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Promotion and Tenure: Guidelines to Succeed

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

John Griffith, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University- Worldwide Campus

Key Statement: Successfully navigate promotion and tenure systems and protect your time and energy by using a stepwise approach to demystifying institutional processes.

Keywords: Faculty Mentoring, Tenure Process, Faculty Advancement


Promotion and tenure are processes with more mystique than they deserve, particularly for those faculty who are new to the world of higher education and all the unwritten rules and timelines that the environment entails. These potentially unclear standards for advancement can be frustrating and confusing for career faculty. Many faculty fear unwritten rules based on college or university culture and are concerned that the standards continue to move higher as faculty progress (May, 2005; Misis, 2019). With this emphasis on publications, presentations, service, and grants, the importance of effective teaching decreases (Trower, 2012). Additionally, the amount of work new faculty take on tends to increase because they are afraid to say “no,” want to show loyalty to the organization by always appearing busy, or allow themselves to get overwhelmed due to perceived expectations (Zakrajsek, 2021).

Photo by cottonbro studio

Faculty naturally want to help their students learn and succeed and view teaching as the major aspect of their jobs. However, faculty also need to understand the rules and guidance behind promotion criteria in order to use their time effectively. In other words, to help others, we must help ourselves by ensuring we use effective practices that support our careers. Many authors have argued that women and people of color are especially susceptible to the burdens of navigating the promotion process. One can argue that using this type of organized, systemic approach could potentially help to equalize the situation (Babcock et al., 2022).

Hallmarks of Effective Promotion and Tenure Systems

Good promotion and tenure systems have clearly communicated standards to include the number of journal articles, presentations and grants expected. In most cases, department chairs and deans are in sync regarding expectations. Typically, faculty have access to university and college faculty guidance and standards, although they may need to be uncovered. Effective “three year reviews” for tenure track faculty are usually timed to be at the halfway point towards tenure, which helps identify strengths and weaknesses. This feedback is designed to help candidates plan the two years prior to submitting materials for consideration (Burnham et al., 2010).

Box 1. Typical Career Progression From Assistant to Full Professor in the United States

  • Hired as an assistant professor

  • Three year review

  • Submit promotion package after 5th year (at beginning of 6th year)

  • If promoted/tenured, effective date is beginning of 7th year

  • Five years as an associate professor

  • Put in package at beginning of 6th year as associate (13th year overall)

  • Full professor effective the beginning of 7th year after promotion to associate professor (14th year overall)

Timeline of Submitting the Promotion Package

University guidance (sometimes called the faculty handbook) typically shows the process by which a faculty member submits a promotion package (see Table 1).

Table 1. Sample Promotion Package Milestones

The process generally starts in August or September and is completed by the spring of the following year. Promotion candidates should not listen to rumors but should wait for the official notification of the promotion decision.

How to Build a Successful Promotion Package

To get a clear picture of what is required for promotion, you need to know the following:

  • Location of university, college and department promotion guidance. If you don’t know, ask a mentor or more experienced faculty member.

  • Required package content (i.e., major areas required)

  • Timelines for promotion/promotion package submission

  • If your degree is not a doctorate, is it still considered a terminal degree in your field?

Create a central place to collect all documents that could be included in the package. Start this process as early as possible. Some faculty begin collecting promotion and tenure information as soon as they begin working at the university. Live by the concept that it is better to have something and not need it, than need it and not have it. Many promotion applications are made on a promotion package platform. Save time and stress in trying to align your own filing system with the package system, and simply mirror the package layout on your hard drive and keep backups. Communicate with your department chair to confirm when to submit for promotion. Start compiling your package at least 4 months prior to submission to your department chair. Carefully review guidance on expectations of each area (teaching, scholarship, and service) and follow those guidelines. Submit the package as early as possible—don’t feel that you must wait for the deadline! Focus on the first documents that the promotion and tenure committee will see, typically the Executive Summary and Brief Statement (Burnham et al., 2010). Include a table showing the standards for promotion at your institution and how you met or exceeded those standards. This will not only be an excellent overview of your qualifications, it is another way you can keep track of all the package’s moving parts.

Areas to Consider for Success

- Project Management

  • Break the package into manageable chunks. Make an annual plan, including the number of journal articles, presentations, course load, course revisions, and service you must achieve every year. If possible, share your plan and progress with your department chair annually to keep yourself on track.

- Teaching

  • Keep copies of all end-of-course student surveys.

  • Look at open area comments for positives about your teaching to share with the board. Make note of less positive comments for improvement in the next course.

- Scholarship

  • Keep track of all articles and presentations and save all publications.

  • Try to do two activities at each conference you attend (e.g., two presentations or one presentation and one roundtable).

  • Do your fair share of the work on joint projects.

- Service

  • Spread service among university, campus, college, and department

  • Request references from committee chairs you served under

  • Include article reviews provided to scholarly journals

  • Include your service to the local community (e.g., food drives, charitable actions, etc.)

Final Thoughts

Many new faculty members become overwhelmed with the perceived expectations of promotion and tenure. These fears can be overcome by moving them out of conjecture and into reality. Research the written standards of the university, college, and department. Knowing the standards and timelines of promotion opportunities helps in planning the workload required. For example, if the tenure requirement is for 10 papers, and the probation period for tenure is five years, then aim to publish two or three papers annually. From a psychological perspective, don’t give too much time to people with negative attitudes. Focus on what you can control and plan your strategy. It is always a good idea to find a trusted mentor to help guide you through the process. Realize that by building and following a plan, you are best managing your own time and energy, thereby allowing yourself to continually focus on excellent teaching and self-care in addition to administrative requirements for career success.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you know where and what the written requirements are for promotion/tenure and the promotion timelines? If not, who could you ask for guidance?

  2. Do you set an annual plan with your department chair which, if achieved, will meet/exceed standards for promotion/tenure? If not, how could you begin to develop both that plan and the relationship with your department chair?

  3. Does your university have a three year review process which lets you know what is going well midway through the tenure process? If not, do you have a mentor who could help?


Babcock, L., Peyser, B., Vesterlund, L., &Weingard, L. (2022). Female faculty: Beware

the non-promotable task. Mentoring, committee work and other campus

service disproportionately burden women. Chronicle of Higher Education.


Burnham, J. J., Hooper, L. M., & Wright, V. H. (2010). Tools for dossier success: A

guide for promotion and tenure. Taylor & Francis Group.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide. (2021). Promotion and tenure

milestones. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide faculty


May, D. C. (2005). The nature of school of education faculty work and materials for

promotion and tenure at a major research university [Doctoral dissertation,

the University of Pittsburgh].

Misis, M. L. (2019). Tenure-track faculty levels of job satisfaction during the tenure

process [Doctoral dissertation, University of Kentucky]. ProQuest.

Trower, C. A. (2012). Success on the tenure track: Five keys to faculty job

satisfaction. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Zakrajsek, T. (2021). Will you still respect me if I am not overwhelmed? The

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