HCBE Faculty Articles

Relationships among Faculty Perceptions of their Tenure Process and their Commitment and Engagement


Rita Shea-Van Fossen0000-0001-6181-0179

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Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education



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Purpose Notwithstanding the rise of contingent faculty, tenured and tenured track faculty continue to play vital roles in US higher education and the tenure decision is central to the lives of many academics. While the literature is replete with anecdotes about faculty complaining about the process to which they were subject, there has been surprisingly little empirical research on faculty perceptions of the clarity and fairness of the tenure process and the relationship of these perceptions to work outcomes. The purpose of this paper is to examine the motivational impact of these processes on faculty who are pre-tenure as well as those who had successfully navigated the tenure process.

Design/methodology/approach Self-reported survey data were collected from 410 full-time pre-tenured and tenured faculty at three universities in the Northeastern USA. Participants were assessed on their uncertainty and their perceptions of justice in the tenure process as well as their affective and continuance organizational commitment and work engagement. Data were subject to exploratory factor analysis, correlation, and hierarchical regression.

Findings The results indicated that there was a lack of clarity with respect to both the criteria for tenure and the procedures by which institutions made tenure decisions. The results indicated no gender differences in the perception of clarity, but the results suggest women perceived the tenure process as being less just than men do. Perceived justice was positively related to both affective organizational commitment and work engagement with affective commitment fully mediating the relationship with there being no relationship between continuance commitment and perceived justice. These relations held for both tenured and later career faculty and pre-tenured and earlier career faculty.

Research limitations/implications The study extends understanding of the dimensionality of justice perceptions in higher education setting. The design was cross-sectional and data common was self-report.

Practical implications The results provide empirical support to anecdotes of faculty feeling that tenure processes often lack clarity and appear to be capricious and unfair. It provides evidence that the negative impact of a process being viewed as unfair may affect the dedication and effort that the faculty who are granted tenure and remain at their institutions for decades afterward. At a time, when higher education is resource challenged, it behooves both faculty and administrators to critically review their tenure processes against best practices.

Originality/value This study adds to the limited empirical literature on the tenure process and does so from a motivational perspective.







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