Junior Faculty

Full-Time Faculty: Professorial Titles

Full-time faculty include several professorial titles: professor, associate professor, assistant professor, distinguished professor. There are other full-time faculty titles (lecturer, instructor) whose job security and workload provisions are governed by different rules. In addition, there are multiple part-time (adjunct) faculty titles.

Job security and tenure

Tenure at CUNY was established by the New York State Legislature in 1940 after intense pressure by faculty activists, and is vigorously protected by the union. Tenure provides job security, protects academic freedom and guarantees that one cannot be terminated without just cause. The criteria for tenure, enumerated in a written University policy called the “Statement of Academic Personnel Practice,” are scholarship, teaching, and service.

Until September 2006, the “tenure clock”—the untenured period—at CUNY was five years. As part of the 2002-2007 contract settlement, the untenured period for professorial titles increased to seven years. Reappointment with tenure will now occur after seven full years of continuous service—in other words, at the beginning of your eighth year, although you learn of the decision in your seventh year. For a few transitional years, there will faculty on different tenure schedules:

  • Full-time faculty whose initial appointment is before September 1, 2006, continue to operate on the old five-year “tenure clock.”
  • Faculty appointed on September 1, 2006, have the option of selecting either the five-year or the seven-year tenure clock.
  • Faculty appointed after September 1, 2006, follow the seven-year schedule.

The account of the tenure process below is based on the assumption of the seven-year tenure clock. If you were hired under the five-year tenure clock, the schedule for tenure is unchanged from that described upon your initial appointment. (The small group of faculty with the option of five or seven years had a September 1, 2007, deadline by which to choose; the choice is irrevocable.)

Before tenure, full-time faculty receive year-long appointments, and are normally reappointed each year. After seven years of continuous full-time service, the reappointment for the eighth year is with tenure. You must be informed of re-appointment or non-reappointment by December 1 of your seventh year. The college committees that decide on tenure begin the process substantially before that. In effect, untenured faculty members have six years to prepare the portfolio they wish to present for tenure. Expectations vary from discipline to discipline, and from college to college. The best way to prepare is to start early and be in close contact with your department chair. From the semester you arrive at CUNY, start keeping your own file of professional material: any time you publish something, give a conference paper, produce a syllabus or receive a commendation from a student, add it to your file. Having material on hand will help enormously when you begin preparing your tenure materials.

The decision on tenure at CUNY is deeply rooted in the departmental structure and relies heavily on faculty governance bodies. Although the ultimate decision is made by the college president and must be approved by the CUNY Board of Trustees, crucial recommendations are made by groups of your peers. The first step in the process is a vote by the department Personnel and Budget Committee. The P & B considers the materials you provide, as well as the record of your teaching observations and, usually, letters from other scholars about your work. P & B discussions on tenure are confidential. The outcome of the department P & B vote is forwarded to a college-wide committee, usually called the College Personnel and Budget Committee or the College Tenure Committee. These committees are composed of all the department chairs in the college, sometimes with the addition of deans and vice presidents. A subcommittee of this group usually makes the recommendation on tenure, and the recommendation is voted on by the whole.

Recommendations by the College P & B Committee or the College Tenure Committee are forwarded to the college president, who accepts or rejects them. The contract stipulates that all decisions for full-time faculty on reappointment or tenure must be received by the faculty member by December 1. The final step in the process is approval by the CUNY Board of Trustees.

The tenure process can be a tense one, with unspoken assumptions and less clarity than is ideal. Your department chair is your best guide within your department. Another important source of guidance is the workshop on tenure provided every semester by the union, at which seasoned department chairs, newly tenured faculty and union experts provide nuts-and bolts information. Contact the PSC for information on times and dates of the next workshop. In the unfortunate case that the tenure decision is negative, the union has a strong grievance procedure that has successfully overturned many denials of tenure in the past. But the best thing is to prepare, seek information early—and live your life while you are untenured. Junior faculty consistently advise their colleagues not to put their personal lives on hold while working on tenure and not to refrain from being active in the union (see the last question in the FAQs in this handbook).


Unlike many other universities, CUNY separates tenure decisions from promotion decisions. In most cases, promotion from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor follows the award of tenure in a separate decision, often the following semester (tenure decisions are normally made in the fall). Criteria for promotion are similar to those used for tenure evaluations, although each department has specific expectations. Because promotion is separate from tenure, promotion may be awarded before tenure. As with tenure, you should consult your department chair, your union representative and members of the departmental Personnel and Budget Committee for guidance.


The annual workload, defined in terms of “annual undergraduate teaching contact hours,” is 21 hours for full-time professorial faculty in the senior colleges, and 27 hours for those in community colleges. Translated, that is generally a three-course/four-course load at the senior colleges, and a four-course/five-course load at the community colleges. Workload is spelled out in Article 15 and Appendix A of the contract.

Reassigned Time for Research

One of the hallmarks of the current union leadership is a commitment to making CUNY a place where serious scholarly work can be done. The two most recent contracts have included breakthroughs in the provision of paid research time for untenured faculty. Full-time tenure-track faculty appointed on or after September 1, 2006, are entitled to 24 hours of reassigned time for research at full pay. The time must be used within your first five annual appointments. Full-time tenure-track faculty appointed after September 1, 2002, but before September 1, 2006, are entitled to 12 hours of reassigned time.

The reassigned time at full pay is an entitlement; you do not have to write a proposal for it or report afterwards on its use. You are, however, required to arrange with your department chair how the time should be scheduled. The 24 hours may be scheduled in a single block or in portions over the five years, depending on your scholarly needs and the agreement of your department chair. As soon as you have settled into the department, begin the conversation with your chair about how best to use the time.

Observation and Evaluation

Through a contractual process of observation and evaluation, you can create a record of satisfactory teaching, scholarship and service as you advance toward tenure. The union has negotiated procedures to regularize the process of evaluation.

Until you receive tenure, your teaching will be observed at least once a semester by a colleague, designated by your department chair, among your department’s panel of observers. Article 18 of the contract spells out the procedure for observations. The contract requires that you be notified at least 24 hours in advance of an observation. The observation is followed by a written report, an opportunity for you to respond in writing, and a post-observation conference. Ideally, the process helps you to refine your teaching and creates a record of success in the classroom that is important when you are being considered for tenure, promotion or reappointment. Tenured faculty and certified may be observed once a semester.

You will also be evaluated annually in a conference with your department chair or a member of the departmental Personnel and Budget Committee assigned by the Chair. (Tenured Full Professors may be evaluated.) The annual evaluation conference should offer clear expectations for your future work. After the conference, the chair must write a report for your file. You will have an opportunity to comment in writing on both the observation and the chair’s report. The evaluation reports constitute a written record of the chair’s evaluation of your performance and are an important due process protection for untenured faculty. Tenure-track faculty should work closely with their department chairs and review the results of annual evaluation conferences for guidance as they work towards tenure. If your annual evaluation has not been scheduled by March 1, it is your obligation to request it. Otherwise you waive the right to request one at a later date or to challenge the lack of evaluation.

Professional Development

Every untenured (and tenured) faculty member should know about the PSC/CUNY Research Awards, a program negotiated by the union to provide grant support to CUNY faculty. The program is structured to give preference to junior faculty. Grants of up to $3,600 annually are available to support research, scholarship, work in the creative arts and curriculum development related to one’s academic interests. Grant recipients are selected by a faculty committee, appointed by the Chancellor, and are administered by the CUNY Research Foundation. Many active scholars apply for and receive grants every year, especially as they work toward tenure. See Article 25 in the contract, and visit the Research Foundation website, which includes grant guidelines, application procedures and—wonderfully—a list of grant-funded projects each year in each field: http://www.rfcuny.org/PSCCUNY/. The PSC/CUNY grants are, for many faculty members, among the most useful benefits won by the union; they reflect our commitment to supporting and enhancing professional development opportunities for all PSC members to help them advance in their careers.