How are associate professors "promoted" to full professors?

My understanding is that “assistant professor” are generally not tenured and are basically analogous to a law firm associate: You’ve got 5-7 years of butt-busting to prove you’re worthy of the club, whether by churning out the research in the former or logging in 50,000 billable hours a month for the latter. In short, when the assistant gets the nod, he earns the title “associate prof.”

Okay, but how does an assoc. professor become a full professor? I imagine there are a limited number of slots. With so many associates jockeying for so few full prof. slots, does a committee of full professors make the decision, with the dpmt. chair’s approval?

What benefits are conferred to full professors vis-a-vis associates? How common is it for associates profs. to never make the cut to full prof? And are there instances in which a barntorming PhD makes it from newbie assistant professor to full prof. in one fell swoop?


My partner is asleep, else I’d have him chime in.

He’s an associate professor, and is qualified in terms of time to apply for full professorship; he’s lacking in two publications.

It’s not always the case where the associates are competing for a limited number of slots; as with gaining tenure, one goes from associate to full professor by fulfilling particular requirements set out by his or her department, and the uni or college in general.

My partner is at a 4 year college with a teaching emphasis, so his requirements are not as publishing heavy as one might find at a research-orientated institution.

Nevertheless, for him to qualify should he decide to go for full professorship, he has to have completed a certain number of years at the associate position, which, I think is 5 at his school, and at least 12 years of teaching total. He does have to have a wee bit of publishing or conference attending, committees participated on/chaired – things that demonstrate professional development.

No one at his school could go straight from PhD to full professor in a year. In addition to the publishing and professional advancement requirements, there is also a question simply of being an assistant professor for X number of years. And then X number of years to become full.

There are some exceptions; sometimes one goes backwards – for example, if you are a full professor at Uni X, and you wish to take a job at Uni Y, you might get ‘busted down’ to associate professor for a year, or maybe you can accept the job only if you agree to be an associate for a year. Also sometimes you will be offered a job at uni Y at a higher rank. Although you can be busted – one of my music profs was a full professor who finished his career as an assistant professor when it was discovered that he had not paid a single royalty for the uni choir in something like 10 years, and the school owed about $20,000 in fees and fines. In exchange for not sacking him, he agreed to go to a year to year contract as punishment. It was extremely humilitating for him, as everyone knew, but he was still too young to retire, and the fiasco too well known for any other school to hire him.

Some professors never apply for full professorship, so it’s not a matter of ‘not making the grade’ – it depends on your own motivation and not all schools have a limited number of slots. His school allows as many full professors who want to be and who qualify. Also, to go to full professor, the committee isn’t all full professors, but tenured professors (so it can be your peers. At his school, there has to be at least one full professor).

At his school, it’s more than one level of judgement – it starts with departmental committee, then department chairman, then the dean, then there is usually someone between the dean and president, like the provost or VP, then the president, then the board of trustees/visitors, etc.

I have no idea how he got through; apparently none of them have ever met him, I suppose. :smiley:

Seriously, though, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. If the department is honest with new PhDs, the PhD will know precisely what is expected of him or her to get promoted. So you know all the hoops, and it’s not a guessing game…he says, unfortunately not all departments are honest with their faculty…

Here at Rutgers, the process of promotion to full professor (or a further promotion to P2) starts with a recommendation by the dean of the appropriate college. The recommendation is based, upon other considerations, on the periodic review of the faculty member by the departmental chair or head. Once the faculty candidate is informed, the faculty member prepares a review package, something like a humongous CV. This package is supposed to reflect the teaching, research, and service the faculty member has given to the department, university, and community. A presentation is prepared and given to the University (generally attended by the department and any interested parties). The department then gives the package to a peer review committee, generally made up of departmental faculty and approval or denial is given. Denial is often a death knell, but the package is then passed on to the dean, who gives it to a promotion review committee. They give the package, along with *their * recommendation to the president of the university, who passes it to the board of governors. That board has the “final say.” Cheers or tears follow.

According to the promotions guideline, “The University understands … that tenure is not an automatic right to be awarded to all faculty members after a suitable probationary period nor does the statement mean that advancement to a higher rank is an automatic movement.” Boy, is that an understatement. I haven’t seen so many folks denied tenure after the departments have given approval. But denied faculty usually fight back, hiring lawyers. This happened to one of our faculty who does fine work. He got a lawyer, got a job offer from another university, and was then given tenure…and made the department chair!

I think denial of tenure here is often tied to the finances of the university. We actually had a dean who was able to cut the pay period of the research profs from a 12-month to a 10-month period. He got canned after that, but the pay period was never increased. Lots of pissed of professors over that one.

On very rare occasion, a real hotshot might be given tenure when applying to a new position. But this person is generally not a “newbie” Ph.D, but someone who’s done post-doctoral/assistant prof work elsewhere that is cutting-edge, and is bringing megabucks in grants.

The replies above cover things very well, but I’ll address a couple of minor points. Note that tenure and promotion are two separate issues. It is possible to make tenure and remain at assistant professor rank. It is also possible to get promotion and not get tenure, though I doubt you could get promoted to full professor without tenure. At least one school I know of decoupled tenure and promotion in order to spread out the financial hits on the department since both tenure and promotion tend to include a pay bump.

The two main benefits conferred to full professors are a pay increase and voting rights in certain leadership committees. In many cases, hiring, promotion or other departmental decisions will go through a committee of full professors, so lower ranks don’t have as much say in departmental governance.

I think it is quite common for professors to never make full. In many cases, once they’re tenured they get “comfortable” and don’t wish to pursue their research with the level of effort that would be required to make full. And many work hard for the promotion and never get it because of other shortcomings or college politics.

In general, it would be impossible for a barnstorming newbie prof to make full in one year because one of the requirements for promotion is usually a certain number of years in the position. That is, you’re not even allowed to apply for tenure/promotion until you’ve been in the position for 4-7 years, depending on the institution’s rules. As brachyrhynchos says, I’ve seen new hires come in as full professors, but these were people who had established records at other universities or national labs, not newbies. The full professorship had already been earned (albeit elsewhere) and the rank was part of the incentive package to get them to come.

How do instructor evaluations come in to all of this? At my University, at the end of EVERY course, we have to fill out an “instructor evaluation” form. How are these results typically used when determining the advancement of an assitant prof?

I know of at least one case in which bad evaluations lead to a firing. I’m also quite sure that a few assitant profs have lost promotions due to evaluations (ie, they teach one year, everybody hates the class, next year he’s gone…)

The perception generally is that some people, having just gotten tenure, might decide to “coast”. The promotion to full professor is a “carrot” to tempt people to keep putting in 60 hour weeks, etc. Generally, if you don’t make full in a certain time frame, you will be stuck as associate forever. To be stuck in such a situation is very humiliating to many and so the “carrot” has a stick at the other end. Most places won’t greatly harass an associate who failed to make full. But things like pay raises, teaching options, and such might vanish. The person still has tenure after all.

And there is indeed a good size pay bump when you become full.

Most colleges go by AAUP rules, which is what I and most people are talking along the lines of. But there are many schools who don’t follow the AAUP rules and so you have tenured assistant profs, untenured associates, and such here and there, as well as a some variation as to what’s involved in (not) becoming a full prof.

I was a CS prof, where full profs were quite rare, so departmental decisions were usually quite egalitarian. From assistant to full, we viewed each other as equals in most ways. But that’s probably not the case very often.