As amended 6 February 1995 by the Faculty Senate

Criteria for Policies for Suspension of the Tenure Clock
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Effective March 1, 1994, the UW-System administrative rules were amended to stipulate four circumstances in which the tenure clock could be suspended during the seven year faculty probationary period. (See attachments UWS 3.04 and 3.06.) On February 24, 1994, the System administration directed system institutions to revise their rules or develop policies, as appropriate, to implement the revised administrative code in each university. The policies that appear below are proposed for the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


For many years the probationary period for faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was strictly defined in various laws and regulations, with virtually no possibility for alteration. Two equally important arguments underlay establishing such a period with limited flexibility: the first was to protect the faculty member from an indefinite period of service without the protection of academic freedom provided by employment security; the second was to establish a high standard of performance for securing a permanent faculty position, with the expectation that excellence was a function both of the quality and the rate of scholarly productivity. The relatively inflexible probationary period had the further intention of assuring that competitive conditions were similar amongst faculty: one person did not receive a significantly longer period than another to produce work of comparable quality and extent.

In the last two decades, the state, the regents and the faculty have all introduced alterations to the calculation of the probationary period. Many of these changes arose from the recognition that the fairness envisioned in the earlier rules could not reasonably be achieved when members of the faculty were forced to abandon or greatly restrict their research programs by serious illness, childbearing, or adoption, and that a half-time appointee limited to the probationary period of a full time faculty member could hardly be working half time. In addition, following merger, the new UW-System found it necessary to respond to the desires of members of some other system institutions who found the probationary period used at the UW-Madison more restrictive or demanding than met their needs. One major change in the provisions governing the probationary period was incorporated into the merger statute itself. Section 36.13(2)(d) stipulated a probationary period of seven consecutive years, but also provided–as Madison rules previously had not–that a “leave of absence, sabbatical or a teacher improvement assignment” would not be counted as part of the seven year probationary period, although they did not constitute a break in continuous service.

The Madison faculty adopted revisions to the Faculty Policies and Procedures at 7.04 to reflect the changed statutory foundation and to shape the way in which the statute would be applied in this university. The principal provisions of Section 7.04 are:

–the probationary period for a full-time faculty member is seven years, unless decreased by mutual agreement of the candidate and the department and so stipulated in the initial letter of appointment.
–all previous tenure track service, up to a maximum of three years, must be subtracted from the seven year probationary period at the time of appointment. Conversely, a faculty member shall not be compelled to accept a probationary period of less than four years, even if he or she has more than three years prior faculty service.
–part-time service may extend the probationary period, but in no case to a period longer than 12 years.
–an “approved leave of absence” could extend the probationary period;
–and finally, a general purpose “escape clause” was introduced at 7.04.G:

“The maximum probationary period may be extended for an appropriate period by the vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost on the recommendation of the departmental executive committee and the relevant dean, and with the approval of the University Committee.”

In practice, over the subsequent years, both the latter provisions were found to raise issues of consistency of treatment, competitive fairness, and on rare occasions, maintenance of consistently high standards of performance.

The “approved leave of absence” provision was the first to generate significant concern. Interpreted as some viewed it, the provision offered the prospect that those most successful at securing research time through extramural support or adequate personal resources would be precisely the ones to obtain the longest probationary periods, thereby placing less richly supported colleagues at substantial disadvantage.

Meanwhile, appeals to the University Committee under the “escape clause” steadily grew. In establishing a committee in spring, 1994, to review the policies on adjustment of the tenure clock, the University Committee acknowledged that such requests had “proliferated” and that “many of these requests represent, in our view, abuse of the rules;” and continued that “we are often forced to balance the need to enforce those rules uniformly with the need to treat equitably all faculty in similar circumstances.” The committee found cases in which faculty members had been promised some adjustment of the tenure clock without prior approval and requests on behalf of faculty with prior service or substantial assigned administrative/service duties to be particularly troublesome.

Consequently, when the changes in the UW-System administrative code with respect to the counting of the probationary period became effective March 1, 1994, a need already existed to clarify Madison policy in this area. The newly effective administrative code makes explicit that adjustment of the probationary period can be made in the following conditions, “when those circumstances significantly impede the faculty member’s progress toward achieving tenure”:
–“responsibilities with respect to childbirth or adoption”
–“significant responsibilities with respect to elder or dependent care obligations”
–“disability or chronic illness,” or
–“circumstances beyond the control of the faculty member.” [UWS 3.04(3)]

These rules further provide that it is assumed that responsibilities with respect to childbirth or adoption will significantly impede progress toward tenure. Requests for suspension of the clock for up to a year on each such occasion are presumed approved, and may be granted on more than one occasion. Under the other three circumstances, determination must be made, under appropriately specified policies, that the circumstance has significantly impeded progress, and the aggregate length of time granted to any single petitioner “ordinarily shall be no more than one year.”

The rules stipulate that a request for a tenure clock extension shall be made before “a tenure review commences under s. UWS 3.06(1)(c).” The referenced statute describes the requirement for written notice of the departmental tenure review. Under normal circumstances this review will occur no later than the beginning of the sixth year.

The issues suggested by this history constitute the matters which these policies are designed to address.

Definitions and Presuppositions

It is assumed that it is the responsibility of departments to appoint faculty whose specializations, prior experience, and assigned responsibilities equip and permit them to compete successfully for tenure within the specified probationary period. Consequently, requests for adjustment of the tenure clock for reasons other than childbearing or adoption should be infrequent.

Request to adjust the tenure clock is not an appropriate response to failure of departments to follow the written procedures of the University of Wisconsin-Madison appointment system. Relief under this section is ordinarily prospective, not retrospective. This section is not an alternative to faculty grievance procedures which involve a hearing with the University Committee or appeal to Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities. Individual faculty members have recourse, pursuant to the Faculty Policies and Procedures, to the Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities when they allege that denial of tenure “was based in any significant degree upon impermissible factors, as defined in UWS 3.08, with material prejudice to the individual.” (FPP 7.10)

The normal course of competitive search for grants and for publication results in some decisions which are “beyond the control of the staff member” in some sense. The results of competitive application for grants and contracts are not construed to fall within the meaning of “circumstances beyond the control of the faculty members” under these rules, nor is the decrease of general opportunities for scholarly publication.


Ordinarily, adjustment of the tenure clock will be justified only by events which cannot reasonably be planned for, and request for adjustment should be made within the year in which the event requiring adjustment occurs or begins to occur. Birth and adoption are time-specific events. In general, request for extension because of “responsibilities with respect to childbirth or adoption” should be made within the year following each birth or adoption. On the occasion of birth or adoption, a faculty member may request a leave of absence OR an adjustment of the tenure clock. One or the other shall be granted upon such request. (Individuals may also apply for extension of the tenure clock if significant responsibilities with respect to dependent care significantly impede progress toward tenure.)

When circumstances unique to the nature of the appointment are asserted to justify adjustment of the tenure clock, request for adjustment must be made at the time of appointment and reflected in the initial letter of appointment. Requests for adjustment must be approved in advance of sending the letter of appointment. Medical School administrative practice allows clinical departments to make an initial appointment as a CHS faculty member and then (within five years) convert the appointment to tenure track. When such a conversion is approved, three of the years as CHS faculty are not counted in calculating the maximum probationary period.

Substantial, mutually agreed upon, changes in research site or focus may be a basis for adjustment of the tenure clock. Such changes must be documented in letters of appointment or reappointment and annual evaluation, and must be consistent with the interests of both the individual and the department. Changes of this type may be an acceptable reason for extension of the tenure clock, provided that adequate documentation is provided and that adjustment is requested prospectively.

Circumstances that will not normally be approved as a basis for extension of the tenure clock include:

      1. Departure from the procedures for probationary faculty stated in Chapter 7 of Faculty Policies and Procedures.
      2. Appeals resulting from failure of the department to follow procedures for guidance and written annual evaluation stated in Section 7.05 of Faculty Policies and Procedures.
      3. Delays in securing extramural support for research and facilities.

Departments and schools/colleges have the responsibility to ensure the availability of needed resources and facilities for the faculty member to embark on a sustained research program. Appointments and arrival dates should be timed to coordinate with such availability.

It is normal that faculty members will have a lag period before they get started on their research. This does not constitute sufficient reason for extending the tenure clock.

Attachments: UWS 3.04 and 3.06 as revised March 1, 1994

Robert Auerbach
Paul DeLuca
Betsy Draine, ex-officio
Cyrena Pondrom
Jane Voichick, Chair
John Young

[UW-Madison Faculty Document 1110 – 6 February 1995]