Any academic wishing to make his or her home at a university must go through the tenure and promotion process.
As noted in the University of Florida’s regulations, “Two of the most important types of decisions made in the University are those having to do with promotion and tenure; they are the principal means by which the quality of the institution is maintained and developed.”
Tenure is a status granted by the school that “assures the faculty member immunity from reprisals and threats due to an intellectual position or belief which may be unpopular,” while promotion refers to moving through the ranks from assistant to associate to full professor.
At any stage of the process, a faculty member may encounter trouble. For example, his or her tenure and promotion (T&P) packet may not be approved because of insufficient grant funding or unacceptable numbers of publications (or even the perceived quality of the types of journals accepting the publications).
Different colleges within the universities (College of Medicine, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, etc.) administer T&P applications differently, and the procedure differs depending on whether the faculty member is part of a collective bargaining unit, but in general, the candidate will request that the chair or dean initiate the process. He or she will then create a T&P packet, which serves as a portfolio highlighting the candidate’s accomplishments while at the university.
Packets are evaluated in three main categories: teaching, research and service. An award of tenure requires distinction in at least two areas, usually teaching and research.
“Distinction” is defined differently in each college and department.
The packet contains not only the expected background information, but items such as teaching evaluations; a recitation of lectures, presentations, and posters; awards of contracts and grants; recommendation and evaluation letters; narratives outlining service to the university and community; and a history of publications.
In our experience, we see more T&P denials based on publications and grants than anything else.
In the publications arena, the priority is on books and refereed journals, preferably as sole or lead author. In general, the hierarchy is:
- Sole authorship of books
- Co-authorship of books
- Editorship of books
- Chapter contributions to books
- Refereed publications
- Non-refereed publications
- Reviews (of others’ work)
- Miscellaneous (media releases, etc.)
It also matters whether a work has actually been published or simply submitted, accepted for publication, or in press.
When it comes to funding, both internal (within the university) and external grants (from organizations outside the university) are considered, as well as whether the grant is a “seed grant” that focuses on new projects or partnerships that have the potential for external funding. Grants secured as a principal investigator carry more weight than those as a co-PI. As with publications, there is a difference between grants that have actually been funded and grants that are pending decision.
Once the packet has been submitted, materials can be added either by the candidate or by others. Questions may be asked by administrators, which must be answered quickly and thoroughly.
Eligible faculty will review the packet and meet to discuss the nomination before voting confidentially. If nominated, the packet then moves to the college level for consideration, where a dean or director and a fact-finding committee conduct another review. Committee members provide written assessments to the dean or director, who will then indicate endorsement (or lack thereof) for the nomination.
If the packet is endorsed, it is passed to the Academic Personnel Board (APB), which reports to the university president on the strengths and weaknesses of the packet. The provost makes the final recommendation to the Board of Trustees, which typically votes on T&P issues in June.