Statement by the Tampere University Association of Researchers and Teachers regarding the renewal of the Tampere University tenure track system

Tampere University Association of Researchers and Teachers (Tatte) is grateful for the opportunity to express its views on the Tampere University tenure track system.


1) Firstly, we would like to point out that the model in question is a career path model, not necessarily a – or themodel leading to a tenured position. We assume that Tampere University will, in the future, offer different types of career paths and opportunities with tenured, permanent positions alongside a tenure track system aiming for a full professorship. This tenure track system simply cannot be the only method of advancing in one’s academic career, nor of gaining tenure, recognised by Tampere University.


2) We also express our concern regarding the fact that the emphasis on fixed-term contracts is stretching further and further along the academic career path. Tatte reminds that Finnish universities are committed to reducing fixed-term contracts. Fixed-term contracts should not be the default expectation in any career phase. The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers has been persistent in expressing its concern over the culture of fixed-term working contracts so rooted in the Finnish universities (see e.g. Volanen 2012; ”Why not permanent?” campaign). The insecurity of academic careers is a worry for ever younger researchers, which indicates that it makes no sense to build ever more distant horizons of permanency for academic career paths.


3) Tatte also points out, as does the Tampere University’s local chapter of Professors’ Union in their statement, that the tenure track system results in a significant centralisation of power into the hands of the University’s strategic management. Holding direct control over career paths creates worrying situations where the strategic management’s view of a single researcher can have an effect on the process of becoming tenured. In Tatte’s view, it would be better to increase the influence and authority of instances further down the decision-making system, such as the Faculty Councils, in accordance with the proximity principle stated by the University Board. Peers’ views are central when it comes to assessing academic career advancement.


In Tatte’s view, all recruitments should follow the human resource plans discussed in the Faculties’ personnel meetings and decided upon by the Faculty Councils. Similarly, it is important that the Faculty Councils would nominate the appointment committees for tenure track recruitments and that the process were detached from the closed strategic line management (dean 🡪 provost). The appointment committee should consist of academic experts (in part from within the university, in part academics from outside the university, in all instances without conflicts of interest) that would compare the merits of the applicants and list them in a transparent manner based on those merits. Tatte would like to emphasise that the practice of conducting an assessment provided by an external service provider should be discontinued as part of the tenure track recruitment process since it does not fulfill or guarantee the requirements of transparency or academic competence.


Furthermore, instructions regarding conflicts of interest when compiling the appointment committee should be clearer and more thorough than now. We recommend a set of instructions which take into account research cooperation, co-authored publications, joint research funding, supervisory relationships, close personal relations and the so called polemic relationship, on a wider timescale.


4) Tatte would also like to point out, in the spirit of the aforementioned problems with persistent fixed-term contracts, that, currently, a person appointed to a tenure track has to resign from their permanent, tenured position when they hold one. This requirement is not in place in all Finnish universities and should be waived. Career models should embrace options and flexibility, not closed silos.


5) As both the Professors Union and the Science Council have done, Tatte would like to draw attention to the fact that the criteria for advancing on the tenure track are currently too abstract. Admittedly, the criteria do provide more leeway, but simultaneously they easily lead to issues of interpretations, which also relates directly to section 3 above. We are aware that the University is presently dealing with a judicial case concerning a discontinued tenure track. The outcomes of such judicial cases should, without question, be reflected in the instructions and basis of the system. The tenure track system should be constructed in such a way that both decision making and assessment criteria are transparent and predictable so that legal conflicts that are a waste of the University’s resources can be avoided.


6) Regarding  the emphasis placed on research merit within the tenure track system, Tatte expresses concern along the same lines as the Professors’ Union has, that overemphasising publication merits threatens to eclipse others merits, such as societal interaction and teaching. Growing inequality among the career prospects of different types of academic staff is a genuine concern, and one which the current tenure track system does not seem to take into account. Unsettling instances of this kind of increasing inequality can be seen in international higher education research (see e.g. Washburn 2005[1]; Ylijoki et al. 2020[2]; Mason & Megoran 2021[3]). The expected increase in distance-mode teaching and learning can, for its part, be regarded to result in a decreased respect for teaching (Guillem & Briziarelli 2020[4]). Hence, it is of utmost importance that the criteria applied in the tenure track system at Tampere University, or those of any career advancement system, do not create any more structures that would strengthen such development.


This also reflects on a wider discussion regarding tenure track positions and their effect on the working community. As it stands, a career model that emphasises research leads to a redistribution of administrative and teaching duties within the community, and if the Faculty’s resources are not simultaneously and accordingly increased, these duties are simply mounted upon others in academic positions. The teaching resources of those faculties, degree programmes and/or specializations that “raise” staff to a tenure track should be increased vis-à-vis the decrease in the teaching duties of those moving to the track. This issue also relates to alternative career advancement models (see section 1) that would better ensure that such above-mentioned structures that create inequality would not spring up within the career path system.


7) Tatte points out that proposing very high selection and progress criteria in the academic career path system also demands that the University shows similar commitment to the material working conditions of people working at the University. The University must, for its part, be able to genuinely commit to ensuring that the necessary working conditions (e.g. research infrastructure) are available and that the administrative processes run smoothly. From Tatte’s viewpoint, the support staff layoffs in 2021 and the current plans for space reductions signal the opposite: The University demands a lot, but commits materially very little in return. Decent working conditions, however, are an absolute necessity for the work called for by the tenure track system and, more generally, for any academic work of quality.


8) Tatte also agrees with eg. the Professors’ Union statement regarding the terminology and titles of the tenure track model being estranging and clumsy. Instead of attempting to fit English terms into a Finnish system, the terminology should be redeveloped (with Finnish terms and English translations respectively).


9) Similarly to the professors’ statement, Tatte appreciates the mentoring system introduced in the proposal as well as the possibility of stopping the so-called tenure clock. These are positive and necessary initiatives.


It is indeed desirable and important that the University is planning new instructions and paths for advancing in academic careers and becoming tenured. We would like to encourage the University to continue this work, while taking into account our comments and justified constructive criticism.


Tampere University Association for Researchers and Teachers (TATTE), 6 May 2022.


[1] Washburn, Jennifer. 2005. University Inc. The corporate corruption of higher education. Basic Books.

[2] Ylijoki, Oili-Helena & Henriksson, Lea. 2017. “Tribal, proletarian and entrepreneurial career stories: junior academics as a case in point.” Studies in Higher Education 42(7): 1292-1308.

[3] Mason, Olivia and Megoran, Nick. 2021. “Precarity and dehumanization in higher education.” Learning and teaching 14(1): 35-59.

[4] Guillem, Susana Martínez & Briziarelli, Marco. 2020. “Against gig academia: connectivity, disembodiment, and struggle in online education.” Communication Education 69(3): 356-372.