Protection against unjustified dismissal of the professoriate shall be improved through changes in legislation

10.1.2023

In its judgement of 10 January 2023 (diary number S2021/66), the Supreme Court considers that the University of Helsinki had the right to choose whether to dismiss, on production-related and financial grounds, a person who had served in the position of a permanent lecturer and had been called to the fixed-term position of a tenure track assistant professor in evolutionary biology of plants or a professor who serves in the position of a permanent professor of plant ecology. 

The Supreme Court deemed that the appointment of a lecturer serving in a permanent position as a tenure track assistant professor at the same time when the employment of a dismissed professor was ending was not regarded as an artificial arrangement aiming at evading the protection against termination in accordance with the Employment Contracts Act (Chapter 7, Section 3, Subsection 2, Point 1). In the opinion of the Supreme Court, this was not a situation in which the employer has first terminated the employment contract of one employee and, after that, hired another employee to carry out identical or similar tasks. 

According to the justifications of the judgement, the University of Helsinki had, thus, a relevant and weighty ground, resulting from financial or production-related reasons or reorganisation of operations, to dismiss the professor of plant ecology on 12 April 2016. 

The Supreme Court made the professor’s liability to indemnify the legal expenses to the University of Helsinki equitable. After this adjustment, the legal expenses of the dismissed professor total over 100,000 euro. Since this is a matter of principle, the Finnish Union of University Professors will pay the legal expenses for its member. 

The Universities Act decrees a specific protection against termination: the contract of employment of an employee belonging to the research and teaching staff may not be terminated or cancelled on grounds that could be invoked and infringe on the freedom of research, art or education. The Union Council of the Finnish Union of University Professors has outlined that professors should not be dismissed on production-related and financial grounds. 

“The judgement of the Supreme Court leads to a situation in which the protection against unjustified dismissal of the professoriate is currently not sufficient and must be improved through changes in legislation”, says Tarja Niemelä, the Executive Director of the Finnish Union of University Professors. The professiorate have better protection against termination in, for example, Germany and the USA.

The tenure track of a professor has become an established method of recruiting professors. The Employment Contracts Act or the Universities Act do not recognise the currently existing practice, according to which the employees recruited within the tenure track system are mainly appointed to fixed-term positions of 3–5 years. In the case to be handled during the spring, the Labour Court of Finland will probably take a stand on whether the system used by universities is in accordance with the Employment Contracts Act. 

Further information:
Executive Director Tarja Niemelä, the Finnish Union of University Professors
Tel. +358 (0)50 340 2725 
tarja.niemela@professoriliitto.fi