So You Want Tenure? An Overview of the Tenure Track and Review Process
Professors receiving tenure will receive permanent teaching positions and professors denied tenures are offered a terminal year to relocate to position outside of Southwestern.
Upon beginning a teaching position at a university, faculty seeking tenure begin either a tenure track or non-tenure track professorship. Tenure track faculty members submit files encapsulating documentation of their achievements to reviewers including department colleagues, administrators, and faculty status committees.
The faculty handbook outlines expected achievements of tenure track faculty members at the end of each year. Benchmarks occur at the end of the second and fourth year of a tenure track, wherein tenure track faculty receive feedback revealing if they are on track or not on track according to benchmark expectations in the faculty handbook. At the sixth year, tenure track faculty undergo tenure review and either receive or do not receive tenure.
Benchmarks and tenure review evaluate faculty in three categories: professional achievement, university service, and teaching. Reviewers evaluate professional growth on peer-reviewed published works, such as journal articles, creative exhibitions, or invited performances. Documents showing records of teaching strength include syllabi, course assignments, and course evaluations.
“You are given specific feedback at the next step,” Dean of the Faculty and Chief Academic Officer Alisa Gaunder said. “At each stage, you turn in a file with a statement and supporting materials, [such as] research and syllabi. It gets more developed as you move through the process.”
According to Gaunder, faculty members the university expects from the second year of tenure track faculty “very strong teaching, the beginning of a research program, and minimal university service. The fourth year benchmark requests continued efficacy in teaching record and evidence of professional achievement.”
Individuals and committees collaboratively review submitted files and reach consensus with the consideration of other reviewers’ input. The reviewers include the faculty status committee, the Chief Academic Officer, the president, and the Board of Trustees.
The faculty status committee consists of one representative from each of the four areas (social sciences, natural sciences, humanities, and fine arts). Each representative serves for four years, with one area representative being replaced each year. In addition, members of the committee rotate various duties among one another.
“It is a very collaborative process. The goal is for everyone to talk about things, not someone receiving information and arbitrarily go one way or another, but really understand [the tenure track faculty],” Gaunder said.
The faculty status committee reviews professional files at the second, fourth, and sixth year of the tenure track and write recommendations to the Chief Academic Officer, currently Alisa Gaunder. The Chief Academic Officer then reviews files and passes a recommendation along to the president, who then also reviews documents sends a recommendation to the Board of Trustees.
“Ultimately, authority rests with the Board of Trustees. Of the two groups, it is somewhat hierarchical,” Gaunder said. “The Board of Trustees, in most cases, is going to accept the recommendation of the president because they are more distant from the case. Precisely, we ask for department feedback because the department does know the professor the best. The department though is coming at it from one perspective. Part of this is the university perspective and expectations for a professor.”
Outcomes of tenure denials
The university offers a terminal year to faculty denied tenure, during which they receive one final year at their current teaching position as they apply for other jobs.
“The hiring process in the academy at university is a slow one, so unlike in the corporate world, where if you lose your job you can start a job search immediately, thus the job search for a faculty member is a yearlong process. That gives professors time to put together applications and go out into the market, which usually begins in the fall or early January,” Gaunder said.
During the faculty member’s terminal year, their department searches for individuals who could fill the open position in the coming fall. According to the faculty handbook, faculty denied tenure may file grievance petitions if suspecting the tenure review poses grievances related to rights such as academic freedom and equal employment opportunity. These faculty members file a petition with the Chief Academic Officer (previously the Provost) and can request hearings.