The tenure process at UMass

By Chance Viles

Geoff King/Daily Collegian File Photo
Geoff King/Daily Collegian File Photo

Tenure is often in the news, whether it’s a professor who just achieved the status or a professor who abuses the power, but it can be a tricky concept to understand.

Tenure is when a teacher or professor earns the contractual right not to be terminated without just cause.

At the University of Massachusetts, the tenure track takes about seven years to complete, and although not all professors have tenure, many believe it is important to their job.

The process of getting tenure involves the professor proving their contributions and additions to the University.

Reviews, recommendations and tenure summaries are collected during this time. Professors keep a portfolio of their publications and other work for the reviews, in order to strengthen their chances of getting their tenure approved.

During the second semester of the tenure candidate’s third or fourth year as a professor, a “mini-tenure” evaluation takes place, also known as the “4.2 review.” The faculty involved create a complete tenure portfolio.

In addition, all faculty members, including tenure candidates, are expected to fill out Annual Faculty Reports, known as AFR. The AFR outlines each faculty member’s individual accomplishments and contributions to the teaching system at UMass and can be used for the tenure portfolios.

Professors are considered by several levels of reviewers to decide if they are eligible for a tenure position at UMass. In this process, they are evaluated in their service, teaching and research or professional activity.

They are first reviewed by their department’s personnel committee, and are then evaluated by the department head. The personnel committee of the professor’s college evaluates them as well, followed by the Dean, the Provost and the Chancellor.

“Being a professor is a lot like being a student here. Do okay and work hard, and you will be alright” political science professor John Brigham said.

That isn’t to say that it’s easy to earn tenure.

“The (tenure) process should be fairly rigorous” Brigham said.

Journalism department member and teacher Shaheen Pasha said, “The process shouldn’t be easy. It is for someone willing to work hard.”

The evaluation includes a curriculum vitae, or an overview of the tenure candidate’s qualifications and experience. Review letters are used to strengthen a candidate’s case. The courses that the candidate has taught and the summary of those courses are also taken into consideration.

While there is no specific number of the amount of times that a candidate needs to be published in order for them to get tenure, it is suggested that they talk to former personnel committee members in order to find out what is important in the tenure evaluations. Every department’s standards are different.

While the process of achieving tenure is rigorous, Pasha believes that the benefits outweigh the difficulty.

Pasha describes tenure as “validation” of the work that professors are doing for the University, and while the process is stressful, it is worth it.

“It ensures stability,” she said.

“I want to be at UMass for a long time” Pasha added. “Every one going for tenure is going through the same thing. The process makes you part of the community.”

Pasha is also one of the first tenure candidates in the Journalism department since it left the English program, making the tenure process for Pasha unique. Pasha refers to herself as a “test case.”

While tenure has positive benefits for the professors, some say that once tenure is achieved, the teacher slows down in academic pursuits, and ultimately “slacks,” as professor John Brigham puts it. However, Brigham ultimately disagrees with this critique.

“Most people that get tenure are wired to write and research, and without tenure it would be a different university” Brigham said.

Pasha believes that the process of tenure and achieving tenure helps professors put out quality work and research, maintaining UMass’ title as a research university.

“Tenure is emphasis on scholarship,” Brigham said.

John Brigham has never seen anyone who deserved tenure be denied. According to Brigham, a rough estimate of only one out of 25 candidates don’t get tenure.

Chance Viles can be reached at [email protected]