According to Wikipedia:

A tenured professor or curator has an appointment that lasts until retirement age, except for dismissal with just cause. A common justification for existence of such a privileged position is the principle of academic freedom, which holds that it is beneficial for state, society and academy in the long run if scholars are free to examine, hold, and advance controversial views.

I know this "just cause" includes academic misconducts and crimes, but my question is about a mild case:

I have heard that professors and associate professors have certain research requirements. If a professor or associate professor stops to be active in his research (for instance, publishing very few or even no papers for years) after he gets tenured (but let's assume he still does a fair job in teaching and outreach), will he be dismissed from the university?

If there are no such examples, then what is the binding power of research requirements upon professors and associate professors?

  • 17
    Professors who aren't producing enough research, but are otherwise competent, generally find themselves with more admin than they know what to do with :) The binding power of research requirements is that many (most?) professors prefer research to admin, and therefore know they won't like the inevitable consequences of not doing enough research. Put another way: firing people is so drastic when there are other ways... Dec 29 '16 at 22:18
  • 1
    Teaching responsibilities are also set by the department - if you are not doing research, you are going to be asked to be teaching more, and often teaching less interesting courses. I've seen schemes like: active, grant-seeking people teach 1/1, if you write a paper every few years, 2/2, if you've given up entirely, 3/3. Not fulfilling your teaching duties, of course, is just cause.
    – AJK
    Dec 29 '16 at 22:56
  • 1
    Of course this depends on the school. There are lots of bottom-rung four-year schools that require some token amount of research for tenure, but don't care at all if you stop doing research once you're tenured.
    – user1482
    Dec 30 '16 at 4:23

What is the binding power of research requirements upon professors and associate professors?

Without some specific agreement to the contrary, tenure means you can't be fired for doing insufficiently good research. Some tenured positions involve post-tenure review, which can weaken the notion of tenure by expanding the cases in which you could be disciplined or even fired, but this is not the default.

On the other hand, there are tons of other ways to enforce requirements. If a professor is not doing good research, they may be asked to take on extra teaching or service (which is reasonable: if they aren't spending time productively on research, then they should spend it on something else). In more extreme cases, they might never get a raise again, in which case their salary is gradually eaten away by inflation if they aren't near retirement. If the chair specifically wants to punish someone, they can assign them the classes or committees nobody else wants, give them the least desirable office, etc. In short, there are lots of ways a tenured position can become unpleasant, which gives the administration more leverage than one might guess from the definition of tenure.

  • 2
    I don't think tenure guarantees an office space or parking. Tenured faculty are guaranteed a pee bucket; or access to a restroom with running water and flush toilets.
    – emory
    Dec 29 '16 at 23:55
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    In the same vein as emory's comment, tenured faculty are periodically reviewed for further promotion, merit raises, and salary raises. There are a lot of ways to make a tenured professor uncomfortable short of firing them.
    – David
    Dec 30 '16 at 1:05

I don't know of examples, but it's plausible. Remember that the purpose of tenure is to guarantee academic freedom, not to guarantee employment. While there is certainly an expectation of continued employment, it's not inviolable.

A particular institution's employment contract (or their faculty manual, if it has been incorporated to the employment contract, as is commonly done) will outline exactly how and when a tenured employee can be terminated. However, tenured faculty typically sign one-year contracts just like non-tenured faculty. Thus, it's more likely that the tenured faculty will be told they are being non-renewed "for cause". Some institutions make a distinction between termination and non-renewal, while others don't.

My graduate institution has this in their faculty manual:

[Termination of a tenure track appointment for] adequate cause may be academic incompetence, neglect of duty, a serious violation of the faculty member’s responsibilities as outlined in Section II of this policy, or admission or conviction of a serious violation of the criminal code, but the university bears the burden of proving that the alleged reason is adequate cause for termination

The relevant part of Section II referenced above is:

The faculty member has an obligation to fulfill his/her teaching and research responsibilities.

Where a specific department will likely have their own specific policies and procedures as to what constitutes the research responsibility. This can be very specific- the "research responsibility" might be defined as a certain number of publications, or a certain number of grant dollars. If the faculty member cannot meet that expectation then they are demonstrably not meeting the research responsibility as defined at their institution. Then it would be within the scope of the employment agreement to terminate the faculty.

A friend at a serious mid-tier research institution has told me that their bottom-line expectation is $250,000 of grant funding per year. Another friend at a good teaching institution that is trying to do more research has said that their bottom-line expectation is to apply for two grants per year. In my current department the obligation is phrased as a percentage of time. The research and scholarly obligation of the tenured or tenure-track faculty in the contract is described to be 50% of your effort (teaching and administrative duties is supposed to be the other 50%). If no such specific definition exists then it would be still possible to argue that a faculty member is not meeting their research obligation, but it would open up the department and university to potential legal issues.

Ultimately, this really comes down to a matter of practicality. Is it worth the time and the effort to remove someone who is severely under performing? If you have a lot of classes to teach and everyone is satisfied with just doing more teaching and less research then it's unlikely to be a fire-able situation. On the other hand, if you're in a competitive and aggressive department where you might be seen as "wasting" a faculty slot that could be better used by someone else, it would absolutely be within the realm of possibility.

  • 7
    This answer is pure speculation. Saying that something is "absolutely" within the realm of possibility when you can't provide a single example of it ever happening sounds to me like a great way to lose an argument.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 30 '16 at 5:40
  • I decline to give examples because they're not particularly informative to the discussion, despite that being what the OP asked for. Given the nature of academic departments these things are kept under wraps, and any readily available account of such conflicts inevitably leads to conflicting accounts of the situation. I don't have any personal experience into a tenure track professor being dismissed, so I decline to cite any of the dozens of poor-quality examples you can find online by searching the phrase "tenure track professor dismissed".
    – David
    Dec 30 '16 at 6:54
  • A "good" example of such a conflicted dispute would be Ward Churchill, who was a full professor and department chair that was fired over allegations of research misconduct. Some of the allegations against him are not relevant here (plagiarism) but others are (falsification and fabrication). The university Rank & Tenure committee found evidence of misconduct and fired him. A jury trial later found that he had been wrongly dismissed. That verdict was then vacated on grounds of immunity. Go read all you want, but the ambiguity in this "good" example doesn't really shed any light on the question.
    – David
    Dec 30 '16 at 7:11
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    No, it's not a "good" example since it's not even an example at all of the thing we're talking about, which is professors being dismissed for not doing research. Of course it's up to you whether to provide examples or not, but personally I'd say if you want your answer to hold up to scrutiny and to be regarded as a good answer by readers here, you would be well-advised to either: 1. soften the language in your answer from the current hyperbolic tone of asserting that things are "absolutely" true with no evidence to back that and with no indication that that's purely your opinion. ...
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 30 '16 at 7:30
  • 2
    ... or: 2. Add supporting evidence of a strength that matches the strength of your claims.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 30 '16 at 7:30

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