On Crediting Prior Service Elsewhere as Part of the Probationary Period

The statement that follows was approved by the Association’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and adopted by the Association’s Council in June 1978.

The 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure defines the probationary period for faculty members as follows:

Beginning with appointment to the rank of full-time instructor or a higher rank, the probationary period should not exceed seven years, including within this period full-time service in all institutions of higher education; but subject to the proviso that when, after a term of probationary service of more than three years in one or more institutions, a teacher is called to another institution, it may be agreed in writing that the new appointment is for a probationary period of not more than four years, even though thereby the person’s total probationary period in the academic profession is extended beyond the normal maximum of seven years. Notice should be given at least one year prior to the expiration of the probationary period if the teacher is not to be continued in service after the expiration of that period.1

The underlying objective of the foregoing provision is to recognize university teaching as a profession in which, after a limited probationary period to demonstrate professional competence in their positions, faculty members achieve tenure in order to protect academic freedom and provide a reasonable degree of economic security. Tenure in the profession as a whole, rather than at a particular institution, is not a practical possibility, since a faculty appointment is at a given institution. Nevertheless, to the extent that experience anywhere provides relevant evidence about competence, excessive probation can occur not only at one institution but also through failure to grant any probationary credit for service at one ormore previous institutions.

The 1940 Statement recognizes, however, that, because there is great diversity among institutions, not all experience is interchangeable, and that an institution may properly wish to determine whether an individual meets its standards for permanent appointment by on-the-spot experience. Thus a minimum probationary period, up to four years, at a given institution is a reasonable arrangement in appointing a personwith prior service. Itmeets a reasonable demand of institutions that wish to make considered decisions on tenure based on performance at those institutions, and the needs of individuals who wished to obtain appointments that might not otherwise have been available to them because of insufficient time for evaluation.

The Association has long had complaints, primarily from research-oriented institutions, that the mandated counting of prior service elsewhere made it risky for them to offer appointments to unproved persons whose teaching experience was in a nonresearch setting or incidental to completion of graduate degree requirements. The Association’s response has been to insist that the institutions and the individuals concerned should bear these risks, rather than allow for probationary service that exceeds four years at the current institution with the total probationary years in excess of seven.

One consequence of the above, however, is that if an institution adheres to the provision for crediting prior service it is less likely to appoint persons with countable prior service but without demonstrated competence in their current position. Thus avoidance of excessive probation may result, particularly in a “buyer’s” market, in unemployability.Asecond consequence is that institutions sometimes simply disassociate themselves from the 1940 Statement in the matter.  Each consequence is unfortunate, and either suggests that departures from the existing proviso, to adjust to its changed impact, be allowed under certain circumstances

Nevertheless, the Association continues to take the position that the 1940 Statement’s provision for crediting prior service is sound, and it urges adherence to this position. It is particularly opposed to belated arrangements not to count prior service that are made in order to avoid an impending decision on tenure. The Association recognizes, however, that in specific cases the interests of all parties may best be served through agreement at the time of initial appointment to allow for more than four years of probationary service at the current institution (but not exceeding seven years), whatever the prior service elsewhere. Significantly different current responsibilities or a significantly different institutional setting can be persuasive factors in deciding that it is desirable to provide for a fuller current period of probation. In these specific cases, if the policy respecting the probationary period has been approved by the faculty or a representative faculty body, the Association will not view an agreement not to credit prior service as a violation of principles of academic freedom and tenure warranting an expression of Association concern.

In dealing with previous service, the 1940 Statement’s admonition that “the precise terms and conditions of every appointment should be stated in writing and be in the possession of both institution and teacher before the appointment is consummated” is particularly important. The years of previous service to be credited should be determined and set forth in writing at the time of initial appointment.

The previous service that should be taken into account is full-time faculty service at an institution of higher education that was accredited or was an official candidate for accreditation by a recognized United States accrediting agency.

Questions on whether to take into account previous service that occurred many years in the past, or previous service in a distinctly different area, should be referred to an appropriate faculty committee at the time of initial appointment.


1. According to the 1970 Interpretive Comment Number 5: “The concept of ‘rank of full-time instructor or a higher rank’ is intended to include any person who teaches a full-time load regardless of the teacher’s specific title” (AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, 10th ed. [Washington, D.C., 2006], 6).