Not many people get fired from Greenback U. Oh, it happens. But on a percentage basis, it doesn't happen all that often. Certainly not to the degree it happened in any private, for-profit firm I ever worked for. In fact, it's a commonplace on campus that "you have to screw up pretty bad[ly] to get fired from Greenback.
Not that individuals don't manage to screw up badly enough from time to time. And not that, from time to (financially challenging) time, positions don't get eliminated and their occupants don't get laid off. But, on balance, turnover at Greenback U. is pretty low.
In this sense, working at Greenback is a lot like working for any large, bureaucratic organization. At sales-driven companies, folks get fired. At engineering-driven companies, folks get fired. At product-driven companies, folks get fired. But at bureaucratic companies, you have to screw up pretty badly to get fired. Don't screw up (or don't screw up badly), and you should be safe. Of course, the surest way not to screw up badly is to do as little as possible, and absolutely nothing that's really important.
When the economy was good, one of the net effects of this sort of employment policy was that Greenback tended to get workers who couldn't really succeed in the competitive environment. Then, once they were on board, they tended to stay until retirement. It kind of reminded me of a retired Air Force colonel I used to work with -- talking about his son who was graduating college, he told me "the kid's not very bright; I think he should get a job with the government."
Since a number of other "employers of choice" have left the Backboro area, however, the workforce at Greenback has evolved. We get more applications, more resumes now for each opening than used to be the case. The traditional non-competitive folks are still there, but so are a lot of people we wouldn't have seen apply in years past. Our hiring policies are still rooted in the bureaucratic culture but still, sometimes, the cream manages to rise to the top.
What's your story? Why do you work for a college or university? Write me at g[dot]rendell[at]insidehighered[dot]com.