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A tenure from a good university is generally considered to be the pinnacle of academic achievements. It is packed with so many benefits that it is easy to lose direction in one's research career post tenure.

  • In the event that such a thing happens, i.e., if a professor loses interest in research after obtaining a tenure (due to health, family or whatever), what steps do universities take?
  • Is there any procedure built into the functioning of universities that helps them minimise productivity loss post tenure?
  • Are there incentives which universities (could) offer struggling professors?
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    Side comment: I think that productivity is decreasing after tenure, but I also think that quality is increasing (on average). Indeed, the pressure before the tenure make most researchers to publish more, not to publish stronger results. – Sylvain Peyronnet May 8 '12 at 17:34
  • @SylvainPeyronnet: To clarify, by productivity I mean some convex combination of factors like quality, quantity and others. I did not refer to the number of papers... :) – Bravo May 8 '12 at 17:44
  • We (in France) do lack procedure to help professors loosing their track in research; but I do not think it is about lacking incentives, as the one I know either where hired long ago primarily (or solely) for teaching purposes, or seem to resent their unproductive status. I would think that the problem is how to get one on track again, but I have no good answer to that. – Benoît Kloeckner May 28 '12 at 9:53
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The cynical answer is "nothing". But in truth there are other ways to monitor progress and dole out rewards/lack of reward.

  • If your productivity drops off a cliff after tenure, you're unlikely to get promoted to full professor (US-specific), and get the associated salary increases etc. You may be comfortable with this (less service is a good thing!)
  • Some universities do 5-yearly post-tenure review. Doing poorly on such reviews can lead to loss of raises, reduced access to new space and facilities, increased service load (if you're not pulling in funding or teaching well for example), and so on.

but ultimately, the final incentive is your own desire to perform. It's very hard to fire faculty. But administrators can try to kill entire departments.

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    Even without a formal review process, if your department head (or whoever is in charge of these things) does not think you are doing a good job, you may get no raises, a lousy office, painful teaching and committee work, etc. This can mean a lot over the decades, but as Suresh's answer points out, the biggest incentives are internal rather than external. If you don't convince your department that you will remain responsible and hard working indefinitely, you will not receive tenure. – Anonymous Mathematician May 8 '12 at 16:30
  • @Suresh: I thought that getting tenure meant that the person concerned would be promoted to "Professor" from "Assistant Professor"... could you please clarify what is a "full professor" in this context - is that a title for a "senior professor" or something like that? – TCSGrad May 8 '12 at 16:53
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    Assistant professor -> associate professor is linked to tenure (although there are some technicalities). Promotion to "professor" is different, and is what I'm referring to. This is all US-centric. – Suresh May 8 '12 at 17:30
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    @Suresh: A few US universities decouple tenure from promotion to associate professor. (Tenure at MIT is between associate and full; only full profs have tenure at Johns Hopkins.) – JeffE May 8 '12 at 18:43
  • ah ok. I stand corrected. – Suresh May 8 '12 at 18:56
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At good universities it is very difficult to get tenure if you aren't very much driven to be an academic, that is, self motivated. There may thus be a little slackening off, but often not much. I've known of academics who got divorced after tenure because their spouses hadn't realised they just really did love working that way and were never going to change. I don't recommend that; it does make sense to balance your life a bit more when your job is safe. Organisations that can't allow their employees to age gracefully and live full lives will lose a lot of valuable talent. But in general, tenured faculty are either still very active or else quite useful for administration.

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Universities can and do fire tenured faculty who are egregiously derelict in their duties — doing no research, performing no service to the university, and doing no (or only perfunctory) teaching — or how have committed a truly serious ethical or criminal offense.

But even under these circumstances, firing a tenured faculty member requires extensive documentation (in the case of "just not doing their job", covering a period of several years) and a long legal battle that is expensive for both sides. When faced with the necessary mountain of evidence, I suspect most offending faculty are convinced to resign instead.

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