- Is it possible for someone to be denied Full Prof? Yes, but it is rare.
- Is it possible for someone to fail a PhD defense? Yes, but it is rare.
- I suspect that the most common reason for someone to be denied Full Prof is that they went up without the Chairman's or the Departments approval. That is, they insisted on going up. I really cannot see a reason for a professor to do this except some sort of bad logic which I will discuss later.
- I suspect that the most common reason for someone to fail a PhD defense is that they insisted on defending even though the advisor didn't think they were ready. While the advisor should have stopped it there may be other reasons (e.g., a job offer to the student has been made so he really needs the PhD NOW, or some deadline is coming up) that came into play. Could also be bad logic which I will discuss later.
- Could also be because of politics. I've heard of this happening but never really saw a case I could verify myself. One problem: Everyone who is ever denied Tenure or Full Prof says that it was political. Hence its hard to tell when it really is.
- A prof might think Everyone who I've ever seen go up for Full Prof has gotten it, so all I need to do is go up for it.
- A student may think Everyone who I've ever seen defend their thesis has passed so all I need to do is get a defense scheduled. I have seen the following: nobody fails a defense for several years because the adviser don't put you up until you defend. Then the mentality sets in that all you need to do is defend and you'll pass. Then someone pushes this and ends up failing. THEN people are scared for the next few years, until its forgotten. That is why someone fails a PhD defense every 6 years or so.
WHY DENY SOMEONE FULL PROF? If you deny someone TENURE they LEAVE. Hence something is accomplished. But if you deny someone Full Prof they are still there, just annoyed. Hence it seems like a really bad idea to deny someone Full Prof.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE A FULL PROF? Salary increase? My school is now not giving raises. You get to write letters for more people. Is this really a good thing? You get to be on more committees. Is this really a good thing? You get more respect? This is questionable. People stop asking So, are you a full prof yet? This is a good thing.
HOW BAD IS IT: In both cases you can re-do. That is, you can come up for full prof later and you can fix your thesis and defend later. Even so, it can be a trauma.
FYI: I passed my PhD defense first try in May of 1985. I got Assistant prof in 1985, Associate Prof (Tenure) in 1991, and Full Prof in 1998.