I am a postdoc and will be up in the tenure-track job market in the near future. Just want to know what the average duration one has to work on tenure-track. Is this duration negotiable or there is a strict rule for this duration? Thanks! --Dave
There's quite a spread: where I am it's seven years (sometimes extended to eight when someone has a kid), but I've heard of other places where it's as short as four. Six is probably the median. It's not unheard of for people to go up for tenure early if they think they're likely to get it and their department chair (or other relevant people) agree.
I've heard of a (very top) school/department that is fine with promoting everybody to Associate Professors, but the real tenure decision comes about three years after that, and you really have to be an international star to be granted tenure. So in effect, the tenure track is about 9 years.
On the other hand, I was thrown out of the tenure track after three years after my 3rd year review. When you negotiate your contract, make sure that it states the full term, rather than "annually renewable".
The "standard" at Tier-1 Research universities in the United States is 6 years. This is, in principle, negotiable if you have prior experience that is comparable to what an assistant professor does. However, I always think it's inadvisable to do so. First, if you satisfy the criteria for promotion and tenure at a point earlier than your sixth year, then you can ask to go through the tenure proceedings. Departments that recognize that you're right with your request will accommodate this. In other words, you don't lose very much by not negotiating an earlier tenure date.
Second, if you previously negotiated that you should go up for tenure after, say, your 3rd year, but you've run into trouble getting funding or getting results published, then you may not get tenure and have to leave. In other words, you lose a lot by negotiating an earlier tenure date.
The probationary period/tenure-track is commonly six years, with review taking place throughout the 6th year. (Materials are typically submitted by the probationary faculty at or before the start of the 6th year and a decision announced at the end of the 6th year.) Part of the reason for this timing is the following:
"Under the 1940 'Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,' this [probationary] period [tenure track] may not exceed seven years."
The probationary period, as pointed out above, might be effectively extended due to prior tenure-track service at another institution, but this is negotiated at the time of hire, so the faculty member has some say in it.
It is also frequently extended due to child birth and personal or family medical issues because such accommodations are required BY FEDERAL LAW (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_and_Medical_Leave_Act_of_1993).
University employers have an incentive to extend the probationary period because probationary faculty are paid less, can be more easily fired, and (therefore) can be more easily controlled.