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What's the usual (North American) universities' practice on dealing with tenured professors who have been criminally charged? I've encountered two scenarios indirectly that could make some professors in some legal trouble.

Here the first scenario. When I was an undergraduate student, a colleague told me that his ex-girlfriend called because she discovered a stalker near her home. When he visited her to assess the situation, they bumped into the alleged stalker at the stairs of the apartment building. She asked him to call the police. He recognized that the alleged stalker was one of the professors in his department. He did not report the alleged stalker to the police because he's afraid of repercussion.

Fast forward a few years. Here the second scenario. One of my friends dated a tenured professor. The relation was abusive. He (the professor) hit her badly that she called the police. His mom begged my friend not to press charges because she's concerned about her son's future.

TL;DR: In theory or practice, would universities fire the professor who have been criminally charged? I've asked several tenured professors casually with at least one of the scenarios. They all agreed that nothing bad would happened to those professors even if their wrongdoings were reported to the police.

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    I imagine this would depend on the crime, so as a general question this is not answerable. Can you narrow it down somewhat? – ff524 Sep 16 '14 at 0:42
  • For example, you might ask if there is an example of a tenured professor who is fired following criminal charges, or you could ask for an example of a university policy that explicitly addresses this. – ff524 Sep 16 '14 at 0:43
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    Also, in both of your examples, no charges were filed; so, they don't seem relevant to the question. – ff524 Sep 16 '14 at 0:44
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    @ff524 Sure. Let's rephrase the question as "does any university fire any tenured professor based on a serious criminal conviction?" – user8661 Sep 16 '14 at 4:10
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    @lacampane11a: yes, certainly. Particularly for crimes like murder and rape. The well publicized case of Amy Bishop is one example - I doubt they kept her on the payroll until she was formally convicted. For other crimes, particularly for "white collar" crimes, things will be more murky. I suspect this is not really much different than the way things work in any other large corporation. What sort of crime would it take for an upper-level manager at IBM to be fired? – Oswald Veblen Sep 17 '14 at 14:10
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Criminal acts are certainly a reason to revoke tenure. In fact, this is probably one of the most common reasons. It is possible to terminate the employment of a tenured professor as soon as the university learns that they have been charged with or suspected of a criminal action. (This happened at my university: it was an extreme case.) Terminating employment because of a criminal charge is obviously a quite precipitous act to take: I would be surprised if a university did this in any situation except one in which they are sure that the faculty member will/would be found guilty of the charge. A tenured employee who was fired because of suspicion of criminal acts and was later found innocent of these acts would have, in many cases, a heck of a lawsuit against the university. (Untenured employees might as well...)

The things that "you heard" sound a little dopey to me, honestly. Tenure offers some measure of job security. It does not confer any defense against or immunity from criminal acts. Getting convicted of domestic violence is "something bad happening to the professor", right? Not being able to carry out your duties because you are incarcerated is a sufficient reason to fire a tenured faculty member! In the scenario with the "stalker" it is so unclear what happened or what was reported to whom that I would not be comfortable commenting on it. Nevertheless, one can certainly imagine circumstances in which a tenured faculty member could be fired for stalking even without a criminal conviction.

  • Great theory. What do universities do in practice? (See @user2379888's answer) – user8661 Sep 18 '14 at 4:12
  • My answer included a link to an example at my university. There are, alas, further examples, still at my university. "What do universities do in practice?" Obviously there is a range of experiences. The answer that you refer to made for very interesting reading. Some comments: (i) this was a "white-collar crime". I would expect universities to view violent crimes quite differently. (ii) Did you read the part of the article in which UWisc admitted that it made a mistake in allowing Shohet to get off so lightly? – Pete L. Clark Sep 18 '14 at 5:16
  • So far as I know, all American universities reserve the right to revoke tenure under certain circumstances. If you want a more definitive answer, you should read the regulations about tenure in a specific university of interest. If you want another practical example, see redandblack.com/cops/…. – Pete L. Clark Sep 18 '14 at 5:19
  • Thanks for your analysis (white-collar VS violent crime) and your observation. Yes, I read the Shohet case from @user2379888's answer. – user8661 Sep 19 '14 at 4:17
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Yes, there have been. The case of Prof. Lasaga at Yale is one of the more egregious examples of malfeasance on the part of a faculty member, but also a case where the person stepped down well before being convicted (more background info here). I am sure that even though the language was of voluntary termination ("stepping down") that there was little choice for Lasaga otherwise. In lesser cases outside of the public eye, I am sure there are many professors who have also been asked to step down or to take an early retirement instead of being publicly fired.

Tenure only means our contracts don't have end-dates or renewal dates. It doesn't mean we cannot be fired for crimes, for being indicted for a crime, for other cause, or in some cases just simply being restructured out of our jobs due to the economic needs of our university.

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Leon Shohet went to prison for some stuff he did with a federal grant, and U Wisc. didn't fire him; see http://www.wpri.org/WIInterest/Lueders8.1.pdf

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