Tenured staff are virtually impossible to fire, why is the urge to find funding so strong? For post-docs and other untentured scientific staff I can understand, for their job depends on it. For a tenured professor it would rather be the joy and honour of doing important research. Apart from a reduction in joy and honour, are there any consequences if a tenured professor fails to get grants?

  • 13
    Bigger teaching loads. Wasted life and ambition. Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 19:59
  • 11
    No students/postdocs to work for you!
    – user102
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 20:13

3 Answers 3


In many departments, tenured professors can use bringing in external funds to the department as a means of "buying" their way out of some of their teaching and administrative commitments. Similarly, other departments might use additional committee assignments and teaching loads to "punish" people who don't bring in grants. They may also have less flexibility in selecting teaching assignments.

In other countries, such as Germany, a long-term shortage in funding can lead to the consequence of a chair not being "succeeded" when the holder retires; in that case, the institute (equivalent to a US group) the professor is in charge of is wound down rather than finding a new leader for the group.

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    This seems to me a rather overly cynical viewpoint. I definitely agree with JeffE that most do it because they enjoy doing research, and doing research costs money.
    – eykanal
    Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 1:09
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    @eykanal I've seen both cases in action. To add to aeismail's notes many departments make raises above the bare minimum COLA dependent on some kind of merit formula and/or voting by the rest of the department. Departments that use voting can get rid of an unloved but tenured colleague by denying him or her raises until they leave in frustration. In departments that use formulas you can give your detractors the finger by keeping the grants/awards/papers/books coming (I know a guy who's devoted the last 15 years to this approach). The smaller the #$%*heap the worse the politics. Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 1:43

Most tenured faculty enjoy research (else why would they take a job that requires it?) and most research costs money. In particular: Faculty who benefit from working with students (or postdocs, or staff) need money to pay them, and faculty whose research depends on specialized equipment or travel need money to pay for it.

This is the carrot; @aeismail is describing the stick. I imagine both motivations can be found at every institution.

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    In addition, many tenured staff are highly skilled academics, who have worked for years to be able to win highly competitive grant awards for significant amounts of cash.
    – eykanal
    Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 1:11

Tenure implies you're difficult to fire. It doesn't say anything about needing to pay you. @JeffE described @aeismail's answer as the stick, but there's a bigger one. Especially in soft money positions, a significant portion of your salary, much of the funding for your lab, etc. all come from grant funding. While they might not fire a tenured professor who isn't "pulling their weight" with grant funding, they may find themselves losing lab space to better funded or new faculty, not having the resources to maintain a functional research group, etc.

As long as you're comfortable with you, your office, and whatever salary is hard money being the entirety of your research group, you don't need to ever find funding. But if you want more than that, the money has to come from somewhere.

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    Hmm. I totally forgot about the 9- versus 12-month salary issue.
    – aeismail
    Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 6:12
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    @aeismail Beyond that, my institution has some very heavily soft money positions.
    – Fomite
    Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 6:41

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