What is tenure, anyway?

There are a lot of different kinds of tenure, but at a large state university tenure means that the university has invested in a professor’s career and is making an effort to retain them for the life of their work. It means a considerable pay raise and protection from being fired for mistakes and disagreements. Tenure is actually a vital mechanism to protect independent thought within our higher learning institutions: tenured faculty have the power to raise their voice if they disagree with the direction of the school, methods of research, or treatment of students. Tenure helps to ensure that pure research may be done without as much outside pressure to conform.

Full-time professors are expected to contribute to the university in three ways: teaching, research, and service. Teaching is evaluated by graduation rates (this is easier to see in instrumental studios, when you often have the same student for four years), faculty observation, and student course evaluations.

For music performance faculty (sometimes called “applied faculty”), our research can include publishing articles about flute pedagogy, flute history, reviewing CDs in flute journals, and writing books. The vast majority of our research is actually creative activity: performing concerts, recording CDs, collaborating with other artists.

Finally, professors contribute to their university through service, and this essentially means committee work and administrative organization so that the department can run smoothly. We decide on curriculum changes, the course catalogue, guest artists, and a lot of other issues.

All of this must be painstakingly documented.

So, as you can see, there is a lot more going on under the surface of your applied teacher’s day-to-day. As I have written in another article about different levels of professorships, a tenure-track professor is hired at the rank of assistant professor. Once tenured, they are elevated to the rank of associate professor. After some years, they may elect to seek a rank of full professor.