Exponent Explains: The path to tenure

As a research institute, tenure at Montana State University is a highly regarded title. The award of tenure aims to allow faculty members to practice creativity in their field without fear of termination. Those eligible for tenure are instructors, assistant professors, associate professors and professors. After six years of employment, a faculty member with any of the above titles are able to apply for university tenure. This six year period, however, does not imply or ensure tenure.

Once a faculty member passes the time requirement, they must submit a “dossier” for review. These dossiers are similar to that of an extremely in-depth resume. As mandated by the university, dossiers must contain 12 major components, the latter eight of which must be submitted by the applicant. Included in this eight are items such as a self-evaluation, university research history, a curriculum vitae, student evaluations and similar components. As stated in the MSU Faculty Handbook, a dossier should “represent his or her best efforts to advance [their] discipline or profession.”

The first four components: review documents, external review, in-depth assessments and internal review, are completed by the University Promotion and Tenure Committee (UPTC) who meet semi-annually in the fall and spring. The committee’s voting members consist of the chair of the Faculty Affairs Committee of the Faculty Senate, David Singel, assistant provost, and one representative from each college, as well as from the Extension Service and Libraries.

Tenured professors and associate professors may be appointed to the committee through a process set by each college’s dean or the acting provost. The most common process on campus is an election, opposed to an appointment. If elected to the UPTC the delegate serves a three-year term before stepping down. Each college operates their elections on a separate schedule, resulting in a slightly different committee each year rather than a completely different one every three. Those who have served on the committee may do so again, but serving consecutive terms is not permitted.

The UPTC is not only responsible for reviewing new tenure applications, but also approves faculty promotions and reviews tenure appeals as well. Committee members may not apply for additional tenure or promotion during their term to prevent a conflict of interest.

Given that a candidate’s dossier is approved by the UTCP, he or she will be granted a temporary tenured status until final approval is made by the MSU president. At any point during the tenure application process the president may request to send the application back to a lower level of review if he or she feels the previous review was inadequate. This executive intervention is incredibly rare, and dossiers approved by the UTCP are almost never rejected by the president.

Although the path to tenure is a lengthy one, MSU encourages all possible applicants for tenure to apply at their eighth year mark of employment. Faculty members who have been present for eight years are generally qualified to complete the dossier requirements whether they have been aiming for tenure or not.