Promotion and Tenure FAQs

Promotion and Tenure Process and Procedure

What is the promotion and tenure process at Illinois?

Sometime near the end of your fifth year on campus or in the beginning of your sixth year, your home department will begin to assemble a dossier to present your case for promotion and tenure. You will be asked to contribute descriptive information and narratives about your work. You will also be asked to suggest several external referees who can be requested to evaluate your work. Your department will write evaluations of your work. For a full description of the dossier’s components, see Provost Communication #9: Promotion and Tenure.  

Your home department will evaluate and if approved, transmit your dossier to the next administrative level. The by-laws or other official documents in your department should describe the procedures. Your department head will also submit a statement evaluating and commenting on the case. Your case must pass through the review successfully to continue in the process.  

Each succeeding administrative level will conduct its own review. The final decision on tenure is always the responsibility of the Provost, with advice from the Campus Promotion and Tenure Committee. Once the Provost has formulated their recommendations, they are forwarded to the Board of Trustees, which offers the formal appointment.  

Each case is reviewed by at least two levels. There are fewer steps in the review process in undivided units, like the College of Law, School of Social Work, School of Labor and Employment Relations, and the School of Information Sciences, which have no internal departments. In those units, your college and then the campus committee will conduct the review.  

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. The promotion and tenure policy summarizes the nature of the review above the department:  

Promotion and tenure committees above the level of a candidate’s unit judge how well the case has been made either for the granting of indefinite tenure or promotion. In general, these committees do not evaluate the specific work itself; this is done by the external referees and faculty members of the unit(s) in which the candidate’s appointment lies. 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 determines the ultimate outcome (Page 4) 

This process is described in the campus policy on promotion and tenure document, Provost Communication #9: Promotion and Tenure. You should be able to obtain a copy from your department. If they do not have one, you can get one from the Office of the Provost’s website.

How long do I have to prove myself?

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 at Illinois. The process for processing and reviewing your dossier for promotion and tenure commences at the end of your tenure code “5” year. 

How am I reviewed before I come up for tenure and promotion?

The campus mandates annual reviews at the department level (see Provost Communication #21: Annual Faculty Review) as well as a formal, written third year review (see Provost Communication #13: Review of Faculty in Year Three of the Probationary Period). Individual colleges may also provide specific guidelines for faculty reviews. You should receive additional information from your unit regarding its guidelines for third-year and annual reviews. The contents of your third-year review letter are very important, and should be studied carefully and discussed thoroughly by you with your unit executive officer or their designee. It is important to pay close attention to any recommendations from the third year review letter. If you have questions, this is a critical point in your tenure process at which to present your concerns and to seek clarification.

Of my research, teaching, and service activities, which areas carry the most weight as I am considered for promotion and tenure?

Promotion and tenure decisions involve a holistic evaluation of not only your past performance since your hiring or your last promotion at Illinois, but also the likelihood of your continued excellence in your discipline area. The University is committed to excellence in research, teaching, and service but we also recognize that it is rare for an individual case to achieve equal excellence in all three domains. For most faculty members, the primary basis for promotion and tenure will be the faculty candidate’s record of research and teaching, with consideration also being given to their service activities. In these cases, promotion and tenure will generally be awarded only if there is evidence of excellent research accomplishments and a strong record of teaching and service. However, it may also be that excellence in teaching and service activities will meet the requirements for promotion and tenure as long as the faculty candidate’s research accomplishments are sufficiently strong.

Can I get more time to build my record?

To provide a level playing field for all assistant professors, we strive to keep the rules and qualification periods consistent across campus. Different life circumstances may arise that can interrupt your ability to pursue your scholarly activities at Illinois.  For example, your research may be delayed due to unforeseen situations beyond your control such as grave administrative errors or a lack of access to facilities and laboratory space. You may also experience  a serious setback in your life while dealing with a difficult health problem that requires significant time away from your duties at the university (e.g., caring for family members or managing a personal illness). Your work might also be affected by the birth or adoption of a child under 6 years old. When you are faced with any of these unusual or compelling circumstances, it is possible to apply for a rollback in your tenure code. You will not be penalized if you take a tenure rollback due to serious personal difficulties.  

It is important for you to discuss this process with your unit executive officer. Take time to review Provost Communication #16: Policy on Interruptions of the Probationary Period (Tenure Code Rollbacks) and/or contact the Illinois Human Resources for additional questions. 

How long does the review process take?

The review process takes most of an academic year. Your department head and/or executive committee will probably ask you to prepare some materials in the Spring semester during your tenure code “5” year, to begin the P&T evaluation process. 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 during your tenure code “6” year, and will be due at the college by November of that same year. This means that school-level reviews, where applicable, must be 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, it is likely you will know.  

Once your case is approved by your college (i.e., P&T review committee and dean), it moves to the campus P&T committee. The next part of the process takes most of the Spring Semester. The campus P&T committee, comprising of faculty members from diverse disciplines from across the entire campus, reviews and discusses each case individually. If there are 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 address their concerns. Following that response, a vote is taken on your case.  

This will feel like a long year for you. We know that everyone who goes through the process worries. You will receive feedback at various points. It is not a reflection on you personally when the process takes a long time.

Is it true that I can pick individuals who can serve as external evaluators for my promotion and tenure dossier?

Yes, as a faculty candidate being considered for promotion and tenure, you may submit names of external evaluators to your unit executive officer or their designee for their consideration. To maintain a degree of privacy to the potential reviewers, the list of external evaluators you submit to your unit should include 4-8 names. Note that your unit will select the final list of external evaluators and that the majority of names they select will come from their list, rather than your nominations. 

You may also ask your EO to request a collaborator letter if you are engaged in team research. It is important to remember that there is no guarantee that the names you submit will be the ones your department will select or complete the evaluation of your dossier.

When will I know whether I get tenure?

The Provost’s recommendations on promotion and tenure decisions are typically communicated to the Dean of your college before Spring Commencement. The Board of Trustees will review the Provost’s recommendations and notify you of the official award during the summer. 

At what rate do entering faculty members attain tenure at Illinois?

The success rate of achieving tenure at Illinois is over 90%. The vast majority of 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 their department counsels them to seek other opportunities at an earlier stage, or they are recruited to other institutions. 

I have heard that the letter at the end of the process asks me to return a form accepting the privileges and responsibilities of tenure. What is 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. 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 tenure.

Are there other expectations of which I should be aware for my position at Illinois?

Yes. The University has a variety of policies and procedures (e.g., University Statutes, Campus Administrative Manual, and the Faculty Policy Guide) that apply to the way scholarly activities should be performed on our campus. Additionally, each college and department describes policies and procedures specific to their unit and discipline. 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 (see Professional Conduct & Policies); our Academic Integrity Policies; and our policy on observing appropriate, professional boundaries in your relationships with students (see the Student Code and Campus Administrative Manual). Please take the time to familiarize yourself thoroughly with these and other related policies.

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. Promotion before the sixth year requires evidence of teaching, research, and service accomplishments commensurate with sixth year promotion standards. Unsuccessful faculty candidates for early promotion and tenure may be reviewed again at the normal schedule but an entirely new set of external letters must be sought for the second tenure and promotion review.  

It is also possible to seek acknowledgment of prior experience and service upon initial appointment at the University. This is affected through the tenure code (1-6) assigned upon entry. If you believe an error has been made, it is possible to seek reconsideration through your unit head and college. If the case is for promotion to associate professor, the faculty candidate’s research statement may certainly include work as an assistant professor at another institution. 

If I have a joint appointment, how will my case be evaluated?

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 (see Provost Communication #23: Appointment and Review of Faculty Members with Budgeted Joint Appointments). It is 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. A zero-time appointment with another department is not considered a joint appointment. 

What happens if my tenure case is turned down?

Tenure appeal processes exist at every level of review. Provost Communication #10: Guidelines for Notice of Nonreappointment for Nontenured Faculty Members provides guidance about the general process. Each college has a tenure appeal process you may invoke. 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 Provost’s Communication #10. Copies are available from the Office of the Provost or Illinois Human Resources.  

Contributions to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Will I be penalized for not doing DEI work?

The statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion activities will be optional for faculty candidates through AY 2024-2025, after which the Provost will move to make it a requirement. Prior to that time, faculty candidates may choose to prepare the section to highlight their contributions, and units may consider those activities as part of their evaluations. During this period, a faculty candidate who chooses not to prepare the statement faces no penalty or negative inference from this decision. 

It will be helpful for faculty members to prepare DEI statements as part of their annual review so they can think about what activities they are already doing around DEI and plan what they will do in the future. For faculty members who are currently heavily engaged in DEI efforts, this is an opportunity to share what they have been doing, as well as plan future work. DEI efforts will be considered as a strength in the evaluation process. Eventually, all faculty members will be expected to make DEI efforts, and these will be part of the evaluation process. 

What if my research is an area that is not relevant to DEI?

Regardless of their area of expertise, all faculty members are expected to make efforts toward enhancing DEI. However, there is absolutely no expectation for faculty members to change their scholarship. They can make contributions related to their scholarly expertise and/or role as an instructor or administrator at the University.   

There are many ways to make DEI efforts—for example, integrating work by scholars from groups historically marginalized or underrepresented in the field into your curriculum, including and effectively mentoring undergraduate and graduate students from diverse cultural backgrounds in your research group, and attending workshops to develop your DEI work in the context of teaching so that it is more effective.  

How individual faculty members decide to make efforts toward enhancing DEI will vary. The Guide to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Work in the Promotion and Tenure Process provides a number of examples of how faculty members may contribute to DEI in their research, teaching, and service. 

What is a “good” DEI statement? Are examples available?

There are a variety of ways faculty members can write the DEI statement. What makes the DEI statement effective will depend on the faculty member’s unique DEI efforts. The Office of the Provost offers workshops for Assistant and Associate Professors on writing effective DEI statements. We hope to make examples available as part of these workshops. We also provide additional guidance and resources for writing DEI statements in the Guide to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Work in the Promotion and Tenure Process. 

Team and Interdisciplinary Research

Is team research and/or interdisciplinary research a requirement now?

Team and interdisciplinary research is not expected or required for promotion and tenure. Involvement in such research is a decision that revolves around each faculty member’s unique research questions, expertise, and disposition. The University promotion and tenure guidelines have been designed to recognize a variety of approaches to conducting research—for example, both individual and team research as well as research within a single specialty field and across disciplines.

If I am involved in team research, is the letter from someone on my team required? Can I have more than one letter?

The letter is always optional. The goal of the letter from someone on the team is to help the promotion and tenure committee understand the faculty candidate’s unique contribution to the collaborative research so they may receive the recognition they deserve for their work. Decisions as to whether to request a letter from a team member should be made by faculty candidates in collaboration with unit executive officers, as well as other mentors. There is no restriction on the number of letters, but a useful heuristic is to have one letter from each team with which the faculty candidate was substantially involved.

For team research, does the letter from a team member describing the faculty candidate’s role in the project need to be from a senior scholar? What if the team is composed of all junior people? Can the letter be from someone outside the University of Illinois?  

Since the letter is informative, rather than evaluative, it can be from a junior peer. However, when there is a senior team member who is appropriate, they may be a better choice as their stature in the field may give the letter more weight. The letter can be from a team member who is at the University of Illinois or at another institution—it should be from a team member well suited to provide information on the faculty candidate’s unique contribution. As you begin to consider potential reviewers to comment on your team research, it is important to involve your unit’s executive officer or their designee in the process. 

Public Engagement

Is public engagement required for all faculty members? What if it is a component and not a focus of my research, will I still get credit?

Although public engagement is important to the land grant mission of the University, it is not expected or required of all faculty members. The University promotion and tenure guidelines provide an opportunity for faculty members to document their public engagement contributions so that they can be appropriately recognized in the evaluation process. For some faculty members, public engagement is a major focus of their research. As a consequence, unique evaluation metrics (e.g., letters from external evaluators outside of academia) are sometimes necessary to gauge the impact of their work on society. In such cases, the public engagement research option may be useful (see the Public Engagement Research Option Guide). For other faculty members, some of their research may be publicly engaged, but they may decide not to take the public engagement research option as it is not a good fit with their research program. However, they should still document their publicly engaged research in their dossier so they may receive credit for it. They can do so by discussing it in their research statement as well as listing any publicly engaged products in the appropriate sections of the research portion of the dossier.

Do I need to discuss my public engagement activities in my service portion of the dossier?

You should list all your public engagement activities in the relevant portions of the dossier. Often, public engagement activities will fall under service. However, faculty members are also involved in publicly engaged research and teaching. Thus, some public engagement activities may go in these sections, although each activity can be listed only once in the dossier.

The new service statement is optional, but if you are involved in publicly engaged service, or other types of service, this is a useful place to share this work with evaluators so they can fully understand your efforts. The service statement can be up to three pages, but for many people it may be one page or even shorter.

My scholarly work is primarily publicly engaged research, how will that body of work be considered when I go up for promotion and tenure?

Beginning in faculty members’ first year at Illinois until the year before they submit their promotion dossier, faculty members can indicate that their research involves a significant public engagement focus by taking the Public Engagement Research Option (PERO; for more information on this option, see the Public Engagement Research Option Guide). The decision about whether to do so should be made by the faculty candidate in collaboration with their unit executive officer as early as possible.  

The Public Engagement Research Option Guide provides information that can help faculty members and unit executive officers in making the decision as to whether PERO is a good fit. Faculty members and unit executive officers may also seek additional guidance from leadership at the school, college, or university level. The earlier faculty members can make the decision, the better. Making the decision early allows faculty members to develop a plan with unit executive officers for what success will look like and how it should be evaluated which can serve as a guide for faculty members as they carry out their publicly engaged research.

Why might faculty members who do publicly engaged research want to have external evaluators from outside academia?

As indicated in Provost Communication #9: Promotion and Tenure, for faculty members opting into PERO, up to two of the five required letters from external evaluators may be from experts outside of academia who can objectively evaluate the societal impact of the faculty candidate’s publicly engaged research (see Communication #9 and the Public Engagement Research Option Guide). A key reason to include such letters as part of the evaluation, is that the aim of publicly engaged research is to transfer knowledge to the public to build sustainable capacity for the public good. Thus, it is important to identify the societal impact of publicly engaged research for which experts outside of academia may be best situated.

Teaching, Learning, and Student Mentoring

How will my teaching be assessed?

The new system of teaching evaluation at Illinois establishes a set of campus-wide criteria that define high-quality instruction and course design. Your unit will use routine and systematic input from student evaluations, peer reviews, and your own self-evaluations in holistic reviews to evaluate your personal progress towards meeting those criteria. You will also be given opportunity to document a broad set of contributions to teaching and learning outside the classroom, and your unit will evaluate that work in the context of norms and expectations in your discipline. Details about teaching evaluation may be found in the Provost Communication #9: Promotion and Tenure document.  

Is ICES going away? If so, can I stop using it now for my courses?

Eventually we plan to have a new Student Feedback Survey. However, any new system will take some time to put in place. Meanwhile we will still use the current ICES system, but Provost Communication #9: Promotion and Tenure now states that units should not use the low/high ratings for the global scores, since those compare instructors to one another on the basis of a numerical score that is likely to have some bias. 

Since the new student feedback system isn’t available, will we just use the old longitudinal ICES report for the P&T dossier?

For the years before the new student feedback system comes online, student input for teaching evaluation in the P&T process will still be documented with a longitudinal ICES report. However, the new system of teaching evaluation will not compare instructors directly to each other on metrics like ICES scores that are likely biased against some instructors. Thus, the longitudinal ICES report should not include any low-medium-high ratings. 

Will student ratings be given the same weight as the peer review when evaluating my dossier?

Students and peers are experts at different things. Student feedback will be most useful at capturing things like the students’ experiences learning the course content and managing class activities and assignments, while peer review will be most useful for identifying whether the course materials like instructional materials and assignments are appropriate for the topic and level of the course. Both kinds of feedback play important – but different – roles in the teaching evaluation system.

How does the revised teaching evaluation guidelines address instructors? How is student hostility a towards the faculty member addressed within the new evaluation system?

The new teaching evaluation system makes several changes to address problems faced by instructors, particularly for those who identify as members of traditionally underrepresented and historically marginalized groups in academia. It phases out the global 1-5 ratings in ICES because research shows those can be biased against instructors particularly those from marginalized groups (e.g., women faculty in STEM, international faculty, faculty of color, etc.). The new system elevates instructor self-evaluation to consider alongside student and peer evaluations, so instructors can provide additional context for student ratings, for example. The system provides a new structure to document and reward previously under-appreciated labor such as informal mentoring that often falls on the shoulders of instructors from marginalized groups. Finally, units are directed to evaluate instructors on the basis of their growth and accomplishment of concrete standards rather than comparing them directly to other instructors on the basis of a potentially biased metric.