Appendix N



Promotion to the Rank of Professor



In 2017, the Chair of the University Faculty Senate charged the Intra-University Relations Committee (IRC) and the Faculty Affairs Committee (FA) to jointly “write an informational report exploring the reasons why a relatively low proportion of faculty from the Commonwealth Campuses are promoted [to the rank of Professor] than those at University Park.”  This charge was initiated due to an examination of 2016 data that indicate 46% of University Park (UP) faculty from all Colleges and Schools (excluding Law) have earned the rank of Professor while 21% of faculty from Commonwealth campuses (excluding Medicine, Law, Great Valley) have earned that rank (Penn State, University Budget Office, 2016).  Additional 2016 cohort data provided by the Office of Planning and Assessment (OPA) indicate that 6 years after achieving tenure and promotion to Associate Professor, 22.4% of UP faculty had earned the rank of Professor, while 2.6% of Commonwealth campus faculty had earned this rank.  Additionally, over the past 10 years, and regardless of location, the time that tenure-line faculty remain in the rank of Associate Professor has increased by approximately 1 year.

Accounting for Differences

According to the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, one reason for this discrepancy (i.e., the promotion gap) may be differences in teaching loads between UP and Commonwealth campus faculty.  Therefore, promotion discrepancies would be expected to disappear over time (Figure 1).  For context, the typical teaching load for tenured faculty at Commonwealth campus locations is 3, 3-credit courses per semester (a “9-9” load).

Examining a static snapshot of the Penn State faculty provide insight into this supposition.  Based upon a 2016 snapshot of Penn State faculty, Associate Professors appear to vary in their time in rank between UP and Commonwealth campuses until they have been in rank for 16 years (Figure 1).

  • For UP, tenured Associate Professors, 64% had been in that rank for 0-6 years, 12% had been in that rank for 7-10 years, 12% had been in that rank for 11-15 years, 7% had been in that rank for 16-20 years, and 5% had been in that rank for > 20 years.
  • For Commonwealth campus, tenured Associate Professors, 44% had been in that rank for 0-6 years, 26% had been in that rank for 7-10 years, 15% had been in that rank for 11-15 years, 7% had been in that rank for 16-20 years, and 8% had been in that rank for > 20 years.

Regardless of location, 7% of Associate Professors have been in rank for 16-20 years.  However, because a snapshot analysis of time in rank is incomplete, additional OPA data will be provided to IRC in late spring 2018 to provide further understanding regarding promotion rates to Professor among locations, units, and disciplines.

As described below: March 13, 2018 Senate Agenda, Appendix N, Figure 1Figure 1.  A 2016 snapshot of Penn State faculty showing the proportion of tenured Associate Professors who have been in rank for 0-6, 7-10, 11-15, and 16-20 years.  Data are presented for University Park (UP) and Commonwealth campus (CC) faculty.  Data provided by Penn State’s Office of Planning and Assessment (OPA). 

Related Policy and Guidelines

IRC and FA also examined policies, guidelines, and criteria for promotion to Professor from a sample of UP and Commonwealth units.  Penn State policy AC-21, formerly HR-21, “Definition of Academic Ranks” defines the academic rank of Professor in the following manner:

The professor should possess the same qualifications as the associate professor, but must also provide evidence of a substantial record of advanced research and/or creative work, and of leadership in his/her field of specialization. This rank should be reserved for persons of proven stature in teaching and/or research.

Although AC-21 defines the rank, units are responsible for developing guidelines and criteria to earn this rank.  IRC and FA noted variations among theses guidelines and criteria that raise questions about differences in the numbers of Professors within and among units (see Attachment A for excerpted guidelines and criteria).

Other Potential Explanations

With knowledge of the variability among guidelines and criteria, committee members canvased faculty and administrators to identify other potential explanations for promotion differences that warrant further investigation:

  • Outside reviewers: Outside peer-reviewers play an important role in determining the significance and quality of creative and scholarly activity of faculty. It is therefore imperative that administrators clearly and specifically define unit-specific expectations to external reviewers. In addition, unit administrators may wish to explain resources available to faculty to external reviewers.  For example, the availability of institutionally supported graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and grantsmanship assistance could be explicitly stated to all reviewers where appropriate.  External reviewers could be asked to provide their recommendations in light of these expectations and resources.
  • Unit/campus priorities and pressures: There may be differences among units and campuses in the balance of responsibilities assigned to teaching, research, and service. These differences, in part, may be due to the size of the faculty.  For example, smaller campuses may necessarily require more service per faculty member.  In some cases, this increased service load is unavoidable because base-level service (e.g., search committees, promotion and tenure committees, senate, etc.) must be shared by fewer individuals.  Higher service loads for tenured faculty may be defended to defer service requirements from Assistant Professors.
  • Absence of Professors: Having fewer Professors at a Penn State campus or unit (or within a discipline) decreases opportunities for mentorship of junior faculty. In some cases, Commonwealth campus programs typically have few, if any, Professors in a given discipline. This situation may suggest that the promotion gap is both a consequence of the small departments at the Commonwealth campuses as well as a byproduct of the promotion gap itself.
  • Insufficient research support: The absence of standard, institutionally-supported research assistance and infrastructure at the Commonwealth campuses (e.g., lack of graduate assistantships, equipment upgrades or access, laboratory facilities) might make it more difficult for faculty to secure promotion outside of UP. The promotion gap, therefore, may be a reflection of resources invested in research support and infrastructure at UP as compared to the Commonwealth campuses. While Commonwealth campuses typically have lab spaces to teach undergraduate courses, this may not be sufficient to support disciplinary research. These facility disparities would place Commonwealth campus faculty at a disadvantage, even when accounting for different research expectations related to the heavier teaching load. Ideally, research expectations should align with research support and disciplinary requirements. Additionally, these expectations should be communicated clearly to faculty when they are hired and maintained for faculty both seeking tenure and promotion to Professor.
  • Lack of clear process and transparency: Unlike promotion to Associate Professor, candidates interested in promotion to Professor typically are required to secure the support of their dean or chancellor. However, unlike deans at discipline-specific UP units (e.g., Science, Engineering, Communications, Liberal Arts), chancellors/deans at Commonwealth campuses are called upon to evaluate the scholarship of faculty in disparate disciplines. Absent recommendations from a disciplinary community, a better approach to determining readiness for promotion may include a peer-driven process that includes recommendations from Penn State Professors in a candidate’s discipline.

Concluding Remarks

It is unclear whether the promotion gap is a recent development and what factors must be considered in the ultimate explanation for the gap. What is clear is that long-term data on the promotion rate of tenured Associate Professors both at and for the Commonwealth campuses is needed to understand the gap in historical context.  These data could be supplemented with survey data and faculty interviews to provide a clearer understanding of the situation across the University.  Informative future reporting could examine the discrepancies in promotion to Professor in light of time-since-promotion (as the Vice Provost suggests), academic unit (or program), campus, discipline, resource availability, and/or service load.

In sum, transparent processes for promotion to Professor and timely, clear communication of expectations to the faculty continue to be essential for equity in the promotion process.  Routine reviews of criteria for promotion to Professor in light of campus resources, teaching loads, and unit mission also continue to be essential for equity in the promotion process as is ensuring that this information is readily available and accessible to faculty.  IRC and FA acknowledge that not all faculty will seek promotion to Professor; however, for those who do, equity in promotion at Penn State will be determined by the extent to which the process is transparent, the communication is timely and clear, and the support and criteria are fair and appropriate for the faculty based on the circumstances of their unit.


  • Andrew August
  • Harold Aurand
  • Matthew Clifford
  • Will Dunn
  • Peter Eberle
  • Ryan Elias
  • Raymond Funk
  • David Kahl
  • Kevin Koudela
  • Carolyn Mahan
  • Tiyanjana Maluwa
  • Clifford Maurer
  • Kevin McDade
  • Timothy Palmer, Vice Chair
  • Rosemarie Petrilla, Chair
  • Carla Pratt
  • Francesca Ruggiero
  • Brian Saunders
  • Ann Schmiedekamp
  • Richard Shrugalla
  • Roger Subramanian
  • Johanna Wagner


  • Kathy Bieschke
  • Renee Bishop-Pierce
  • Richard Brown
  • Michael Bruno
  • William Butler
  • Peter Dendle
  • Wendell Franklin
  • Julie Gallagher
  • Edward Joseph Glantz
  • Leland Glenna
  • Terrence Guay
  • Betty Harper
  • Kathryn Jablokow
  • Rosemary Jolly, Vice Chair
  • Maureen Jones
  • Matthew Jordan
  • Lisa Kitko
  • Angela Linse
  • Michael Lobaugh
  • Yvonne Love
  • Marc McDill
  • Rajen Mookerjee
  • John Nousek
  • Eric Novotny
  • David Passmore
  • Mark Patzkowsky
  • Nicholas Rowland, Chair
  • Amit Sharma
  • Patricia Silveyra
  • Alok Sinha
  • Stephen Snyder

Attachment A.  Various excerpted criteria and guidelines for promotion to Professor from select Penn State academic units.  


This appendix is not a complete list of all promotion and tenure guidelines and criteria at Penn State but it is representative and provides excerpts specific to promotion to Professor.  These guidelines and criteria were not always easy to find.  For some University Park units, promotion guidelines and criteria were not found on-line (e.g., Smeal, Health and Human Development), were protected by an Intranet firewall (Liberal Arts), or were not explicit regarding promotion to Professor (Education).

For those units for which we found information regarding promotion to Professor, we noted most include a statement about excellence in teaching, scholarship and research, and service.  In many cases, a national or international research reputation is required as explicitly stated in the guidelines from Altoona, Abington, Eberly College of Science, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Information Science and Technology (IST).

In some cases, criteria and guidelines are vague which permit promotion and tenure committees the latitude to evaluate a candidate’s accomplishments in a holistic way.  This variability and vagueness of language, however, also may contribute to a perceived uncertainty among faculty as to whether they are suitable candidates for the promotion process.  Therefore, potential candidates may wish to seek advice from administrators and peers in each unit before attempting the process.

Penn State Altoona

For promotion to Professor, candidates must demonstrate significant accomplishments beyond those presented at the time of promotion to Associate Professor. The candidate must show continued effectiveness as a teacher; ongoing service to the University, society and the profession; and a level of research and/or creative accomplishments sufficient to earn a national reputation for excellence in their area of expertise.

Penn State Behrend

The review process for tenure and promotion is concerned with the academic and professional merits of particular candidates, judged in reference to all alternative candidates, including prospective faculty members. Tenure and promotion standards, therefore, cannot be fixed and absolute, but will reflect to some extent the varying competitive positions of the University in attracting faculty. Accordingly, evaluations will be influenced by such considerations of relative standing. Likewise, progressively more exacting scrutiny will take place as the faculty member advances in academic rank.

[For promotion to professor, the candidate must display scholarly] competence usually demonstrated through publication, exhibition, performance, or presentation of scholarly papers, to carry out research or creative work of high quality and scholarly significance and the ability to train students in research methods and practice; evidence of thorough understanding of the field; maintenance of high levels of academic performance; recognized reputation in the subject matter field; evidence of continued professional growth and active contribution to professional organizations.

Penn State Harrisburg

A favorable recommendation for promotion depends on the presentation of clear and consistent evidence of a significant contribution in the scholarship of research and/or creative accomplishment.

Evidence of the scholarship of research and/or creative accomplishment should originate from an active program that leads to a portfolio of high quality work as recognized by the individual academic disciplines.  The record of accomplishment may include refereed publications, juried artistic contributions, consulting or contracted work, and other examples of scholarly or creative achievement.

Penn State Abington

The primary mission of the Abington College is to provide a high-quality undergraduate education. For promotion to Professor, candidates must present evidence of continued effectiveness and excellence as teachers beyond that which was evident at the time of tenure and/or promotion to Associate Professor.  [Regarding scholarship], for promotion to Professor, candidates will have a national or international reputation in their field of research or creative accomplishment. Moreover, candidates must demonstrate significant accomplishment beyond that presented at the time of promotion to Associate Professor.

[Regarding service], for promotion to Professor, candidates must present a record of continued contributions to their Division, the College, the University, the profession, and the public. Further, it is expected that the record of service will result in some evidence of leadership in one or more areas.

Commonwealth College—General

For promotion to Professor, the successful candidate must present a record of research, creative accomplishment, or scholarship that includes evidence of a marked capacity for creative work, leadership in the candidate’s discipline, and significant recognition and respect beyond the University.  Evidence of research, creative accomplishment, and scholarship should originate from an active program that leads to refereed publication or juried exhibition appropriate to the discipline and may include pedagogical or interdisciplinary scholarship. Evaluation by expert peers within the University may provide essential, helpful information, and external peer evaluations of the quality of the candidate’s record will be made by professors of national standing in the candidate’s discipline.

College of Agriculture

In addition to possessing the qualifications of the Associate Professor, the candidate must have demonstrated ability to effectively organize and direct a productive research program. Supporting evidence may include, but is not limited to, such items as:

  • the conduct of independent and cooperative research,
  • research results published in scientific journals and semi-technical or popular articles in other media
  • financial support obtained for the research program
  • guidance of independent student study and research
  • growth in professional competence
  • the emergence of a regional and national reputation among peers.

The candidate must have demonstrated continuous growth in scholarship and mastery of subject matter. Supporting evidence may include, but is not limited to, such items as:

  • participation in and presenting papers at professional meetings and workshops
  • growing recognition by students, peers, and clientele of his/her above average academic performance (recipient of special awards and honors, student performance records, patents, consultant record, etc.)
  • special academic or administrative assignments.

Eberly College of Science

The University Promotion and Tenure document, requires that the weighting of the criteria be consistent with the overall mission of the academic unit; faculty at both University Park and at other locations will be expected to demonstrate comparable levels of overall excellence.  As amplified below, for University Park faculty, research and scholarship sufficient to confer upon the candidate national or international prominence will be central to the evaluation, while research and scholarship sufficient to confer significant recognition beyond the University will play a similar role for faculty at other locations.  In some cases, candidates may be formally assigned a set of responsibilities differing from that of most faculty in the unit.  In such cases, the relative weighting of the three criteria will reflect that difference.

Professor at University Park

[For promotion to Professor, the candidate must have gained] a position of international eminence.  A continuing record of high-quality teaching must be evident and a sufficient level of service must be maintained.  In exceptional cases, promotion to full professor may be justified by a distinguished and nationally recognized record of outstanding scholarship, teaching and service.

Professor at non-University Park locations

A continuing record of high-quality teaching must be evident, and appropriate levels of service must be maintained.  The successful candidate will have realized the promise implicit in the award of tenure by demonstrating a level of research and/or scholarship sufficient to earn a national reputation for excellence as measured by the external letters of assessment requested by the dean.

College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

For promotion to the rank of Professor, it is necessary that the person be an established, internationally recognized scholar and a superior teacher. Truly outstanding performance in one area may be considered to compensate to some degree for less than superior performance in the other. Demonstrated ability to direct others in research and participation in University-wide decision making or formulation of national science policy are desirable.

College of Arts and Architecture

All guidelines and criteria are discipline-specific:


For early or final tenure review and/or for promotion to full Professor, the [promotion] process shall be an extension of the external evaluations normally conducted at these times and defined by the College P&T guidelines, but with a targeted focus on the quality of the candidate’s creative accomplishments and their appropriateness for tenure and/or promotion.  At least four of the external reviewers invited shall be associated with institutions that are members of the AAU (Association of American Universities).

Visual Arts

Professor: Evidence of continuing dedicated, knowledgeable, skillful, innovative instruction and advising.  Evidence of significant, substantial and sustained contributions in at least one of the areas of research, creative activity or scholarly inquiry.  Evidence of sustained active contributions in this area as described under Associate Professor.


Professor:  In addition to the characteristics of the members of the lower ranks, the professor should give evidence of a marked capacity for creative work and/or leadership in his/her area of expertise. Criteria:  (1) Evidence of significant achievement and national recognition in his/her area; (2) demonstrates depth and versatility in teaching and creative activities; (3) demonstrate the ability to direct efforts of others in committee work, chair or direct School and College committees, program; (4) must have been recognized by peers both internal and external to the University.

College of IST

Consideration for Promotion to Professor involves the same three areas of criteria (viz. 1/research, 2/teaching and 3/service) as for promotion to Associate Professor, but at a commensurately higher level of achievement.  In promotion to Professor, it is necessary that the candidate be an established, internationally recognized scholar, and an accomplished teacher and mentor.  It is expected that the candidate will not only carry out the teaching, research and service responsibilities at a level expected of tenured faculty, but will provide leadership in some areas including membership on government advisory boards and panels or leadership in state, national, and international decision making.

College of Engineering

For promotion to Professor, a faculty member should be recognized by professional peers as an authority or leader in a major area of professional activity. The record of performance and external letters should clearly demonstrate that the individual has made important and recognized contributions.