Tenure positions, which tend to offer lifetime job security to people who maintain high standards of teaching, are extremely desirable. Those who get hired as tenure track are possibly on their way to job security and a distinguished career at a university. Yet not everyone who is designated tenure track ultimately receives this designation, and people who are denied tenure may want to know the reasons why this offer of continued employment did not occur. Some of these reasons are fairly obvious, like failure to publish a certain amount of material, but others can be more nebulous or even nefarious.
Certainly, the “publish or perish” rule applies when people seek a tenured position. They must research and/or publish a certain amount of books or articles that accrue greater stature to the university. Each department at a school may have its own standards as to how many and what types of publications are required, and these may be implied instead of stated. The best way to determine minimum requirements is possibly to ask, or to look at the publication amounts and types of those granted tenure recently. Not meeting these standards makes it much more likely that people will be denied tenure.
Failing to show skill in teaching is a perfectly legitimate reason for a professor to be denied tenure. If the associate professor generates constant complaints about his/her classes, workload or attitude toward students, this may suggest he or she is not suited to teaching. It’s recommended people craft strong teaching programs and establish good rapport with students to avoid this scenario.
Another area in which associate professors may need to invest some time is in improvements for their specific school. Changing curriculum, implementing new programs that give the school prestige, and creating other changes could be viewed favorably. On the other hand, pushing through changes opposed by senior faculty is a very good way to get denied tenure.
In fact, one reason for which a person can be denied tenure is if enemies are made with senior faculty. These are often the people who make decisions about granting tenure, and creating strongly negative feelings among these people can be disastrous to a career. While many tenured professors are perfectly reasonable and willing to grant tenure to those with huge theoretical differences or variances in working style, a few professors are not this way and may hold grudges. Lack of diplomacy on the part of the associate professor, or simply the unreasonable nature of tenured professors may result in denied tenure in some circumstances.
There can be deeper and more difficult reasons why a professor is denied tenure. Studies have shown that even in light of less gender-biased times, women often are denied tenure for less easy to explain reasons. These denials are increasingly generating discrimination lawsuits because reasons can’t be fully explained and appear to exhibit gender bias. Similar problems may exist for those of different racial groups or ethnicities at some universities.
Denial of tenure may end a professor’s career, since it usually means the professor is no longer employable at the particular college with which he was tenure track. This may mean the professor moves onto a different school, or takes a position outside of teaching. There are many who criticize the tenure process and suggest that each university department should establish specific criteria upon which tenure is granted, and then adhere to it.