I've heard different takes on what the convention is when an Assistant or Associate Professor does not achieve tenure. Can you just remain at your existing position and continue to teach and conduct research? Can you reapply for tenure again later? Is it more conventional to leave the institution for another tenure-track position at another institution?

This is in regard to US universities, but perhaps an answer articulating what is common in different countries is best.

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    Freedom. You get your freedom back.
    – emory
    Sep 26, 2017 at 18:50

4 Answers 4


In my experience (in math, in the US), no you cannot remain in your current position (for long). While tenure is historically a means of protection for faculty from political forces, and thus a tool to provide academic freedom, pre-tenure periods often function as a sort of long-term provisional hiring period to make sure you're right for the university/department and getting tenure is sort of stamp of certification of your worth to the department and university. So if you fail to get tenure, the reason is typically because someone decides you're not performing well enough in your current position.

That said, the university will typically give you another year in your current position which gives you time to look for jobs elsewhere. People who don't get tenure usually move somewhere else, or have trouble getting another job.

Note: Sometimes people go up for tenure early (before the specified date in your contract). I don't know what the standards are for consequences of not getting tenure then--when I've seen people go up early, they got tenure.


At most institutions whose procedures I'm aware of, you only get one chance at a tenure application at a given university. If you are not granted tenure, there are usually provisions for how long you can stay—usually until the expiration of your existing contract, which typically amounts to until the end of the academic year following the denial of tenure. Following that, you have to move somewhere else, whether it's an academic position at another institution or a position outside of academia.

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    You normally only get one chance at a tenure application at a given university. This is incorrect at all University of California campuses, which makes me suspect that your use of "normally" here is very much unwarranted.
    – Dan Romik
    Sep 25, 2017 at 7:34
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    @DanRomik: That's actually the first time I've heard of such an exception, so I don't know if allowing multiple attempts are as widespread as you think, either.
    – aeismail
    Sep 25, 2017 at 15:17
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    @aeismail I have no opinion about what is widespread, but suspect that in the US many places have policies that are fairly similar to the University of California. In any case it's interesting to hear that things work differently at other places. This is an illustration of the "academia is a bigger and more diverse place than you think" principle that some people here bring up occasionally, and a reminder that it's dangerous to extrapolate from one's own experience to all of academia.
    – Dan Romik
    Sep 25, 2017 at 16:10
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    My college (Literature, Science and Arts, at the University of Michigan) allows each candidate only one tenure review. Even if the review occurs earlier than normal, if the decision is negative, the candidate gets only a one-year terminal appointment for the following year. Sep 25, 2017 at 16:18
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    For another couple of data points, this is how it works at my small, private liberal arts institution, and also how it works at the large, public R-1 university up the road (I have a friend who was denied tenure there, so learned more about their policies than I wanted to). Both in the US. Of course, at my institution it's very uncommon for someone to get all the way to the tenure review and then fail; the Dean will have had a quiet word with anyone unlikely to get tenure well ahead of the six-year review.
    – 1006a
    Sep 25, 2017 at 17:28

Here is how it works at my US institution. (I know that some other US institutions have similar systems, and my impression is that this is in fact typical in the US.)

When hired as an Assistant Professor, the job offer includes a mandatory date for latest possible tenure consideration, normally in the sixth year of the position. (Ninth year for clinical faculty in professional schools.) An Assistant Professor can apply for tenure and promotion in any year before that; if they are unsuccessful they can remain in the position and apply for tenure again, up until that latest possible date. If they are unsuccessful at getting tenure at the latest possible date, they get one more year in the position then have to leave.

So in theory, an Assistant Professor could apply for tenure over and over again through that six-year period. In practice, that would be a terrible idea. Most people apply for tenure only once at a given institution, and leave for another institution if they're unsuccessful. I don't believe I've personally ever heard of someone applying more than twice for tenure at a given institution.

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    In my university, you have to get special permission to go up early for tenure. I don't know if such permission is ever denied in practice, but I could imagine situations where the administration/department might say to wait a year.
    – Kimball
    Sep 25, 2017 at 18:57

Many years ago the state school where I taught gave two sequential one year contracts, then progressively longer ones until a person has been employed for more than 7 years, at which point he or she was considered tenured. I only lasted two years, being a terrible fit there who didn't understand the school's conservative culture, nor how to teach to the students. Learned those skills, but far too late to ever do much with the doctorate. And that's the point, this discussion is somewhat moot as (barring superstars or people in very hot or well funded fields) the chance of anybody getting tenure is increasingly remote. Adjuncts are much cheaper; in time tenured professors will be as rare as butlers.

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