Tenure Track Offers Security for Both Parties
When Diane Martin came to Finland, she considered
Aalto University's tenure track system as an asset.
Diane Martin knew
that she wanted to
make one more career
move. Just one, not
two or three.
Born in 1958, she
had already worked
as an entrepreneur, as an associate and an
assistant professor in the University of Portland,
and as a visiting professor in the University
Ms. Martin was attending the Consumer
Culture Theory Conference 2011 in
Evanston, Illinois in July, where she met
doctoral students from Aalto University
School of Business. The way they spoke of
the university sounded good to her and John
Schouten, her husband.
Within two weeks they were in Helsinki.
— I frankly just thought that we were
maybe going to do a research presentation
and see what was going on. We left with offers,
and started sending out letters to our
colleagues for recommendations. It was
that quick, Ms. Martin says.
In December 2011 Ms. Martin and Mr.
Schouten became two of the first tenured
faculty members of Aalto University School
of Business, as an Associate Professor and a
Professor, respectively. Their positions are
in Marketing in the Department of Marketing.
New Career Paths
The tenure system at Aalto University was
established in 2010, as the new Universities
Act came into effect and opened up new
ways of building an academic career.
When in the old system people built
up their credentials and waited to find an
opening that would fit their expertise, the
tenure track offers a more predictable career
It consists of three levels: two fixed
terms as Assistant Professor, followed by
permanent employment as an Associate
Professor, and then as a Full Professor. You
can enter the tenure track at any level, and
to progress to the following level, you have to meet the criteria in research, teaching and activity
in scientific community. The criteria are established
The Aalto model was created after a wide-ranging
benchmarking of other countries. By early April, a total
of 110 people had been appointed, 33 per cent of
which were from countries other than Finland.
— Aalto's goals were ambitious, and it was thought
that a well-established tenure track could make the
university appealing to a larger group of potential applicants,
says Deputy President of Academic Affairs
According to Mr. Niemelä, there has been little
need to adjust the system during the first few years.
By the end of February, 4197 people had applied for
various positions. The applicant numbers have grown
'surprisingly fast,' so the university has been looking
for best practices and helping spread them to all departments.
Given that the professors have a big role in the
tenure evaluations, the university is trying to make
sure their time is spent on academic evaluations and
not the bureaucracy. Mr. Niemelä says the university
has improved its methods in that respect.
A Familiar System
Coming to Finland was an easy decision—'almost no
decision'—for Ms. Martin. Previously she had spent
four years in Alaska, which had generated in her a
deep love for Northern Countries.
However, appropriate job openings did not come
by that often for a dual academic family. When they
did, they usually were not equally tempting for both
of them. Aalto University School of Business seemed
like a place where they could concentrate on research.
The tenure system in its American form was already
familiar to Ms. Martin. In fact, she was probably
more familiar with it than many people at Aalto, given
that she had sat on both sides of the table—both as an
applicant and as a member of the faculty, reviewing
At Aalto, the criteria set felt clear and understandable,
and she thinks that with good work they
can be met.
— I think the tenure system
is absolutely necessary if you are
going to be questioning old ideals
from a new contemporary
viewpoint, she says.
Ms. Martin studies sustainable
marketing. In her opinion,
the tenure system offers a firm
footing for researchers who are
willing to go against the grain
and question conventional ideals
from a new, contemporary
Having first proven you are
competent, you are free to push
scientific boundaries and ask
difficult questions in order to
make new theoretical contributions.
— With tenure, if you have a
rationale for your work; you can
continue, and not risk your livelihood.
That is a huge benefit,
There are potential pitfalls in
the system, one of them being the application of the
same kind of criteria for different fields of research.
An applicant’s questioning of the tenure track committee's
ruling might constitute another problematic
— There is a real attempt to do this really well. I
see the effort and that is unquestioned. Because it is
such a big change for a traditional faculty, there are
probably going to have to be some tweaks along the
way, but I do not know if anybody is really sure what
Paving the Way
It is probably not a great surprise that the biggest hurdles
in settling in came from outside the academia.
There was a lot of confusion as to who was supposed
to help Ms. Martin and Mr. Schouten figure
out such matters as work permits, bank accounts,
and what they could and could not bring to Finland–
which is why their car is still in Switzerland.
They did eventually get a relocation specialist,
who helped them deal with the problems. They have
discussed the matter with the Dean, and Ms. Martin is
confident that their experiences will ease the path for
the people following them.
— In almost any culture there is so much you take
for granted because you speak the language and know
what is going on, it is even hard to imagine what other
people do not know, she says.
Since then things have evened out. Ms. Martin has
had a lot of help from her students, and she makes
heavy use of Google Translator when shopping for
groceries, for example.
They have not had second thoughts about Aalto
and Finland. Apart from organic peanut butter, she
does not miss much.
— We brought our furniture and our cat. We
moved with the intention of staying.
Ms. Martin sees the tenure track as one of the very
basic building blocks of a world-class university. The
reasoning is two-fold.
First of all, a tenured professor is expected to work
at an even higher level than before. The emphasis is
on quality, not quantity.
Secondly, even though research is what attracts
top talents, what makes their contribution really
count is that they clear the way forward, so that others
can follow in their footsteps.
— In my mind, what builds a great university is
the willingness to collaborate. To look beyond your
own time there, and leave behind a perception and a
reality in which quality gets recognized and rewarded,
she says emphatically.
text Olli Sulopuisto
photograph Veikko Somerpuro
- Painetussa lehdessä sivu 26