Tenure policy aims to make Princeton more family friendly

University first to grant automatic extensions

Princeton University has adopted a new policy that automatically grants male and female faculty extra time to pursue tenure after welcoming a new child.

According to the American Council on Education's Office of Women in Higher Education, Princeton is the first university in the country to adopt such a policy.

The University changed its faculty rules so that assistant professors no longer have to request an extension of the standard six-year term before tenure review to accommodate the birth or adoption of a child.

"What we're trying to do is make Princeton as family friendly a place as possible," said Dean of the Faculty David Dobkin. "One thing we've been working on here is helping people have work-life balance."

Princeton previously joined many universities in offering extensions to eligible faculty who asked for them, but a survey of Princeton faculty revealed a common anxiety that making such a request would be stigmatizing.

"It was clear that assistant professors, and particularly women, were ambivalent about using this policy," said Joan Girgus, a Princeton psychology professor and special assistant to the dean of the faculty on gender issues.

"On the one hand, they thought an extension would be helpful to their careers in terms of getting their research done and preparing for a tenure review," Girgus said, "but on the other hand, they thought asking for an extension would be seen as a sign of weakness and might harm them when being considered for tenure."

Under the new policy, assistant professors will automatically receive a one-year extension for every child born or adopted during their tenure pursuit. There is no limit to the number of extensions, and twins or triplets would add two or three years to the tenure term.

Faculty who have received a tenure extension for childbirth or adoption can request an early tenure review if they wish, just as any other assistant professor can request an early review.

Altering the policy on extension of the tenure run for childbirth or adoption was one of the recommendations of a report released in September 2003 by the Task Force on the Status of Women Faculty in the Natural Sciences and Engineering at Princeton.

In the five years before the report was released, only 26 faculty requested tenure extensions, Girgus said. The dean of the faculty's office has already granted three extensions since the new policy took effect May 16.

"The shift from having it as a benefit that's asked for to being a benefit that's automatically given by the institution removes the stigma to it," said Claire Van Ummersen, director of the American Council on Education's Office of Women in Higher Education. "It's saying that the institution understands."

Van Ummersen said "Princeton is out in front" in raising awareness that extending a tenure term doesn't mean a university should have greater expectations for the volume or quality of work produced during tenure review.

"One shouldn't think of this as giving extra time for an individual's scholarship, as much as we're giving extra time so you can care for your broader life," Dobkin said.

The University will rely heavily on the leadership of its academic departments to inform the dean's office when a faculty member qualifies for the extension, Dobkin said.

Administrators think the new policy should be attractive to faculty considering working at Princeton. Letters offering appointments will outline the new policy to prospective assistant professors.

"We want them to think of Princeton as a place they're going to be happy intellectually and personally," Dobkin said.