Skip to main content
Northwestern University

Promotion for Tenure-Line Faculty

The information here is for candidates and chairpersons.  
See also promotion dossier deadlines and links to helpful documents.

The Grant of Tenure

Northwestern’s policy with regard to tenure aims for a faculty of unqualified excellence.  It calls for application of the highest standards with respect to professional achievement and promise in both research and teaching.  Weinberg College aims for the superlative, and each case is evaluated on its own merits.  A recommendation of tenure implies that the candidate in question constitutes as good a permanent appointment in his or her area as Northwestern is capable of making now or in the foreseeable future, given both accomplishments to date and reasonable expectations about his or her future achievements.  Tenure is not awarded for competent service, solid research, and adequate teaching.

In most cases, professional achievement takes the form of research activity that issues in publication or artistic work that is publicly displayed. Departments—and subsequently ad hoc committees, acting with the advice of external referees, and the Weinberg College Committee on Tenure or Committee on Promotion—evaluate the quantity, but above all, the quality, creativity, importance, and influence of such work.  These bodies look for evidence of superior achievement relative to peer scholars, recognition of that achievement by senior colleagues both within and beyond the campus, and the promise of a career trajectory that will continue to affect the direction of his or her field.  A positive recommendation to confer tenure should offer strong evidence supporting claims about the high quality of a candidate’s work, the distinctiveness of his or her voice, and the degree of influence on the field.  Candidates for tenure are expected to have established national reputations through their research, writing, and/or artistic work.  In all regards, the standard is a high level of excellence.

The quality of a candidate’s teaching and his or her potential as a teacher are major factors affecting the decision to grant tenure.  Teaching is defined broadly; it means not simply the ability to lecture, but also the faculty member’s role vis-a-vis students in various contexts, from seminars or independent study to advising.  Advising is a significant part of teaching, since conveying to students what may be the best academic course for them to follow, given their interests and goals, is to help educate them.  Mentoring of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows (if relevant) is a highly significant part of teaching, as it involves nothing less than the preparation of the next generation’s intellectual leaders, both within and beyond the academy. An institution devoted to instruction must weigh the quality of teaching in all decisions regarding its faculty. 

A candidate’s record of service is demonstrated by participation in activities related to governance of the academic community at any level of the organization: department, College, or University.  Assistant professors, like other members of the tenure-line faculty, are expected to share in the duties of faculty governance, although they may have concentrated their service within the department.

In almost all cases, candidates for tenure will have undergone formal review at the time of reappointment, typically in the third year of the probationary term. A positive review at that time or at any point before the start of the tenure review itself should not be interpreted as a guarantee of tenure. Indefinite tenure may be granted only after lengthy, thorough review of the candidate's mature dossier of materials, beginning with the crucial vote of the candidate’s department, drawing on external assessment and thorough discussion.  If the department recommends the grant of tenure, additional senior authorities in the candidate's field, the candidate's ad hoc committee, the Weinberg College Committee on Tenure, the Dean, and the Provost will all have had the opportunity to evaluate the record of achievement and promise of continuing excellence.

Senior members of the department are typically available to offer guidance and advice about publication strategy, allotment of time, and other matters pertaining to the development of a scholarly career, the improvement of teaching, the tenure process, and other matters.  Some departments assign “mentors” and some take a more informal approach.  For scholars with an interdisciplinary bent, senior colleagues in a Center or Program may be sources of guidance.  The Associate Dean for Faculty is also available to discuss professional concerns.  It is the responsibility of the junior faculty member to seek out such advice when needed.

Decisions about tenure need not be taken until the final year of the individual’s probationary term.  Departments and candidates alike should view it as normal that an individual takes the full number of years available to establish his or her influence in the field.  There must be no presumption that an early recommendation for promotion is necessary to prove a candidate’s strength.  Tenure-track faculty should not be pressured to rush to a review that may prove to be premature and should approach an early review with a great deal of caution.

When a faculty member has been granted an extension of the probationary period of one or more years, the Dean’s Office instructs departments and review committees to hold the candidate to the same standards as any other faculty member in the sixth probationary year and not to some more stringent standard.

Promotion to the Full Professorship

Promotion to the rank of professor is appropriate when the faculty member has achieved a high level of distinction, supported by clear evidence of deep and broad influence in the field and the prospect of continued excellence.  Such distinction may be based in part on the work that earned tenure, but it must also be grounded in significant, well-known scholarship (or equivalent activity) accomplished since that time.  The department, review committees, Dean, and Provost look for a demonstration that the candidate has fulfilled the promise seen at the time of the tenure decision.  Likewise, it is expected that through steady development of talents, the candidate has attained  a level of excellence in classroom teaching, advising of undergraduates, and mentoring of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows (if relevant). The candidate should also have built a record of active and productive service to Weinberg College and University.  Such accomplishments—not time served or minimal satisfaction of some quantitative norm—are the measure of readiness for promotion to full professor.

The candidate’s major work completed since tenure is the heart of the review of research or other professional achievement.  A faculty member best presents himself or herself for promotion after that work is published, unless the results of the post-tenure work have been widely disseminated before actual publication.  It has become increasingly difficult to persuade referees to read unpublished manuscripts on short notice.  Likewise the Committee on Promotion raises questions about candidates whose new work has not yet had time to enter into debates in the field.  A candidate who submits an unpublished manuscript as the centerpiece of his or her promotion case should bear in mind that the top scholars in the field who read this draft version may not later read the final version. Therefore, one should think carefully about the timing of one’s candidacy for promotion if the major work is still in manuscript.

Finally, if a candidate’s research program depends on extramural funding, there must be clear evidence that he or she has secured such funding or is doing everything possible to do so.

The Review Process: Stages and Timing 

In the year before the promotion review, the department chairperson and candidate should settle on a timetable for submitting the various materials in the dossier.  It may be necessary to present some items in the spring preceding the departmental vote so that the chairperson may solicit letters from external authorities over the summer.  If a candidate’s field expects a book for promotion, ideally it should be published prior to the start of the review.  If it is not, the final form of the manuscript should be accepted for publication by the time of the department vote; that is to say the manuscript should at least be “in press” and readers’ reports should be available.  Late submission almost always leads reviewers and committee members to wonder about the candidate’s productivity and his or her ability to bring future projects to completion.  Such concerns are acute if press readers’ reports are absent from the dossier that is sent to the ad hoc committee (in tenure cases).  Also, a last-minute publication surge is often viewed with skepticism – particularly by a candidate for tenure – since this may create the impression that he or she needed the “fire” of an impending tenure decision to bring work to completion.

The department conducts the initial review of the candidate.  It calls upon external authorities for evaluation of the candidate’s work and standing, sending them the CV and offering copies of publications.  No more than half of such referees may be named by the candidate. The referees should not be former advisors, collaborators, post-doctoral supervisors, close personal friends, or others having a relationship with the candidate that might reduce objectivity. Individual members of the department may also provide formal assessments to their voting colleagues.  In the fall, the department discusses the promotion, votes and forwards its recommendation to the Dean.  When that recommendation is positive, the department must also submit a dossier of materials, many of which are supplied by the candidate. These materials are due in the Dean’s Office in late October (cases for tenure) or early November (cases for promotion to full professor).  The dossier should be assembled with care.

When the department votes not to recommend a candidate for tenure in his or her final probationary year, the department must submit to the Dean a letter explaining the basis of that evaluation and the nature of the departmental review.  This letter focuses on a full statement of the department’s discussion of the candidate’s record in research, teaching, and service along with an indication of the procedures followed in the departmental review, including an account of the department vote. Strengths and weaknesses are presented, and minority opinions are represented either in the text of the letter or in a minority report. The department’s letter is accompanied by the candidate’s vita, personal statement, and the external referees’ letters collected by the department.  The candidate may write directly to the Dean to appeal the recommendation.

During the review beyond the level of the department, the candidate may communicate with the Dean’s Office through the department chair and/or a senior colleague whom the candidate names as his or her representative.  Likewise the Dean’s Office will be in touch with both the chairperson and the designated representative if questions or requests arise in the review process.

The Dean sets up an ad hoc committee for each candidate who has been recommended positively.  In tenure cases, the committee typically has three members; when tenure is not an issue the committee has two members only.  Committee members always come from outside the candidate’s department. They normally work in related fields or have special knowledge of the candidate’s field.  The identities of the members remain confidential and the committee operates through the agency of the Dean’s Office.  The committee reviews material submitted by the department and seeks the advice of authorities in the field and former students of the candidate. (Sample letters can be found in Appendices 2-4.)  The committee selects the referees and benchmarks and determines how the candidate’s field should be described to referees.  The evaluations gathered from external authorities are fundamentally important in the College’s assessment of the quality and influence of a candidate’s work and of the strength of his or her scholarly reputation.  The ad hoc committee generally delivers its report and recommendation to the Dean in February, the department is informed of the recommendation, and senior members may read an edited version of the report.  (The department does not see the letters collected by the ad hoc committee.)  If appropriate, the department may submit a response.  For a full description of the ad hoc committee process, refer to the document Summary of Ad Hoc Procedures.

In March and April, the College’s elected Committee on Tenure and Committee on Promotion meet to examine all Weinberg College cases for tenure and for promotion to full professor respectively.  The charge of each Committee is to monitor the quality of recommendations made by departments and ad hoc committees and to ensure that consistent standards are applied across the College.  The twelve members of the Committee on Tenure and the six members of the Committee on Promotion serve in equal numbers from the three Divisions; they are elected for staggered three-year terms.  A Committee member does not participate in the discussion of candidates from his or her own department and does not review those files.  Like the ad hoc committees, the Committee on Promotion and the Committee on Tenure see the materials submitted by the department.  Members also read letters from external referees and redacted versions of the ad hoc report and letters from students.  In a large number of cases, the Committee has questions which are not answered by the dossier and it will invite a delegation from the department to meet with it.  The candidate’s representative is one member of the delegation.  At the end of the deliberations, the appropriate Committee votes on each case, such votes serving as advice to the Dean.  A positive vote requires two-thirds of voters to favor promotion. These votes are not reported to departments.

The Dean receives recommendations from the department, ad hoc committee, the Committee on Promotion or the Committee on Tenure in the form of votes and, more importantly, written and oral comments.  All three bodies are advisory to the Dean; none enjoys primacy by virtue of sequence in the process or number of voters.  The Dean reviews each file and decides whether to recommend promotion.  The Dean then submits the positive recommendations to the Provost for approval and reports the names of those candidates whom he has decided not to promote.  The Provost and President will likely respond in late May or early June, at which point each candidate is notified of the decision.  Promotions usually take effect the following September 1 after ratification by the Board of Trustees.

The process is long and thorough.  Candidates should not feel anxious because of its length; the several stages—not difficulties in any case—dictate the timetable.


The dossier submitted to the Dean’s Office contains:

For a complete list of materials to be provided in the dossier, see either the document Required Materials for Promotion with Tenure or the document Required Materials for Promotion to Full Professor.

Many of these items are prepared by the candidate and submitted to the department; the chairperson will advise regarding timetables and numbers of copies.  So that the department may seek external letters, it may be necessary for the candidate to turn in key publications and a copy of the vita in the spring before the year of review.  In this way, external authorities can be polled over the summer.  The candidate may then submit updated copies of these materials in the fall before the department’s vote.

Department staff have been briefed on the preparation of dossiers; candidates should consult them about exact formats (e.g. the Dean’s Office needs publications to be numbered).  The chairperson and other senior members of the department add a letter evaluating the candidate’s teaching, research, service, and standing in the field.

Department letter

The letter prepared by the chairperson and signed by several other members of the department provides an evaluation of the candidate’s teaching, research, and service.  It also suggests the names of potential external referees, student referees, and benchmarks.

External referees

The department suggests at least eight distinguished scholars typically at leading universities to whom the ad hoc committee may turn for advice. In assembling the list of referees, the department may consult with the candidate, but the department is instructed that no more than half of the list be composed of authorities named by the candidate.  Proposed referees must be known to have tenure; for a promotion to the rank of professor, the referees should be full professors.  Care should be taken that their research interests are reasonably close to the candidate’s, although they should not all be in the same narrowly-defined subfield. External evaluators must be able to provide an objective evaluation of the work.  They should not be former advisors, collaborators, post-doctoral supervisors, close personal friends, or others having a relationship with the candidate that might reduce objectivity.  It is essential that those generating the list of prospective external referees ascertain the relationship of those individuals with the candidate so that letters will not be sought from persons who cannot provide an arm’s-length evaluation. The department must indicate why each person named is an appropriate referee and must note any special distinction of the individual or special relationship between the candidate and a suggested referee (a former colleague, dissertation adviser, etc.).  The department is welcome to identify which of the potential external referees must be asked to contribute an assessment.  The ad hoc committee otherwise chooses to write to some or all of the suggested referees.  The committee also consults qualified individuals who are not on the list. The identities of all external referees remain confidential and no one in the department sees the letters collected by the ad hoc committee.

Student referees

With the advice of the candidate, the department provides the names and current email addresses of at least five former undergraduate or graduate students (the distribution to be determined by the academic focus of the department and candidate).  Each student should be identified by the date when he or she was the candidate’s student, the level of the course, its size, and its subject.  Ad hoc committees usually write to a randomly selected set of twenty or twenty-five former students and advisees in addition to five or six of those proposed by the department.


The department letter includes the names of scholars, normally three or four, with whom external referees may be asked to compare the candidate.  They should be the leaders in the candidate’s field who are slightly more advanced than the candidate and who have already attained the rank proposed for the candidate.  Referees are asked to compare candidate and benchmarks at equivalent points in their careers.  The department suggests benchmarks, although the chair may consult the candidate.  The ad hoc committee makes the final choice.

External letters collected by the department

The department forwards the Dean’s Office copies of all external evaluations it has received. 

Curriculum vitae

The candidate should follow College guidelines for preparing the CV and submits both paper and electronic versions.  Our format calls for information about teaching and service which is not ordinarily included in a professional CV.  The vita—or the section related to research and publication—is sent to all external referees.  For that reason, it should be prepared with care and checked for accuracy.  Unrealistic publication dates for forthcoming work decrease the credibility of the candidate.  The candidate should also be scrupulous in indicating which unpublished papers are “in preparation,” “submitted,” “under revision” and “accepted/forthcoming/in press.”  Updates may be submitted during the course of the review for the use of the various committees and Dean.  We do not send updated CVs to external referees. 

It is to the candidate’s advantage to include in the vita a short technical narrative describing current or forthcoming research plans as part of the vita.  Many referees ask for information about the direction of the candidate’s work.  It is also helpful to reviewers if the candidate identifies his or her dissertation mentor, postdoctoral adviser(s), and collaborators who are his or her students.

Statement by the candidate

Whereas any narrative in the vita should be written for experts, a separate non-technical statement of self-assessment is needed for the faculty Committee on Promotions within Weinberg College.  This document gives the candidate an opportunity to make a case for his or her accomplishments in teaching, research, and service.  Plans for the future should be discussed as well as past and present work.  The statement should be addressed to a non-specialist audience: the ad hoc committee, the appropriate Committee on Promotion, the Dean and the Provost. (These statements are sent to external reviewers only in response to a specific request.)  Members of the various committees find clear, concise statements to be extraordinarily helpful in evaluating a case for promotion.  The Dean’s Office has on file several samples which candidates may consult.


Unlike a technical research description, the statement requires that the candidate lay out the content, originality, and significance of his or her work in terms accessible to an educated lay reader.  Necessary technical descriptions should follow from this more general account.  Included should be a definition of the candidate’s field and the candidate’s place in it.  The candidate may want to discuss several of his or her most important publications or experiments, describing how this work has influenced the direction of the field.  Current and planned research should be described in relation to what has already been accomplished.  The focus of the review will be the work done since appointment to a faculty position or since the last promotion.

Please note that the letter to external referees asks about the candidates’ “contributions to [specified] field.”  The ad hoc committee will specify the final wording of this sentence, and the candidate’s statement is helpful in guiding them.


The committees and Dean would particularly like to know about the candidate’s approach to education and goals in teaching.  There is no simple formula for good teaching, but effective instructors are often described in terms of imagination, high standards, conscientiousness, clarity, a feel for what is important and original, and respect for students. The candidate may discuss in which ways his or her teaching has been most successful and, particularly in tenure cases, how that teaching may have improved over the previous four or five years.  Curricular innovations should be discussed as well as diverse contributions to instruction (e.g. training of teaching assistants, advising).


The candidate should discuss significant service to the University or profession.

Special Issues

The faculty committees often ask about the candidate’s role in collaborations, the reason for continued collaborative work with graduate school or postdoctoral mentors, the difference between the dissertation and the book, low rates of publication in refereed journals, and the specific contingencies from a press if a manuscript is “under contract.”  In the sciences and those social science fields where external support is needed for research, committees ask how candidates without such funding will be able to conduct research.  You may wish to address any such issues in the statement.

The statement should be roughly five-to-ten double-spaced pages in length.

Supporting materials: publications or equivalent materials

Articles and books that have been completed—and have appeared in print, are in press, or have been submitted for publication—are preferred.  All publications should be included, not just those completed since the last promotion or review and they should be numbered as on the vita.  Work in progress should be included when it has reached a sufficient state of readiness to make evident its likely final form and importance to the candidate’s advancing research program. Please do not submit copies of papers that are not yet ready to be seen by outside readers.

Book reviews written by the candidate need generally not be supplied unless they are broad review articles.  If the candidate has received patents for his or her work, information about those should be included with publications. 

The Dean’s Office routinely sends a packet of materials to referees and consults the candidate about what should be included.  Referees will be sent other publications if they so request. 

Please check over your manuscripts carefully to make sure that all the pages are present and that the copies are legible.  The Dean’s Office does not have time to check each candidate’s publications for errors before sending materials to referees.  The version submitted to the Dean’s Office around the beginning of November is the version that will go out to referees. Revisions to a manuscript beyond this point cannot be considered in the review.

A faculty member may prefer to set up a web page specifically for the review.  This web page should include the CV and electronic versions of publications at a minimum.  In the fall, this page will be transferred to the Dean’s Office server in order to maintain the confidentiality for referees accessing the material.  If the candidate is presenting a website as part of the dossier, it is his or her responsibility to make sure that reviewers can access the site.  This may mean supplying passwords or checking that the site can be viewed from a variety of platforms and browsers.

Supporting materials about teaching

Copies of CTEC course evaluations (both the statistical summaries and summaries of comments) are required, as are course syllabi. Evidence of awards; information about course development; course examinations; reports of classroom visits by senior faculty; letters from students to the instructor; descriptions of role played in advising students, post-Northwestern affiliations of former advisees, etc., are also submitted as appropriate.  One copy of all grade sheets for the last three years in residence should be submitted; they provide the ad hoc committee with names of possible student referees.

Materials about relative standing in the field and current research

Ad hoc committees and the Committee on Promotion and the Committee on Tenure interest themselves in all evaluative materials and in materials relating to the candidate’s current research.

Published reviews of the candidate’s work

Readers’ reports of a candidate’s manuscript from a university press; copy of contract if book is unpublished.

Grant proposals (current), both approved and pending

One should not include information about unsuccessful proposals.  (Cover sheet, abstract, budget pages, reviewers’ comments only.)  Candidates may include “pink sheets” at their discretion.

Citations of the candidate’s publications as referenced by the Science Citation Index, the Social Sciences Citation Index, the Arts and Humanities Index, Google Scholar or alternative computer-generated source.  Any third-party comments about the candidate’s research in such essays as “The Year’s Work in…” or “Recent Work in…” are also useful.  Ad hoc committees use citations to judge how widely the candidate’s work is used and the most useful citation indices indicate both how often the candidate’s work is cited and by whom.

Additional materials; appropriate procedure

The candidate may supply materials not listed above but which bear on the evaluation of his or her work.  Materials that become available during the review year (for example, vita updates, new publications, a reader’s report from a press) can be added to a dossier at any time.  All such should be routed to the Dean’s Office through chairpersons and/or representatives so that the department is also informed of changes in the dossier.  Any inquiries about the process from candidates should similarly be routed through the department.

Budgetary Joint Appointments

A special protocol applies to the departmental review of a candidate with a budgetary joint appointment between two departments, two schools, or a department and a program.  A copy is available from the Dean’s Office.


Promotion reviews are treated as confidential.  Departments are asked not to discuss the departmental deliberations beyond the pool of eligible voters, and departments and Dean’s Office strive to maintain the confidentiality of referee letters. Candidates are likewise asked to observe the need for confidentiality and not, for example, attempt to contact referees to see if they have submitted letters, have been asked to submit letters, or to discuss any aspect of the department deliberations.  If a candidate wishes to discuss matters related to the promotion with a colleague outside the department – for example a former adviser – the candidate should inform the department chair so that such a conversation does not interfere with the conduct of a full and confidential review beyond the department.

Back to top