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Ask the Administrator: Post-Tenure Review
March 17, 2011 - 10:42pm

Following up on yesterday’s post, a regular correspondent writes:

In your latest blog post you lament the lifetime employment nature of tenure. Yet many of your commenters keep bringing up "post-tenure review" and that firing a tenured person for gross incompetence should be, if not easy, at least possible. I've read enough of your blog to know that you consider post-tenure review a joke and a fig leaf, like all performance reviews in academe, and that the firing standards are much higher than people assume. Here's what I'd like to know: in your time in higher education, have you ever heard of someone tenured actually being fired? In your experience, has post-tenure review ever actually led to any substantive outcomes?

The question should be directed at the readership as well -- how often have you heard of someone tenured actually being fired for non-criminal activity? Given the size of the academic world, there has to be a decent number of incompetents with tenure out there. They can't all be rock stars. In your experiences, has anyone deserving of the boot ever gotten the boot for being a terrible prof?

I'm far enough outside of the academy that I have no idea what the truth is. Maybe canning for incompetence does happen from time to time, and DD exaggerates the strength of tenure due to its aggravating effects on his job. Maybe it doesn't happen, and the cries of "but there's post-tenure review" and "firing can't be that hard" are weak rationalizations for a defective system.

Anybody know of tenure being lost for incompetence or quitting on the job? Is it that every college has to do it once in a while, or once every few decades, or is it like a Bigfoot sighting, where some guy heard once from a dude that there's a rumor it happened once long ago in another town? Can you name people who've had tenure and been canned for non-criminal reasons? The answer to that will illuminate the real effects of tenure on job retention, rather than its theoretical effects.

How often does "firing the tenured for being really lousy" really happen? Just how bulletproof is a tenured prof in reality?

In my own experience, I’ve never seen a tenured professor terminated. Nor have I ever seen a meaningful change as a result of a post-tenure review. Nor have I seen a post-tenure review used to nudge someone towards resignation or retirement. So yes, I consider it irrelevant at best. If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, then post-tenure review is hypocrisy.

But it’s a big world out there, so I’ll pose it to my wise and worldly readers. Have you ever seen actual, significant, on-the-ground consequences from a post-tenure review?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.


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