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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2015

Q&A Forum

A.D. from Edmonton writes:

I’m up for tenure but am concerned that one member of the review committee is in a conflict of interest. We have had several run-ins with each other since I joined the department, and I don’t think she can be a fair judge of me. What should I do?

David Robinson, CAUT executive director, answers:

Conflicts of interest generally refer to circumstances where an individual may not act fairly because they, their family, or personal friends and acquaintances stand to benefit materially from the outcome of a decision over which the person has influence. For instance, if you served on a student awards committee and one of the candidates was a close relative, you would be in a conflict of interest and would have to step down from the committee.

The matter raised in the question is actually about an apprehension of bias, in this case the perception that a member of the tenure and promotion committee will not be fair because of personal animosity and conflict.

Deciding whether an apprehension of bias exists can be difficult. Unlike a conflict of interest where actual bias can be demonstrated, apprehension of bias is more of a notion that there is a potential for someone to favour a certain outcome. Nevertheless, the general rule of thumb for determining if there is an apprehension of bias is whether any informed person viewing the matter would reasonably conclude that a person would likely be unfair.

Where a reasonable apprehension of bias exists, it constitutes grounds to ask that a member of a decision-making body be disqualified.

If you believe that a member of your tenure and promotion committee is biased, it is important that you formally raise your concerns, and provide reasons, as soon as possible with the committee and with your academic staff association.

Academic Advisor offers advice about your rights at work. To send in a question, write to Please include a daytime telephone number.