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Provost proposes to lengthen faculty tenure period to 10 years

By Kyle Swanson, Managing Editor
Published January 23, 2011

University Provost Philip Hanlon will discuss a change to restrictions on the University’s tenure process when he addresses the University's leading faculty governance body later this afternoon.

In an exclusive interview with the Michigan Daily on Friday, Hanlon said he is evaluating a potential change to bylaw 5.09 — a University Board of Regents policy that governs the tenure track process for faculty members. If Hanlon decides to move forward with the change he is considering, faculty members could stay on tenure track for a longer period of time.

The bylaw, originally implemented in 1944, currently allows schools and colleges at the University to set their own timetables for tenure track faculty. However, no school is allowed to exceed seven years of probation and a one-year terminal period for faculty who don’t receive tenure.

“The limit that made sense in 1944 makes less sense today,” Hanlon said.

Hanlon’s change — originally proposed several years ago by an advisory board that reports to the provost — would extend the maximum probationary period a school or college can offer a tenure track faculty member by two years. This would result in a maximum nine-year probationary period and a one-year terminal period.

But Hanlon stressed that the change wouldn’t mean a school or college would be forced to change their probationary period, only that they would have the option to do so.

“This doesn’t actually require anybody to change anything, but it enables the governing faculty within each school and college to go to a longer tenure clock if they want to,” Hanlon said.

He added that the change wouldn’t extend the time it takes a faculty member to gain tenure, but rather the amount of time they have to build his or her case.

And while the governing bodies at schools and colleges may decide to change the probationary period if Hanlon moves forward with the proposal and the regents approve the revision, Hanlon said he doesn’t expect many changes to occur.

“I don’t expect there to be a big rush for people to change because right now there are very few schools who are up against the current limit,” Hanlon said. “They could already be changing if they really wanted to push the limit.”

Currently, most schools at the University actually have less than the maximum eight-year tenure clock in place. The Law School, for example, uses a five-year probationary period, and most other schools have a six-year probationary period.

However, a few schools on campus use a seven-year probationary period — including the Medical School, the Dental School and the Ross School of Business — which places them at the limit once the one-year terminal period is included.

Hanlon said he expects the Medical School would be the most likely to take advantage of the longer probationary period, if implemented. An informal poll of about half of the faculty at the Medical School showed 80-percent support for extending the probationary period to a 10-year maximum, Hanlon added.

“Nationally, medical schools have been leaders in moving to longer tenure clocks,” Hanlon said.

Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has no maximum probationary period for tenure track faculty, and Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City uses a 17-year probationary period. Several other leading medical schools use longer probationary periods, often 10 or 11 years in length.

The reason for the elongated tenure probationary periods, Hanlon said, is because several factors have changed in recent years, especially for medical faculty. These include increased regulatory requirements for research that involves humans or animals. Additionally, Hanlon said an increase in interdisciplinary research has led many tenure track faculty members to require more time to adequately complete their probationary periods.

The research constraints have led to increases in tenure track changes at the Medical School, Hanlon said.