Oklahoma State University is considering how to extend the probationary period for tenure-track faculty by one year, an email sent to all faculty said.
Under ordinary circumstances, OSU employees who are hired as assistant professors are reviewed for promotion to associate professor in their sixth year. This six-year period is referred to as the “tenure clock.”
During this time, professors are evaluated based on how well they do their jobs. The decision to promote these professors is an impactful one because for many, it’s potentially a job they can hold for the rest of their careers.
According to the OSU faculty handbook, any assistant professor can request an extension of their tenure clock because of extraordinary circumstances.
“The probationary period may be extended up to three years for extenuating circumstances,” the handbook states. “Upon written request by the faculty member and recommendation by the unit administrator and dean of the college, such an extension may be granted.”
Anything that causes significant changes in the published criteria for tenure or job description are grounds for extension. The most common reasons are the birth of a child, an extended sick leave or caring for a family member.
The COVID-19 pandemic would qualify as an extraordinary circumstance. It is disrupting the teaching, research and service activities of many assistant professors.
For this reason OSU Provost Gary Sandefur said he feels it’s applicable to offer a one year extension to any assistant professor who wishes to accept.
"Our faculty are highly valued members of the OSU community," Sandefur said. "We want them to be successful. It is appropriate to grant them an extension of their tenure clock given the situation we are all facing.”
It is unanimously agreed that offering an extension university-wide is a necessary decision. The only dissenting opinions come is whether to make extensions automatic for all tenure-track faculty or optional and be granted at the faculty member’s request.
The idea of an extension would be attractive to many faculty members, but some tenure-track faculty would reject the offer regardless of the ongoing pandemic.
Henry Adams is an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Biology. He recently accepted a position at Washington State University and will be leaving OSU at the end of the summer.
“If I had stayed at OSU, the extension would have been an option for me,” Adams said. “I would have turned it down as my tenure decision would have been based on my work from the past five years.”