Hey Now What You Doing

by Matthew Stollak on Monday, January 10, 2011

If its early-January, it means that many college professors and students are on winter break. It also means that it is the heart of tenure and promotion season. Untenured faculty are busy preparing to submit their application in the hopes of gaining that next step in their academic career.

For most schools, the tenure and promotion is one and the same. At the school where I work, this decision is decoupled....you may earn tenure before being promoted from assistant to associate professor.

So, what is the process and what is the criteria to earn tenure and to be promoted? Lets first look at the criteria.

According to our faculty handbook, the criteria for tenure and promotion falls into five categories:
1. Academic Preparation - Does the individual have a doctorate or similar terminal degree in their field?

2. Teaching Effectiveness - Does the individual demonstrate effectiveness as perceived by the candidate, students and colleagues? Evidence to support effectiveness involves student evaluations, inviting colleagues to observe their efforts in the classroom, as well as efforts to be current in the course content.

3. Student Advisement - Does the individual regularly meet with students and advise them not only on their class schedule, but on their job/career choice after college? In addition, the candidate may serve as an advisor to one or more student organizations.

4. Scholarship and Professional Activity - Does the individual demonstrate professional competence in his or her discipline and show promise as a scholar committed to continual growth? Evidence may include, but are not limited to, things such as research projects, creative activities, convention or workshop participation, presentation of papers, and publications (preferably peer-reviewed; preferably in a higher "quality" journal).

This is often the major delineation in a faculty's career path. You may earn tenure at our institution by showing scholarship potential, but promotion often hinges on turning that potential into production (while maintaining continued competence in the other criteria). Promotion from associate to professor would require sustained competence over time in all criteria.

5. Collegial Activities - Does the individual provide evidence of effectiveness in meeting the collegial expectations of the College? This may include such activities as productive participation in one's discipline, serving on an array of college committees, as well as activities that promote the stature of the applicant and the College.

In meeting these expectations, the individual should reflect upon and articulate how these accomplishments meet the mission of the College.

For tenure, individuals typically can apply after their fourth year, and must apply within 7 years of starting the position. This "tenure clock" can be affected by whether you had worked at another institution, or had earned tenure elsewhere. For promotion from Assistant to Associate, you must have worked 7 years as an Assistant Professor, with at least 2 years at our institution. For promotion to Professor, you must have worked at least 5 years as an Associate with 3 of those years at our institution.

What does the tenure and promotion process entail? The candidate must submit an application to the Academic Dean that includes:
1. An updated curriculum vitae
2. Letters from colleagues, both within and outside the candidate's discipline, that address how the candidate has met the criteria
3. An application essay (which can run upwards of 50 pages) that details how the candidate met the criteria, and how they will contribute in the future.
4. Other supporting documents (teaching evaluations, publications, syllabi, etc.).

The materials are submitted to a Faculty Personnel Committee who will review the materials and render a decision. The decision is forwarded to the Dean who also renders a decision. If there is disagreement, the Chair of the Committee and the Dean will meet with the President to discuss the decision. If all agree, the President will forward the recommendations to the Board of Trustees for approval. If the Committee does not recommend tenure, the recommendation is not submitted to the Board. There is a Faculty Review Committee available for appeal if individuals who are denied tenure feel the wrong decision was made. If a person does not earn tenure, and has no more opportunities to apply, they are given a one year terminal contract. At our campus, candidates for tenure are reviewed in the fall and candidates for tenure are reviewed in the spring. Promotion to Associate Professor does not require approval by the Board of Trustees, while promotion to Professor does.

How does your organization make promotion decisions? Is it this detailed? If not, would you consider adopting such a process?


I can appreciate that in your chosen profession this detailed process makes perfect sense. I think each organization has to make a determination regarding the "professionalism" of the position and thus the level of detail needed or desired for promotion. I'm curious, can you share in general terms for your readers what it means to be tenured? What benefit does that hold? I have some understanding, but quite limited. Thanks for the post!

by Trish McFarlane on January 10, 2011 at 10:51 AM. #

@trish - tenure in its most basic form is to grant an academic's contractual right not to be fired without just cause.

Its original intent is to protect academic freedom in pursuing controversial ideas, much like we award lifetime positions to some judges. I might have a controversial take on Jesus, that some might feel uncomfortable discussing.

There is also an argument that tenure demonstrates your competence to your colleagues to be a permanent part of the institution.

As a goal to pursue, tenure provides an incentive to tenured faculty to pursue excellence in all these areas. It also increases our investment in the institution as we may mentor those who follow us.

Obviously, the downside is that once tenure is secured, the incentive to continue to be a contributing member can decline. One hopes the professionalism of the field, the pressure of one's colleagues, and the desire to be promoted will encourage those that are tenured to continue their fine work.

by Matthew Stollak on January 10, 2011 at 11:45 AM. #

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