Report and Recommendation: Improving Policy on Timing of Tenure Review

return to New Policy on Timing of Tenure Review

At present, some faculty are hired in tenure track appointments at Syracuse with previous experience: 1) in a position at another institution, or 2) in a full-time non-tenure track position at SU. Currently these faculty are treated quite differently in terms of the number of years they are allowed or required to credit from their prior employment toward their pre-tenure probationary period at Syracuse. This situation raises questions of fairness and equity within and between these two categories of new hires.

This report from the Academic Affairs Committee of the Syracuse University Senate (hereafter AAC) details the problem, makes a recommendation for a change in policy, outlines concerns about implementation of the recommended policy, and tries to address the concerns raised by colleagues about the recommendation.

Any change in tenure review policies for these particular tenure track faculty, newly hired at Syracuse University, cannot treat differently the majority of tenure track faculty whose initial position is at Syracuse. The AAC recognized that our recommended policy change should be equally applicable to all tenure track faculty who are newly hired at Syracuse, regardless of prior service.

I. PROBLEM:

Timing of Tenure Review for:

  1. Faculty hired from a tenure track position at another institution:
    Current policy requires faculty who have been hired from other institutions to decide within 6 months of arrival at Syracuse University how many of their previous years of experience in a tenure track position they will credit toward their tenure clock at Syracuse. The amount of credit can vary from 0 years to not more than 3 years at the discretion of the faculty member. The 6-month period to decide has proved too short for a number of newly hired faculty to make an informed decision about the number of years of prior service to credit.
  2. Faculty hired from a full time, non-tenure track position at Syracuse:
    Current policy is that all years in a full time, non-tenure track position at SU must count toward the maximum probationary period of five (5) years of service at SU. The policy does not make allowances for sometimes extreme differences in expectations of tenure track and non-tenure track faculty in full time positions.

Two aspects of current policy are problematic for these faculty and for Syracuse University. First, the credentials needed for a successful tenure review at SU may not be compatible with the professional expectations for these faculty in their prior positions. Second, the two groups are treated potentially quite differently; those from SU must credit their years here toward their tenure clock while those from other institutions have the choice of crediting those years or not.

With this background, two hypothetical examples, based on current policy, might highlight some aspects of the problem.

Imagine a full time, non-tenure track faculty member at Syracuse who has been in her present position for 4 years and is offered a tenure track position. Current policy requires that all four years be credited toward her tenure probationary period and that she be reviewed for tenure no later than during her second year in her new position. This person would have only a single year in the tenure track to accumulate additional evidence prior to a tenure review. If her previous position had significantly different expectations than a tenure track appointment (e.g., all teaching and no scholarship), she could easily be in a situation where it would be difficult to provide sufficient evidence to lead to a positive tenure recommendation. She might, in fact, decide to decline the offer of the tenure track position because of the low probability of a positive tenure decision.

Imagine another faculty member being considered for a tenure track position at Syracuse who currently holds a tenure track position at another institution, but one with different tenure expectations than at SU. This person, if he accepts the position, has six months after starting in his new position at Syracuse to decide how many years of experience (to a maximum of 3) in the previous position to credit toward his probationary period. That is a relatively short time to understand the tenure expectations at SU before deciding on years of credit. This policy also means that some new faculty in this situation could elect no years of credit and others could elect up to three years of credit.

The comparison between these two hypothetical examples is striking in the difference in the options open to the two individuals. In the first example, the potential new faculty member could decide not to accept the position, but if she accepts the position then she has no say in when she is reviewed for tenure. The second example allows considerable latitude in when the tenure review occurs, but the decision must be made very early in the new faculty member’s career at SU. Both examples could put the new faculty member in a situation that makes a positive tenure recommendation more difficult, or at the least, markedly reduces the control the individual has over the evidence offered at the time of tenure review.

The fact that these situations do occur (see Table 1) leads the AAC to recommend a change in policy to allow the new faculty member to assess her/his particular situation and to choose when to present her/his credentials for a tenure review. The new policy would permit a new faculty member to choose to initiate a tenure review as early as her/his first year at SU or, at a maximum, not until her/his 5th year at SU.

This change in tenure timing also may affect timing of promotion. Under current guidelines (see Faculty Manual 2.22), faculty members are expected normally to spend a minimum time in rank prior to being considered for promotion, and exceptions to the minimum time in rank are considered “only under exceptional circumstances.” To make time in rank for promotion conform to the change in tenure timing, the AAC also recommends a change in section 2.22 regarding promotion timing.

II. RECOMMENDATIONS:

The Academic Affairs Committee recommends that all tenure track faculty members at Syracuse University be permitted to choose freely when to initiate a tenure review, provided that the review can be completed at least by the end of the sixth year of tenure track service at Syracuse University. The Academic Affairs Committee further recommends a change in promotion guidelines to indicate that faculty being reviewed for tenure may elect to have waived the minimum time in rank requirement for promotion.

The AAC recommends that this policy be implemented immediately for all untenured faculty, with the exception of those currently under formal tenure review.

III. RATIONALE AND ADVANTAGES:

    1. A successful decision on tenure depends on the quality of the credentials offered in evidence by each candidate
    2. Each individual faculty member would be served best by being permitted to choose, in close consultation with colleagues, when her/his tenure package is ready for review to provide the maximum probability of a positive tenure decision.
    3. Faculty members prefer to control the timing of their own tenure review.
    4. When being reviewed for tenure, a faculty member should have the option to be considered simultaneously for promotion. The reasons for these recommendations include the following assumptions:
  1. This policy:
    1. Places control of tenure timing in the hands of the affected faculty member and gives each faculty member the maximum opportunity to present the strongest possible case for a tenure review.
    2. Provides flexible timing that gives faculty from other institutions time to learn about tenure review expectations at Syracuse. It also gives faculty who previously were in a non-tenure track appointment at Syracuse ample time to present the strongest possible case for a tenure review.
    3. Does NOT, in any way, force a faculty member to delay the tenure decision longer than that member feels is warranted by her/his individual professional circumstances.
    4. Makes all tenure track faculty subject equally to the same rules.
    5. Does not change current policy regarding stoppage of the tenure clock that is possible through negotiation with the Vice-Chancellor and Provost.
    6. Allows simultaneous review for both tenure and promotion if the faculty member so desires.
    7. Eliminates situations where a faculty member is awarded tenure, but cannot yet be considered for promotion.

IV. IMPLEMENTATION:

  1. An important stipulation is that a faculty member can be considered only once for tenure. This does not change current policy. A negative decision, even if prior to the sixth year of credited service in a tenure track position at SU, will result in termination of employment as a faculty member at SU, normally following a one-year terminal appointment after the tenure decision (see section 2.30 of the proposed new wording of the Faculty Manual).
  2. Initiation of a tenure review constitutes an irrevocable step. This requires an operational standard for confirming that a review has been initiated. The AAC recommends that the tenure review of a faculty member be initiated by her/his formal request to the promotion and tenure committee of the appropriate school or college. The AAC further recommends that the Office of the Vice-Chancellor and Provost create a standard university form that each faculty member must sign to begin the process for consideration for tenure. This form should make clear that such election binds the candidate to the decision rendered and that withdrawal from consideration after that election deprives the candidate of further consideration at a later time. Failure to submit the necessary request for a tenure review by the maximum allowable 5th year deadline, consistent with college and school procedures, constitutes a voluntary withdrawal from the tenure process. Colleges and schools should apprise all tenure candidates, in sufficient time, of the impending 5th year deadline.Following receipt of the formal request, the tenure review process begins, including solicitation of letters from outside experts evaluating the candidate’s qualifications in the context of a tenure review.The form requesting a tenure review can also request, if necessary, that the minimum time in rank for promotion be waived.
  3. The policy places an important responsibility on the institution to mentor newly appointed tenure track faculty so they are able to make a considered decision as to when to initiate the tenure process. Such mentoring includes helping a faculty member develop an understanding of the standards for tenure at Syracuse and the evidence required as well as providing comprehensive and cumulative annual evaluations of the faculty member’s progress toward tenure.
  4. This policy places an emphasis on tenure committees at all administrative levels to consider the evidence of the suitability of a candidate for tenure without formal guidelines regarding time in position. Under this policy tenure candidates may have been active in the profession for quite different lengths of time. Tenure review committees will have to focus on the total evidentiary basis of each case, with time as a faculty member being only one of many considerations.

V. RESPONSES TO OBJECTIONS AND CONCERNS:

Several objections have been raised to the proposed policy. We try to answer these objections in what follows. However, we note that most objections apply with equal force under current guidelines. The new policy is focused on giving the faculty member control of the timing as a means to ensure they have the opportunity to submit the best case for her/his tenure review.

  1. OBJECTION: Service as a full time faculty member could be increased beyond the normal 7-year period recommended by AAUP. For example, a full time non-tenure track faculty member at SU for 3 years before being appointed to a tenure track position could be here for 8 years before a mandatory tenure review. Faculty coming from a tenure track position at another institution could also elect not to come up for tenure until the end of the 5th year of service at SU, and hence be in the tenure track for longer than 7 years.RESPONSE: The Committee is well aware of this possibility and also notes that taking NO credit for service at another institution is already possible under guidelines in the faculty manual. However, we emphasize that a faculty member under the recommended policy is NOT precluded from initiating a tenure review prior to the 8th year. Due to differing expectations at various academic institutions and differing expectations in non-tenure track and tenure track positions at SU, it is in a faculty member’s best interest to have available sufficient time to develop her/his credentials for a tenure review.
  2. OBJECTION: Faculty at the time of review may have quite different lengths of service in academic positions.RESPONSE: This is already the case in current practice. Candidates should be given sufficient time at SU to accumulate credentials for tenure to present the strongest possible case. Tenure review committees, as noted earlier, will have to focus on the total evidentiary basis of each case, with time as a faculty member being only one of many considerations.
  3. OBJECTION: Because faculty can be retained for longer under the new policy prior to a tenure decision, they are vulnerable to exploitation.RESPONSE: Initiation of tenure review is at the discretion of the faculty member under the new policy, and careful mentoring by close colleagues should reduce the probability of exploitation. Faculty who feel that their case would be stronger with a longer time line should be allowed the freedom to select that option. Faculty in the two categories of new appointees to whom the policy is directed will also feel disadvantaged if, as is currently the case, the rules force a tenure decision before sufficient time has elapsed to permit a reasonable expectation that a tenurable case can be offered for review.
  4. OBJECTION: This proposal creates a new class of faculty at SU: the full-time, non-tenure track positions mentioned in I. B.RESPONSE: Such positions are not new, and this proposal does not affect their status, numbers, or hiring procedures. It simply addresses the situation of those full-time non-tenure track faculty members who qualify for tenure track appointments. The numbers of faculty moving from this type of position to tenure track is relatively small, but the fact that it does happen means we need a fair policy to ensure that such faculty have a reasonable chance of a positive tenure review.
  5. OBJECTION: The process of hiring faculty already at SU in a non-tenure track full-time position into a tenure track line may disadvantage these faculty if their hire does not follow the usual open search.RESPONSE: University rules require open searches among a diverse array of qualified candidates, both internal and external. We assume this will not change. The recommendation on tenure timing does not speak at all to any change in this practice.