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When a math department lays off tenured staff, people cry out loud. But, 10 years later, such memories are no longer popular discussion subjects, and so the information doesn't always spread.

Those who lived through it will of course remember. But will the younger get to know of the troubled past of a given university?

I would like to record incidents of universities laying off tenured math faculty for financial reasons. If you know of such an event, please write the name of the university, the year when it happened, and the number of tenured faculty that got laid off. Other relevant information, such whether or not there was a lawsuit, aggravating circumstances, etc. should also be included.

(This is a follow up on this discussion about the VU Amsterdam laying off people.)

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Seems appropriate to me. I don't think Andre's plan will work as well as he hopes, but it's the sort of data that it is important to academics, and is hard to find in one place. Inside Higher Ed lists several schools that have recently done this insidehighered.com/news/2010/03/02/exigency , but they don't have a historic list. –  David Speyer Apr 28 '11 at 21:45
I also think it's an appropriate question. –  Andy Putman Apr 28 '11 at 21:46
"name and shame" = retaliation, I really don't think that's appropriate for Mathoverflow. Even if such a list can be viewed as providing useful and important information to people –  Michael Greenblatt Apr 28 '11 at 21:47
Voted to close. No math content. –  Mark Sapir Apr 28 '11 at 21:57
Meta thread: tea.mathoverflow.net/discussion/1030/… –  David Speyer Apr 28 '11 at 22:16

9 Answers 9

Two tenured professors at the University of Uppsala, Oleg Viro and Burglind Joricke, were forced to resign in 2007. The reason seems to have been a disagreement with the rector of the University, Anders Hallberg, over an appointment of an applied maths professor. (As far as I know, there weren't financial reasons involved, but still I thought it might be worthwhile to mention this here.)

More details can be found here http://www.pdmi.ras.ru/~olegviro/Uppsala-8-2-2007.html

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I don't say this very often, but: OMG. The linked-to document is not for the faint of heart. It may give me nightmares... –  Pete L. Clark Apr 29 '11 at 2:44
Wow. Pete Clark is not exaggerating. –  David Roberts Apr 29 '11 at 6:08
I am not trying to defend the way the actions of the rector, but it seems disingenuous to say that they were fired over a disagreement over an appointment. I don't feel comfortable making any public allegations since I only have second hand knowledge of what went on at the UU, but if you read Swedish or put up with Google translate, there is a more impartial account (still strongly critical of the university) in this issue of the newsletter of the Swedish Mathematical Society: math.chalmers.se/~olleh/U18.pdf –  Dan Petersen Apr 29 '11 at 6:56
Yes, the transcripts are real and accurate. Re: evidence, that's sort of the crux of the matter. About a month before the transcribed meeting, the rector had a similar surprise meeting (i.e. announce a meeting about X, it's actually about Y) with the entire department where he brought lawyers and announced that: (a) if there would be any more misconduct, he would try to have people fired and/or shut down the whole department; (b) there would be an external committee investigating the work environment at the department and interviewing staff members. The decision to force Viro and Jöricke to... –  Dan Petersen Apr 30 '11 at 10:46
...resign was then taken on the basis of the report of this committee. This report was never made public, though, allegedly out of respect for the privacy of the people involved. (This makes me a bit uneasy but it is hard to argue against the principle that workplace conflicts should be handled discreetly.) But what makes it a real scandal is that the findings of the report were never made available to Viro or Jöricke either, so they found themselves in the Kafka-like situation of having to respond to accusations that they weren't themselves privy to! (I agree about the analogies this evokes.) –  Dan Petersen Apr 30 '11 at 10:46

The maths department at Bangor university in Wales was closed in only the past 10 years. This was, if I recall rightly, because they scored relatively poorly on a national 'research quality' exercise, one that has since been redesigned somewhat (though perhaps not so much, as Jose points out in the comments, for mathematics).

I'm not sure about the number of staff, but at least two: Tim Porter and Ronnie Brown, both considered senior category theorists (among other things). (Edit by Tim: There were three members of staff Gareth Roberts, Chris Wensley and myself. Ronnie had retired normally a few years ago, but was still research active (very!). The RAE was partially to blame, and its methodology was too open to highly subjective judgements, but the causes were ultimately a shortfall in funding for the overall system together with power struggles within and between universities. The replacement REF (see later comments) will use bibliometrics that are highly contentious and unproven.)

(Since this is CW, I invite Tim or Ronnie to freely edit this answer and supply more details)

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Another victim of the same research assessment exercise was the maths department at Hull University. By the way, not that I'm disagreeing, but where is the evidence that the RAE "has since been seen to be quite flawed"? –  José Figueroa-O'Farrill Apr 29 '11 at 0:03
Jose -- well, if one of the outcomes was laying off Ronnie Brown and Tim Porter, the results speak for themselves, don't they? –  algori Apr 29 '11 at 2:21
No relation, by the way, to the author of the so-called 'Roberts report' :) –  David Roberts Apr 29 '11 at 2:35
@Jose you ask: where is the evidence that the RAE "has since been seen to be quite flawed". The Roberts report by Sir Gareth Roberts was highly critical of the methodology and suggested some improvements. These seem not to have been accepted by the main research universities and I suspect that is because of their own self-interest. No system is perfect and the old RAE did feed more money into maths. In the process I lost my position ...., but that is not what this comment is about. Probably universities used the RAE as an excuse to settle internal battles. We lost. –  Tim Porter May 2 '11 at 17:16
A third maths department that closed as a consequence of a not-so-stellar result at the RAE was Nottingham Trent University. The department was very small, so damage was fortunately limited. I know of one person who was actually out of a job for a few months, the other research active members of NTU had just enough time to find other jobs before they would have been forced out. –  Martin Hairer Jan 4 at 16:21

It would be a mistake to get the impression from these answers that the phenomenon of tenured mathematicians being fired for dodgy political reasons is purely a new thing. For instance in the early 1950s (under McCarthyism) Oklahoma A&M instituted a loyalty oath; Ainsley Diamond, a quaker, refused to sign it and was fired and Nachman Aronszajn resigned in protest. Both moved to the University of Kansas.

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Chandler Davis is another famous example here. –  Josh Shadlen Apr 29 '11 at 17:12
Chandler Davis, Mark Nickerson, and Clement Markert were fired by the University of Michigan in 1954 for McCarthyist reasons. They firing has not, however, been forgotten: umich.edu/~aflf/history.html –  mephisto Apr 30 '11 at 2:30

In the early 30s, André Weil was fired from Aligarh Muslim University ostensibly for not cooperating in holding elections to the students' union. Read his own account of the whole episode in his Souvenirs d'apprentissage.

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In the late 1970s Yeshiva University in New York closed down its Math graduate program and fired a couple of tenured professors. I don't recall the details, but I remember that the matter came up before the Council of the AMS.

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The details are given here: aaup.org/NR/rdonlyres/988DD473-7C14-458A-A8F8-962FAAC5DD02/0/… –  Deane Yang Apr 30 '11 at 2:21
Two of Yeshiva refugees (Leon Ehrenpreis and Don Newman) then came to Temple (I suppose a natural progression from Yeshiva...) Both of them were extremely strong mathematicians. –  Igor Rivin Apr 30 '11 at 4:10

A Google search of "tenured faculty layoffs" returns several instances in the US, in particular in the state of Florida, where layoffs of tenured faculty were planned. In a number of instances, e.g. Florida State University, these plans were rescinded after public brouhaha and legal fights.

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Quoting from http://www.euro-math-soc.eu/node/3833, posted on May 29, 2013.

As result of a restructuring plan published two years ago, the Free University Amsterdam (VU) has now formally terminated the Geometry/Topology research programmes. The VU did not dismiss the members of the Geometry Section as originally planned, but the development has had serious consequences for several VU researchers: Tilman Bauer was allowed to stay on in his junior tenured position, relabelled as an "algebraist". However, he felt he could not continue working at the VU and he resigned from his position without having another job lined up. Fortunately, Tilman quickly got a position at KTH Stockholm. Jan Dijkstra was demoted from Professor to Lecturer. Jan has decided to leave the VU and The Netherlands later this year when he becomes eligible for early retirement. Dietrich Notbohm was demoted from Professor to Associate Professor on a temporary (5 years) contract.

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While this is certainly an unfortunate event, actually, it seems to me nobody was laid off. So it is not clear to me how this is an answer to the question. –  quid Jul 1 '13 at 12:56
@quid: Moving someone from a permanent position to a temporary one comes pretty close though. –  André Henriques Jul 1 '13 at 15:28
Yes, actually, your example seems better than several others given so far. But, quoting you quoting from dep. closure qu. 'I heard from a colleague that "all this fuss in the international community" is because people don't understand or don't know that "there is no notion of tenure in the Netherlands" (I'm quoting).' So, the situation might not match 'tenured math faculty.' And since this is your question after all, it would seem natural that the standards of answering what is asked are followed precisely, in particular since this is delicate matter. Or, to make more constructive sugg.: –  quid Jul 1 '13 at 16:23
You could seize the opportunity that the question got reactivated to reformultate (broaden) the question in such a way that it better fits the existing answers. What happened is problematic enough no need to exaggerate. Exaggeration in such matter in my firm opinion at least in the long run does a lot more harm than good. –  quid Jul 1 '13 at 16:26
@quid: • The words "tenure" and "tenure track" do get used in the NL. See for example mathjobs.org/jobs/jobs/4782 • I consciously tried to remain factual, by just quoting a source. • Feel free to reformulate the question so that it better fits the existing answers. –  André Henriques Jul 1 '13 at 18:16

Since other answers mention cases which were not financially motivated, here is another one:

Gutkin v. University of Southern California (2002)

The document below concerns the complaint Eugene Gutkin filed in 2001 against University of Southern California, which dismissed him in 2000. He appealed the decision and sought damages, but lost the case. I will quote the paragraph describing the circumstances of his dismissal; the full text is here:


"Gutkin's complaint alleged that he was a tenured professor of mathematics at the University. In the wake of a dispute over the University's requirement that Gutkin teach extra classes to "make up" for classes he had not been able to teach in the fall 1995 semester, the University initiated dismissal proceedings against Gutkin in October 1996. But Gutkin's dismissal hearing was not scheduled to take place until early December 1998, because, according to Gutkin, "[i]t took [the University] longer than anticipated to effectuate the deceptive alterations to the [faculty] [h]andbook" that would govern the "rigged [dismissal] procedures," and the University "dragged its feet." Gutkin further alleged that by December 1998, "[the University] had not finished its tampering, so the deceptively altered [h]andbook was not ready for posting on the Internet by the time of the scheduled hearing. . . . Consequently, [the University] unilaterally postponed the hearing until February 26, 1999."

The dismissal procedure outlined in the faculty handbook required a hearing before a panel of Gutkin's faculty peers. According to Gutkin, the panel selection process set out in the revised faculty handbook constituted a "charade of impartiality" that resulted in a "sham dismissal procedure." In March 1999, the faculty panel issued a recommendation to the president of the University that found that Gutkin had engaged in "serious neglect of duty," a ground for termination in the faculty handbook. The president of the University terminated Gutkin in March 2000 for "serious neglect of duty," as found by the faculty panel."

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Dear Margaret, this is an interesting case and I certainly don't mind recording ones that were not financially motivated. I recommend, however, to record some more information (e.g. in the form of copy-paste from your link) in the body of your answer. As you can check in the case of my answer related to the VU affair, links are not permanent. –  André Henriques Oct 30 at 10:27
I'm not even sure what the implication is here. The move for dismissal was based on Gutkin's refusal to teach a course his employment required. His complaint was about the procedural execution of said dismissal. The rulings sound pretty damning against him, and points out that his argument seems largely predicated upon a belief that you can't fire someone with tenure. So this isn't a dismissal with financial, political, or any reasons at all external to faithful execution of one's position. He didn't do his job and didn't like the obvious consequences. –  zibadawa timmy Oct 30 at 11:04
@Andre: Done. Hard to cut through all this legalese; hopefully this citation is enough. @zibadawa timmy: You are entitled to seek whatever "implications" you see fit; I didn't want to offer any. Certainly this is about a recent dismissal of tenured faculty. While the OP is interested mainly in cases happening for financial reasons, he did not restrict his interest to ``only wrongful dismissals,please", however one may interpret such a phrase. –  Margaret Friedland Oct 30 at 18:58
@MargaretFriedland Since it seemed far afield of what I figured was an already broad interpretation of the question, I assumed you had some particular opinion to push in linking to the case. If not, ok. –  zibadawa timmy Oct 31 at 13:01

Going a little further down in history is pretty easy to find examples of great mathematicians being fired by political reasons like D. Egorov in 1929 for being "a sectarian" and defending the church or E. Noether in 1933.

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I have not seen "church" as a metaphor for the Kremlin very often... though it might be applicable in some situations. –  darij grinberg Oct 29 at 19:42
@darij: Actually I meant to write defending the curch instead of dissagreeing. Thanks for catching it! –  Reimundo Heluani Oct 29 at 19:48
The question asks for cases where the reason was financial not political. –  quid Oct 29 at 19:49
@quid but most answers so far were not by financial reasons (Viro's an extreme example) that's why I chose to add these cases. –  Reimundo Heluani Oct 29 at 19:51
Yes, unfortunately, I do not see however how this justifies adding yet another one. –  quid Oct 29 at 19:55

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