Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How To Fire A Tenured Faculty Member

We have heard that tenured professors have job security. Awhile ago I posted about the situation of Jonathan Goldstein, whose tenured position at Allegheny College was under attack because he was criticizing his administration. I think his position has been saved, but the hard fact is that administrators succeed in getting rid of uppity faculty all the time, although often it does not get widely reported. Thus, I recently gave a talk at an econ department where someone behaved in a highly and personally aggressive and unpleasant way to me (other members later apologized to me). However, I learned that this was not totally disconnected to the recent firing of a tenured friend of mine from that department for disagreeing with the university administration. I cannot speak further of this because the entire situation is under wraps due to court order. But I can say that my friend was indeed fired for disobeying certain arbitrary administrative rules, the sort of thing that was being thrown at Goldstein, which was simply a method for getting at him for criticizing them on other matters.

At my university there was an effort to fire a tenured prof who was criticizing the administration by eliminating his entire department. This led to a protest against this, which I was involved with. Some of us involved in this received letters from a member of the Board of Visitors above the administration, threatening us with loss of our jobs. Fortunately, this move to eliminate the department was ultimately countermanded, and the administrator causing the trouble was removed as a result of his connection with a murder/prostitution scandal. But I still keep a copy of that threatening letter in my desk, not to mention my membership in the AAUP current.


Anonymous said...


You live one interesting life for a professor: "the administrator causing the trouble was removed as a result of his connection with a murder/prostitution scandal."

Well, in all my years of "career changes" I don't think I can top that one - although I did come across group running an EBay operation with stolen company property.

Peter Dorman said...

Not Allegheny but Bowdoin. Debit where debit is due.

Jack said...

It's interesting to note that your employer has such high standards for its selection of administrative personnel. What of the Visitor that sent out threatening letters? That would seem to be a serious breach of whatever employment contract, if any,
that the faculty work under. said...


Thanks for the correction, and I should have gone to double check on the actual status of that situation prior to posting, but, well, got a bit distracted by some of the back and forth here.


Yeah, a pretty juicy story with a lot more to it than I even wish to go into here, more the sort of thing for talking about over a well-lubricated long dinner (I discussed it at the dinner after my seminar where I was attacked, with much friendlier department members who filled me on some of their dirt, which cannot be discussed). It did get covered in a long story in the Washington Post style section when it reached its culmination. Yeah, real soap opera stuff. I will say that the administrator's connection was somewhat distant, but close enough to be the straw that broke the camel's back on his long holding of his position (27 years).


We had a big principal-agent problem here, with the administrator managing to get people on the Board of Visitors who had business interests in the university and projects pushed by the administrator. The letter came from such an individual. There was never any public revelation of these letters, and this member continued to serve until the end of the appointed term, that being some time ago now.

Walker said...

The firing of a tenured prof is a tragedy, the unemployment of 15 million is a statistic.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I have an opinion about this in the abstract.

But I am cheered if it means there is a way to get John Yoo's ass fired from the University of California at Berkeley. said...


Here is where I meant to make my reply that snarkiness aside, just lay off going back to your declaring that tenured profs have no right to comment on unemployment.


Yeah, but I'm afraid this is just a furlough for him, along with the rest.

Walker said...

My point is not that tenured profs have no right to comment on unemployment. It's not even that they have nothing to add to the conversation. My point is that they are not only over-represented but exclusively represented.

These policy forums routinely round up a bunch of white, male, middle class academics and very rarely (or never?) include someone whose perspective comes from the street level. Obviously, the average professor is going to be more articulate than the average unemployed person. It would be nice though if these kinds of forums sought out articulate unemployed folks to give their perspective. Even the process of seeking out spokespeople would probably be instructive for the academics.

Maybe the exclusion is deliberate because of concerns that having an unemployed person would politicize the discussion? In that case, the politics of de-politicizing one of the most political issues in the world is despicable. On the other hand, if it's just an oversight, that is evidence of a remarkable degree of arrogance and insularity on the part of the organizers.

Peter Dorman said...


To begin with, the bloggers here (including you) are economists, and this is what the multitudes hanging on our every word have come here to find. It happens that economics has a plumper labor market than many other disciplines, so the tendency is for most of us to be doing OK. My personal economic situation is between OK and not OK, but I don't think this has much effect on what I write. If anything, I might understand things better if it were simply OK, since I would have more time to read and think.

Also, and this is the second point, we get all sorts of comments from all sorts of people. Perhaps unemployed folks are even overrepresented in the comments, for obvious reasons. If true, that's fine, for the sort of reasons you are pushing.