There recently was some bad press regarding job security for tenured academics in Denmark. A critical article in a newspaper edited by University of Copenhagen employees mentions the firing of two professors, one of them (Thomas Højrup) due to a "cost-cutting measure".

To get a balanced picture of the matter, I looked into official information as provided by universities, and found the following explanation by the Copenhagen Business School:

A position as associate professor or full professor at a Danish university is a permanent position. The employment and working conditions of academic staff employed at Danish Universities are primarily regulated by collective agreements between the Danish Government and the trade unions. According to the collective agreement [...] Danish Universities, however, can dismiss a member of the academic staff, employed in a permanent position, but only in special circumstances, due to either disciplinary offenses or as a result of considerable budgetary restrictions or other unexpected institutions circumstances.

This sounds to me like a university could easily get rid of any tenured employee they don't like anymore (for whatever reason) by declaring a new "strategic orientation", which results in an unavailability of funding for said employee.

Consequently, I wonder is if there is any job security at all for tenured academics in Denmark. Specifically, are there usually any "safeguards" that prohibit a university from firing a person they don't like by reallocating their funding?

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    I don't know anything about Denmark specifically, but in the US, it is common to have such "escape clauses". However, they come with various safeguards. For instance, at my institution, it is possible to dismiss tenured faculty in the case of "financial exigency", but there is a complicated process that must be followed. Faculty must be dismissed in reverse order of seniority, and offered their jobs back before the university hires anyone new. So it wouldn't be so easy to use this process to get rid of a specific person they don't like. – Nate Eldredge Nov 24 '19 at 21:43
  • I would be fairly surprised if the union contracts in Denmark don't contain similar safeguards. Union negotiators are pretty savvy people and they won't leave obvious loopholes. – Nate Eldredge Nov 24 '19 at 21:44
  • @NateEldredge Thanks, that's a valid concern. I edited my question to explicitly ask for any such "safeguards". – lighthouse keeper Nov 24 '19 at 22:59
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    For the record, there was a now-deleted comment which pointed out that the mentioned firing practices are in line with Denmark's flexicurity model. The commenter also suggested that employees are supposed to negotiate a good deal (with input from trade unions) during hiring. Of course, I would be interested in any resources providing guidance on such matters. – lighthouse keeper Nov 25 '19 at 11:23

I have recently been employed at University of Copenhagen in a temporary position. The current situation is definitely problematic.

Denmark has the general problem (shared with many other countries), that basic funding for universities has been cut over many years, and transferred to project specific funding for research centers or individual grants - more often than not provided by private companies and foundations, rather than the state.

This means that the extraordinary circumstances have become rather ordinary, and the case of prof. Thybo mentioned in the article, is not the only known case. Adding to this that many younger people are now being hired in assistant professor positions without tenure, although being at the age and reputation where they should really get tenure track positions or tenured positions, it certainly seems that University of Copenhagen is phasing out the concept of tenure.

To summarize: I think the conclusion that there is no job security at all in Denmark is rather harsh, but definitely not without reason. I would recommend anyone aiming for faculty positions in Denmark in general, and University of Copenhagen in particular, to do solid research into the financial situation of the department they are considering joining first.

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    Thanks for the valuable answer! Probably a question of its own, but do you have any recommendations on how to start with researching the department's financial situation (in particular the trajectory over time)? – lighthouse keeper Nov 24 '19 at 21:16
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    It is quite department specific. Sadly I don't think you will learn much by looking into the public records, as department books can be quite inflated by project grants. Best bet is probably to contact someone you know at the department, and if that is not possible, I would look to the professor/student ratio, where numbers can sometimes be found on the web. – nabla Nov 24 '19 at 21:22

No one has job security in a bad economy or in an institution with poor leadership. Nor will tenure protect you from bad behavior.

Tenure isn't an absolute guarantee of a job.

Universities close. Wars happen. National politicians make bad decisions. Departments are closed fairly frequently in fact. And they are cut back for lack of students or research funding even more frequently.

Tenure protects you from being fired for what you say and think and write; not from everything. That is why it exists, not to make you comfortable.

Tenure exists so that you can properly follow your research even in to corners that offend other people, and especially important and influential people. It is a particularly strong form of free speech.

But tenure won't protect you in cases of misconduct and the actual treatment of others. This is the issue in the case cited. The professor has been charged with misconduct - with breaking rules and norms, not with what he has said or written. I won't and can't judge the case from afar, but tenure won't protect you from charges of, for example, pressuring junior colleagues in improper ways - coercion, extortion, and such.

The case of cutting someone for financial reasons is fairly common - especially if departments need to shrink for financial reasons. But if the university has competent management they are more likely to have a plan in place for such situations. In the US there have been cases of the university offering to "buy back" tenure for, say, a year's salary. This can be used to encourage older faculty to retire so that new faculty can be hired. But that takes planning. There is no job security in the face of incompetence of management unless there are laws that let, for example, governments step in. And that assumes government will be more competent.

However, in any decisions affecting your employment, you probably have rights at law. This depends on the country, of course, but most places such decisions can be contested within the university and/or outside it. In many places a decision on propriety might come down to intent. If the university moves funds around with the intent of getting rid of an individual it would be seen (and judged) as improper most places. So, tenure isn't the only right that an individual has in such situations though it often provides a presumption that you can remain employed.

There are abuses of the tenure system, but it is usually on the side of not firing someone who is being offensive - especially if they are being offensive outside their normal duties. There is currently a case in the news in the US (Indiana University) where a professor is being racist and otherwise offensive. The Chancellor of the university counters his comments in public very strongly, but refuses to attack his tenure. He stays. He can say what he likes. But others can also call his offenses out and they can do it without fear of loss of tenure.

If he is racist and spouts it he can probably keep his job, but if he acts it out, say by refusing to teach non-white students, then he would likely be gone in an instant.

I know of another odd case. A major university (R1) wanted to form a new department for an emerging field that overlapped some others. To form the initial faculty, administrators asked heads of those other departments to "contribute" faculty to the new department. What happened was that those departments sent over their tenured incompetents who they would have liked to fire, but could not. The individuals kept their tenure but the other departments were now free to hire better people. The new department struggled for quite a while but eventually overcame the original situation.

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    I fully agree that absolute job security would be undesirable for society as a whole, but I'm concerned whether the particular positioning of Denmark is anywhere near the sweet spot. For the case I cited from the article (Thomas Højrup) there wasn't any misconduct mentioned, unlike for the other, more prominent case in the same article (Hans Thybo). I find Højrup's case more remarkable and wonder why the authors of the article didn't expand more; there doesn't seem to be much information on the web either. – lighthouse keeper Nov 24 '19 at 22:28
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    But too many people think that tenure means something that it really doesn't mean at all. Hence my long reply. – Buffy Nov 24 '19 at 22:50
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    One measure of job security is how willing the other faculty would be to walk off the job in protest to a poor decision. Even threatening a walkout is very powerful as universities don't like adverse publicity. My guess is that you would be perfectly safe if you stick to the business of education and treat others well. (Absent wars and depressions, of course) – Buffy Nov 24 '19 at 23:30
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    (Sorry, pressed enter to early - here is the full comment) I think your answer miss the mark regarding this question, as it assumes that labor laws from the US can be applied, they can't. - Employees in DK have very little protection by law, everything is governed by agreements with the unions. - In general the labor market in DK is quite flexible, in return employees have a strong social security net. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexicurity - The universities have, however, chosen to uphold principles of tenure anyway, due to arguments of free speech as you mention. (cont.) – nabla Nov 25 '19 at 13:09
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    - It is true that the university argued that the Thybo firing was due to misconduct. This was seen mainly as an excuse for firing him, and later the labor board judged that the firing was in fact ungrounded (source, only in Danish: uniavisen.dk/fyring-hans-thybo-usaglig). This did not mean that he got his job back, as this is generally not a possibility in the Danish system. – nabla Nov 25 '19 at 13:12

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