Recently, a full professor at my university lost their tenure and had their employment with the university terminated. I have never heard of a tenured faculty member "being fired" before. I am not sure why this happened or what the former professor did that resulted in this outcome.

I know that assistant professors can be denied tenure for poor performance. But for what reasons might a full professor (or an associate professor) lose tenure?

(In this question I use US-centric academic ranks. An assistant professor is tenure-track, an associate professor is tenured, and a full professor is tenured with a slight increase in pay/benefits/responsibilities.)

  • 3
    Given your final note, I've added the US tag because it's probably not possible to give a general answer (in some countries revoke of tenure may be subjected to local laws). Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 16:35
  • 1
    You use US-centric position names, sure. But is your question entirely about the US? Exactly what "tenure" means surely differs from country to country; some places, such as the UK, have no concept of tenure at all. If you're asking about the whole world, this is surely too broad. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 14:19
  • Just for accuracy, you can be associate without tenure, but the requirements for tenure as associate are different (harder), so people usually get tenured then bumped to associate in one swoop. Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 0:38
  • There are US universities, like Harvard, where full professors do not or not always have tenure.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 8:20
  • In my discipline, an example would be: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergio_Verd%C3%BA Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 22:59

5 Answers 5


The details are likely institution (and or state) specific.

From the University of New Mexico Faculty Handbook one sees that the options there are:

  1. "Adequate Cause", including academic incompetence, neglect of duty, serious violation of policy, serious crime, loss of license (medical), or other serious deficiency.

  2. Financial emergency - that is, the university runs out of money to pay them.

  3. Termination of the program/department.

  4. Health reasons (permanent disability with no reasonable accommodation possible).

  • 8
    Note that financial emergency isn't a true dismissal, but a furlough. The university has to hire back furloughed faculty before anybody else. This is true in most places, and is also affected by collective bargaining agreements (unions).
    – user71659
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 18:27
  • 4
    @user71659 - For sure, but if a college shuts down (perhaps unlikely for a state school) there is not chance to be rehired.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 18:40
  • 2
    It's an important protection to prevent the case where they want to fire somebody, so the Dean withholds 1 FTE's worth of money to the department, and oops, financial emergency.
    – user71659
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 0:24
  • 2
    Is seducing the students included in point 1?
    – RedSonja
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 7:36
  • 3
    @user71659 - Note that tuition and fees are not allocated by the state.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 18:58

Even tenured professors are required to adhere to a certain level of standards. They are given academic freedoms, but not complete freedoms.

Committing a felony could in many cases lead to your dismissal, regardless of if you have tenure or not. Rape, murder, sexual assault, multiple DUIs, etc. all could result in being fired (even if you have tenure).

Committing fraud with department/grant money would also likely lead to being dismissed.

  • 3
    I heard about a professor back in the 1990s that defrauded his postdocs out of money (he told them they had to deposit their wages into his account, and he will pay them, and in the process he cut himself some of the money). The university caught up to him at some point, and they told him that they will let him keep the money if he resigns quietly and never comes back. Or something like that. Not exactly getting fired, but close enough, and I guess a lot of headache saved for the department in terms of de-tenure process being skipped.
    – Ink blot
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 12:01

Traditionally, tenured faculty can only be dismissed on non-academic grounds, such as the reasons discussed in @Vladhagen's answer.

But that is not the reality everywhere. Universities that have a post-tenure review (at least in some cases) reserve the right to dismiss faculty if, say, their research output slows down too much. See, for example, the post-tenure review policy at University of Colorado: "Possible sanctions include...revocation of tenure and dismissal."


When a professor receives tenure, it means that s/he may not "let go" in order to be replaced by the university by another individual, even if younger or "cheaper." Thus, a tenured professor may be terminated only for "standalone" reasons.

  1. Financial reasons leading to the discontinuation of the professor's department or at least courses, without the possibility of the professor's reasonably being transferred to a new department or courses; one or more positions was eliminated and not replaced.

  2. Violation of academic or legal standards against plagiarism, sexual harassment, drug use or commission of other civil crimes, usually felonies, such as fraud or assault. These are typically violations of university policy as well as civil law.

  3. Possibly minor "violations" that go to the heart of the academic experience, such as repeatedly not showing up for class, and teaching far fewer hours than courses require.


Just to add something relevant to the USA academic dismissal landscape - and probably relevant to other countries also.

Some universities are the property of, and operate under the control of, one or other church. For example, the USA has 244 catholic church governed universities - of which 60 are Jesuit governed. There may be other universities in which certain departments (e.g. theology, divinity) are under the auspices of one or other religious denomination.

It has been known that professors of theology have been dismissed (and their dismissal upheld in courts later) after making utterances in conflict with prevailing church dogma. In Germany, Hans Kung was on the point of getting booted out of his job within the Institute for Ecumenical Studies after sharing his views on papal infallibility and celibacy. Luckily, in his case the University of Tubingen stepped in to secularize his Institute within the university and save his job. But others have not been so fortunate.

Obviously, such removals of tenure may only occur in departments over which the denomination has authority. So a Jewish lecturer in economics in John Carroll University cannot be summarily fired for referring occasionally to the Vatican as "a terrible waste of money". He could however find himself subject to a cold war campaign amongst colleagues envious of his talents or courage who would make affectations of orthodoxy in favour of the university management.

  • -1 Your last paragraph seems to be anti-Catholic. Are you referring to a particular case? In the third paragraph both examples seem to be from Europe in the 1970s, but you said you were talking about the USA academic dismissal landscape.
    – Oliver882
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 13:25
  • The examples provided in para 3 were in the public domain in the 70s and 80s. I didn't google dismissals from Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist or Presbyterian ethos colleges. The final para posits a (very, considering academics' normally hypersensitive political antennae) hypothetical scenario but with a plausible consequence. I think a similar scenario could occur in a college with a Jewish ethos but which employs Gentiles in secular department positions.
    – Trunk
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 13:52
  • In that case, the final para is definitely anti-Catholic. The invented quotation and the last sentence are gratuitous.
    – Oliver882
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 19:12
  • @Oliver882 I think you are being too sensitive on behalf of the churches here. Looking through Google there are recent cases of academics and administrators being removed from positions in universities founded by other denominations, usually on grounds of doctrinal differences. Human beings are human beings, regardless of faith and path.
    – Trunk
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 19:48

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