Years of hard work have paid off for the 43 faculty members who were recently promoted from assistant to associate professors, a tenured position. According to Joseph Aistrup, associate dean of arts and sciences, tenure provides job security and freedom of research, but it does not necessarily mean lifetime commitment.
“Earning tenure means you have earned your place at K-State,” Aistrup said. “It doesn’t mean professor for life, but if you continue to perform adequately at your position, you don’t have to worry about losing your job in the future.”
The university handbook defines tenure as “continuous appointment that can be terminated only in unusual circumstances.” Tenure is a complicated and specific process that is handled at several different levels. Professors are first hired at the position of assistant professor and have about six years to fulfill the goals and requirements that are dictated by both the university and their department, according to the university handbook. After that, they are eligible for tenure as associate professors.
Donald Kurtz was recently promoted to the position of associate professor of social work with tenure, a meaningful step in the career of any university professor, he said.
“I think most of us regard [tenure] as a significant, if not the most significant, step in our careers,” Kurtz said.
Besides K-State’s university-wide standards and regulations for promotions, every department looks for specific responsibilities and accomplishments. Some departments favor high teaching marks as the primary factor, while others rely heavily on research, but all departments examine the input of students, academic peers and other faculty when evaluating a professor.
“An interesting aspect to getting tenure is that much of your success is directly measured by your peers,” Kurtz said. “Peer-reviewed research, faculty in your department and student evaluations are all part of the process, so tenure requires substantial external validation.”
Department regulations are maintained by each dean’s office, which also has a committee to facilitate the tenure process. Committee members take the opinions of other faculty into account before passing their recommendation along to the dean. After the dean approves, the college and the office of the provost must also approve.
This year, 26 associate professors were promoted to full professors. After being promoted to the associate level, professors have another six years before they can apply to be a full professor, which involves a pay raise, among other benefits.
“The biggest change is a higher level prestige and a salary boost,” Aistrup said. “Full professors are tasked with more service activities and involvement, though their main responsibilities are about the same. The title recognizes the continued hard work and commitment that the faculty member has put into the university.”
A total of 71 faculty members were promoted in rank, effective on July 1, including two professors in non-tenured positions. The number of promotions varies from year to year, and individual promotions are independent of each other.
While some students may question a professor’s commitment to teaching after they receive tenure, Kurtz said he does not think it will change his own performance in the classroom.
“I don’t think tenure will change my teaching all that much,” Kurtz said. “I attempted to adapt and change my style and classroom content to improve student outcomes. I am always willing to try new techniques in the classroom to make my teaching more impactful to students.”
Brennan Trupka, senior in mechanical engineering, shares a similar sentiment.
“[Tenure] is unlikely to make a poor professor,” Trupka said. “If a teacher was effective before tenure, they will continue to be. If a student had a bad experience with a tenured professor, it is more likely they were already a poor teacher in the first place.”
Tenure is not always held in a positive light, as evidenced by a 2006 Harvard survey that found “only about 17.9 percent of respondents say the tenure system should remain as it is.” Nonetheless, it appears tenure is around to stay.
“Tenure is far from a perfect system,” Trupka said. “But if K-State wants to compete for and keep the best professors, it has to offer these benefits.”