Tenure grants a professor permanent employment at their university and protects them from being fired without cause. The concept is closely tied to academic freedom, as the security of tenure allows professors to research and teach any topic—even controversial ones.
The tenure track is a professor’s pathway to promotion and academic job security. It’s the process by which an assistant professor becomes and an associate professor and then a professor. The tenure track exists in most American and Canada universities, however, not all teaching and research positions at these institutions are on tenure track. An assistant professorship is the entry-level tenure-track position; lecturers and adjuncts are not on the tenure-track.
The Tenure Review Process
A professor who is on the tenure track is expected to go up for a tenure review 6 years after starting the position. The tenure review evaluates a professor’s contributions in three areas: research, teaching, and service to the university. Before the review process starts, the professor has to put together a tenure dossier. The dossier typically includes a CV, list of publications, comprehensive teaching portfolio, tenure statement, list of awards and grants, and details of university service. The departmental tenure committee will also solicit five to ten external letters of review from prominent senior scholars in the field. The external reviewers will evaluate the professor’s work and impact on the field to make a recommendation about whether they should be awarded tenure.
Once the external letters of review have been received, the departmental tenure committee will review the dossier and the department head make a recommendation on the tenure application. Next, the tenure dossier will go to the dean of the faculty, then the campus committee, and ultimately the provost who will make the tenure decision. If the professor is awarded tenure, they are also usually promoted to associate professor. Five to seven years after receiving tenure, an associate professor will go up for another review after which they are promoted to full professor.
Tenure in Europe
For many years, the concept of tenure as it pertains to job security, academic freedom, and career progression was a hallmark of American and Canadian universities, while professors in many European countries earned permanent positions as a result of their civil servant status. In the last two decades, many European countries have started creating tenure-track systems that more closely mimic the North American version to attract international talent and improve job security. Tenure-track positions, meaning fixed-term contracts that offer the possibility of permanent employment at a higher level after evaluation, now exist in Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium. The tenure tracks in these countries have been set up in one of two ways. Either a completely new tenure-track assistant professor position has been created (such as in Sweden and Finland) or a tenure-track option has been added to the current position at the assistant professor level (such as in Italy or the Netherlands). As a result, many countries have a mix of old and new systems.