There are two loosely related questions here:

  1. What is done about academics who do not do any research anymore?
  2. What is done about academics who teach badly enough that it shows up?

I insist that I am asking what is done, in your department or institution (or in your country if it is uniform). I'll ask a separate question about what should be done. I would also like to distinguish between status (e.g. if you are talking about tenured faculty, please say so), and I am mostly but not only interested in tenured faculty.

Added: implicit in the question, as was mentioned in an answer, is the way an institution measures the research and teaching activities. Answers are welcome to describe the way these are measured to decide whether to take action, but please stick to what is actually done.

To give a little context, from 2009 there are recurring discussions about the teaching duty of academics in France, and whether it should be adapted to their achievements. I would like to have a broader view of the various answers actually given around the world to this issue.


3 Answers 3


Before quibbling with some of the implicit hypotheses of the question: In my observation in the U.S. at top-20 places over the last 30+ years, official steps are rarely taken against post-tenure faculty on grounds that their "research" is in decline, much less that their "teaching/mentoring" may be in decline (if it ever was good).

In a few cases, teaching loads have been informally increased, or service loads informally increased, but often the dynamic that led to decline in research or teaching causes people to be unable to take up other responsibilities reliably.

In principle, in many places in the U.S. now there is "post-tenure review", pushed onto faculty by administration. But this is viewed by faculty as unsavory and contrary to the spirit of things. In particular, short of gross malfeasance, an excellent research and teaching record for some decades is viewed as earning a spot until one chooses to retire, rather than being forced out either unofficially or officially.

This does partly return me to questioning some implicit hypotheses of the question, namely, the short-term measurability of "research" and/or "teaching", and even the desirability of taking short-term samples. For that matter, foolishly idealistic though it may be, isn't the idea of "tenure" that one has indeed earned a spot, and one now has license to exercise one's own judgement, rather than be constantly and indefinitely concerned about external critiques?

Nevertheless, of course, administrations do tend to create ever-greater pressure to do more with fewer resources, thus indirectly pressuring faculty to "do something about" the (relatively few) faculty who are "not helpful". But I think most of us recognize that this is a potentially dangerously subjective question...

In the U.S., again, even faculty acknowledged to be "unhelpful" are not railroaded out, somewhat on the same grounds that we think of "free speech" as including, as a matter of principle, speech that we disagree with, etc.


The answer to both your questions will, from my perspective, be "not much". So this answer describes the view from my local point.

As a basis, university positions in my realm are teaching positions, 70% teaching and 30% for admin, personal development and research. The 30% is very quickly consumed by everything but research. On top of that one can "buy" oneself out of teaching so that the research time essentially is based on soft money. If you do not do research well, then no money comes in and your teaching load increases towards the 70%. So as long as you do your job in some way there is no mechanism for "correcting" a lack of research. On the other hand senior academics often get involved in higher and higher level administrative work at university, governmental, etc. level so a lack of research as such may be replaced by benefits gained in other ways. But, basically, a lack of research simply means teaching more.

If your teaching is very poor there is not much that can be done. Employment laws are very strong. The only way to sack a person would be if they, for example, drink at work, or blatantly refuse to accept orders from the "boss" (head of department etc.). It is also possible to remove someone if it can be shown that there is no need for whatever profile the person was employed under. I really cannot provide a detailed description of employment laws here but they make sacking people a difficult way out. Persons failing with teaching will most likely first be placed to do other duties. I have experience with one such person and it is hard to find tasks where this person can function and contribute.

So the "not much" is largely explained by employment laws in "my" case. The problem cases, which do not easily contribute in alternative ways, will cause lots of work for the department to find ways in which they can be made productive to the department. This will be successful in most cases but not so in the odd case.

  • "Employment laws are very strong." I assume this is a local statement. What area does this reference? Dec 15, 2013 at 17:00
  • The question asks for local information so, yes, the answer is local. Dec 15, 2013 at 17:03
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    Ok, but it would be useful to specify what location is being referred to. Dec 15, 2013 at 17:22
  • @FaheemMitha: there's a good chance his local is Sweden. Dec 18, 2013 at 16:19

It is true that it's very difficult to fire someone based on "bad" teaching or "bad scientific results". However, in some countries and institutions, an evaluation/audit by an external comitee is done on the level of institutes, departments, but for each person seperately as well. If this comittee concludes that a person is not worth the position, the head of the institute can fire him.

However, this applies only to a small number of places, and even then people don't get fired as much as they should, IMHO.

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