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Policy on Tenure and Promotion Standards and Procedures

The award of tenure is, of course, an immensely important decision -- both for the faculty member in question and for the long-term academic quality of the University. The Provost has the responsibility to review recommendations from the schools for promotion and/or tenure from a University-wide (rather than school-specific) perspective.  

In considering the award of tenure, Northwestern seeks to apply the highest standards with respect to professional achievement in the areas of scholarship/creative work and teaching. Each case is evaluated on its own merits. Northwestern aims at the superlative in both teaching and research; and, when making a recommendation for tenure, a department and school must feel able to affirm that the candidate in question constitutes as good a permanent appointment in his or her area as we are capable of making, now or in the foreseeable future, given both the candidate's accomplishments to date and reasonable expectations as to future accomplishments.

In evaluating the scholarly or creative work, attention should be paid to the quantity, but above all, the quality, importance, and creativity of such work; it is important to consider not merely what has been accomplished but also the promise for future achievement. A positive recommendation to confer tenure should offer strong evidence supporting claims about the high quality of a candidate's work, the distinctiveness of his or her voice, and the degree of influence on the field.

Time in rank or length of service are not the sole criteria for promotion or tenure at Northwestern University. While the pre-tenure period, often in the rank of assistant professor, may have a prescribed nominal length, variations to this nominal period are not uncommon. Indeed, faculty may have received one or more extensions to the tenure clock due to personal, family, health, or other disruptions. Departmental letters should focus solely on the quality of the work and the candidate’s impact on the field or promise thereof.

The quality of a candidate's teaching and future potential as a teacher are also major factors affecting the decision to grant tenure to a faculty member. Information regarding a candidate's teaching must be included in any such recommendation. As with scholarly or creative work, the nature of the teaching enterprise may differ among the schools. Nonetheless, given the University's dual commitment to excellence in teaching as well as research, it is important that the quality of teaching be fully considered in these decisions.

In considering promotion to the rank of professor, departments and schools will pay particular attention to the candidate's accomplishments since the award of tenure. Promotion to this rank is appropriate when the faculty member has achieved a high level of distinction in his or her field and has attained a level of excellence as a teacher. Time served in the rank of associate professor is neither sufficient cause for, nor a metric in the consideration of, promotion. Rather, the standard should be fulfillment to a large degree of the promise forecast at the earlier time of awarding tenure.

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Tenure and Promotion Procedures and Materials for Continuing Faculty

It is expected that the dossier for every candidate for promotion and/or tenure will include the following materials when submitted to the Provost's office.

All recommendations for tenure and/or promotion of continuing faculty should be presented to the Provost’s Office no later than the month of April. The earlier these cases are presented, the better the opportunity for a decision from the Provost by the end of the spring academic term. 

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Tenure Procedures in making Outside Appointments

Procedures are intended to ensure that the same high standards employed in promotion and tenure decisions for continuing faculty are utilized when making decisions about hiring new faculty in tenured positions. To that end, a thorough review must precede all requests forwarded to the Provost for approval. As a part of the review process, each proposed outside appointment should be considered by either the Promotion and Tenure Committee of the school or by a special confidential ad hoc committee (appointed by the Dean) composed of senior faculty outside of the department or program from which the appointment has been initiated.

No offer of employment may be made before the Provost has had an opportunity to review the candidate's dossier. The case presented to the Provost should include the same elements as described above for decisions regarding internal candidates for tenure and/or promotion, with one exception; a reflective statement from the candidate summarizing his or her past accomplishments and future plans in the areas of teaching, research, and service while always useful, may not easily be obtained, particularly with more distinguished candidates. It is not required to include such a statement in a dossier for a candidate we are seeking to recruit to Northwestern.

Responsible Office: Office of the Provost

Who Needs to Know This Policy: All Northwestern faculty members

Contacts: If you have any questions on this Policy, contact  

Dated: 2021