This question pertains only to tenured professors, because untenured staff may fear and risk loss of employment if they protest or campaign against the university.

How much can tenured professors do, to combat and protest injustice and misconduct by the university (eg: exorbitant accommodation or food prices or libary fines, horrible teaching, low faculty-student ratio, scant attention and support to undergraduates, etc.)?

Please correct any errors in this conjecture, but it seems that if many famous tenured professors (eg: Nobel laureates, Fields Medallists, etc...) unite against an injustice, and perchance even threaten to leave the university because they can easily gain tenure elsewhere with their excellences, then certainly the university would address it?

closed as primarily opinion-based by S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica, Wrzlprmft, Enthusiastic Engineer, scaaahu, Bob Brown Dec 12 '15 at 3:06

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    University education differs a lot between countries. In many EU countries, professors are civil-servants, so your "countermeasures" do not apply. Also, universities may be public, so problems like "food prices" may also not apply. And why do you assume that "Nobel laureates" are good at teaching? or that one professor would threaten to leave if someone else is a horrible teacher. Would you quit your job if you had a lousy colleague with whom you have no interaction with? – Alexandros Dec 11 '15 at 18:01
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    Yeah, I pretty much agree with Alexandros. Tenured faculty in the us often rotate as faculty chairs and then sure, they can go meet with librarians or fire underperforming faculty members. And when they aren't chairs they're still listened to by the people who are. – Dave Kanter Dec 11 '15 at 19:26
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    In academia as in most other places, "threatening to quit" is an incredibly ineffective strategy for getting what you want. Your bluff is likely to be called. – Nate Eldredge Dec 12 '15 at 4:47
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    I voted to reopen this question - per my answer below, there are some fairly common mechanisms by which faculty can make their voice known on issues. I think it's possible to talk about those without delving into opinions, or defining what's considered injustice. – Fomite Dec 12 '15 at 18:34

There are a lot of things you're asking that are going to fall under opinions, vagaries of the university you're talking about, etc. But here are some concrete things they might be capable of doing:

  • If there is a faculty union, it is almost certain tenured faculty will have a voice on it. They can use that voice to advocate for any number of causes, including things like better treatment of adjunct faculty, etc. It is, of course, possible for this voice to be ignored.
  • Similarly, a faculty senate may have some voice in deciding university policy, weighing in on possible candidates for president of the university, etc., and may use this voice to prioritize certain causes.
  • Tenured faculty will likely sit on faculty hiring and admissions committees. This can allow them to exercise some power in who they hire, and how they are evaluated - for example, are women and minority candidates being given a fair shake? Are we admitting a realistic number of graduate students given the job market?
  • Similarly, they may serve on tenure promotion committees, curriculum steering committees, etc. and may advocate for teaching performance being a stronger criteria for promotion and tenure, shuffling some classes to better teachers or reclaiming a class from another department that is blowing off their students, etc.

That being said, there is a limited amount any group in the university system can do. For example, fees might be set by the state legislature in the case of a state school, class size is likely more a function of budget than anything else (tenured faculty can't conjure up new FTE positions), and some of these things, to be frank, may not rise to the level of "Something worth protesting over". Additionally, while more protected, the experience of any number of tenured faculty shows that they can be retaliated against.

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