If you are around academia or interested in a career there, then you have probably heard the term "tenure track." But what does it mean? And more importantly, what does it mean for you?
In this blog post, we will discuss the ins and outs of tenure track positions in academia. We will answer common questions such as "what is the difference between tenure track and non-tenure track?" and "how do I know if I am on track for tenure?" If you are considering a career in academia, then this blog post is for you!
What is a tenured track position?
A tenure-track position is a position at a college or university that comes with the guarantee of tenure. Tenure is a form of job security that protects professors from being fired except in cases of misconduct or poor performance. In order to be granted tenure, professors must undergo a rigorous review process that includes an evaluation of their teaching, research, and service to the institution.
Once tenure is granted, professors are typically given greater freedom to pursue their academic interests without fear of losing their job. While the tenure system has been criticized for making it difficult to remove poor teachers from the classroom, it also ensures that professors can freely express their ideas without fear of reprisal.
What does getting tenure mean?
Tenure is a system that is used in order to protect professors from being fired from their jobs due to extenuating circumstances such as political pressure or personal beliefs. In order to obtain tenure, a professor must first complete a probationary period, during which their teaching and research abilities are evaluated by their peers.
If the professor is deemed to be competent, they are then granted tenure, which gives them lifelong employment at the university. While tenure does provide some security for professors, it also comes with a number of responsibilities, such as mentoring junior faculty members and participating in departmental committees. Additionally, tenure-track professors often have little time for outside pursuits such as consulting or writing books, as they are expected to focus on their jobs.
For many people, tenure is an important step in their career that allows them to pursue their passion for teaching and research without worrying about losing their job. However, tenure is not and never has been bulletproof, and high profile cases of people losing tenure are all around us.
Does an assistant professor have tenure?
Usually, no. The only people with tenure will be labeled as full professors. Any other faculty member, especially those at assistant professor or associate professor level, does not have tenure. They may have a "tenure track job" but that doesn't mean that they have ultimate academic freedom quite yet.
The levels for faculty members go assistant, then associate professor, then full professor. These academic positions are becoming rarer at universities and in higher education. Anti-union laws and sentiments have pushed for contracts with university professors, especially at public universities, that have eroded the rights of a tenure track faculty member.
Who are tenured professors?
The percentage of women as tenured faculty have increased since 1991 in all categories of employment, but women are still less likely to be full tenured faculty members than men. This pattern holds true for BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
There are a lot of reasons why tenure track positions are out of reach for people who are not straight, cisgender, white men. First off, implicit bias can influence both hiring and retention. Second, women are expected to take on more tasks at home, even if they are working long hours as faculty members. This results in more family and medical leave, and possible delays in academic tenure.
Non-tenure track faculty are more likely to be women than men. While not quite adjuncts, these positions don't come with as many benefits as tenure track positions. These could be lab managers, senior researchers, or simply instructor positions that do not follow the tenure track system.
Women in tenured positions OR non-tenured positions only make about 80% of what men in similar positions make. This results in a substantial gap over lifetime employment. Despite efforts at nonbiased training, it's clear that equity in faculty positions has a long way to go.
What is tenure review?
For faculty members, tenure is the gold standard. It is a mark of recognition that you have not only achieved excellence in your field, but that you are also a valuable member of the university community. The process of achieving tenure can be long and challenging, but it is well worth the effort.
The first step is to undergo a rigorous review of your research, teaching, and service record. This review is conducted by your departmental faculty members (colleagues), as well as experts from outside the university. If you are successful in this review, you will then be considered for tenure by the university's Board of Trustees.
The final decision rests with the Board, but the input of your department and colleagues is essential in making their decision. Tenured professors enjoy many benefits, including job security and a greater say in university governance. They also have more freedom to pursue their research without worrying about funding or job security. For many faculty members, tenure is the culmination of a lifelong dream.
Will tenure track positions be around forever?
Academics have been sounding the alarm bells about tenure track faculty for a while now. The adjunctification of the professoriate is well underway, as more and more universities move to hiring non-tenure track faculty. This could be in response to financial pressure from state legislatures or simply a desire to cut costs.
Faculty members are quick to point out - and rightfully so - that the cost of education has increased dramatically. Not because of faculty benefits, but instead because of middle management and governance at colleges and universities. Universities choose to cut costs in teaching, and not in administration.
The future of tenure track positions is uncertain, but what is certain is that the number of these positions will continue to shrink. As a result, Ph.D. programs should be training their graduate students for alternatives to an academic career. A tenure track job may not be available to all recent graduates.
Should you consider a tenure track position?
Like many graduate students, I figured I would end up in higher education. While I do adjunct for some side cash, I chose the nonprofit world instead. I have academic freedom, I choose my own hours within reason, and I'm not expected to work more than 35 hours a week.
What you do is ultimately up to you. But there are ways to do research without being a research professor. So don't be afraid to explore.