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Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Promotion and Tenure

Criteria for Promotion and Tenure

For general guidelines to the criteria expected for successful promotion and tenure, please see the UTSA Handbook of Operating Procedures, 2.10 “Faculty Reappointment, Promotion, and Tenure.”  Specific criteria will vary by discipline and will be left to individual Departments and Colleges to enunciate.  In this section, we provide some thoughts and reflections on how we set criteria in ways that help the university achieve its long-term goals.

Tenure Criteria

The university has expressed an ambitious goal to become a premier or “national” research university in the coming years. Consequently, its decisions concerning the awarding of tenure to young faculty must be made commensurate with this aspiration.  At the same time, the university has an important responsibility to provide access to educational excellence for its students. These mutually supportive themes suggest that successful applicants for tenure and promotion to associate professor will have the following attributes:

  • They will be active researchers, scholars, and creative artists who engage in discovery and in exploring the nature of the world and the human condition in new ways and with new perspectives.
  • They will disseminate their discoveries and creations so that their work has impact that goes beyond the local community. This dissemination can be manifest in several ways, including publication, exhibition, review, performance, and presentation.
  • Their work will develop concepts and ideas beyond those explored in their graduate dissertations and theses, indicating their essential independence as active scholars.
  • Their instructional activities will be enhanced by their scholarship by
    • extending knowledge about the “cutting-edge” of academic disciplines;
    • providing multiple perspectives on different fields of knowledge, especially those in which there is controversy or dispute;
    • making available opportunities for all students to engage personally in the act of discovery and creation; and
    • modeling the excitement of scholarly activity as one means of lifelong learning.
  • They will exercise innovative approaches in their instructional activities, including seeking out novel methods of delivery, student engagement, and self-guided learning.
  • They will take seriously their commitment to develop students into transformative leaders of a diverse society within a global context.
  • They will demonstrate willingness to engage in service activities that benefit their Department, College, and professional discipline.
  • Without exception, they will measurably improve their departments and colleges and raise the standard for the next generation of tenure-track faculty.

This last point is important as it implicitly states that each department and college must consciously ask the question, “Does this faculty member raise the level of our department by their presence and activity or not?” If the answer is that the candidate does not, then tenure should not be awarded.

Early Tenure

Tenure-track faculty may be considered early for award of tenure and promotion, that is, before the beginning of the sixth year of the probationary period. However, as the university’s standards for tenure rise, it will be increasingly difficult for faculty candidates to achieve “early tenure.” Recent statistics suggest that success with early tenure is only about half as likely as it is for candidates applying in the sixth year.

The following thoughts concern the circumstances under which early tenure and promotion should be considered, or not:

  • The university’s baseline assumption is that all candidates will not be considered for tenure and promotion until the penultimate (usually sixth) year of the probationary period.
  • The overall record for scholarly achievement, teaching excellence, and willingness to participate in service obligations for an “early” candidate should be comparable in terms of both quantity and quality to that of a successful candidate coming up in the sixth year.
  • A candidate who is showing “good progress” toward tenure is not necessarily ready to be tenured and promoted (see previous point).
  • Departments should include consideration of any scholarly productivity completed prior to coming to UTSA by tenure-track faculty who have served as faculty at other colleges and universities. In essence, all accomplishments by faculty in their current and equivalent positions should be considered. This may lead to a favorable decision to promote early.
  • Before initiating the process for an early tenure and promotion consideration, tenure-track faculty should consult with the Chair and, if possible, the Dean. If they cannot provide unqualified support for an early application, it is best to wait before applying.
  • A final decision to “hold without prejudice” an early application for tenure is not a rejection or a denial, but simply a statement that the case is not yet ready for approval.

Unsolicited Advice for Tenure-Track Faculty

As you set your expectations for what level of accomplishment is needed to achieve tenure and promotion to associate professor, look beyond your own department. Consider the kinds of activities and productivity that are required for tenure at an institution (or department) to which we aspire. Look at what faculty at those institutions typically achieve in order to earn tenure and emulate them. Try to consistently set a higher bar than that exemplified by your tenured colleagues— in this way, you cannot help but meet and even exceed the standards at UTSA.

Consider the fact that, when you apply for tenure, your Chair will send your materials out to several external reviewers who will then advise the university about the impact of your scholarly work. What those reviewers say will be influenced in part by whether they are already familiar with your work. Do the things necessary to make sure as many potential external reviewers as possible know about your work in advance. This means doing such things as publishing your work, submitting grant proposals, exhibiting your creative work (if applicable), performing, attending meetings and making presentations, being active in a professional society, and seeking advice from leaders in your sub-field. If you engage in these kinds of activities, you will be doing all the things we expect you to do in preparation for your tenure application.

Pay attention to your own effectiveness in the classroom and take steps to improve it, even if your students give you good reviews. The act of participating in teaching-improvement workshops speaks volumes about your dedication to the education of your students. Think about what you want your students to learn, and how you want them to develop in your courses, then take steps to make sure that you are helping them achieve those expectations. Take assessment of learning outcomes seriously and close the loop: use the results of assessment to change your approach in the classroom. Being an effective instructor is mostly dependent upon your desire to help students succeed.

Show your willingness to participate in service activities at the department level.  In general, your service activities will be at the department, rather than the college or university, level.   Your departmental colleagues want to know that you are someone that they will be able to depend upon to carry your share of the workload.  This service also allows you to understand department norms and expectations. Professional and community service is also valued, but it should not substitute for committee and other service at UTSA. You should be wary of formal administrative roles (e.g. assistant chair, etc.) that may impair your ability to develop a scholarly record commensurate with tenure.  You should consult with your Chair about the appropriate service load for tenure-track faculty in your department.

Only candidates that receive consistent support at the departmental and college levels of the review process have a strong likelihood of a successful outcome in a tenure and promotion application. Tenure is not a constitutional right that is yours to lose. It is something that must be earned through your demonstration that you are the kind of scholar-teacher whose contributions will drive excellence at the university for years to come. No other occupation, short of appointment to the federal judiciary, provides comparable job security and freedom to exercise intellectual curiosity and discovery. Your tenured colleagues may not be perfect, but they are entrusted with the primary evaluation of your suitability to join their ranks.

Full Professor Criteria

A simple enunciation of the criteria to be used for promotion to full professor is difficult for a university in transition such as UTSA. As we strive for national research university status, it will be increasingly important that our faculty demonstrate academic leadership in their disciplines through their research/scholarly/creative activities. However, sole adherence to this criterion would oversimplify our consideration of the variety of cases that come forward.

For successful promotion to full professor, faculty should demonstrate the following qualities:

  • They are active scholars and whose scholarship manifests an inherent desire to learn about the world and the human condition within it.
  • They are devoted and effective teachers who promote student success, both inside and outside the classroom and laboratory.
  • They are committed citizens of the university and of their respective disciplines, and manifest this through significant service activities, including leadership positions.
  • They have made extraordinary contributions to the university and/or their academic discipline through achieving at least one of the following:
    • a national or international reputation for their research/scholarly/creative activities as indicated by refereed publications in journals or publishing houses of the first rank, peer reviews of scholarly and/or creative work, competitiveness for grants, and external awards and recognition.
    • recognition for the quality and quantity of their instruction-related activities, including contributions to pedagogy within their academic sub-field, authorship of leading textbooks, significant commitment to advising and mentoring students leading to successful student outcomes, and awards for teaching excellence.
    • distinction for leadership activities at both the university and external levels, including significant leadership service as a faculty administrator (chair, director, associate dean, dean, vice provost, provost), officer in a prominent national organization or academic society whose activities are related to their role as a faculty member, or awards for community or disciplinary service.

There is significant latitude for departments and colleges to interpret these criteria for promotion liberally, and to subject them to their own disciplinary lens and filter. It is the intention of the university to utilize promotion to full professor to recognize faculty who have made major contributions to the mission of the university, and by extension, to the national community of faculty in their respective disciplines.

As in the case of the award of tenure, only candidates that receive consistent support for promotion to full professor at the departmental and college levels of the review process have a strong likelihood of success.