Faculty members work to achieve tenure, professorship

It doesn’t guarantee employment, but tenure allows more freedom for professors.

Yelena Kibasova

Ben Munson, an assistant professor in the department of speech/language/hearing sciences, has a new title.

After an intense application process, Munson received tenure status and will start the new academic year as an associate professor.

Munson said the promotion is a tangible achievement, but said he is “exhausted and overwhelmed” by the application process.

Every faculty member aspiring to climb the professional ladder at the University has to go through detailed annual reviews and a grueling tenure application process.

Typically, new faculty members start as assistant professors, said E. Thomas Sullivan, University senior vice president and provost.

Through the six-year probationary period, professors have annual reviews with their department, said Arlene Carney, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs.

“That gives the probationary faculty member feedback every year about his or her progress toward tenure,” Carney said.

Munson said his pretenure reviews were incredibly thorough but very useful.

After working at the University for six years, probationary faculty members have to apply for tenure.

“If you don’t receive tenure, you have to leave the University,” Sullivan said.

Carney described tenure as a “safeguard,” providing faculty members with academic freedom.

“A faculty member would be able to do research on topics without being subject to pressure from industry or (the) private sector,” she said.

Sullivan said the tenure application process is rigorous. The application goes through at least four stages, with reviews from the college, the dean, the provost and the Board of Regents.

“It takes a ton of effort on the applicant’s part and even more on the department’s part,” Munson said.

He said the faculty member’s department helps put the large packet of information together for the application. This includes information such as peer reviews, the applicant’s work and applicant statements on their research.

Faculty members can apply for tenure status any time during their probationary period.

“You need to time it well,” Sullivan said. “You don’t want to come up early if you’re not ready.”

Probationary professors can apply for reconsideration if they are not accepted and still are in their probationary period, Sullivan said.

According to University faculty tenure regulations, application criteria for tenure are based on effectiveness in teaching, professional distinction in research and outstanding discipline-related service contributions.

Once a professor receives tenure, typically he or she achieves associate status, Carney said.

“I don’t know what is expected of me now that I am an associate professor that is different from what has been expected of me as an assistant professor,” Munson said. “I don’t know what comes next.”

He said he assumed his workload would stay the same, with required time allotments of 40 percent to research, 40 percent to teaching, 5 percent to service and 15 percent for other.

The highest step for a professor is full professorship, Sullivan said.

“Once you reach full professor with tenure,” Sullivan said, “you’ve really achieved the brass ring.”

Carney said not all faculty members reach full professor status.

“Typically, you only become a full professor when you’re a leader in your field and you have a very strong national or international reputation,” Carney said.

Marla Spivak, a professor in the entomology department, has recently been promoted to full professor status.

“This is just a promotion,” she said. “It just shows that people think I’m doing my job well. For me it’s work as usual.”

Though tenured status gives professors job security, it does not guarantee employment, Sullivan said.

Tenured professors continue to receive annual reviews to ensure their work is up to University standards, he said.

If problems are noticed in a professor’s progress, departments try to work through them informally, Sullivan said.

If the professor continues to fall below University standards, a posttenure review is initiated. Posttenure reviews were fully implemented at the University in 2001.

“It’s a formal process to focus on where there are deficiencies and how to satisfy those standards that have been set,” Sullivan said. “The department head and the dean attempt to work with them in a professional development way to get them back on track for meeting our teaching and research and service standards and requirements.”

At a Board of Regents meeting, Sullivan reported that nine out of 1,692 tenured University faculty members performed “substantially below the goals and expectations of the unit” during the 2004-2005 academic year. The previous year had similar results.

Although the one-half percent is low, Sullivan said there might have been other people whose issues were dealt with through informal reviews.

“You ought to have a relatively small number at the end like we do if you’ve got all those previous checks in place,” he said.

If a professor fails to improve after formal reviews and professional development, he or she might need to look at retirement options or alternatives to the University, Sullivan said.