Coming from France, where any official academic position (i.e. associate professor or full professor, or equivalent positions at public research institutes) is a civil-servant one, and therefore automatically for life, I've been always intrigued by the "tenure" system in the US.
While reading the Wikipedia article, I spotted the following paragraph:
While tenure protects the occupant of an academic position, it does not protect against the elimination of that position. For example, a university that is under financial stress may take the drastic step of eliminating or downsizing some departments.
Does this kind of elimination/downsizing occur a lot in practice? Is it possible to "cheat" and to pretend to cut a position in order to save money just to get rid of a tenured professor? Are there some laws stating that if a position is cut, then another equivalent one cannot be created right after?
I've seen one case that almost led to firing a tenured faculty member. The university had found him guilty of misconduct and tried to get him to resign; as far as I can tell this involved incentives more than threats. But when that approach failed, the university began proceedings to revoke his tenure and fire him. The "definition" of tenure at my university amounts to specifying what those procedures must include, and they make the the process so cumbersome that no one would want to invoke them except in extreme cases. In this case, the person finally reached an agreement with the university and resigned, on the day that the Board of Regents was to meet to revoke his tenure. Even so, he apparently got come concessions from the university. In particular, a short time later, the people involved in the tenure revocation hearings, even those like me who were only indirectly involved, were informed by the university's lawyers that, under the resignation agreement, we are not allowed to divulge who this person is. As far as I know, that gag order is still in force.