Communication 9: Promotion and Tenure
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the promotion and tenure process at this University?
- What can I do to maximize my chances of gaining tenure here?
- What do reviewing committees look for in a dossier?
- What's more important, teaching, research or service?
- How will my teaching be assessed?
- How long do I have to prove myself?
- How do I get reviewed before I come up for promotion and tenure?
- Can I get more time to build my record?
- How long does the review process take?
- When will I know whether I get tenure?
- At what rate do entering faculty attain tenure at this University?
- I've heard that the letter at the end of the process asks me to return a form accepting the privileges and responsibilities of tenure. What's that all about?
- Are there other expectations of which I should be aware for my position at the University of Illinois?
- Is it possible to go up for tenure early? What if I came here from another institution with some experience already?
- What other things should I watch out for or ask questions about?
- What happens if my tenure case is turned down?
Sometime near the end of your fifth year on campus or in the beginning of your sixth year, your department will begin to assemble a dossier to present your case for promotion and tenure. You will be asked to contribute information for the dossier as well as to suggest external referees who can be asked to evaluate your work. Your department head will also be asked to submit a statement evaluating and commenting on the case. For a full description of the dossier's components, see the campus Policy on Promotion and Tenure (Communication Number 9).
After the dossier is in final form, it will be evaluated by your home department and transmitted to the next administrative level. The by-laws or other official documents in your department should describe the procedures it will follow. Each succeeding administrative level will conduct its own review, and your case must pass through that review successfully to continue in the process.
Above the level of your home unit, promotion and tenure committees judge how well the case has been made for granting tenure. In general, they do not evaluate your work specifically-that is done by the external referees and the faculty in your department. The promotion and tenure policy summarizes the nature of the review above the department:
It is the overall quality of the candidate's record and the accompanying documentation, rather than the length of the dossier or the claims made for the significance of any single piece of work, that determine the final outcome.
Each individual's case is reviewed by at least two levels. The final decision on tenure is always the responsibility of the Provost, with advice from the Campus Promotions and Tenure Committee. Once the Provost has formulated his recommendations, they are forwarded to the Board of Trustees, which offers the formal appointment.
There are fewer steps in the review process in undivided units, like the College of Law and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, which have no internal departments. In those colleges, you will be reviewed by your college and then the campus committee.
There are more steps in large departments with division structures that are also within schools. In those cases, tenure dossiers are reviewed by:
- Your division;
- Your department;
- Your school;
- Your college;
- The campus.
The number of steps in the review process will not disadvantage you. The first two reviews are the critical steps because, as a general rule, cases that make it successfully through two stages are very strong cases.
This process is described in the campus policies on promotion and tenure document. You should be able to obtain a copy from your department. If they don't have one, you can get one from the Office of the Provost (333-6677).
A decision to grant tenure is a long-term commitment to a faculty member by an institution. At the University of Illinois, we use three primary criteria for making these judgments:
- evidence of distinction and accomplishment in your field
- promise for sustained productivity
- an assessment that your promotion will be in the best interests of the University
This is a University with global distinction, because we have achieved distinction at that level in most units. Therefore, faculty we anticipate having for the long-term must be able to achieve at the highest levels of excellence.
We hired you with the idea that you can achieve at a high level, and we will be investing in you throughout your probationary period to encourage you to demonstrate your abilities.
Unless your appointment is a service-oriented appointment, you should focus on your teaching and research in your early years. When service is undertaken, it is best if it is closely integrated with your research area. (If you are in a service-based unit, like the Cooperative Extension Service, work with your department head and dean to identify specific criteria and processes for demonstrating excellence in your practice within the first six months of your probationary period. See the publication called A Faculty Guide for Relating Public Service to the Promotion and Tenure Review Process.)
When the time comes to assess your promotion dossier, review committees will be seeking evidence of a commitment to quality teaching and evidence of your distinction and visibility as a scholar in your field. We recommend that you consult with your department head for advice about the best way to build evidence of your achievements that objective committees can assess.
Bear in mind that committees at different levels may be looking for different things.
Within Your Unit: Talk with your unit head about this portion of the process as departments and disciplines vary (within institutionally-set boundaries) in what they seek in a successful case. You should be provided with information by your unit head and/or senior faculty within your department.
The campus P&T committee: The committee will review your tenure dossier seeking evidence of scholarly distinction. This does not, contrary to popular belief, involve counting papers and awarding tenure to those with the highest numbers. It does involve an assessment of whether your record demonstrates a coherent body of important work, with a significant theme or themes that shows your evolution and growth as a scholar, along with sufficient productivity to suggest long-term continuation of that pattern. Thus, a large number of papers either on unrelated topics or on the same very narrow or inconsequential topic will not necessarily be viewed favorably by a P&T review committee.
Also, bear in mind that different fields have different research cultures and patterns of publication that affect the quantity and type of research productivity expected, as well as how collaborations will be assessed. You should consult your department head and senior faculty in your unit on questions of this nature.
The committee will also weigh heavily the judgments provided in the external letters of reference, and it will assess the prominence of the letter writers. Positive letters from acknowledged experts in institutions of comparable (see the IBHE comparison list) (jump to IBHE list at bottom of document) quality will outweigh glowing letters from scholars who are not very well known or regarded. Each external referee is asked who he or she regards as the leaders in the field(s) at issue; those assessments will also be used to judge the caliber of the letter writers. You and your unit head should devote significant thought to development of an appropriate pool of referees. Please pay special heed to the admonitions of the Promotion and Tenure policy and don't request or suggest letters from collaborators, former professors or persons of lower rank than you are seeking. These letters are strongly discouraged and will be discounted by the P&T Committee. For building a strong case, letters should be from full professors at peer institutions or from other acknowledged national and international experts in your field.
As a matter of career development, your choices for publication submissions and conference attendance should include an assessment of whether the top people in your area read/participate in those venues. It is highly desirable to assure that, come time for the tenure assessment, the best people in your field have had an opportunity to view your work before it is sent to them as part of the assessment process. (Please note that you should not discuss your tenure assessment with those people.)
All of them are important. Our mechanisms for assessing each are different, however, and you should think about the ramifications of this as you move through your probationary years. That is, tools for assessing research productivity are more widely trusted and accepted than those for assessing teaching effectiveness. As a result, promotion dossiers tend to focus heavily on research quality and productivity. However, this does not mean that teaching can or should be ignored: tenure has and will continue to be denied to candidates whose teaching does not reach a satisfactory level of quality and proficiency.
Public service activities undertaken during the probationary years are best done when the link with your research program is very strong. In other words, when the public service arena provides the problems to be studied or the outcomes of the research have direct effect on business, schools and the professions. Assessing the quality of public service is easier when the link to research is most direct. The stronger portfolios with a service segment will demonstrate a strong integration of research and service. The campus guidelines on promotion and tenure address this tension as follows:
Promotion and tenure will generally be awarded only if the evidence shows that a candidate's research accomplishments are excellent and the candidate's teaching is also strong, or if a candidate's teaching accomplishments are excellent and the candidate's research accomplishments are also sufficiently strong to meet the requirements for promotion. It will be unusual and exceptional to award promotion and tenure merely on the basis of strong performance in only one of these areas. In every instance, the record of teaching and scholarship should be thoroughly documented, with due deference to the college and the UIUC definition of what constitutes high quality in each category. Several methods of evaluation should be used, and the record should be thorough enough to indicate not just past performance, but a high likelihood of continued excellence.
All promotion dossiers must include a summary of student evaluation questionnaires (either the forms known as ICES, for Instruction and Course Evaluation System, or an approved departmental alternative instrument) for every course taught , a personal statement on your teaching philosophy, methods, and goals and other documentary evidence. As with your statement of research goals and accomplishments, the primary use of the statement is to provide colleagues in your department and the external referees with a context in which to interpret your accomplishments.
Departments are permitted to (and do) use a range of methods to evaluate teaching quality, including peer observation, information from students, alumni, and others and evidence of student learning. Comments from ICES forms typically do not qualify, as they lack context and reviewing committees have no way to assess their weight or value.
Please bear in mind the following statement from the campus guidelines: "Strong performance in teaching cannot be simply presumed; it must be demonstrated as convincingly as measures allow."
When you become a faculty member, you will be assigned a tenure code. Normally an entering assistant professor has a tenure code of "1." This code is increased by one for each year you are employed here. When your tenure code reaches "6," you must be reviewed for promotion and tenure.
The campus mandates a formal, written third year review, and more informal reviews annually. The contents of your third year review letter are very important, and should be studied carefully and heeded. If you have questions, that is an important point at which to present them and to seek clarification.
If you have a pregnancy or adopt a child, or if you have a serious setback in your life such as a difficult health problem, it is possible to apply for a rollback in your tenure code. You should discuss this process with your department head. To provide a level playing field for all assistant professors, we strive to keep the rules-and qualification periods- consistent across campus, so tenure code rollbacks are not easily granted. However, you will not be penalized if you encounter some serious personal difficulties. Ask your department for a copy of the rollback policy or call the Office of Academic Human Resources (3-6747).
The review process takes most of an academic year. This will feel like a long year for you. You will get feedback at various points, but we know that everyone who goes through the process worries. It is not a reflection on you personally when the process takes a long time. The recommendations made by undivided colleges must wait while the cases that are going through multiple levels of review catch up with them at the campus committee. Regardless of the number of review levels, all candidates are informed by the campus at the same time (the end of the spring semester).
Your department head and/or executive committee will probably ask you to prepare some materials in the spring before your case will be presented to the campus promotion and tenure committee. Outside letters will be solicited over the summer or in the early part of the Fall Semester. Your case will be considered by the department in mid-Fall, and will be due at the college by December. (This means that school-level reviews must get sandwiched in between the department and college parts of the process.) If there are questions or problems with your case at the school or college level, you will probably know about it.
You should know when your case is approved by your college (review committee and dean). Once it leaves your college, particularly if it has already had at least two reviews, then sit back and wait. The next part of the process takes most of the Spring semester. The campus committee-comprising faculty members from diverse disciplines across the campus- reviews and discusses each case individually. The committee will take an early vote on each case: if there are problems or questions about your case, your dean (who will likely consult with your department head) will be queried and given an opportunity to respond to the committee to strengthen the case. Following that response, a second vote is taken on your case.
Tenure decisions are communicated in writing before Commencement.
The rate of tenure case turn-downs is lower than 10%. Most cases forwarded by departments succeed at subsequent levels of review. However, about one-third of entry-level faculty members leave the University prior to being considered for tenure, either because they conclude that this university or line of work is not what they were seeking, or because their department counsels them to seek other opportunities at an earlier stage.
12. I've heard that the letter at the end of the process asks me to return a form accepting the privileges and responsibilities of tenure. What's that all about?
Tenure at the University of Illinois, indeed at American universities in general, is based on principles articulated by the American Association of University Professors in 1940. Basically, academic freedom confers extensive protection for inquiry and speech, so long as the correlative responsibilities of adherence to standards of professional care, duty to the institution, and respect for the dignity of students and colleagues are met. In 1997, the University began a process of explicitly calling attention to the correlative rights and responsibilities that have always been a part of the award of tenure.
13. Are there other expectations of which I should be aware for my position at the University of Illinois?
Yes. The University has a variety of policies and procedures that apply to the way scholarly activities should be performed on our campus. These are described in the Academic Staff Handbook and are incorporated by reference into the terms of your employment here. The single most important obligation you will be assuming is a commitment to professional conduct in all aspects of your duties. Statements about the University's expectations in this regard include our policies on the responsible conduct of teaching, research and service, our academic integrity policy and our policy on observing appropriate, professional boundaries in your relationships with students. Please take the time to familiarize yourself thoroughly with these and other related policies in the Academic Staff Handbook; the manner in which you conduct your professional activities will be factored into evaluations of your progress and contributions to the University.
14. Is it possible to go up for tenure early? What if I came here from another institution with some experience already?
An assistant professor may be considered for promotion and tenure in any year before the sixth year of the probationary period. Although promotion before the sixth year may be warranted in some cases, early promotion should not be the norm; it requires evidence of truly outstanding accomplishments and unusual potential, and departments are advised to pursue such cases rarely.
On the other hand, it is possible to seek acknowledgment of prior experience and service upon initial appointment at the University. This is affected through the tenure code (1 through 6) assigned upon entry. If you believe an error has been made, it is possible to seek reconsideration through your unit head and college.
If you do a lot of collaborative research, talk with your department head about how to arrange your activities and collaborations so that you will assemble a record from which appropriate independent assessments of your achievements can be made at promotion time. This does not mean that you should not engage in collaborative research, but that you must make these arrangements with care when you are early in your professional career.
If you have a joint appointment, you should find out who is taking primary responsibility for assembling your promotion papers, and what process will be used for reviewing your case. It might be a good idea to arrange a meeting in which you and all appropriate unit heads discuss these matters and come to clear understandings among yourselves.
Most colleges have a tenure appeal process you may invoke, or you may always seek advice from the Faculty Advisory Committee, as guaranteed by the University's Statutes.
If you choose not to appeal, or if your appeal is turned down, you will receive a one-year terminal contract of employment at the University. For further information, please see the governing policy, Guidelines for Notice of Nonreappointment for Nontenured Faculty Members. Copies are available from the Office of the Provost or the Office of Academic Human Resources.
IBHE Comparison Group for UIUC
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For questions about promotion and tenure procedures, please call the Office of Academic Human Resources at 333-2759.