Academic titles and tenure: what does it all mean?

Liz Bosarge


Wesley Garrett, director of legal studies. Photo by Liz Bosarge.

It is safe to say that most students do not give much thought to the title of the people who teach their classes.  

At The W, there are instructors, adjunct professors, assistant professors, associate professors, professors and even emeritus professors.  Each title represents a promotion level in the faculty ranking system.  There are also administrative titles that further identify faculty, such as dean, coordinator or director.  

“The major mistake students make is assuming that an assistant professor is an assistant to a professor, but it’s actually a title,” said Dr. Dee Dee Larson, coordinator and professor of marketing and management for the College of Business and Professional Studies at The W. 

On Jan. 16, 2016, eligible faculty members at The W can submit their portfolios for consideration of promotion and tenure for this academic year.  The requirements for a promotion and tenure packet include an application, letters of recommendation, proof of his or her value to the university and a narrative explaining their success in the classroom.  The components that define a professor’s role at MUW are teaching and advising, service to the university, service to the community and research in their field(s) of study.  Student evaluations are included in this packet. 

Dr. Brian Anderson, the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and a professor of political science, explained that going through the promotion and tenure process requires making a case for your worth at the university.  He also stated that professors make adjustments to their curriculum based on student evaluations.

However, not all professors are eligible for tenure. Adjunct professors usually only teach one or two classes and are hired as temporary employees. Visiting assistant professors are generally contract employees and are not working toward tenure.

After five years of employment, tenure-track faculty members are eligible to apply for promotion.  Applying for promotion is optional, but when a professor has been employed for six years, he or she must apply for tenure. Tenure indicates that a professor has proven skills and can be granted a permanent position at the university.  

 “It’s the same [process] for both promotion and tenure, but tenure, in my opinion, needs to be a little more elaborate and have more explanation,” said Wesley Garrett, director of the legal studies program at The W.  

Garrett earned her law degree at the University of Alabama.  She completed her undergraduate work at The W, taking the same classes she now teaches.  Garrett described The W as a special university.

“Professors know your name at the W, the professors and instructors like teaching, and there is so much connection with the students here,” said Garrett, who plans to spend most of her Christmas break working on her tenure package. 

“Fingers crossed, it will make it through,” she said.