Guidelines for the Award of Rank and Tenure

Policy number: 2.11

Policy section: Academic Affairs

Revised Date: April 29, 2024

1.  Policy Statement

It is the policy of the University to award tenure to faculty that have achieved significant distinction and achievement in the areas of research/creative activity and teaching and to recognize that it is an immensely important decision – both for the faculty member in question and for the long-term academic quality of the University.

2.  Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to define and outline the promotion and tenure process for tenure-track and tenured faculty. The principal factors to be considered in the evaluations for promotion and tenure are (a) distinction in research or equivalent creative activity in the arts (hereafter research/creative activity) and (b) effective teaching. Valued service to the University and to the profession to which the faculty member belongs will be taken into consideration for both promotion in rank and award of tenure, but cannot substitute for the primary factors of research/creative activity and teaching. 

3.  Rank and Tenure

  1. The appointment to the rank of assistant professor requires the potential for meeting the standards for promotion and tenure.
  2. Tenure is awarded to those faculty who are outstanding in research/creative activity and whose performance in teaching is outstanding or of high quality. Each department or school should have guidelines that provide greater clarity as to what constitutes outstanding research/creative activity in a given discipline and outstanding or high quality teaching. Tenure cannot be granted on the basis of academic potential alone. Demonstrated accomplishments in research/creative activity and teaching are essential. Tenure is not attained automatically but only through the deliberative process described below and by the final approval of the Board of Trustees. With the awarding of tenure, an assistant professor is promoted to associate professor.
  3. In some circumstances due to extended service at another university (usually without tenure) or at other institutions, an initial appointment may be at the rank of associate professor without tenure. The candidate for this appointment should have outstanding achievement in research/creative activity and the potential for meeting the standards for tenure.
  4. The rank of professor is the highest rank to which a faculty member may aspire. It should not be assumed that promotion to this rank will automatically follow from any certain number of years of service. Nor should it be assumed that all faculty will achieve this rank. It should be reserved for those persons whose research/creative activity is recognized by members of the professional field as outstanding and sustained and whose teaching as judged by students and peers is outstanding or of sustained high quality. It is generally expected that candidates for promotion to professor will have a more substantial service record than candidates for promotion to associate professor with tenure who have primarily focused on their research/creative activity and teaching.
  5. For faculty who were at the assistant or associate rank prior to 2022, the requirements for consideration for tenure and promotion as stipulated in the policy in effect at the time of the faculty member's initial appointment will continue through the 2026-2027 academic year.  The one-year extension policy will remain in effect during that period for assistant professors hired prior to 2022.  This paragraph will be removed when it is no longer possible to be considered for tenure and promotion under that version of the policy.

4.  Third-Year Review

As specified in the initial three-year contract at the time of employment, a review of an assistant professor’s progress toward tenure is conducted during the spring semester of the candidate’s third year. These reviews are conducted internally within the schools according to their own internal policies. Candidates that have successful third-year reviews are awarded a second contract. Assistant professors whose contracts are not renewed are entitled to one additional year of employment (terminal year).

5.  Promotion and Tenure Process

  1. Normally, the tenure review process takes place either in the candidate’s sixth year or at a time specified in the initial appointment letter. Full-time service in the ranks of Instructor and Assistant Professor is counted in the probationary period leading to mandatory action by the University either promoting the individuals to tenure rank or notifying them that they will not be promoted.
  2. There is no set period of time after promotion to the rank of associate professor to be considered for promotion to the rank of professor. Associate professors with tenure may request to be considered for promotion to the department chair. The department chair, after consulting with the full professors in the department, may choose to deny the request if it is clear that the faculty member does not meet the standards for promotion. If the request is denied, the department chair must provide feedback to the faculty member on the steps that are necessary for the case to go forward. In addition, the associate professor may appeal the decision to the Dean who will make the final decision on whether to initiate the promotion process. In schools that do not have departments or the equivalent, the associate professor may request to be considered for promotion to the Dean and may appeal a negative decision to the Provost who will make the final decision. The faculty member may not be considered for promotion in consecutive years.
  3. Information and supporting documents pertinent to the action are assembled by the faculty member and others as appropriate as prescribed by the schools and University. These documents should include the evaluation of the candidate’s research or creative activity by at least six external reviewers with at least three reviewers suggested by the department or school. The final list of reviewers must be approved by the Dean taking into account the quality of the reviewers and their institutions. The list of reviewers should not include mentors, former professors, direct collaborators, or co-authors. Evaluation of teaching should include evaluations by students and faculty colleagues.
  4. In accordance with the procedure of the schools and University, the documents are reviewed by the department (if applicable), the Dean’s Advisory Committee, and the Dean. At each level of the evaluation process, there should be thorough documentation evaluating the candidate’s research/creative activity, teaching, and accomplishments in serving the University and the profession. All promotion and tenure cases must be reviewed by the Dean even if the department or department chair is not in favor of promoting and/or granting tenure to the candidate. The Dean submits recommendations, either positive or negative, to the Provost no later than February 1.
  5. The Provost reviews the recommendations of the Deans and the documents with the Provost’s Advisory Committee, a faculty committee appointed by the Provost. The Provost makes recommendations, either positive or negative, to the President.

 The President makes a decision to either recommend granting promotion and/or tenure to the Board of Trustees or to deny promotion and/or tenure.

6.  Appeals

  1. A negative recommendation of the Dean must be appealed within three weeks to the Provost.
  2. A negative recommendation of the Provost must be appealed within three weeks to the President.
  3. A negative decision by the President shall be final and cannot be appealed to the Board of Trustees.

 The administrators named above may use their advisory committees or ad hoc committees to provide advice on the matter of the appeal. Candidates that do not receive tenure are entitled to one additional year of employment (terminal year). Candidates that choose not to go through the tenure review process will not be granted an additional year beyond their current contract as they already have a full year remaining on their contract to seek employment elsewhere.

7.  Early Consideration for Tenure

Early reviews are encouraged only in cases where candidates are making unusually rapid progress toward satisfying the criteria for tenure as outlined above. The case should be clear and compelling. The request to be considered early must be approved by the Dean and Provost. The candidate will go through the normal tenure process as discussed in Section 5. Denial of early tenure will preclude the candidate from being considered again as the decision will be final.

In a previous version of this policy, candidates who joined SMU prior to 2022 could be considered more than once for consideration for tenure.  For all faculty hired prior to 2022, the former policy applies.  This paragraph will be removed when it is no longer possible to be considered more than once for promotion to associate professor with tenure.

8.  Extension of the Probationary Period

Faculty members may request extensions of their probationary period in cases where circumstances have arisen to interfere substantially with the research or creative activity of the faculty member.  Such circumstances may include personal or family emergencies (e.g. life-threatening illness of the faculty member or a member of his/her immediate family) or problems beyond the faculty member’s control relating to his/her research or creative activity (e.g. delay of one semester or more in access to committed laboratory space in which to conduct research). 

Extensions due to childbirth and/or parental leave are in a different category and are discussed in University Policy 2.14, Faculty Family and Medical Leaves. The total extension of the probationary period may not exceed two years, regardless of the combination of circumstances that resulted in the extension(s). These extensions include those that result from childbirth or parental leave.  No additional productivity is expected when a faculty member extends the probationary period.

Requests to extend the probationary period for reasons other than childbirth and/or parental leave will be granted if they are deemed to be both fair to the faculty member making the request and the University and consistent with personnel practices generally applicable to other candidates for tenure in the University.  These requests must be made by the faculty member in writing and must be submitted before the tenure review process has begun. The request must state clearly the circumstances in the faculty member’s situation that might justify an extended probationary period.  The request is to be forwarded, in most cases via the Department Chair, to the Dean.  If the Dean supports the request, the request, along with the Dean’s formal endorsement, is then sent to the Provost for further review.  If the Dean does not support the request, the faculty member will be notified and will be free to seek further review of the request by the Provost.  In all cases, a decision to extend the probationary period will be made by the Provost.  The faculty member will receive written notification when the request is approved.

9.  Abbreviated and Accelerated Tenure Review

When a candidate is being considered for hire at an advanced rank with tenure, an abbreviated or accelerated tenure review is required. The process for these reviews is similar to a normal tenure review. An abbreviated review is used in cases where the prospective faculty member’s proposed rank is the same as the faculty member’s current rank and the stature of the institution where the prospective faculty member achieved the current rank is at the level of SMU or higher. In this case, the three reference letters from reviewers suggested by the candidate are used as the external letters in the review process.

An accelerated review is used in cases where the prospective faculty member’s proposed rank is higher than the faculty member’s current rank or the stature of the institution where the prospective faculty member achieved the current rank is not at the level of SMU or higher. In this case, evaluations from at least three independent external reviewers selected by the department is required in addition to the three letters from reviewers or references selected by the candidate.

To expedite the recruitment process, abbreviated or accelerated reviews may occur at any time of year and the members of the Dean’s or Provost’s advisory committees may provide their evaluations to the Dean or Provost respectively solely through written communications. Meetings to discuss the case may be called at the discretion of the Dean or Provost.

In exceptional cases, current SMU faculty are also eligible to be considered for accelerated (not abbreviated) promotion and/or tenure review. Eligibility for requesting an accelerated review includes a written offer letter that includes a promise for a promotion step upon hire (to either associate or full professor) from an institution with stature at the rank of, or higher, than SMU. In such circumstances, the Dean and Provost will consider the request for accelerated promotion. Candidates for accelerated review will go through the same level of rigorous review as in the regular process for consideration of promotion to associate or full professor. This includes a minimum of six external letters (half of which must be selected by faculty in the home tenure department), review at each level of the process including department/ school/Provost review), and an appeals process. The only difference is the accelerated timeline. Consistent with 2.11.7 Early Consideration for Tenure, a negative tenure decision made during the accelerated tenure process will preclude the candidate from being considered again, as the decision will be final. Consistent with 2.11.5(b), faculty who receive a negative recommendation for promotion to full professor cannot apply in the year immediately following the decision.

10. Questions

Questions regarding this policy should be directed to the Office of the Provost.

Revised: April 29, 2024

Adopted: December 7, 2001