Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership - Higher Education

Committee Member

Dr. Pamela A. Havice, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Michelle Boettcher

Committee Member

Dr. Edna Martinez

Committee Member

Dr. Robin Phelps-Ward


The tenure process for faculty at all types of higher education institutions and in all disciplines is oftentimes ambiguous (O’Meara, 2011; O’Meara, Terosky, & Neumann, 2008). This is especially true in the understudied comprehensive university, which has experienced significant individual and system-based change over the last 30 years (Youn & Price, 2009). Faculty have struggled to understand ever-changing tenure expectations, dictated by internal and external pressures upon their institutions (Rice, Sorcinelli, & Austin, 2000; Youn & Price, 2009). The purpose of this research study was to explore what pre-tenure faculty experienced as they navigated the tenure track process at comprehensive universities. To investigate this topic, during the 2017-2018 academic year, I employed a hermeneutic phenomenological analysis of data collected from nine pre-tenure or recently tenured higher education/student affairs faculty members. I organized the themes from that data within a conceptual framework of faculty contexts that started from the individual micro-level, advanced to the institutional and disciplinary meso level, and concluded with a more global abstract macro level (Gonzales & Rincones, 2011; Melguizo & Strober, 2007; Rhoades & Slaugher, 2004). Six themes emerged at the micro level: faculty career motivations, year one experiences, the intersections of identities and tenure, frustrations and anxiety about tenure, satisfaction with the tenure process, and feeling secure with themselves as comprehensive university faculty. At the meso level, participant narratives revealed several institutional aspects played key roles in their successful tenure experience: institutional colleague and leadership support, campus politics and leadership challenges at institutions, external support in the field, graduate program influence, discipline involvement, and striving tendencies. At the macro level, participants at institutions adopting striving tendencies for rank advancement and increased research productivity witnessed how certain faculty knowers and forms of knowledge were privileged. Examples of human and social/social network capital (Perna, 2005) were present within the participant narratives. Those examples played a key role in participants’ individual micro and institutional/disciplinary meso faculty contexts. The contexts influenced participants’ success on the tenure track. Participant narratives in this research reinforced the idea that one’s motivation and perspectives about comprehensive university tenure play a key role in determining one’s success at achieving tenure. The narratives also reinforced that comprehensive university faculty have received and should continue to receive significant support from tenured and senior faculty, peer faculty, and graduate program faculty at the institutional and disciplinary levels. Communities of support are necessary for a faculty member’s tenure success. With that said, there is also much to uncover about this population of faculty, so the roadmap of research on this topic is wide and prime with future possibilities.



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