Chapter 3: Principles, Rules, and Procedures for Promotion and the Award of Tenure
Definition of Academic Tenure
“Academic tenure” at Vanderbilt refers to the University’s commitment to continue any faculty member appointed as Professor or Associate Professor in that office, unless otherwise specified at the time of appointment, until the faculty member voluntarily terminates the appointment or until retirement or permanent disability, or dismissal for cause. Tenure does not attach to an administrative position. A faculty member holding academic tenure has the right to a hearing, as provided in Part IV, Chapter 1 of the Faculty Manual, prior to dismissal for cause.
The Probationary Period
1. Tenure-track appointments provide for a probationary period prior to a decision on tenure. Any faculty member becomes ineligible for tenure if he or she has not been promoted to a tenured position, or offered a special extension of probation (see 4 below), by the end of seven years of accumulated full-time academic service at Vanderbilt or at other comparable institutions (see 3 below). “Full-time academic service” includes both full-status partial-load appointments and academic leaves (full- or part-time, paid or unpaid) as long as these are of a type to facilitate professional growth and achievement. If a faculty member holds a part-time, tenure-track appointment at the request of Vanderbilt, or if such a part-time appointment is necessitated by other nonacademic duties at Vanderbilt or elsewhere, then he or she may accumulate all or part of the seven probationary years in partial increments, on a pro rata basis. Whenever part-time employment justifies a pro rata extension of the probationary period, the contract of employment should specify the exact number of years added to it. The probationary period will not be extended in the absence of such a written statement.
2. Term appointments not on the tenure track do not offer any prospects of eventual tenure. Should a faculty member on such an appointment later shift to a tenure-track position, these prior years at Vanderbilt will normally count toward the probationary period of seven years, but only to the extent that the non-tenure-track appointment offered opportunities for professional growth and achievement comparable to those enjoyed by tenure-track appointees. In the schools of Medicine and Nursing, individuals in advanced stages of training may be appointed to the faculty at the level of Instructor not on the tenure track, if they are otherwise qualified. If such individuals subsequently are appointed to the rank of Assistant Professor on the tenure track upon completion of training, prior years at the level of Instructor (non-tenure-track) will be excluded from the probationary period to the extent that the individuals were trainees and not independent investigators. Any prior years exempted from the probationary period must be agreed to by the appropriate Dean at the time of the initial tenure-track appointment.
3. Whenever prior service at other institutions has not provided opportunities for professional growth and achievement comparable to those enjoyed by junior faculty at Vanderbilt (e.g., because of higher teaching loads or less research support), then, at the time of the appointment to a tenure-track position at Vanderbilt, the candidate and the Dean must agree on the number of prior years to count toward tenure. Regardless of the number of years of comparable full-time service carried over from other institutions, Vanderbilt retains the option of requiring as many as three probationary years at Vanderbilt before a decision on tenure. Since the exercise of this option may extend the total probationary period beyond seven years, in all such cases the maximum probationary period at Vanderbilt must be clarified in the initial letter of appointment.
4. Various exigencies may retard or temporarily interrupt a faculty member’s professional career. This means that certain periods during the probationary period should not count as “full-time service.” These exigencies include leave required by ill health, by childbearing or unusual requirements for infant care, or by a serious illness or death of immediate family members. Other special circumstances (e.g., accidental destruction of research material, important clinical or patient care responsibilities, extra teaching assignments) may also retard the development of professional attainments directly related to a favorable tenure decision and thus justify exemptions for one or more periods.
The faculty member and his or her department chair (for faculty members in departments) must at the earliest possible moment present to the Dean a request for such an exemption. The request should outline the amount of time to be exempted from the tenure track. In no case may the total exemptions under this provision exceed two calendar years, and no period exempted shall be less than one semester. Faculty members who give birth during the probationary period are entitled to an automatic one-semester extension of the probationary period, up to a maximum of two extensions. In order to avail herself of such an extension, a faculty member need only notify her department chair or Dean of her decision, within four months after the birth, on whether she wishes to take the extension.
Extensions of the probationary period must be approved by the department chair (for faculty members in departments), the Dean, and the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs. No request for an extension can be considered once the tenure evaluation has commenced. The Dean will consult with the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs prior to reaching a decision on any request for extension of the probationary period. The standards for an extension of the probationary period are to be applied rigorously such that extensions beyond seven years are granted only in exceptional circumstances. A faculty member who is granted an extension of the probationary period will be judged and evaluated on the same basis and by the same standards as though there had been no extension.
5. A failure by a faculty member on the tenure track to earn tenure normally leads to a termination of employment at Vanderbilt, but Vanderbilt guarantees to members on the tenure track who do not receive tenure the fulfillment of existing multi-year appointments or an additional one-year appointment if the adverse decision on tenure is made during a one-year appointment or during the last year of a multi-year appointment.
Standards for Promotion and the Award Of Tenure
For the award of tenure, Vanderbilt requires (1) excellence in research, scholarship, or creative expression in one’s discipline; (2) a high level of effectiveness in teaching; and (3) satisfactory performance in the area of service. From discipline to discipline, the form taken by a candidate’s contributions will vary. But, in each case, Vanderbilt expects the level and quality of achievement in these three areas to be equivalent to that required for tenure in leading departments or schools of other major research universities. The three standards are independent; a deficiency in one area cannot be offset because the candidate exceeds the required standard in another.
1. Research, Scholarship, and Creative Expression
Candidates to be considered for tenure are persons who have already achieved and who show promise of continuing to achieve a level of excellence in their contribution to the research, scholarship, or creative expression appropriate to their discipline or profession and as described in their letter of appointment. Indicators of excellence include originality, logical rigor, distinctiveness of ideas, creativity of expression, independence of thought in identifying projects and framing issues for analysis, advancement of a theoretical viewpoint or a perceptive and balanced criticism of such a viewpoint, and significant and important intellectual impact.
Successful candidates for tenure at Vanderbilt must be active scientists, scholars, critics, or artists. By the time of the tenure review, they must have completed and made available research, scholarship, criticism, or artistic production of such high quality as to gain favorable recognition within their discipline and at a national level. The works may be available through the publication of books and articles, the circulation of manuscripts intended for publication, lectures and presentations, exhibits, or performances. When candidates participate in group research projects, it is their responsibility to provide a means for distinguishing their contributions from those of other members of the group. Both past achievements and future promise, both the quantity and the quality of completed work, determine one’s eligibility for tenure.
Candidates for tenure must accept as career obligations the dissemination of knowledge and the nurturing of a spirit of inquiry. To qualify for tenure, candidates must demonstrate a high overall level of teaching effectiveness, with appropriate weight given to performance in each of the various forms of teaching that are important to the respective programs of their departments or schools.
Command of the subject, clarity in communication, and sensitivity to the needs of students are indispensable assets of effective teachers. Successful candidates for tenure must possess both the skills required to transmit the content of their disciplines and the capacity to motivate an active pursuit of new knowledge or insight. Such skills and capacities spring from the same qualities that lead to successful scholarly inquiry.
Faculty members have obligations that go beyond research, scholarship, or creative expression and teaching, particularly in departmental or school activities and University governance. In some disciplines, also of great import is service through University outreach (including patient care and other professional services to the University and the community) and contributions to professional and learned societies. Vanderbilt expects its tenure-track faculty to assume a fair share of such service work and to perform it at least satisfactorily.
4. Specification of Standards and Procedures by Schools
Each school publishes a statement specifying its standards and procedures for the award of tenure and for promotion within the tenured ranks. These statements should relate the standards and procedures to specific disciplines. Any departure in these specifications from any rule of the Faculty Manual must be consistent with the general principles stated herein and be approved by the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, as appropriate.
At the end of the academic year, the Dean of each school submits to the Provost or to the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, as appropriate, a copy of the school’s current statement, along with an indication of any proposed revisions. The Provost and the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs review these statements and inform the schools of any problems prior to the beginning of the next academic year.
A copy of all documents specifying the requirements and procedures for appointment, tenure, and promotion is available in each Dean’s office.
Procedures for the Award of Tenure From Within the University
As a general rule, no faculty member at Vanderbilt is promoted or awarded tenure without the recommendation of his or her senior colleagues in the department or school. That is, in any department or school, an ordinary prerequisite for tenure and promotion is the candidate’s endorsement by a majority of the current faculty who hold a primary appointment at or above the rank for which the candidate is being considered and in the same department or school where the candidate’s tenure would be based. These colleagues should be convinced that the candidate has those personal and professional qualities that will contribute positively to the work of the University. While the support of one’s senior colleagues is not sufficient for tenure, it is in all cases necessary. In the School of Medicine, such endorsement is provided by the Executive Faculty, and no faculty member is appointed or promoted to the title of Associate Professor or Professor, either tenured or non-tenured, without a positive recommendation from the Executive Faculty. In addition to the involvement of tenured faculty, consideration of appointment to tenure involves (a) the Dean of the school, acting in accordance with the standards and procedures of the school; (b) the appropriate University Promotion and Tenure Review Committee;1 (c) the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs; (d) the Chancellor; and (e) the Board of Trust. Positive recommendations are ordinarily passed along to the next person or committee. Variations are described below.
1. The Decision by the School2
The process of awarding tenure ordinarily begins with a positive recommendation by a majority of the tenured faculty members of a department or school (that is, by a majority vote of those faculty members who hold tenure in the same department or school where the candidate’s tenure would be based). Both positive and negative recommendations are forwarded to the appropriate Dean, ordinarily within ten business days of the decision, along with the promotion file and an explanation of the basis of the decision. In the event of a negative decision, the candidate must be notified in writing of the decision in a timely manner, ordinarily within one business day. The candidate may then submit a statement for inclusion in the file to be transmitted to the Dean. The Dean may (a) accept the negative faculty decision, thereby ending the matter, or (b) return it to the faculty for reconsideration. If the original negative decision is reaffirmed by the faculty, the Dean, if he or she favors tenure, may send a positive recommendation to the appropriate University Promotion and Tenure Review Committee. If this committee acts favorably, its recommendation is sent to the Provost, or, in the School of Nursing, to the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs. A negative decision under these circumstances by the Promotion and Tenure Review Committee terminates consideration.
A recommendation for tenure transmitted to a Dean by a departmental or school faculty moves forward only with the concurrence of the Dean, except when a department or school appeals a Dean’s nonconcurrence. A decision to appeal requires the affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of the department’s or school’s tenured faculty, must be made within ten business days (not including vacation periods) after receiving a written report from the Dean describing the rationale for the decision, and is directed to the appropriate University Promotion and Tenure Review Committee. Only those faculty members eligible to vote on the original recommendation may participate in the vote on an appeal. The appeals procedures limit the committee’s review to documentation included in the personnel file at the time of the Dean’s decision.
2. Procedures for Review and Assessment by the Faculty
Except as set forth below, the entire contents of the dossier, including all solicited or unsolicited letters regarding appointment, renewal, promotion, or tenure that will be included in the candidate’s file for transmittal to the Dean, must be available for review by the eligible faculty members prior to their vote.3 Only members of the faculty who are eligible to vote will have the opportunity to review the contents of the dossier prior to the vote. Unsolicited letters from faculty members outside the department or school will be included in the dossier only if they are provided to the department chair or Dean for review by the faculty prior to the vote.
By the end of the second business day after the vote, any faculty member eligible to vote may write a letter to the department chair or Dean for inclusion in the dossier expressing his or her views on the deliberations by the faculty. These letters are to be made available to all faculty who are eligible to vote.
The department or school must prepare minutes or a summary of the faculty deliberations which will be appended to the dossier, after first being circulated to the voting members of the faculty. Any faculty member who believes that the minutes or summary does not fairly reflect the deliberations at the meeting may submit a letter to the department chair or Dean before the end of the second working day after distribution of the minutes or summary. All such letters will be made available for review by the faculty eligible to vote and will be included in the dossier.
As the final step in the faculty evaluation process, the department chair or Dean will write a letter of transmittal that reports his or her views of the full range of faculty deliberations.
Except as stated above, no faculty member other than the department chair or Dean may add materials to the dossier for consideration at higher levels of review of the faculty decision.
It is inappropriate for faculty members, including those outside of the department or school, to attempt to influence the deliberations on renewal, promotion, or tenure that come after the vote of the faculty, except to bring an allegation of professional misconduct. “Professional misconduct” means any conduct on the part of a faculty member that might reasonably lead to disciplinary action under Part IV, Chapter 1 (Disciplinary Actions) of the Faculty Manual. Persons involved in subsequent levels of review should not accept or consider additional unsolicited documents and should discourage any communications that seek to influence their decisions.
3. The Promotion and Tenure Review Committee
All recommendations are reviewed by one of the two standing University Promotion and Tenure Review Committees. Both committees are appointed by the Chancellor upon the recommendation of the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, normally from nominations submitted by the Consultative Committee of the Faculty Senate. As with all University-level committees, the Chancellor has ultimate responsibility regarding the membership of the two Promotion and Tenure Review Committees.
The Promotion and Tenure Review Committee reporting to the Provost is composed as follows: one representative from each of the three divisions of the College of Arts and Science; one representative each from the School of Engineering, the Divinity School, Peabody College, the Owen Graduate School of Management, and the Law School; and the Dean of the Graduate School. The Provost designates a member of the committee to serve as chair.
The Promotion and Tenure Review Committee reporting to the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs is composed of six representatives from the School of Medicine, three representatives from the School of Nursing, and the Dean of the Graduate School. The Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs designates a member of the committee to serve as chair.
Members of both University Promotion and Tenure Review Committees normally serve three-year staggered terms. The committees report all their decisions to the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and, in the case of a negative decision, to the appropriate Dean.
When tenure is recommended by a Dean, the University Promotion and Tenure Review Committee evaluates the recommendation on the basis of its consistency with University standards and with the statement of standards and procedures required by the school (see Section C, 4 above). Except in unusual cases, review will not consist of a second detailed evaluation of the candidate’s qualifications. In unusual cases and in cases presented by appeal, the chair of the Promotion and Tenure Review Committee may appoint an ad hoc committee, composed of faculty members in disciplines related to that of the candidate, to make another evaluation of the candidate’s record. In selecting members for an ad hoc committee, the chair of the Promotion and Tenure Review Committee normally will consult the members of the review committee, the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, and the appropriate Dean and department chair. The ad hoc committee reports its findings to the appropriate University Promotion and Tenure Review Committee.
The award of tenure requires a positive recommendation from the appropriate University Promotion and Tenure Review Committee. A negative recommendation by the Promotion and Tenure Review Committee may be appealed by the Dean to the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, as appropriate, except where the candidacy has reached the Promotion and Tenure Review Committee by the Dean’s overruling a negative departmental or school recommendation. An appeal by the Dean must be made within thirty business days after receipt of the written report of the Promotion and Tenure Review Committee. The final decision should be communicated in writing from the appropriate Dean, the Provost, or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs to the faculty member.
Those charged with reviewing a recommendation or an appeal under the foregoing procedures may decide to obtain additional information to supplement or clarify the candidate’s record. If so, this information should relate to the record as it existed at the time of the faculty’s recommendation and not to activities or achievements by the candidate occurring after that time. If such information is obtained, the person or committee obtaining it may ask those who considered the matter at some prior step in the review process to reconsider their decision in light of it. If an ad hoc committee of the Promotion and Tenure Review Committee obtains such additional information, that information must be presented to the appropriate Dean and faculty for their reconsideration.
1. One Promotion and Tenure Review Committee considers candidates from the schools of Nursing and Medicine and reports to the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs. Another Promotion and Tenure Review Committee considers candidates from all other schools and reports to the Provost.
2. The procedures described in this and the following section, “Procedures for Review and Assessment by the Faculty,” do not apply to the School of Medicine, whose alternative procedures are published on the School’s web site at https://medschool.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/appointments-promotions.
3. In schools without departments (Divinity, Law, Nursing, Owen Graduate School of Management), the entire eligible school faculty votes on the initial tenure recommendation. In schools with departments, the department chair writes the recommendation of the faculty and submits it either to the Dean or to a school-wide tenure and promotion committee. In schools without departments, the voting faculty submits its recommendation directly to the Dean.
Procedures for Promotion to Professor
In general, the procedures to be followed for promotion to Professor are the same as those specified above for consideration for the award of tenure. The process ordinarily requires a positive recommendation by a majority of tenured Professors in the department or school. In the School of Medicine, the positive recommendation is from a majority of the tenured Professors on the Executive Faculty in lieu of the recommendation from a majority of the tenured Professors in the department or school. Vanderbilt expects the level and quality of achievement in (1) research, scholarship, or creative expression; (2) teaching; and (3) service to be equivalent to that required of Professors in leading departments and schools of other major research universities. The candidate must have attained national or international recognition among leading scholars in his or her discipline for sustained and excellent research, must have taught the courses requested by the department or school at a consistently high level of effectiveness, and must have demonstrated a well developed and recognized record of service both to the University and his or her discipline.
In the Law School, the award of tenure is normally accompanied by promotion to the rank of Professor. The standards for promotion are specified by the Law School, with the approval of the Provost, to conform to the expectations for the rank of Professor established at other nationally recognized law schools.
Standards and Procedures for the Award Of Tenure from Outside the University
Candidates for a tenured appointment from outside the University must meet the standards established for such rank as specified in the Faculty Manual and the statements prepared by the individual schools.
The information that must be obtained on candidates from outside the University for positions carrying tenure is specified by the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs. It corresponds insofar as possible to the information assembled on behalf of internal candidates for tenure, although inevitably some of this information is not readily available for external candidates.
The appointment from outside the University normally requires a positive recommendation by a majority of department or school faculty members who hold tenure in the same department or school where the candidate’s tenure would be based, acting through the department chair or Dean and concurred with by the Dean. Normally, for appointments at the rank of Professor, a positive recommendation by a majority of the department or school’s tenured Professors is required as well. In the School of Medicine, appointments to tenured rank from outside the University will be made with approval of a majority of the Executive Faculty in lieu of approval by a majority of tenured department or school faculty.
The department chair or Dean normally will arrange for each candidate to visit the campus for interviews with members of the department or school, the Dean, and the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs. Other University officers may be involved in special appointments. The campus visit may be omitted in certain cases.
After the proposed appointment is approved by the Dean, the complete file is sent to the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs for consideration. The Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs recommends tenured appointments to the Chancellor and the Board of Trust. Tenured appointments from outside the University are not reviewed by the Promotion and Tenure Review Committee.
The action of the Board of Trust is transmitted by the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs to the Dean. The Dean notifies the department chair and the candidate. No announcement of a proposed tenure appointment is made until the Board has acted and the candidate has been informed.
Grievances Arising from Reappointment, Tenure, and Promotion Decisions
A grievance alleging that the University breached an obligation owed to the faculty member in regard to a decision on his or her reappointment, tenure, or promotion shall be filed using the process set forth in Part IV, Chapter 2.