Imagine sifting through a stack of mail only to find an official memo informing you that you are now the subject of investigation for an offense you did not commit. Or, perhaps, the notification comes via a visit or phone call. Regardless of how the news is delivered, learning that you are a person of concern can feel like a sock in the gut. Being inaccurately or unfairly accused of something awful or even just slightly irregular can be terrifying and hurtful. It’s completely normal to worry about your reputation and be nervous about whether you will be treated fairly.
There are some things you can do to get through the process without unnecessary drama. The first is to remain calm and relatively quiet. Loud claims of innocence and noisy pronouncements about your plans to sue for defamation of character are rarely helpful. You may be tempted to proclaim, “How dare this institution charge me with [insert allegation here] after all of my contributions and years of institutional loyalty!” Be sure to utter these words only in your mind, as protesting too much can actually raise concerns. If you have done nothing wrong, it is generally best to treat the complaint as yet another annoying item on your to-do list and do your best to muddle through the process, working to be as cooperative as possible.
In my experience, the folks who tend to fare best are those who express surprise and disappointment that their integrity has been challenged. They don’t get indignant and they don’t make it unnecessarily difficult for investigators to uncover the facts. Importantly, they don’t get mad at investigators for doing their jobs. These people ask intelligent questions about how the investigation process will unfold and respond to questions and data requests in a timely manner. Also, rather than assuming that the truth will eventually be revealed, they proactively share information that might influence the investigation (e.g., “Did he mention that he was angry with me for assigning a Thursday night course?” or “It’s true that I frequently kissed her on the mouth in front of others, but we were in a serious relationship at the time”). In the event they believe the investigation is being poorly managed, those under investigation raise these concerns with the investigators before writing a letter of condemnation to the president.
Have you ever been unfairly accused of a serious offense? Do you have any advice for friends or colleagues who might find themselves in a similar situation?