The resignation of Yale School of Management professor Antonio Lopez-de-Silanes due to alleged financial mismanagement underscored the rarity of a tenured professor losing a post that often ensures academics job security through retirement.
The University’s discovery that Lopez-de-Silanes allegedly had double-billed Yale about $150,000 as the director of the SOM’s International Institute for Global Governance forced the esteemed professor to give up his tenured professorship — an infrequent occurrence at universities because of the seeming invincibility of tenure.
“Tenure is perceived as a sacrosanct system,” Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said. “You don’t move to revoke tenure except in the most egregious cases.”
Indeed, Yale has had few cases of tenure removal in its 303-year history. Like Lopez-de-Silanes, most professors, when mired in scandal, have chosen to resign rather than face a public — and noisy — process leading to their ultimate dismissal.
A recent case involving the misappropriation of funds by former Berkeley Divinity School Dean R. William Franklin in 2001, who allegedly used tens of thousands of dollars to pay for his daughter’s Harvard Medical School education, resulted in Franklin’s resignation in December 2001 and the firing of two other administrators.
But two professors have been openly stripped of their tenure against their wishes by the administration.
The earliest incident occurred in 1904 when an academic dispute led then-University President Twining Hadley and the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest decision-making body, to strip a philosophy professor of his tenured faculty appointment, Yale historian and professor emeritus Gaddis Smith said. When the professor protested, his tenure was eventually restored, but his voting rights on faculty matters were permanently revoked.
More recently, the 1998 arrest and subsequent conviction of geology professor and former Saybrook College Master Antonio Lasaga for sexually assaulting a minor and possessing child pornography led the University to fire Lasaga. But, unlike the 1904 case, the president and Corporation had to first receive a recommendation from the University Tribunal before dismissing the professor.
Created in 1969, the tribunal initially was created to serve as a disciplinary body for students. But in 1975, its procedures were revised to address the most serious allegations of misconduct by faculty members as well as students.
The University’s complicated and drawn-out tribunal process helps protect professors from arbitrary dismissal by administrators, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said.
“It’s very difficult — as it should be — to remove a professor’s tenure,” Salovey said. “There is a University tribunal that can do that. A case like that [of Lopez-de-Silanes] could have ended up like that.”
Only behavior deemed to have gone against the values of the University as a whole warrants dismissal by the tribunal, Deputy Provost Charles Long said.
“There’s a great toleration for unusual behavior among the faculty, but I think there’s also an extremely clear line that faculty do not cross when it comes to academic misconduct or sexual harassment,” Long said.
Because the tribunal has not been used very frequently, Long could only speculate about the kinds of cases he feels should be heard by the tribunal.
“I think cases of clear academic misconduct or fiscal misconduct — like the misuse of funds or intellectual dishonesty, like plagiarism or something like physical assault — are all clearly preventing free expression,” Long said.
But other cases involving sensitive issues such as alcoholism sometimes surface and are dealt with privately by administrators, often resulting in an arrangement whereby professors agree to take early retirement and exit quietly, Smith said.
“The whole area of faculty malfeasance and the University response is wrapped in blankets of confidentiality,” Smith said. “The archival records are closed.”