person as his assistant over you, the professor must have some faith in this person's abilities. As a courtesy, you could give the new person an overview of the course and somethings you have done in the past, but I would not provide your teaching notes.

  • I do agree with this answer, partly. You could tone it down a bit. Why not a middle ground? Share some of your work, but do not share it all. – Rui F Ribeiro Oct 5 '18 at 13:30
  • @RuiFRibeiro Giving an overview of your former course is the "middle ground". No one in my experience shares their teaching notes, even colleagues are great work terms, because they are your private notes and the professor/instructor expected to create his/her own. Giving them your notes is like you doing their homework for them, which is frowned upon. – jcmack Oct 8 '18 at 0:00
  • I am aware of that and fully agree. I was talking in the point of view of the OP wanting to share, and was not explicit – Rui F Ribeiro Oct 8 '18 at 7:24
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I'm going to answer this from a working-world, corporate perspective first. The material belongs to you if you developed it on your own time, for something other than your work as an assistant. But if you developed those materials for use in your job? Then, realistically, those materials belong to your former employer. You said that you "don't feel comfortable giving something for free to someone who didn't employ you" - but that's not the case at all. You were employed. You're simply not giving it to the same person in the organization. Granted, it gets a bit murky that your former boss is telling you that you don't have to turn it over... but I think you should view those materials as belonging to the university, not the professor. So from that perspective: you should probably turn them over. The university owns them.

Next, from a Risk-Reward perspective. What do you get out of not turning them over? A bit of revenge. What are the risks? First, you're burning some bridges. Second, you're inviting that professor/assistant to compel you to turn them over. Third, the possibility that this incident gets associated with your name. While this probably wouldn't be any sort of deal-breaker, if our company was hiring someone fresh out of college, finding a "Student tried to refuse to hand over course materials after end-of-employment" might raise a few eyebrows. So from that perspective: you should probably turn them over.

Finally, from a moral perspective. Imagine you're looking back at this choice five years from now. How do you imagine you'll feel about each possible branch? I can't answer this question for you, but personally, if I withheld the docs, I'd probably look back at it as a time where I was being a bit petty. And if I handed over the docs, I'd look back at it as a time where I took the high road. So, personally, I'd hand them over (but you might have a completely different answer on this facet of things.)

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