When a university revises its tenure and promotion code, faculty hired before the revisions should be evaluated according to the policy in place at the time they were hired. I have been indirectly involved in two such modification efforts. When the tenure code changed, the old code was used for faculty hired when it was in place, and the new code applied only to new hires, at least for the tenure evaluation.
Official tenure and promotion codes, however, don't contain much useful information about what the actual standards are for tenure and promotion in a particular department or academic discipline. You may learn some useful information from the official code -- for example, do you have to develop an international reputation for one or both promotion stages, or is a national reputation considered sufficient? -- but for the actual standards in terms of research, teaching, and service "metrics", you should consult the department chair, a mentor, or other senior faculty. In fact, in the changed tenure codes I just mentioned, the differences were so subtle, most of us had to be shown the changes (by an administratively savvy colleague) to detect the difference.
The criteria for tenure might seem mysterious to some, but there is a specific time by which the tenure evaluation must occur. Promotion from associate professor to professor, however, is more murky in terms of time and possibly also in terms of criteria of evaluation.
Last year I wrote about why some professors may spend their post-tenure careers as so-called terminal associates (associate professors who are never promoted to professor). When I wrote about terminal associates last year, I was surprised that some people prefer to be terminal associates, believing that they will do less service work at this level than as full professors, so I should add "by choice" to my list of reasons for terminal associateness.
One of the reasons I mused about involved syn-career changes in standards for promotion. I have no idea how many terminal associates remain unpromoted for this reason. That is, how many cases involve raised standards for promotion and:
1. an increase (but an insufficient one) over time in research productivity (however that is measured);
2. a plateau in research productivity compared to at the time of tenure (no increase or decrease); or
3. a decrease in research productivity compared to at the time of tenure?
There is surely no way to tell, but it is the first two cases that are relevant to this discussion.
At least with associate professors, there is (in theory) time to ramp up a research program to meet raised standards, without fear of losing your job entirely.
That's not easy, of course. If there is a gap in your funding record or a lull in graduate student recruitment, it can be exceedingly difficult, and maybe even impossible, to get a research program back on track, much less take it to a more active level. And if you are already active in research but are somehow expected to bring in more grants, that may not be humanly possible in some fields.
I don't think it is in a department's interest to have terminal associates. At different universities, I have seen a number of cases in which there was a concerted effort on the part of a department chair to jump-start an associate professor's lagging research program. These efforts have included providing time off from teaching and/or even some research funds or commitment of cost-shares for proposals or research assistants.
Of course there are also situations in which a department chair is so disappointed with an apparently terminal associate that there is no effort to help them, and instead the associate professor is assigned additional teaching or service responsibilities. I think that is quite fair, but ideally would only be resorted to after an attempt to help someone who wants assistance revising or revving up research activities.
Promotion to full professor at a research university should be a natural progression for someone who builds their research program over time, successfully advises students in research, and participates in teaching (and does it reasonably well) and service (institutional and professional). It should not be a step reserved only for those who work 80 hours/week for a decade or more and who are insanely productive in terms of papers, grants, or whatever else is valued in their field. Nevertheless, it should (and, I think in most cases, does) recognize a fairly high level of research, teaching, and service; the very things we are hired to do, and that, in some ways, become easier to do at the mid-career stage.
I experienced a raised tenure bar because I moved to a different university, not because standards changed at a particular university. Also, my assistant professor to full professor transition years occurred in the mid-90's to early-2000's, a time at which there were not dramatic changes in standards, at least not in my field or university.
Does anyone want to put dates on the most likely time for an associate professor to remain stalled owing to changes in standards rather to a decrease in research activity by the individual? To the extent that I believe this might be a factor, and in part for the sake of discussion, I propose that those hired as faculty at research universities pre-1985(ish) have experienced the most dramatic changes in tenure and promotion standards. Discuss?!
6 years ago