Tenure at CUNY was established by the New York State Legislature in 1940 after intense pressure by faculty activists, and is vigorously protected by the union. Tenure provides job security, protects academic freedom and guarantees that one cannot be terminated without just cause. The criteria for tenure, enumerated in a written University policy called the “Statement of Academic Personnel Practice,” are scholarship, teaching, and service.
Until September 2006, the “tenure clock”—the untenured period—at CUNY was five years. As part of the 2002-2007 contract settlement, the untenured period for professorial titles increased to seven years. Reappointment with tenure will now occur after seven full years of continuous service—in other words, at the beginning of your eighth year, although you learn of the decision in your seventh year. It remains five years for employees in college laboratory technician titles and in tenurable titles in the Hunter Campus Schools.
Before tenure, full-time faculty receive year-long appointments, and are normally reappointed each year. After seven years of continuous full-time service, the reappointment for the eighth year is with tenure. You must be informed of re-appointment or non-reappointment by December 1 of your seventh year. The college committees that decide on tenure begin the process substantially before that. In effect, untenured faculty members have six years to prepare the portfolio they wish to present for tenure. Expectations vary from discipline to discipline, and from college to college. The best way to prepare is to start early and be in close contact with your department chair. From the semester you arrive at CUNY, start keeping your own file of professional material: any time you publish something, give a conference paper, produce a syllabus or receive a commendation from a student, add it to your file. Having material on hand will help enormously when you begin preparing your tenure materials.
The decision on tenure at CUNY is deeply rooted in the departmental structure and relies heavily on faculty governance bodies. Although the ultimate decision is made by the college president and must be approved by the CUNY Board of Trustees, crucial recommendations are made by groups of your peers. The first step in the process is a vote by the department Personnel and Budget Committee. The P & B considers the materials you provide, as well as the record of your teaching observations and, usually, letters from other scholars about your work. P & B discussions on tenure are confidential. The outcome of the department P & B vote is forwarded to a college-wide committee, usually called the College Personnel and Budget Committee or the College Tenure Committee. These committees are composed of all the department chairs in the college, sometimes with the addition of deans and vice presidents. A subcommittee of this group usually makes the recommendation on tenure, and the recommendation is voted on by the whole.
Recommendations by the College P & B Committee or the College Tenure Committee are forwarded to the college president, who accepts or rejects them. The contract stipulates that all decisions for full-time faculty on reappointment or tenure must be received by the faculty member by December 1. The final step in the process is approval by the CUNY Board of Trustees.
The tenure process can be a tense one, with unspoken assumptions and less clarity than is ideal. Your department chair is your best guide within your department. Another important source of guidance is the workshop on tenure provided every semester by the union, at which seasoned department chairs, newly tenured faculty and union experts provide nuts-and bolts information. Contact the PSC for information on times and dates of the next workshop. In the unfortunate case that the tenure decision is negative, the union has a strong grievance procedure that has successfully overturned many denials of tenure in the past. But the best thing is to prepare, seek information early—and live your life while you are untenured. Junior faculty consistently advise their colleagues not to put their personal lives on hold while working on tenure and not to refrain from being active in the union.