At its best, tenure allows professors to speak freely and share controversial ideas without risking professional consequences. Yet, tenure does not shield them when they commit professional or criminal misconduct. Nor does it protect professors from the effects of institutional hardship.
Though revoking tenure is difficult, it is crucial for professors to know what behaviors could lead to it. They must understand, too, the options they may have for protecting their tenure.
What tenure does not protect
Professors rarely have their tenure revoked for spreading knowledge or speaking their mind. Revocation, in these cases, would risk setting a precedent against academic freedom. When professors do lose tenure, it is often as a result of financial exigency – being institutional budget reduction. Many colleges and universities, though, try to find other suitable appointments for tenured professors and will only lay them off as a last resort.
On occasion, professors lose tenure due to conduct issues. Often, these stem from on-campus incidents, such as sexual harassment of students or colleagues. Outside criminal charges, though, can cause professors to lose tenure, too. And serious academic misconduct, like plagiarism, could lead to this outcome as well. Professors may also lose their tenure if an internal investigation deems them an incompetent or negligent instructor.
Tenure’s relationship to due process
Before professors have their tenure revoked, they may be entitled to due process. Their right, though, depends on whether they teach at a public or private college or university. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants professors at public institutions – as public employees – the right to due process. As a result, they can contest the revocation of their tenure at a hearing before it is final. Professors at private institutions are not guaranteed due process, yet many receive this protection through their contract. When they do not, they have the option to appeal the revocation of their tenure in a court of law.
Professors who lose tenure often face severe career repercussions as a result. To protect against these, a legal professional can help them understand their options for appealing their institution’s decision.