SACUA Study of Tenure-Track Appointments - University of Michigan 1990 to 2004

Jeffrey R. Lee and Charles B. Smith

In June 2005 the Office of the Provost issued its "Report of the Committee to Consider a More Flexible Tenure Probationary Period" which included proposals that could result in a lengthening of the tenure probationary period. This report contained no data with respect to the current status of tenure-track appointments at the University of Michigan. It has been claimed that due to child-bearing and -rearing responsibilities certain faculty require more time to acquire credentials necessary to obtain tenure. Also, it has been suggested that requirements of some units, such as the Medical School, that faculty receive federal grant funding in order to become tenured, necessitates a longer tenure probationary period. The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) has undertaken a study of data, which provides information about the length of the current tenure probationary period as it relates to gender and tenure-granting units.

The data used in this report were obtained from records kept in the SACUA office (November 1989 through November 1998) and from Thomas J. Palmer, Enterprise Resource Planning Senior Business Analyst, Records and Information Services, in the Human Resources and Affirmative Action Office (November 1999 through November 2004). This report covers all individuals with tenure track positions (Instructors, Assistant, Associate and Full Professors with hire dates after 1987 for each year from 1990-2004. They were classified by unit and their appointments were summed within each unit. In some cases, an individual may have held appointments in more than one department and first reached tenure in only one of those departments. In these cases, their classification was ranked (non-tenure, on-track and tenured) with the individual's record listing the highest ranking for each year. Therefore if someone was listed as tenured and on-track for a year, their single entry was listed as tenured. Similarly, if the listing was non-tenure and on-track, they were listed as on-track. In a few cases individuals held tenure-track appointments in more than one unit. When they achieved tenure in any one unit they left the on-track and were listed as tenured.

For all individuals on the tenure-track the years were combined into one file. Four outcomes were possible: received tenure, still on-track, left track (i.e. no longer on-track) and never on-track (i.e. always tenured). Those who were never on the tenure track were dropped from this analysis. The first year the individual appears as listed on the tenure track was recorded. Those who were on-track in the first year, 1990, were checked against 1989 records. Those who were also on-track in 1989 were dropped since we cannot determine how long they had been on-track at the beginning of our study period.

The findings of this study follow. The tables that contain data have been left out of this article for space reasons but the tables and any updates to the report can be viewed on the web page of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA). The total number of individuals who were on the tenure-track during the period (1990 through 2004) covered by this study was 2700. Most of the appointments were in one unit only (2503). Results related to specific units are based on those people with single-unit appointments only. Of the 2503 individuals who were on the tenure-track, only 13 were on the tenure track but not tenured for more than 8 years.

Gender data for achievement of tenure. There have been nearly twice as many men (1639) on the tenure track as there have been women (864), but there is little difference in the percentage who have received tenure in the two groups. The percentage of men who have left the University is slightly greater and the percentage who remain on the tenure track is slightly less than that of women.

Unit-related tenure data. The following data apply only to those individuals who held tenure-track appointments in a single unit (2405). The largest proportion of tenure-track appointees receive tenure in the Law School and the School of Natural Resources and Environment, both of which have small faculties. With the exception of Public Policy and Information, the lowest proportion of tenure-track appointees who receive tenure are in Nursing, Dentistry and Business. An appreciably greater percentage of tenure-track faculty received tenure in the Medical School and the College of Engineering than in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts or the Business School.

Years on-track before reaching tenure. In conformity with the practices of most units, tenure-track faculty tend to receive tenure within six years of entering the tenure track. In most of the units, the upper limit of the 95% confidence interval for professors who achieved tenure, whether full- or part-time, was less than 7 years.

Years on-track before leaving the tenure track. Finally, the upper limit of the 95% confidence interval for professors who did not achieve tenure but left the tenure track, was quite variable among the various units.


When these results were first presented at the joint meeting of the Chapter and the Senate Assembly on December 12, 2005, members of the Provost's office expressed skepticism about the report and its findings. Thus, a second study was undertaken jointly with SACUA staff and members of the University administration. While that venture is still ongoing, preliminary results indicate that the findings of the first study were on target. While the committee's recommendations seem well-intended, the Provost's office has no evidence that the problems they seek to correct are either real or prevalent. Tenure and the academic freedom it provides is the foundation of our higher education system. While creating a more "family-friendly" system is certainly admirable, neither the time nor the workload involved in achieving tenure should be impacted to do so.

Note. Jeffrey R. Lee is the new Executive Director of the Michigan Conference of the AAUP. Professor Charles B. Smith will be Chair of the University Senate, the Senate Assembly and the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs for one year as of May 1, 2006.