What Are the Different Types of Tenure Tracks?

N. Swensson

Tenure tracks are career paths in a higher education institution that lead to full-time, permanent positions as professors and differ from non-tenure tracks that are renegotiated on a regular basis. These jobs are guaranteed, and a tenured professor cannot usually be fired or laid off, except in the most extreme circumstances, such as when an entire academic department is eliminated from a university. Most new hires begin tenure tracks as assistant professors and then progress to associate professors and eventually become full professors. In many universities, assistant professors are expected to meet a certain number of teaching and research targets, and progress is reviewed before a promotion is granted to associate and eventually full professor. Although full professors achieve tenure and the associated job security, not all tenure tracks lead to guaranteed positions, and assistant professors can be fired if they do not meet expectations.

Instructors who write books and publish studies have a greater chance of earning tenure than those who do not.
Instructors who write books and publish studies have a greater chance of earning tenure than those who do not.

Newly hired professors begin tenure tracks on a probationary basis, and their progress is reviewed on a predetermined schedule. Often, they are hired for a one- to three-year initial contract, which specifies goals that the professor will need to achieve in the areas of teaching and research. After the initial appointment, the assistant professor's progress will be reviewed by a board composed of the head of the academic department, called the department chair, and other faculty in the department. The review board assesses the assistant professor's progress and decides whether to renew or terminate the contract.

Tenured professors generally have more academic freedom.
Tenured professors generally have more academic freedom.

Contracts for tenure tracks may be renewed for a second assistant professorship, or a new contract may be offered for a position as associate professor. Often, a faculty member is tenured upon the promotion to associate professor. The associate will typically be reviewed in another designated time period, usually several years, to assess whether a promotion to full professor is appropriate. This review is similar to the one for assistant professors and assesses teaching scores, published research, and other contributions to the academic discipline as a whole.

Once tenure tracks lead to tenured positions, universities typically extend the offer of tenure each year. Full professors may not receive a substantial increase in salary along with the promotion, but they usually serve as mentors to junior faculty and graduate students. Full professors therefore carry a lighter teaching load and typically teach higher level courses, while assistants and associates are responsible for introductory- and intermediate-level classes. Full professors also participate as PhD board members and evaluate doctoral students' performance.

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