Professor faked job offer from U of M to get a raise. Now he’s charged with a felony

It’s pretty tough to get ahead in today’s working world, so we have to admire the pluck of Brian McNaughton, an associate professor at Colorado State University.

He wanted a raise and companies aren’t dishing them out much these days.

So, in 2015, he told the university that he had an offer from the University of Minnesota and — Voila! — Colorado State offered him a $5,000 raise.

There was just one problem, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education: The U of M had made no such offer. McNaughton had faked a letter that he showed his employer.

McNaughton is now available if you’re interested, University of Minnesota. He resigned under pressure.

But Colorado State is sending a message to its other professors. It’s charging McNaughton with a crime. And not just a crime: a felony.

The school is charging him with attempting to influence a public official.

“Needless to say we are shocked and dismayed that one of our faculty would fabricate such a letter to advance the status at CSU,” Dr. Dan Bush, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs at CSU, wrote in a letter to the professor.

“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 responded in a 2017 apology, saying he’s had financial and marital problems. “I’m not excusing it, and I’m not excusing my own actions, but these factors are real.”

McNaughton, 40, ran the McNaughton Lab, a biochemistry research group at CSU. He has paid back $4,000 of his raise and his lawyer says he and his client thought the matter was closed.

Apparently, this is what professors have to do to get raises, judging by reaction to McNaughton’s story from others in higher education.

“The only way you can get a raise and increased status is by receiving a job offer,” one professor commenting on the higher education reporting website Inside Higher Ed. “If he was worth the extra $4k why wasn’t he worth it before they thought he was receiving another offer?”

“I’ve brought strong candidates to campus (significant time and money) and made offers only to learn that the candidate used it to get a better deal at their current job – they were never really interested in our position,” says another academic who worked with a provost at another university.

(h/t: Tracy Mumford)

  • Erik Petersen

    Discussion is incomplete w/o knowing what he was making.

    Guys letter was kind of pathetic. When I was an adult not making adult money I did a paper route to fill the gaps. There’s Uber now.

    • FWIW: Delivering papers sucks as a job. not a lot of $$ for a lot of thankless work…

      • Erik Petersen

        You’re not wrong. It was a $450 check every two weeks though. This guy’s gambit netted him like $150 biweekly.

        At any point, I can find $150 in biweekly expenses to not spend. Sheesh

        • John

          $150 biweekly to not do anything more than he was already doing.

          I’ll wager you worked your butt off to make that extra $900/mo.

  • Jim in RF

    As a U of M grad, happy to see U was willing to pay more and was seen as a promotion. A nit: CSU is powerful but doesn’t have the power to criminally prosecute someone.

    • >>The school is charging him with attempting to influence a public official.<<

      They are reaching but this might stick.

      His biggest mistake was the fabricated letter. He MAY have gotten the raise he wanted by just mentioning that he was being pursued by UMN…

      • Jim in RF

        Schools (and companies and individuals) don’t have the power to criminally prosecute; only county/state/federal prosecutors do. All the school could do is sue him.

      • Reminds me of a lot of the post 9/11 laws which were passed with a specific scenario in mind which were ultimately used for all sorts of scenarios never intended to be addressed by the law.

        also similar to baseball replay.

      • Erik Petersen

        They are going to have to take it to trial to get a felony conviction, and somehow I don’t think that happens even though yes, the prosecution can win their jury case on an extremely literal application of the law, cuz juries are obtuse. I doubt they win a bench trial. I don’t know what the point could be for the prosecution to bully him into settling for a misdemeanor conviction…. the aggrieved party has been made whole. The whole thing is dumb.

        Its strikes me as analogous to the ‘crime’ of lying on your timecard. If this is the logic, ‘influencing a public official’ could be used to charge people for that.

  • Erik Petersen

    Also a nit: “companies” aren’t dishing out raises Bob?

    CSU isnt a “company”. The prof’s experience doesn’t come about because of private sector thrift and / or worker exploitation.

    • That reminds me of a former coworker who took issue with my use of the word “company” to describe my employer. “It’s an organization, not a company.”

      Iceberg. Goldberg.

      • Erik Petersen

        Well, there’s a whole side conversation to be had about about the pay exploitation of professorial candidates… its a desirable job in the end, and a lot of smart kid academicians want to be professors. So there is in fact a documented phenomena of public academic institutions underpaying them because they can.

        This is the Petri dish this McNaughton’s set of circumstances (I made a pun!) undoubtedly spring from rather than a typical ‘company’ tight with their pennies.

  • Jeff

    It’s too bad they don’t mention how he got ratted out so others don’t make the same mistake.

    • Erik Petersen

      His ex-wife ratted him out.

      • Jeff

        I missed that part, but there’s a lesson there.

    • jon

      He is being charged with “attempt to influence a public official.”

      So I think if you work in the private sector then you are probably fine to fake as many offer letters as you need…

  • jon

    https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Colorado-State-University-Salaries-E27536.htm?filter.jobTitleFTS=associate+professor

    $86k a year is the salary listed on glass door for an associate professor at the school… So a $5,000 raise is about 6%…

    Meanwhile at the U of M…
    https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/University-of-Minnesota-Associate-Professor-Salaries-E3735_D_KO24,43.htm

    $106k a year. He should have held out for more money.

  • Brian Simon

    It’s been common in my career that you get a larger raise by changing jobs than staying with the same employer. Though, last year, the guy that had had my job quit & I got a pretty good raise, so maybe they’ve realized there’s something to be said for using dollars for retention.

  • lindblomeagles

    Maybe I am going off the deep end, but what exactly did this professor do that was so different or worse than what Colorado State did? I’m sure Professor McNaughton ASKED CSU, “How ’bout a raise? I mean, all of MY research has brought CSU grant money, rights to inventions, formulas, and theories that CSU themselves did not discover, more students to keep CSU’s doors open, etc. Don’t I deserve a little more take home pay?” What did CSU do when McN asked for a raise? They lied. They told McNaughton, “Don’t have the funds,” when, in fact, the moment McN was headed out the door, CSU said, “Well, wait. We do have the funds.” McNaughton and all the other college professors out there aren’t dumb. They see college tuition rates rising over the last 30 years. They read sports’ headlines too. This college football coach (Nick Saban anyone?) gets 5, 6, 7 million dollars a year; this college basketball coach (Tom Izzo?) becomes the highest paid college coach. At what point do we, society, HOLD bosses, be they corporate board rooms, CEO’s, owners, college administrators, news’ editors, etc. them accountable for not boosting pay, specifically for workers who’ve earned it? Allegedly, Americans now loathe unions. Well, unions used to fight the fight for guys like McNaughton. Why should we sheepishly say, “Company or Organization X is telling the truth when they tell us, we can’t give you a raise?” And if we have to deceive bosses into giving us raises, what does that really say about the boss we have?

    • Erik Petersen

      I just read his letter completely and do see a guy who felt like he was at the whimsy of forces he could barely manage and contradictions that were not just / moral. And he’s not wrong there.

      There’s not a lot of value in prosecuting him for the furtherance of ‘justice’. He’s being prosecuted because its a slam dunk to get a conviction. That’s the way county prosecutors are, its production work.

      • lindblomeagles

        I agree with your point of view Erik. In fact, I know you’re right. I’m just trying to figure out why we, the readers, aren’t unanimously siding with McNaughton here. Like I said, we all know American wages have not been keeping up since the 1970s. We all know companies have done REALLY well, especially the CEO’s and shareholders of private companies. And we all know that if some football or basketball coach won the National Championship or the Final Four, CSU WOULD FIND the money to keep the coach there. All the excuses go out the window when the holders of big money give themselves a raise. But when it is time to reward the peons at the bottom, suddenly, the money isn’t there. If CSU gave this guy a raise from jump street, McNaughton wouldn’t have had to lie. CSU HAD THE MONEY. They just did what every other boss in America has been doing since the 1970s. McNaughton called their bluff. And if I could steal a line from Trump supporters (yep, I said it), this is why Trump was elected – the elitists are stringing us along. I think CSU should be inundated with negative reactions from us, the workers of America.

        • Jeff

          I’d have to agree the decline of unions has a lot to do with it. Also I believe that the lack of real income growth drives a lot of our politics. People don’t feel very much inclined to support or expand government programs when their incomes are stagnant. Why should I help other people when I work hard and I’m not getting anywhere? And as a politician (read Republican) it makes it easy to run against anyone who advocates for government. Tax cuts make a lot of sense to voters if your income is stagnant or declining and it’s that greedy government wasting your money.

          • lindblomeagles

            I understand your position too, and I agree with just about all of it. The thing that really bothers me here is CSU told McNaughton, can’t give you a raise. McNaughton comes back to them and says, give me a raise or I’m headed to Minnesota. CSU then comes back to McNaughton and says, We can’t lose you, so, here’s a raise. CSU could have stuck to its guns and said, Go to Minnesota. But, CSU didn’t. They decided to pay him after lying about not being able to give him a raise. Now that CSU discovered the Minnesota offer was phony, CSU’s new position is, You don’t deserve a raise. Where is CSU’s ethics in all of this? They are literally mad at McNaughton for beating them at their own game.

    • JamieHX

      >> “Allegedly, Americans now loathe unions.” <<

      According to a June 2018 APM Research Lab survey "…Americans are evenly divided about whether union dues should be mandated or the choice of each worker. However, 62 percent of Americans feel the United States would be “better off” if unions were “stronger” compared to only 23 percent who prefer “weaker” unions. On both topics, differences of opinion exist by income, political party, race and more."

      https://www.apmresearchlab.org/stories/2018/06/13/apm-survey-labor-unions-and-right-to-work

      Some similar findings by Pew:

      http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/30/most-americans-see-labor-unions-corporations-favorably/

      And Gallup:

      https://news.gallup.com/poll/217331/labor-union-approval-best-2003.aspx

      • lindblomeagles

        62% of Americans may feel that way, but if you look at Congress, they aren’t voting the way they feel. Republicans, in general, don’t support unions, and they overwhelming run Congress (particularly the House since 2010). And don’t get me started on State Legislatures. Hence, if we Americans feel so strongly about unionization, we’ll stop putting power into the hands of the very party who has been ON THE RECORD with strong opposition to unionization. As far as this Professor goes, CSU told him we can’t give you a raise, but, they knew they could. When he countered with an offer from another University, CSU gave him the raise. Now, because the offer was phony, CSU is accusing him of fraud. That’s not fair. CSU can’t be allowed to lie to an employee about their ability to give that employee a raise, and then be exonerated for catching an employee who lied in order to get a raise. The professor didn’t fudge his academic findings. He didn’t fictitiously invent something new that wasn’t. He simply said, I have another offer. Pay me or let me go. CSU could have let him go. They didn’t. They came up with the money. If the prof said, “Ok CSU. I’ll stay without the raise,” we’d all say good for CSU. They played their cards right. This employee warrants the same praise. He got a raise from the man playing the man’s game.