One of the best job titles ever: tenured college professor.
You can make a salary in the high five figures (at minimum) with summers off and without having to kill yourself working–and you can't get fired.
You can get paid to do something for which there is virtually no market, such as writing poetry–and you can't get fired.
And here's something else you can do:
You can run up a three-year-long criminal record, including convictions for credit-card fraud and drunk driving, plus a probation violation that has you doing jail time, an arrest for leaving the scene of an accident plus driving on a suspended license and no insurance, and just the other day, an arrest for allegedly shoplifting more than $1,300 worth of merch from Home Depot–and, so far, you still can't get fired!
In fact, you can get promoted from associate professor to full professor (big prestige and salary bump) while you're serving your jail sentence.
Doesn't that sound wonderful? It's the career of Ravi Shankar (no relation to the famous sitar player), poet,
a?s?s?o?c?i?a?t?e? full professor of creative writing at Central Connecticut State University, and, seemingly, career criminal. Central Connecticut suspended Shankar from his $85,000-a-year job after his shoplifting arrest, but it either can't or won't get rid of him permanently. The reason: Tenure. The usual rule is: The only way a tenured professor can get terminated is to to do something bad that's directly related to his teaching or his scholarship, such as plagiarize, refuse to report for class, or harass a student. Larceny, even repeated larceny usually doesn't count.
Here's Shankar's criminal history, as reported on Aug. 7 in the Hartford Courant:
The professor, Ravi Shankar, has a string of arrests and convictions on his record, culminating with his most recent arrest July 29 at a Home Depot in Middletown. Police say he took merchandise totaling $1,339.75, which he had not purchased, and took it to the returns desk for a store credit.
Shankar was charged with third-degree larceny shoplifting for the incident and released on $5,000 bond. He is due in court on those charges Wednesday….
Shankar has two other criminal cases pending in Connecticut, including an arrest for operating a vehicle with a suspended license on Jan. 1 in New Britain and another arrest for evading responsibility in an accident after an incident in December 2014 in Chester. He also has several previous criminal convictions in Connecticut.
Shankar was hired at CCSU in 2002 and was promoted in August 2014 from tenured associate professor to full professor while serving a 90-day pretrial confinement period related to his previous cases.
But according to the American Association of University Professors, even someone with a record as capacious as Shankar's can't get bounced–because none his offenses directlly related to his classroom or scholarly performance. Michael J. Olivas, former general counsel for the AAUP put it this way in an interview with Inside Higher Education:
A tax evasion conviction raises considerable doubt as to a tax law professor’s ability to teach or do research, for example, Olivas said. But for a history professor? Not so much.
“The crime has to be tied to your core academic professional competencies,” he said. “Beyond that, [adequate cause] also means moral turpitude, which traditionally means sleeping with students, taking bribes, behaving in a felonious manner, making threats to campus or trying to harm students.”
Olivas said he knew no additional details about Shankar’s case, but that when a professor in general seems to be unstable or in trouble, the onus should be on an administration to step in and see if the professor needs professional help prior to seeking dismissal.
“This has all the hallmarks of someone who’s wildly out of control,” Olivas said. “But no one’s said he’s missed class, or not met his obligations of meeting with students or getting students’ exams back in a timely manner. If all those things are in order, I’d say they’d have a high burden [of proof] before removing him.”
Needless to say, not everyone in Connecticut agrees that failing to grade students' bluebooks promptly is worse than shoplifting and drunk driving. State Sen. Kevin Witkos, a Republican from Canton, wrote the taxpayer-supported university demanding that Shankar be fired pronto. And a Courant editorial pointed out:
Tenure gives a professor the right not to be fired without just cause….That's fine, but if Mr. Shankar's string of run-ins with the law do not constitute just cause, what does? Teachers are role models for young people — and his behavior has shown him to be an extremely poor model.
But apparently the AAUP would beg to differ. It's hard, hard, hard to get rid of a tenured professor.