Skip to main content
  Cornell University

The University Faculty

Office of the Dean

4.1.3 Time Period Prior to Review

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


The initial appointment to the Cornell faculty of a highly qualified person who is already credited with significant achievements may be at the rank of associate or even full professor, but without indefinite tenure. Such appointments are for a limited term of not more than five years, typically in a probationary tenure status. That is, the award of tenure is deferred until the faculty member and the university become well-acquainted and a review leading to the long-term tenure decision is possible.

More commonly, however, tenure is awarded, along with promotion to the rank of associate professor, after a person has spent a period in probationary tenure status as an assistant professor. The length of that period depends on the amount of professional experience the individual has acquired between earning the terminal degree in his or her field and the initial appointment as assistant professor. If that period is no more than a year or so, the candidate is usually reviewed for promotion and tenure in his or her sixth year at Cornell, typically the third year of the second term of appointment as assistant professor. Then, if the outcome is negative, a one-year terminal appointment is provided in the seventh year.

According to university bylaws, a faculty member may not hold the position of assistant professor for more than the equivalent of six years of full-time service, unless, in the judgment of the provost, a temporary extension is warranted.

A department is not bound to undertake a tenure review for all those on the tenure track. The appointment of a faculty member for a definite term may be terminated for reasons involving staffing patterns, the decline in relevance of a research area to the mission of the department, or lack of funds. In such a case, the faculty member should receive written notice as early as possible that there will be no review and should be given a one-year terminal appointment. He or she should be informed of other suitable open faculty positions in the university. The faculty member may appeal the decision not to conduct a tenure review. The procedures for such an appeal are attached as appendix four or may be located on the University Faculty website:

https://theuniversityfaculty.cornell.edu/files/2015/12/APPENDIX-4-1cjbflt.pdf


The Probationary Period

Probationary tenure status (or being on the tenure track) is the period of evaluation before the tenure decision. For faculty early in their academic career, usually assistant professors, the probationary period is normally six years. The beginning of the probationary period does not necessarily coincide with the first appointment at Cornell. While there are some appointments at the tenure level, the majority of the tenure appointments at Cornell result from a positive evaluation of performance during the probationary tenure period.

The initial appointment to the Cornell faculty of a highly qualified person who already is credited with significant achievements may be at the rank of associate or even full professor, but without indefinite tenure. Such appointments are for a limited term of not more than five years, typically in a probationary tenure status. Such appointments are made when there is uncertainty concerning some aspect of the role the faculty member is to assume. For example, an individual with an industrial background might have an established reputation in research but no teaching experience. In such a case the purpose of the probationary period is to establish competence in teaching and the ability to perform in an academic environment.  That is, the award of tenure is deferred until the faculty member and the University become well-acquainted and a review leading to the long-term tenure decision is possible.

Since initial appointments of associate professors and professors in probationary tenure status are expected to result in a tenure appointment after a shorter period, the evaluation should be rigorous. It is better to have a rigorous evaluation before the appointment is made than have a negative decision years later.  For this reason, the procedures to be followed are the same as those for an external appointment to tenure.  Prior approval of the dean and the provost is required before such offers can be made.

More commonly, however, an individual enters an academic career with minimal experience, and if tenure and promotion to the rank of associate professor is to be awarded, it follows a period in probationary tenure status as an assistant professor. The length of that period depends on the amount of professional experience the individual has acquired between earning the terminal degree in the field and the initial appointment as assistant professor. If that period is no more than a year or so, the candidate‟s tenure clock is six years. In such cases the initial appointment is normally for three or four years at the assistant professor level. A candidate who, by the end of this appointment, has fulfilled the expectations of the department is reappointed in the same rank for a second term, to a total of six years at that level; the candidate usually is reviewed for promotion and tenure during the sixth year at Cornell, typically the third year of the second term of appointment as assistant professor.  If the tenure review is successful and achieves the final approvals of the provost and Board of Trustees, the individual is given an appointment without an end-date, that is, “appointment with indefinite tenure,” also known as tenure.

According to the Trustees‟ Bylaws of the University http://www.cornell.edu/trustees/docs/08-5%20bylaws%20w-TC.pdf, a faculty member may not hold the position of assistant professor for more than the equivalent of six years of full-time service, unless in the judgment of the provost, a temporary extension is warranted. There is no provision at Cornell for de facto tenure after any number of years.

There are other possible patterns. A candidate for tenure may have sufficient experience elsewhere in a professorial rank to justify a reduction in the six-year probationary period.  In such a case the department may recommend an appointment as an assistant professor with the stipulation that the tenure decision be made in less than six years.  The maximum reduction in the probationary period normally is three years.

In all cases of appointments involving probationary tenure status, it is important that the candidate understand the procedures and the tenure decision. Information on the timing of the tenure decision should be in the letter of appointment and any reduction of the probationary period because of prior experience should be clearly noted.

The following are other factors about the length of probationary tenure status:

  1. Cornell Academic Parental Leave policy provides for automatically extending the tenure clock for primary or co-equal caregiving parents (including parents of adopted and foster children); please consult pages the policy, particularly pages 44-45 at http://www.policy.cornell.edu/CM_Images/Uploads/POL/vol6_2_1.pdf. The same policy‟s section on “Leave Options in Caring for Family or for Yourself” includes provisions for requesting tenure clock extension if interference with the academic program is substantial around eldercare or caring for special-needs children.
  2. The length of the probationary period for part-time faculty is prorated (“… Fulfillment of length of service requirements will be judged on the basis of equivalency to full-time service; e.g., two years of half-time service would be equivalent to one year of full-time service. Part- time faculty members would be considered for tenure not later than the equivalent of the sixth year of full-time employment … . …” For more information and other provisions please consult the Part-Time Appointment Policy , in the Faculty Handbook or the Appointments section of this policy.)
  3. A leave of absence without pay extends the term of an appointment only when this is recommended in writing by the department chairperson and approved by the dean. The department chairperson and the individual should arrive at an explicit understanding of whether a leave is to be counted as part of the probationary period. The department chairperson attaches to the form requesting the leave a statement describing this understanding and gives the professor a copy. The dean‟s signature on the statement indicates approval.  This policy was approved by the Deans‟ Council on December 18, 1972. It is necessary to notify the Academic Personnel Policy Office about such extensions surrounding leave without
  4. Faculty study leave is included as part of the probationary
  5. Policy for Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) Leave provides that “professors in probationary tenure status who anticipate substantial disruption to the academic program on which tenure evaluation would be based may request an adjustment in the tenure clock or timetable. With the department chair‟s support, approval may be recommended to the dean and the provost.” Please consult the policy “Leaves for Professors and Academic Staff,” the section on Intergovernmental Personnel Act Leave, pages 36-37 at http://www.policy.cornell.edu/CM_Images/Uploads/POL/vol6_2_1.pdf.
  6. Policy governing Academic Short-term Medical Leave provides that “in many cases, Short-term Medical Leave will not alter the tenure timetable; however, professors in probationary tenure status whose research and teaching programs have been seriously compromised may request in writing that the tenure timetable be revised by a semester or a year. Approval of such a request, specifying the new review schedule, requires review by the department chair, the dean, and the provost, via the Academic Personnel Policy Office, except as provided for in Cornell Academic Parental Leave.”
  7. The tenure clock is designed to provide an equitable number of semesters for a professor to develop tenurable achievements and trajectory and for the review potentially to conclude with implementation of Trustee approval. Acting on a professor‟s request supported by the chair and the dean, the provost has the final authority to extend a tenure clock (including time permitted in the title) to restore equitable time on the tenure clock.

Last Updated: September 15, 2017 at 10:44 am