Why (female) professors should think twice before applying in German-speaking academia

Countries in the European Union are usually committed to equality for women, promoting female participation in higher-ranking jobs in management and science. There are a number of regulations that are designed to ensure women to get into high profile posts such as professorships. But a recently published study also shows that women professors, once on the job, have a disproportionately higher risk to lose their jobs or to be publicly demoted from higher-ranking positions than their male colleagues, at least in German-speaking countries where the study was conducted. While the share of women of all employed professors in Germany, Austria and Switzerland is around 25 per cent (and, thus, as imbalanced as elsewhere), their share among the dismissed or publicly demoted professors is as high as 75 per cent.

The study shows that the number of dismissed or publicly demoted professors in German-speaking countries has risen sharply since 2015. What is striking about the dismissals and demotions is that the reasons given were neither scientific misconduct nor professional incompetence, but mostly ‘misconduct in leadership’. This verdict is often based on anonymous accusations in which the professor concerned is described as ‘difficult’. She is accused of ‘abuse of power’ and of creating an ‘atmosphere of fear’. When these accusations are taken up by the university management they are often used as a means to an end in a conflict over resources. Sometimes this pattern is used by young scientists to promote their career, just as it also happens in other parts of the world to some well-known female senior scientists or senior women in general.

The cases show another striking similarity: a systematic disregard of rule-of-law principles in the internal procedures of the academic institutions. The dismissed or publicly demoted professors seemed to have lost any fundamental rights once anonymous accusations arose: mostly, they were neither told what they were specifically accused of, nor were they given the right to comment on it. The studied dismissals and demotions appear arbitrary and opaque, and the reasons given seem to be constructed with detrimental intent, strategically and tactically designed for elimination and disastrous in their effect on those affected. The study sheds light on a surprisingly dark side of universities and research institutions. It is the first of its kind and it opens up a new field of research. Sadly enough, it is to be expected that more ‘cases’ will show up.

The study is originally published in German (here); a translated version can be found here.

The number of female professors who are dismissed or publicly degraded on the basis of false accusations is increasing. This blog is run by affected scientists.