Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Rabban:  The Regrettable Underenforcement Of Incompetence As Cause To Dismiss Tenured Faculty

TenureDavid M. Rabban (Texas), The Regrettable Underenforcement of Incompetence as Cause to Dismiss Tenured Faculty, 91 Ind. L.J. 39 (2015):

This essay asserts that the reluctance of universities to dismiss tenured professors for incompetence compromises the traditional and convincing justification for protecting academic freedom through tenure. This justification is most fully elaborated in the 1915 Declaration of Principles of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). After asserting that society benefits from the academic freedom of professors to express their expert professional views without fear of dismissal, the 1915 Declaration maintained that the grant of permanent tenure following a probationary period of employment protects academic freedom. Yet the 1915 Declaration also stressed that academic freedom does not extend to expression that fails to meet professional standards. Nor, it added, does permanent tenure prevent dismissal for cause, which could include "professional incompetency" as well as misconduct. It reasoned that only fellow faculty members have the expertise to determine departures from professional standards. It, therefore, insisted that a professor is entitled to a hearing by a committee of faculty peers before being dismissed and that professors have an obligation to serve on these committees.

This essay assesses the concerns that explain the overwhelming reluctance of university administrators to bring charges against clearly incompetent tenured faculty and offers suggestions to minimize them. It concludes that administrators should bring charges in appropriately extreme circumstances and should give substantial deference to the decisions of the faculty hearing committee. Doing so would uphold the principle of academic freedom, based on professional competence as determined by peer review, that is at the heart of the 1915 Declaration and that is still convincing today.

Legal Education, Scholarship | Permalink


Since the left have overrun our universities education has staggeringly suffered.

Posted by: Forrest | Feb 17, 2016 8:14:23 PM

K-12 has tenured faculty as well. And if for no other reason that sheer numbers, there are more horror stories than in the college ranks. I had a teacher -- just for home room thankfully - that was certifiably senile, but it still took a year of her in the classroom before she could be removed.

Posted by: Geek49203 | Feb 17, 2016 6:44:43 PM

When students want rigorous teaching, they'll get it.

Posted by: Micha Elyi | Feb 17, 2016 5:43:55 PM

My university has "Post Tenure Review of Faculty" in which there are "procedures for the comprehensive, periodic, cumulative review of the performance of all tenured faculty". I have seen tenured faculty be let go - for cause - as a result of this review process.

Posted by: Henry Schaffer | Feb 17, 2016 5:23:48 PM

As certainly as the sunrise, a professor who has ever expressed a thought insufficiently in tune with the current political pieties will be charged with "professional incompetence" -- and convicted in any department of (for only the most obvious example) anthropology.

Posted by: a6z | Feb 17, 2016 4:18:13 PM

When I was a twenty something kid attending law school, one of my Prawfs was drinking and going through a nasty divorce. Rather than focusing on course content, he regaled us about the dissolution proceedings, didn't appear for class half the time and let us go after 15-20 mins of class time. My classmates and I were like "Yeah Baby, Easy A." Today, as a struggling Solo, I look back and think, "What a moron." To be earning such good coin every two weeks plus health care and not show up for work? How difficult is it to teach from a case book and read the cases to the class for six figures?

Posted by: Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King | Feb 17, 2016 7:15:37 AM