Faculty take different paths to tenure

Zane Satre

Professor, associate professor or assistant professor. Lecturer or senior lecturer. What’s the difference and who teaches your class?

Iowa State has a faculty of 1,892 members, and 90 percent of them have one of five main positions. Tenured and tenure-track faculty hold the title of assistant professor, associate professor or professor, while lecturers and senior lecturers make up the non-tenured ranks.

For those faculty on the tenure track, it all starts with the rank of assistant professor. Veronica Dark, professor of psychology, started at Iowa State as an assistant professor in 1986.

“You have to come up through the ranks,” Dark said. “In order to be a professor, you first have to have been an assistant professor and then an associate professor.”

The majority of new assistant professors start their careers following completion of their Ph.D, a process that can take as many as 10 years to complete.

“And they’re coming in with pressure because we have the tenure period,” Dark said.

Assistant professors start with an initial four-year contract. After the third year, they are evaluated, then given a new contract. During the sixth year, the candidate goes up for tenure review.

The faculty member starts out by gathering their research materials, then sending them to outside experts in their field of study for evaluation. These experts then agree to write letters on the candidate’s behalf. In addition, the faculty member prepares their teaching materials for review by their department.

“They look at the kinds of courses, the nature of the tests and the kinds of assignments,” said Dark, a member of her department’s promotion and tenure committee. “You want to make sure everyone is taking their teaching mission seriously.”

From there, the candidate’s promotion depends on a vote by their departmental peers. If the vote passes, the decision is then passed to the chair of the department. After approval by the chair, each case works its way through the dean of the college, to the provost, the president and finally the Board of Regents. Following approval by the regents, the candidate is then promoted to the rank of associate professor with tenure.

The entire tenure review and promotion process takes more than a year and involves as much as 50 pages of documentation at its conclusion.

Following a period of time, most associate professors repeat the entire process and reach the rank of professor.

“It’s the next step, it’s expected,” Dark said. “But the bar is higher.”

Getting over that bar also includes a big raise for faculty. While assistant and associate professors make an average of $83,294 and $90,607, respectively, full professors earn an average salary of $125,625 every year.

Those professors also have a wide range of responsibilities. According to the Faculty Handbook, tenured faculty must fulfill duties in the areas of teaching, research, extension and institutional service. The typical workweek is 40 hours a week.

“There are very few faculty members who work 40 hours a week,” Dark said. “They work much more than that.”

For non-tenure track faculty, the focus is solely on students, said David Appy, lecturer of chemistry.

Appy said he enjoys not worrying about the pressures of tenure.

“I do not do research. That’s the primary difference between a lecturer and a professor,” Appy said. “Some people fall in love with the research aspect, some fall in love with the teaching aspect, and I’m certainly on the teaching side.”

Appy, who began lecturing at Iowa State last fall, currently teaches one class. Most of his work involves writing lectures, quizzes and exams, as well as monitoring his TAs and answering student emails.

Dave Flory, senior lecturer of geological and atmospheric sciences, also makes students his primary focus. In addition to teaching 18 credit hours a year, Flory also leads his department’s learning community and coordinates undergraduate advising.

“I think it’s cool to do extra stuff,” Flory said. “A lot of [tenure-track faculty] tend not to do that, especially before they get tenure status because they really need to focus on that.”

For some students, a class taught by a lecturer is preferable to one taught by tenured faculty.

“I’d rather have a lecturer because they’re more focused on being a teacher,” said Parker Neid, junior in management information systems.

Ewan Shortess, sophomore in supply chain management, disagreed.

“I could go both ways. Having a professor can be nice,” Shortess said. “Having that first-hand experience in research can be useful sometimes.”

As a professor, Veronica Dark said she still cares about teaching.

“I think faculty sometimes may not communicate that they care, but you know, we really do,” Dark said. “When we’re educating students, we’re talking about a thing we love. And we want them to understand it.”