February 6th, 2009

Creating Alternate Paths to Tenure


Until recently, George Mason University’s tenure requirements were typical of most research institutions: research was the primary activity; teaching and service, though important, were secondary. During the past six years, GMU created new paths to tenure that recognize the different types of contributions that faculty can make to the university.

GMU has four paths to tenure: the traditional research emphasis; one that recognizes “genuine excellence in teaching”; one that is equal parts research, teaching, and administration; and one in which the faculty member splits his or her time within a discipline and at the university level working on faculty development, grant proposal writing, and other activities that benefit the institution as a whole.
Faculty who choose to take up research as their primary activity comprise the majority of those on the tenure track at GMU, but the number of faculty choosing other options has grown. Currently, about 20 percent of faculty who come up for tenure at GMU do so in the area of genuine excellence in teaching.

If a faculty member demonstrates excellence in research and teaching, he or she may be tenured within both categories, provided both the faculty member’s department and the provost’s office approve. This distinction results in a larger salary increase than for those who get tenured in a single category.

The other two paths are limited to specific faculty members and are negotiated individually based on specific institutional needs. Faculty hired with a significant portion of their jobs represented by administrative duties might fall into the one-third research, one-third teaching, one-third administrative tenure path.

The Program for Innovative Education, which began this year, hires faculty specifically for their disciplinary education expertise. Each of these faculty members works half-time within an academic department on curriculum development, general education classes, and any education issues related to the department. Each also works half-time at the university level on faculty development, grant proposal writing, and other educational issues that affect the university.

The tenure review process for each tenure path is the same and “would be familiar to anyone in academia. It’s just that the content is different,” Laurie Fathe, associate provost for educational improvement and innovation.

Excerpted from GMU’s Alternate Paths to Tenure Reward Teaching, Academic Leader, vol. 22, no. 6.