An Examination of Departure Trends and Tenure Rates among Pre-Tenure Faculty: A Ten Year Cohort Study (1996 – 2005)

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Virginia Tech


The environmental landscape of American higher education is undergoing a major transformation. With the increased minority enrollment and impending exodus of retiring faculty, recruiting and attracting a diverse and excellent professoriate is more important than ever before (Van Ummersen, 2005). Recognizing the critical role that a diverse faculty plays in the collegiate experience of students from underrepresented groups, colleges and universities have focused increased attention on hiring women and ethnic/cultural minorities (Smith, Turner, Osei-Kofi, & Richards, 2004). These efforts have resulted in the gradual increase of traditionally underrepresented faculty during the past decades.

While the availability of doctorates from more diverse backgrounds has fueled progress in faculty hiring, lower retention rates of women and minorities reduce the rate of progress in diversifying the tenured faculty workforce. Some turnover, whether voluntary or involuntary, is expected. It is necessary in instances of poor teaching performance or low research productivity. It is also a natural consequence of professional advancement (Xu, 2008; Zhou & Volkwein, 2004). Excessive turnover, however, yields undesirable outcomes. Turnover can influence departmental culture, disrupting progress and resulting in the redistribution of teaching loads, advising assignments, and committee tasks. It also presents a financial burden to the institution, resulting in lost return on investment (Xu, 2008). While turnover is inevitable, understanding the factors that contribute to unwanted losses and how these factors affect a faculty member’s decision to depart, warrant significant attention (Xu, 2008). The ongoing monitoring of recruitment and retention practices is one step towards ensuring faculty success and institutional excellence.