3.2 Tenure Process

This policy was last updated October 10, 2023. See the update history page for more information.

The Institute regards tenure as important to ensuring academic freedom in teaching, research, and extramural activity. A department and the School or College make a career commitment when the award of tenure is recommended. The Institute as a whole, acting through the Academic Council and the Corporation, joins in this commitment when tenure is awarded.

Persons awarded tenure must be judged by distinguished members of their discipline to be of first rank among scholars and to show promise of continued contribution to scholarship. Tenured members of the Faculty must also demonstrate outstanding teaching, mentoring, advising, and Institute service; however, excellence in these important roles is not in itself a sufficient basis for awarding tenure.

A single standard of exceptional quality, as confirmed by distinguished members of their disciplines, applies across the Institute.  However, it should be noted that what is used as evidence of scholarly achievement and impact will vary based on the discipline and its modes of inquiry. The opportunities for mentoring, advising, and Institute service will also vary among different departments.

Promotion to tenure is granted through a positive and systematic evaluation process culminating in a specific recommendation to the President by the Academic Appointments Subgroup of the Academic Council and, following the President's recommendation, explicit approval by the Executive Committee of the Corporation. Failure to give due notice of non-reappointment does not confer tenure. As in all decisions under these procedures (and procedures that may be developed by the Schools, College, and departments), the failure to follow a guideline or procedure may not be grounds for an affirmative appointment, reappointment, or promotion, but may be grounds for reconsideration of the decision.

Tenure is a permanent appointment relinquished upon retirement, resignation, or revoked pursuant to the process outlined in Section 3.4 Termination of Tenure. The rules of tenure may be summarized as follows:

  1. MIT’s faculty includes three ranks: 1) assistant professor, 2) associate professor, and 3) professor.
  2. Appointment as professor carries tenure. Associate professor appointments may be either tenured or non-tenured as outlined in Section 2.1 Faculty Appointments.
  3. Tenure appointments will not be made in the ranks of assistant professor, visiting professor, adjunct professor, or professor of the practice, or to teaching appointments in the Department of Athletics, the Medical Department, or ROTC.
  4. Assistant professors and non-tenured associate professors with a total of eight years of service and no tenure clock extensions must receive tenure in order to continue in a faculty position.
  5. Annually, department heads must review every tenure track faculty member in the department to evaluate that  individual's prospects for a future and permanent appointment at the Institute.
  6. Tenure applies only to those with faculty rank, not to administrative positions; for example, department heads do not have tenure in that position but only in their academic rank.

Tenure Clock Timing and Service CalculationsFor faculty hired after July 1, 2023, the tenure clock normally begins on July 1 of the calendar year in which the individual is initially appointed to a tenure track faculty position.

A year of service means equivalent full-time academic service as an MIT faculty member, calculated as follows:

  • Each year of recognized professional leave counts as one year of service; approved personal leaves are excluded.
  • Equivalent full-time service allows the addition of fractions of years representing part-time service

For example, an individual with a half-time appointment for one academic year is deemed to have one-half year of service.

Any exception to the rules determining years of service requires written approval of the appropriate department head, Dean, and the Provost. Faculty should consult Section 7.5 Leaves of Absence and Faculty Teaching Relief for more information regarding applicable rules on leaves of absence and the determination of years of service for tenure decisions.

For policies that address the issues of tenure and family care, see Sections 3.2.1 Extension of Tenure Clock for Childbearing, 3.2.2 Part-Time Appointment with Tenure for Family Care, and 7.5.3 Faculty Teaching Relief. For information on tenure and retirement, see Sections 3.3 Review of a Decision not to Promote or Award Tenure3.4 Termination of Tenure and 7.7 Retirement of Faculty and Staff Members.

3.2.1 Extension of Tenure Clock for Faculty Leaves

Child Care

In recognition of the effects that the birth or adoption of a child can have on a faculty member's ability to perform all the tasks necessary and expected to achieve tenure, a faculty member who becomes a new parent by birth or adoption during their tenure probationary period may have that period extended as described below.

For birth parents, a one-year extension is automatic because of their prolonged medical leave, though they may choose to opt out of the extension. For the birth of any additional child (or children), additional one-year extensions are also automatically granted, again with the possibility of opting out. The birth of twins or multiple children is considered a single birth event, for which a one-year (not multi-year) extension is granted.

For other parents by birth or adoption, a one-year extension will be granted if, for at least six months within the first 12 months after the child’s birth or adoption (1) the faculty member will be spending the majority of their academic time on caring for the child; and (2) will be the primary or equal caregiver for the child. Additional one-year extensions for the birth or adoption of any additional child (or children) will be granted by the Provost upon request under the same conditions. As with birth parents, a faculty member may opt out of any extension. As stated above, the birth of twins or multiple children is considered a single birth event; similarly, the adoption of multiple children at the same time is considered a single adoption event. In these cases, a one-year (not multi-year) extension is granted, assuming the conditions in this paragraph are met.

Because foster placements may be for limited periods of time, foster parents who wish to request an extension of the tenure clock should submit their request in writing to the Provost, with copies to their Department Head and Dean. These copies are for informational purpose only; only the Provost can grant the request. In their requests, faculty members should explain briefly their work and family situation, and describe how their involvement and responsibility for the care of the new foster child will have a significant impact on their research.

Family Care; Medical Leave; Personal Leave

A faculty member may also request an extension of the tenure clock for other family reasons, including leaves covered under Section 7.5.2 (care for a family member with a serious health condition, and care for a member of the armed services). A faculty member with a prolonged medical leave may also request an extension of the tenure clock. Note that a personal leave granted under Section 7.5.4 normally extends the tenure clock.

As in all tenure cases, a tenure review can take place prior to the end of the probationary period and that possibility should be assessed annually.

Faculty may not request an extension of the tenure clock during the academic year in which the tenure would normally be decided; note that this constraint does not apply to extensions that are automatically granted to new parents under the conditions set forth above.

Generally, the maximum extension is two years, with the exception that leaves granted to birth and adoptive parents as described above do not count towards the two year maximum.

See also Sections 3.2.2 Part-Time Appointment with Tenure for Family Care and 7.5.3 Faculty Teaching Relief.

3.2.2 Part-Time Appointment with Tenure for Family Care

Normally, tenured faculty members, regardless of gender, who need time for family care (children, partners, elders) may request a reduced-time (but not below 50-percent time), reduced-pay appointment for one or more semesters up to five years, with possible renewal. Details of the arrangement must be made with the department head and require the approval of the Dean of the School or the College. Faculty will be asked to specify the nature of the family care that is needed.

Faculty who take advantage of this policy will reduce their outside professional activities proportionately.

This arrangement is limited to family care and does not apply to any other reason for requesting a part-time appointment.

See also Sections 3.2.1 Extension of Tenure Clock for Childbearing and 7.5.3 Faculty Teaching Relief.