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Tenure and the Odds
USF is revising its tenure and promotion policies at all levels, from the criteria being developed by individual departments to the new guidelines announced by Academic Affairs. At the moment, probably the biggest discussion concerns the proposed Tenure and Promotion Procedures for the USF Tampa College of Arts and Sciences as that college encompasses about a third of the UFF USF Bargaining Unit. However, other colleges are revising their processes while departments are revising their criteria.
One basic question to ask before undertaking a reform is: where are we now? If one is reforming a selection process, one might ask how selective this process is. (This is certainly a subject of much interest to current tenure-track professors.) A glance at Article 15, Section 2 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement might suggest that while a few candidates leave after their mid-tenure review, the big decision occurs during the sixth year. And so a lot of attention is focused at that sixth year. But is that what is happening?
Let's look at the cohort of tenure-track assistant professors hired in 2009 who were on the job in 2010. There were 43 of these, and all were still at USF in 2011. But then the attrition began: there were 38 in 2012, 34 in 2013, 34 again in 2014, and now 27 of the 43 are still employees of USF; of these, 18 (42 %) ultimately received tenure as of this year.
Caveats. These numbers were taken from downloads from GEMS, each in that year, but not at the same time each year. The cohorts were tenure-track assistant professors entering that job that year, which is not the same thing as entering the tenure track that year. Subsequent years, those employees were checked against lists of all faculty employed, except the last list, which was against a recent list of tenured faculty. So this is a lot of apples, oranges, and bananas mushed together, oversimplifying a complicated situation. So what we have here is merely suggestive, and comprehensive study would be necessary to show what is happening.
And some things are not reflected in any collection of numbers. Perhaps some assistant professors decided en route that the grass was greener at another institution, or that industry paid better. Perhaps some saw the writing on the wall or were advised to find a job elsewhere or were even non-renewed. And some might even be coming up later per Paragraph 15.2A or Paragraph 15.6B - or because their job entry and tenure entry dates were different. To see how complicated things are, of the 18 hired in 2009 who received tenure by 2009, five received tenure early, so of the 29 in-unit employees who received tenure this summer (most of Health Sciences being out of the Bargaining Unit), only thirteen followed the standard pattern of being hired as a tenure-track assistant professor and coming up for tenure during the sixth year. While the default is to come up during the sixth year, there are a lot of exceptions.
The pattern seems to be repeating in the cohort hired in 2010 (and probably coming up for tenure this coming academic year). In 2011, there were 69 tenure-track assistant professors whose job entry date was 2010; in 2012 there were 64; in 2013 there were 58; in 2014 there were 56, and now there are 52 - of whom 23 have already received tenure. The graph below suggests certain similarities - and differences:
(Notice that the number of hires can vary a lot from year to year.)
So a lot of assistant professors do not even make it to the sixth year. Of course, much of that attrition may be due to anticipation of that sixth year. (There has been much talk of the anxiety that assistant professors feel about this process.) And many who do make it come up early.
These are only two cohorts of a system in flux (and don't forget the caveats), so one should be cautious about drawing conclusions. In addition, this brief look is based on a small set of snapshots of the Bargaining Unit, which is a continuously moving target. But these are cohorts proceeding under the old guidelines being phased out, and it is unclear what the effect of new guidelines will be.