This question is specific to the United States.

Can one acquire something like "tenure" if either

(1) their primary / only responsibility is teaching undergraduate courses

and / or

(2) they work as a Research Scientist for a university lab but are not professors.

I am wondering about job security, basically.


Professor of the practice at Duke is a permanent position without tenure. It has levels: assistant, associate, and full. Contracts start at 3-4 years and get longer as you move up with 10 year contracts for full.

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  • That's not a lot different than a lecturer position at Michigan except for the title. A FT lecturer appointment is also a permanent position but without tenure. I'm entering year 3 of my initial 3-yr appointment as a Lecturer III; when it renews, it will be as a Lecturer IV for another 3-yr term but with a "presumption of renewal". Successive renewals will be for 5-year terms. – Nicole Hamilton Jun 16 '19 at 17:48
  • For comparison, Teaching Assistant Professors at Illinois have renewable one-year contracts; after lots of lobbying, Teaching Associate Professors and Teaching Professors in my department now have renewable three-year contracts. (These positions are only a few years old; the campus is still getting used to the idea.) The closest we have to "[adjective] professor of the practice" are "clinical [adjective] professors", who (I think) all have one-year contracts. – JeffE Jun 16 '19 at 20:33
  • Rethinking my comment above, I want to clarify (for those not in academia) that the "except for the title" is a truly big deal in academia. Universities do not hand out PoP titles except rarely. To get a PoP is a huge achievement. Realistically, it's not easy to get any title that says "professor" in it as teaching faculty at most universities. Lecturer is a title they give to most teaching faculty and it's title everyone who has it hates. (I'm always slightly uncomfortable when students call me "professor" knowing that's not my actual title.) – Nicole Hamilton Jun 17 '19 at 15:50

No, generally speaking, tenure is not offered to teaching faculty, usually called lecturers, or research scientists at American universities. The AAUP has long argued that teaching faculty should also be eligible for tenure and they report that a small number of universities have created tenure tracks for teaching faculty. But it's rare.

That said, if you can get hired full-time as a lecturer, your job security is pretty good, mainly because (speaking from experience serving on the lecturer search committee here at Michigan) it's so hard to find qualified individuals who want the job, given that it's so dramatically less attractive to academics than a tenure track appointment.

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  • But note that Michigan is an R1 university and so not typical of all universities (and colleges) in the US. The standards are very high for tenure. – Buffy Jun 15 '19 at 20:27
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    There are also some universities that technically don't offer "tenure" to teaching faculty, but do have a very similar system called by a different name. For example, the University of California has Lecturer with Security of Employment. – Nate Eldredge Jun 15 '19 at 21:08
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    @Lisa I'm not a professor (though the students call me that), I'm a lecturer (who's been pestering for a PoP title. :) There's a LOT of age and gender discrimination in industry (don't get me started on Microsoft!) but as a 68-yo woman, I've encountered basically none as faculty at Michigan in CS. If I'd realized how much nicer it is being faculty at a university than slaving in industry, I'd have gotten a PhD (I only have an MS) and been here decades ago. – Nicole Hamilton Jun 16 '19 at 5:44
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    At CUNY both Lecturers (essentially teaching faculty) and lab technicians can earn the equivalent of tenure. For lecturers this is called a Certificate of Continuous Employment. – Elin Jun 16 '19 at 10:24
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    @Elin CUNY is one of the schools mentioned in that AAUP link I gave. – Nicole Hamilton Jun 16 '19 at 11:19

Your first case is possible at some but not all US universities. There are many whose primary mission is teaching with only minor research responsibilities. The usual way it is put is that you "need to keep up with the field". But at many other universities, research is a major part of any tenure decision.

Your second scenario is probably much less likely. The titles you give often don't come with tenure, though in some top level places, Research Scientist would be more likely to be tenurable. But even then, some guidance of graduate students (i.e. "teaching") might be part of the job and evaluated in any tenure decision.

I'll note that at some very fine institutions (CMU, Duke, Stanford, ...) there is a special track for teaching faculty (Professor of the Practice is a common title) and these positions, while not tenurable, come with, say, renewable ten year contracts. But they also have high standards both for teaching and for "keeping up". In this case, keeping up usually means that you also publish, though publishing pedagogical work rather than strictly scientific work is probably mostly the norm. People that I know in these positions either have doctorates or some other outstanding qualifications as educators. The positions are very secure, even if not tenure, strictly speaking. (Information here supplied by a Duke PoP).

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  • Professor of Practice is rarely tenurable. (Offhand, I can't think of any US university that grants tenure for PoPs.) Stanford, Duke and CMU do not offer tenure to teaching faculty. – Nicole Hamilton Jun 15 '19 at 20:32
  • @NicoleHamilton, maybe I got it wrong. I'll ask a few folks. The "moral equivalent of tenure" is there. Long term employment - certainly beyond any seven year limits. – Buffy Jun 15 '19 at 20:36
  • Well, yes, that was my point in my answer: If you're good enough to get hired as a FT lecturer, your job security is pretty good, precisely because it's so hard to find good people who want that job. – Nicole Hamilton Jun 15 '19 at 20:41
  • @NicoleHamilton Huh. I really thought Susan Rodger and Owen Astrachan had actual formal tenure at Duke, not just de-facto tenure. – JeffE Jun 16 '19 at 4:36
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    @JeffE I'm not familiar with their specific situations but I see they're both PoPs. Duke's policy re: titles is that a PoP is a non-tenure track position. But my guess is their jobs are very secure, same as mine is as a full-time lecturer at Michigan, even without tenure. At many (most?) universities, the only faculty who are really at risk of losing their jobs are non-tenured assistant professors and adjunct or affiliate faculty. – Nicole Hamilton Jun 16 '19 at 4:53

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