Four Strategies to Figure out Tenure Expectations

Tis the season for faculty job searches.  In programs across the country, doctoral students are furiously sending out application materials and preparing job talks.  During the process, one question inevitably comes up and rarely gets a clear or direct answer.  “What are your institution’s expectations for tenure?”  Whether as a job candidate or as a new assistant professor, the lack of clarity around tenure expectations can be a source of constant frustration.  In today’s post, I want to provide four strategies to figure out tenure expectations for your institution.

Photo credit: Wonderlane

Most new faculty or job candidates are never told exactly what they need to do for tenure.  Few things are true for nearly all institutions and disciplines, but unclear tenure expectations seems to be a true everywhere.  Frequently, this isn’t a some sinister plot to hide information, but a fear on the part of many to offer inadequate or wrong advice.  Moreover, tenure expectations vary based on the field, methodological approaches, and other idiosyncratic factors that influence a successful tenure case.

There simply aren’t specific expectations about numbers of publications or the types of journals one should publish in during the probationary period.

So given the lack of clear expectations, how should a job candidate or new assistant professor figure out tenure expectations?  These four strategies will provide a way to clarify how to start to answer this critical question.

Ask the question

In nearly every interview, the search committee will provide an opportunity to ask questions (and even if they don’t, you should ask questions).  Even though the answer won’t be incredibly clear, you should still ask the question.  You will be able to gain some insights even in how the question is answered.

Review vita of recently tenured candidates

One of the most valuable ways to figure out tenure expectations is to review faculty that recently (within the past 2-3 years) received tenure in your department.  This provides specific records to consider in thinking about expectations of those who have been successful in the past.

Review vita of recently tenured candidates at peer institutions in your field.

If your department hasn’t tenured anyone recently, the next best source of information is to look at vitas of faculty recently tenured at peer institutions.  In addition, you can examine recently tenured candidates at institutions where senior faculty in your department used to work.  This can provide some evidence of records that your senior colleagues are used to reviewing.

Set your own goals for tenure and seek feedback.

In the event that you’re in a specialized field or a new department, you may not be able to find comparable tenure cases to review.  In this event, develop your own set of goals for tenure.  Once you make your best guess of expectations and your own goals, approach your colleagues and seek their feedback.  While less ideal, this can at least give you a target along with useful feedback regarding the appropriateness of your goals.

Keep at it!

It is so hard to find a tenure track job these days, don’t let the lack of clarity get you down.  You can work through these four strategies to provide some examples for yourself.  Hopefully, this provides a better understanding of what you need to do for tenure and successful launch your academic career.