University of Toronto

Office of the Vice-Provost, Faculty & Academic Life

Supporting Faculty Career Advancement

Faculty members are at the heart of the work that is done in universities — so supporting faculty in their academic work and helping them to be clear about their formal career trajectory is a central focus for U of T. In this article, the third in a series that report on the results from the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) we share some of the results on tenure and promotion processes as well as on mentoring.

In 2007, pre-tenure faculty at the university completed the COACHE survey and at that time many told us that they found the tenure process at U of T unclear. In 2012 both pre-tenure and tenured faculty completed the survey, providing us with the opportunity to see whether the initiatives we put in place to address the issues identified in 2007 resulted in any change for the better — and they did!  In addition, the results from the 2012 survey provided insights into faculty perceptions of the promotion process to full professor and the importance of mentoring for both tenured and pre-tenure faculty.



“We were very concerned by what pre-tenure faculty told us about the tenure process in 2007,” says Edith Hillan, vice provost, faculty & academic life. “We learned that they found the standards for tenure unclear, the process confusing, and many felt unsure about their chance of success — despite our institutional success rate of better than 90%! Over the last five years, we’ve developed new programs and resources to clarify the tenure process for junior faculty and to guide chairs in offering appropriate mentoring and support.  So we were very interested to see how we would do on this round!”

And the hard work has paid off — across all but one measure, we have seen significant improvement. In comparison to our peer institutions, U of T is top on questions related to tenure policies and tenure reasonableness. Pre-tenure faculty express more clarity in the expectations of them as scholars and teachers (from 63.5% in 2007 to 81.9% in 2012); they are clearer about the tenure standards in their department (from 43.5% to 56.2%); and they have a better sense that tenure decisions are based on performance (from 74.8% to 80.8%). In only one case did our response actually drop since 2007 — this was in relation to the consistency of messages that pre-tenure faculty receive from tenured faculty about the process (from 58.5% to 56.3%).

“While it would be impossible to completely remove the anxiety of the tenure process for our junior faculty”, says Hillan, “it is in everyone’s best interest to be as clear as possible about institutional expectations relating to teaching and research”.



Tenured faculty were asked similar questions about the process of promotion to full professor. Questions asked of all tenured professors related to the clarity of the process; criteria and standards for promotion; and perceptions of reasonableness. Associate professors were asked about the timeframe related to promotion, department culture and their perception of their chance of success. In this area, we did not score well against our peer institutions, being rated last across the group of questions. “Clearly this is where we need to put our energies this time.” remarks Hillan.

As the Associate Professor Promotions graphic indicates, 45% of associate professors felt that their department culture encouraged promotion – 14% less than our peers (59%). Likewise, only 32% of associate professors felt the time frame for promotion was clear compared to 46% at our peer institutions. Finally, only 39% of associate professors felt that they would be promoted.
clarity of promotion associates

Associate professors were also asked about the clarity of the process across a range of measures including promotion criteria, standards for promotion, and clarity of the materials required. As the Clarity of Promotion figure indicates, associate professors expressed less satisfaction across all measures related to clarity when compared to faculty at our peer institutions.

“At U of T there is an expectation that the majority of our tenure-stream faculty will become full professors” says Hillan. “We need to ensure that there is clarity in relation to the standards and process as well as a culture that encourages faculty to seek promotion rather than stop at the associate professor level.”

One way to assist pre-tenure and tenured faculty to understand the tenure and promotion process is through regular feedback. Interestingly, when we look at our faculty’s response to opportunities for formal feedback on their progress toward tenure and promotion, we find an inverse relationship — over three-fourths of our faculty report receiving formal feedback on their progress toward tenure (through mechanisms like the third year review and progress-through-the-ranks), while almost three-fourths report receiving no formal feedback on progress toward promotion.



Mentoring has become increasingly important in the academic workplace, with many pre-tenure faculty feeling it is essential to their success. Many associate professors feel that their mentoring needs are overlooked.

Faculty express great satisfaction in being a mentor (82%) and also think that having a mentor within their department is important (79%). In other words, our faculty think that mentoring is a good idea. Only 48% of faculty are satisfied with the effectiveness of mentoring within the department. This is only slightly better (at 49%) when it comes to mentoring of pre-tenure faculty. Of particular concern are the results related to the effective mentoring of associate professors.  In this area, only 16% of faculty express satisfaction — 9% less than our peer institutions.

“In addition to providing some new programs to clarify the promotion process for associate professors, we should begin to put in place mentoring programs for our mid-career colleagues,” says Hillan. “There are some interesting models we could draw on that move away from the traditional senior/junior faculty member dyad to models that include mutual mentoring, team mentoring or strategic collaborations outside of departments. Through programs like our Just-in-Time sessions, we’ll be working with Deans and Chairs to put some of these in place.”

Just In Time Series

The COACHE survey was conducted in October of 2012 by the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Almost 50% of our tenured and pre-tenure faculty participated in this round (pre-tenure faculty had been invited to participate in 2007).

A unique feature of COACHE is the provision of comparative data that allows us to rank our results against five peer institutions of our choosing. These were University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of Virginia; University of California, Davis; Indiana University Bloomington; and the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

In February and March, we’ll be providing reports on different themes from the survey. In previous weeks we’ve discussed some overall results of the survey, and the department culture. Next week, we’ll look at our results as they relate to teaching, research. and service.


Article: Office of the Vice-Provost, Faculty & Academic Life
Graphics: NATIONAL Public Relations