Communication #9: Promotion & Tenure
Frequently Asked Questions


Updated June 2018

  1. What is the promotion and tenure process at Illinois?
  2. What can I do to maximize my chances of gaining tenure here?
  3. What do reviewing committees look for in a dossier?
  4. What is more important, teaching, research or service?
  5. How will my teaching be assessed?
  6. How long do I have to prove myself?
  7. How am I reviewed before I come up for tenure and promotion?
  8. Can I get more time to build my record?
  9. How long does the review process take?
  10. When will I know whether I get tenure?
  11. At what rate do entering faculty attain tenure at Illinois?
  12. 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?
  13. Are there other expectations of which I should be aware for my position at Illinois?
  14. Is it possible to go up for tenure early? What if I came here from another institution with some experience already?
  15. How will collaborative work be evaluated?
  16. If I have a joint appointment, how will my case be evaluated?
  17. What happens if my tenure case is turned down?

1. 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 asked to evaluate your work. Your department will write evaluations of your work. Your department head will also submit a statement evaluating and commenting on the case. For a full description of the dossier’s components, see Provost Communication #9: Promotion and Tenure.

Your home department will evaluate and transmit your dossier to the next administrative level. The by-laws or other official documents in your department should describe the procedures. 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 his or her 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, University Library, and the School of Information Sciences, which have no internal departments. In those units, your college and then the campus committee will review you.

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. Above the level of your home department, promotion and tenure committees judge the strengths of the case for granting tenure. In general, they do not evaluate your work specifically – the external referees and the faculty in your department do that. 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 determines the final outcome.

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.

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2. What can I do to maximize my chances of gaining tenure here?

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:

  1. Evidence of distinction and accomplishment in your field;
  2. Promise for continuous and high quality productivity:
  3. An assessment that your promotion will be in the best interests of the

Illinois is a university with global recognition. Therefore, faculty 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 service-oriented, you should focus on 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 substantiation of a commitment to quality teaching and evidence of your distinction and visibility as a scholar in your field. Consult with your unit head for advice about the best way to demonstrate your achievements that committees can assess.

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3. What do reviewing committees look for in a dossier?

Review committees at different levels may be looking for different things.

Within Your Unit: Departments and disciplines vary (within institutionally set boundaries) in what they seek in a successful case. Different fields have different research cultures and patterns of publication that affect expectations about the quantity and type of research. Your unit head and/or senior faculty within your department should provide you with information about standards and expectations at the unit level.

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 or participate in those venues. It is highly desirable to assure that, at the time of 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.

The campus P&T committee: The committee will review your tenure dossier seeking evidence of scholarly distinction. Contrary to popular belief, this does not involve counting papers and awarding tenure to those with the highest numbers. It does involve an assessment of whether your record demonstrates a 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 topic will not necessarily be viewed favorably by a promotion and tenure review committee.

The review 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 quality will outweigh glowing letters from scholars who are not very well known or regarded. You and your unit head should devote significant thought to developing an appropriate pool of referees. Please pay special heed to the admonitions of Provost Communication #9: Promotion and Tenure and do not request or suggest letters from collaborators, former professors, or other people who could possibly be viewed as having a conflict of interest in your case. Letters from persons of lower rank than you are seeking should not be solicited. 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.

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4. What is more important, teaching, research or service?

All of them are important.

The campus guidelines on promotion and tenure address these expectations as follows:

“For most faculty members, the primary basis for promotion and tenure will be evidence of the high quality of both teaching and research, with consideration also being given to evidence of valuable public engagement or service to the University and professional communities. This University is committed to excellence in all of these areas, but we recognize that equal excellence in each of them in individual cases is rare. 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 and/or public engagement record is also strong or if a candidate’s teaching or public engagement 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 based on strong performance in only one of these areas. In every instance, the record of teaching, public engagement and scholarship should be thoroughly documented, with due deference to the college and the campus 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.”

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 high 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 integration of research and service.

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5. How will my teaching be assessed?

All promotion dossiers must include a summary of student evaluation questionnaires (either the forms known as ICES or 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 teaching statement is to provide colleagues in your department and the external referees with a context in which to interpret your accomplishments.

Departments use multiple methods to evaluate teaching quality, including peer observation, information from students, alumni, and other quantitative and qualitative evidence of student learning. Individual student comments from ICES forms typically do not qualify as they lack context and reviewing committees have no way to assess their weight or value.

In sum, campus guidelines remind us that, “Strong performance in teaching cannot be simply presumed; it must be demonstrated as convincingly as measures allow.”

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6. 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. When your tenure code reaches “6,” you must be reviewed for promotion and tenure.

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

The campus mandates annual reviews at the department level 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 college regarding their 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. It is important to pay close attention to any recommendations from the third year review letter. If you have questions, this is an important point in your tenure process at which to present your concerns and to seek clarification.

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8. Can I get more time to build my record?

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 unit head. To provide a level playing field for all assistant professors, we strive to keep the rules and qualification periods consistent across campus. You will not be penalized if you take a rollback due to serious personal difficulties. Take time to review Provost Communication #16: Policy on Interruptions of the Probationary Period (Tenure Code Rollbacks) and/or contact the Office of Human Resources, for additional questions.

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9. How long does the review process take?

The review process takes most of an academic year. 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.

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 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 (review committee and dean), it moves to the campus committee. The next part of the process takes most of the Spring Semester. The campus committee, comprising of faculty members from diverse disciplines across the 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.

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10. When will I know whether I get tenure?

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

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11. At what rate do entering faculty attain tenure at Illinois?

The rate of tenure case turndowns 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.

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12. 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.

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13. 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 also describe 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; our academic integrity policy; and our policy on observing appropriate, professional boundaries in your relationships with students (see the Student Code). Please take the time to familiarize yourself thoroughly with these and other related policies.

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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 clear evidence of teaching, research, and service accomplishments commensurate with sixth year promotion standards. The executive officer’s comments should include an explanation of why early promotion is in the best interest of the University. Unsuccessful 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. Departments should proceed cautiously in considering such cases and 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 the case is for promotion to associate professor, the candidate’s research statement may certainly include work as an assistant professor at another institution.

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15. How will collaborative work be evaluated?

Norms about collaborative work vary across departments and disciplines. If you engage in collaborative research, talk with your department head about how to arrange your activities so that those reviewing your materials at tenure time can identify your independent contributions to these collaborations. 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.

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16. 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 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.

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17. 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 the Office of Human Resources.

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