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  Cornell University

The University Faculty

Office of the Dean

4.1.1 Overview

[This webpage is being edited. Until it becomes official, refer to what the current faculty handbook says on this topic.]

Permission to initiate a review for tenure must be obtained from the dean, because it commits the college or school to long-term support of the position.  When a review for promotion to tenure is conducted, it is required to be thorough and well-documented, since the decision that is made is of far-reaching importance both to the individual and to the university.  The first step in the process is a review of the candidate by the faculty of the department.  For this purpose, and with the assistance of the candidate, a complete vita and list of publications are assembled, together with copies of the most relevant of the publications.   Typically the candidate is asked to submit statements of goals and achievements in research, teaching, advising and extension/service. Documentation of success in teaching is collected, in the form of course-evaluation questionnaires and letters from both selected and randomly chosen graduate and undergraduate students.  Evidence of service to the community, the department, the college, and the university is compiled. Letters are solicited from colleagues in the university and from outside experts to provide an evaluation of the quality of the candidate’s creative work and its impact on the scholarship of the field.

The aim of the review is to assess the achievements of the individual during his or her probationary period, as well as the promise shown for growth and further achievement. The detailed procedures by which the department conducts its assessment vary, but they must include the basic elements mentioned above as well as: (1) making the documentation gathered during the review available to the tenured faculty members of the department, (2) holding a meeting of the tenured faculty members for the announced purpose of discussing and voting on the promotion in question, and (3) taking the vote. There is no general prescription for interpreting the vote; some departments do not consider such a vote positive unless the margin of positive over negative votes is quite large. In any case, the department chairperson is not bound by the vote, though he or she must report it to the dean. The chairperson represents the department in making and explaining to the dean the department’s recommendation for or against the promotion.

If, after a tenure review is carried out, the department’s tentative tenure decision is negative, it is communicated to the candidate before being given to the dean, and the candidate has an opportunity to request a reconsideration by the department. The procedures for this are attached as appendix five or can be accessed at

Tenure represents the highest level of investment in academic freedom and responsibility by Cornell University and its professors. The University Faculty adopted the following statement on May 11, 1960:

Academic Freedom for the Faculty of Cornell University means

Freedom of expression in the classroom on matters relevant to the subject and the purpose of the course and of choice of methods in classroom teaching; from direction and restraint in scholarship, research, and creative expression and in the discussion and publication of the results thereof; to speak and write as a citizen without institutional censorship or discipline


Responsibility to perform faithfully the duties of the position; to observe the special obligations of a member of a learned profession and an officer of an educational institution to seek and respect the truth; to make it clear that utterances made on one’s own responsibility are not those of an institutional spokesman.

The strength of a department, a college and the University depends on the wisdom of the decisions on tenure appointments. No single factor is more important to the future of the University than the excellence of its faculty.

No individual has a right to tenure; the ultimate good of the institution, as judged by the process of evaluation, is paramount. Few other decisions about individuals involve such extensive solicitation of advice, internal and external, or have so many steps in the approval process.

While it is generally understood that departments are not authorized to confer tenure, at times there is the feeling that the de facto power is at the department level. There have been instances where department chairpersons, in discussions with candidates or appointees, have minimized the possibility of a negative decision at levels beyond the department. While it is true that the majority of departmental decisions are approved, there is a significant fraction which are not. Thus, caution is advised in any discussions of the probability of the approval of a recommendation.

At Cornell deans have considerable freedom in administering their colleges. In the case of tenure appointments, however, the University review of a dean‟s commendation is not pro forma.

While most tenure recommendations from colleges are approved, each is scrutinized by the provost, and the judgment of the department, the ad hoc committee, and the dean is not automatically accepted. The Board of Trustees approves the appointment of individuals to tenure by secret ballot.

From a technical appointment perspective, “tenure” refers to academic appointment with no end-date, or “appointment with indefinite tenure.” At Cornell University tenure is applied in appointments only to the titles University professor, professor and associate professor, and only in such appointments specifically designated to be tenure-eligible.

Those upon whom tenure has been conferred are appointed for an indefinite term.  However, according to the Bylaws of the University:

All appointments to the staff of instruction and research which are funded from non-University sources (e.g., federal or state appropriations, research or other service contracts or grants) shall be subject to modification or termination in the event that such funding shall cease to be available to the University for such purposes.‟

A college or department cannot make a faculty appointment on external funds without prior approval from the dean and the provost. Such approval will be granted only for a short period and only if it can be demonstrated that unrestricted funds soon will be available.


University Criteria for Tenure

 It is not possible to establish, at the university level, detailed criteria for tenure appointments for the many academic units in the University. The basic criteria are clear: excellence in carrying out the responsibilities of the position and unusual promise for continued achievement. Since the requirements and criteria of a department may change, each decision is a separate action, and independent of any other current or previous decisions within or outside the department.

The responsibilities of a faculty member include teaching, research and other scholarly achievement, public service, advising students, and contributing to the department, the college and the University. Not all faculty members are assigned all these responsibilities. The emphasis given to each responsibility, as determined by existing circumstances, varies among the colleges and departments of the university and may even change within a department.

The department, the chairperson, and the dean have the responsibility of weighing the different roles of each faculty member and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates for tenure, taking into account the mission and needs of the department and the college. These include the interests of the unit and the University to promote racial, ethnic and gender diversity among the faculty. But regardless of how the department weighs the relevant factors in any particular case, no candidate may be granted tenure who does not meet the requirements for overall excellence.

Failure to meet any of the diversity factors may not be used as a negative element in the evaluation of any candidate.

Given the rigorous standards for tenure at Cornell, individuals whose performance has been acceptable, or even of high quality, may not receive promotion. Many candidates for tenure, in evaluating their own progress, often develop unrealistically positive attitudes relative to their chances for promotion. On the other hand, across the university, only about one-half of the candidates for tenure are promoted.

Since a tenure appointment is not a right, and since it could result in a collegial relationship within the department for a period of decades, the department faculty has considerable latitude in reasons for making a negative recommendation. However, such factors as race, color, creed, religion, national or ethnic origin, gender (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, gender expression and identity, veteran status, age, or actual or perceived disability must not be a basis for such decisions.

Last Updated: September 15, 2017 at 10:43 am