Office of the Provost

Frequently Asked Questions Concerning the Proposal to Create a More Flexible Tenure Probationary Period for U-M Faculty


Q&A on proposal to create a more flexible tenure probationary period for U-M faculty


The Office of the Provost proposes that the maximum allowable tenure probationary period be increased from eight years to ten years. This would require a vote by the Board of Regents to change Regent Bylaw 5.09. Approval by the Regents of this proposal would not change the tenure probationary periods in any school or college. The decision to set the tenure probationary period rests with the governing faculty in each school and college.  However, this proposal, if approved, would give the governing faculty greater flexibility to set the tenure probationary period that works best for their unit. 


Q.        What would the proposal actually change?


A.         This proposal would change one word in Regent Bylaw 5.09. The only change comes in this phrase, where “eight” would be changed to “ten”:

“ … a teaching staff member holding appointments with the university for a total of eight years in the rank of full-time instructor or higher.”


Q.        Why is this change necessary?


A.         The change is being proposed to allow a more flexible tenure probationary period to better meet the needs of today’s tenure-track faculty. A number of issues could be addressed more appropriately with the flexibility that a longer maximum probationary period would allow.


Q.       Regent Bylaw 5.09 is entitled, “Procedures in Cases of Dismissal, Demotion, or Terminal Appointment.” Why is this bylaw being changed if the focus of the change is the length of the tenure probationary period?


A.         It’s important to note that this proposal changes nothing about those procedures. The change comes in one phrase of that bylaw because it references the maximum amount of time before the granting of tenure. The only change comes in one phrase, where “eight” would be changed to “ten.”


Q.        When was the last time the tenure probationary period was changed?


A.         In 1944, the Board of Regents voted to change the maximum tenure probationary period from six years to eight years.


Q.        If eight years has worked for that long, why change it now?


A.        Much has changed since 1944 that make it more complex today for a junior faculty member to make the advancements necessary to earn tenure. First is the changing nature of scholarship. The emphasis for much of today’s research is on interdisciplinary projects that cross department and discipline boundaries. That type of research and group-based research can take longer to launch initially. A more complex research model can mean it takes longer to set up sophisticated research equipment and laboratories, and maintaining stable external funding to support the work of the lab. Increased regulatory and compliance requirements can delay approval of research protocols. Community-based participatory research studies often take considerable time to complete due to complex conditions in the field. As funding gets tighter it can take longer for young faculty members to achieve initial research grants.


Second, the professoriate includes many more two-career and single parent households than it did in 1944.  Many more faculty members are struggling to balance their teaching and research commitments with their family obligations.  In addition, the period of postgraduate training has increased the average age at which faculty begin their academic careers, increasing the likelihood of age-related pressures on tenure track faculty family life.


Q.        Are all schools and colleges now using the eight-year probationary period?


A.        No. U-M schools and colleges have adopted tenure probationary periods that best suit their individual faculty. Today those periods range from five to seven years.

    • The Law School has a five-year probationary period.
    • Five schools (medical, business, education, dentistry, architecture and urban planning) have a seven-year period.
    • The other 13 schools and colleges (including LS&A and engineering) have a six-year probationary period.


Q.        Will schools or colleges be required to make this change?


A.         No. This change would allow a tenure probationary period plus terminal year of up to 10 years, but does not mandate a change. The decision on the length of the tenure probationary period remains in the hands of the governing faculty of each school or college, as it does today.


Many faculty in the Medical School, for example, are concerned that the current probationary period is not long enough to deal with today’s complex research model, line up funding to support their research and discovery efforts, meet regulatory requirements and address other issues.


Q.        If there is a change, will individual schools and colleges feel pressured or obligated to lengthen their tenure probationary periods?


A.        There is clear evidence this will not happen. Currently, of the 19 schools and colleges, only five are at the maximum tenure probationary period. So, the governing faculty of those schools and colleges do not feel pressured or obligated to set their tenure probationary periods at the maximum allowable limit.


Q.        If this change is important to the Medical School, what is the position of the faculty there?


A.        In earlier votes, the longer tenure probationary period was overwhelmingly supported by the governing faculty of the Medical School faculty. In the earlier poll, the change was supported by 80 percent of faculty members during a vote with 886 of 1,660 faculty members participating in the vote. 


Q.        If this is important to the Medical School, what are some of our peer institutions doing with the tenure probationary period?


A.        There is a strong trend among medical schools nationally toward a more flexible tenure probationary period. Many other top-ranked Medical Schools allow a longer probationary period:

            9 years: Baylor, Cornell Emory, Northwestern, Vanderbilt.

            10 years: Case Western, Washington U., Yale.

            11 years: Harvard.

            17 years: Mount Sinai.

            Indefinite: Johns Hopkins.


Q.        Doesn’t the current policy already allow for stopping the tenure clock to extend the probationary period?


A.        Yes. There are provisions for exceptions today. However, extending the probationary period to a maximum of ten years could allow more faculty to have additional time when warranted. Again, this proposed change would only allow a longer probationary period, but does not mandate a longer probationary period. Additionally, provisions for stopping the tenure clock for specific reasons stay in place.


Q.        Wasn’t this studied by a faculty committee a few years ago?


A.         Yes. The Committee to Consider a More Flexible Tenure Probationary Period was appointed by the Office of the Provost. The panel issued a report in 2006. The committee examined a range of questions about the timing of the tenure review process and made a number of recommendations. Here is a link to that report:


Q.        What happened to those recommendations from 2006?


A.        That committee’s report has helped stimulate discussion across campus on how to create a more flexible tenure probationary period that better meets the needs of today’s faculty. That examination, and the subsequent discussion, has led the university community to this point where the Office of the Provost is now proposing this change.


Q.        What is the process for changing this bylaw?


A.        The first step is for the Office of the Provost to engage the university community  –  the Board of Regents (particularly the Personnel, Compensation and Governance Committee), the faculty, executive officers and others – in a discussion of the issue and a possible bylaw change. That discussion has been under way and continues.  The process calls for publication of the proposed bylaw change in the University Record and an open call for public comment.  That public comment process was completed in early March with 85% of the respondents supporting the proposal to change the Bylaw. The proposal was then taken back to the executive officers and the Board of Regents for additional consideration. Based on all this input and discussion, the Provost has decided to recommend the change to the Board of Regents. Like all bylaw changes, this change will require approval by the Board of Regents.

Q.        When will this proposal likely be considered by the Board of Regents?


A.         The proposed change will be considered by the Board of Regents at their April 2011 meeting.