The Tenure Process

Q:  What does the tenure process look like at different types of colleges (teaching, research I, etc.)? 

Author: Rory McVeigh, University of Notre Dame

mcveigh_rory_smallIn terms of the process, you are typically evaluated in the sixth or seventh year of your tenure track appointment (7 years is becoming more common).  Keep in mind that in most schools you will go through a mid-term evaluation that will determine whether your initial contract will be renewed and whether you will be allowed to continue on the tenure track.  In most cases the renewal is approved, unless things went poorly in the first couple of years.  For the tenure evaluation, you will submit materials related to your research, teaching, and service to the department chair.  Your case will first be evaluated by a departmental committee (sometimes that includes all tenured faculty members in the department, while other times it is a smaller elected or appointed committee of tenured faculty).  An evaluation of research will focus on quantity of research published, prestige of the publishing outlets, as well a subjective evaluation of the quality of the work based on departmental committee members’ own reading.  External reviewers (experts in your field(s) from outside of your college or university) will also be asked to submit letters of evaluation based on their reading of your work.  Evaluation of teaching includes close attention to student course evaluations, but is also evaluated through examination of submitted teaching materials, visits to your classroom, and indicators of your contributions as a mentor to students outside of the classroom.  In most programs, relatively little weight is given to service contributions of assistant professors.  Service expectations will increase after you are tenured.

Although the departmental committee does most of the heavy lifting in the evaluation, it does not get the final say.  The departmental committee prepares a series of reports that are then passed along to higher level administrators (e.g., to the college dean, provost, president) and to a committee comprised of faculty members who are outside of the department but in the university or college.  Evaluators outside of your department will not be engaged in a direct re-evaluation of your work.  Their primary responsibilities involve making sure that the institution’s standards are being upheld and that the candidate is being evaluated fairly by her or his departmental colleagues.

Procedures will vary across institutions and it is important for you to become familiar with how the process works at your school.  There are things that you can be doing very early in your appointment to make sure that your evaluation will be based on good information.  Find out, for example, what types of teaching materials are typically submitted.  You can start developing a teaching portfolio in your first semester that will give evaluators something to consider besides student course evaluations.  Do what you can, too, to help your colleagues understand and appreciate your research agenda (e.g., volunteer to present at department colloquia).  The more familiar your colleagues are with your work, the easier it will be for them to evaluate it and to see how your publications fit into a broader, coherent agenda.  It will also be easier for them to select appropriate external reviewers for your work.  Finally, stay in constant contact with your department chair and proactively seek out feedback on your progress toward tenure.  The sooner you become aware of potential problems, the easier it will be to make necessary adjustments before the tenure evaluation takes place.

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