Tuesday, April 26, 2016
I don't know about "forbiddingly high". I've seen at least one case where administration could have done it, but tried very hard to ignore the issue for another reason: the human element. As DD very much knows, administrators are people too and it is very hard to fire someone you have worked closely with for many many years, especially when that professor is a superstar when sober. Firing someone has enormous consequences for the rest of that person's life (that pitiful professor salary may not look so great, but losing the pension is devastating); that must a very heavy burden on administration.
Handled well? Looks to me like you nailed it. One other option is the "you can't fire me, I quit/retire" response. As for the "dark places" you allude too, well, I hope you never have to deal with a few cases I happened to witness or hear about. There must be lots more that only HR knows about.
By the way, your remark about "tenure" strikes me as a dodge. If you have a union contract, there is no such thing as tenure. There is only what the contract grants, and that is negotiable. (Where I work, without a union, what you refer to as "tenure" is also contractual and subject to revocation for specific actions.) Documenting the gradual or sudden drop in productivity, and not enabling it, is your job. Your example of threatening to call the police in a DUI case was the right thing to do, especially if you follow up on it. The police are very good at documenting simple facts like having alcohol on campus, they have the right to enter any room on campus (doubly so with cause), and their reports tend to carry a lot of weight.
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I saw this issue handled very badly at another institution and they lost a great faculty member - great teacher, great researcher. He died of his alcoholism in his mid-forties.