Tenure and permanence

Text by Lauri Laanisto

A few years ago Ülo Niinemets was elected as a member of Estonian Academy of Sciences. As he is one of the youngest member, he of course got quite a few assignments right away. One of the committe he was assigned dealt with developing and potential implementation of tenure track system in Estonia. This has been a topic cherished by him for a while. And couple of weeks ago in our university, the Estonian University of Life Sciences, the first round of professors were elected in accordance with the new tenure career model. We are the first university to implement tenure (though it´s pretty much clear by now that all other state universities in Estonia are soon following the same scheme).

Non-tenure in Estonian science is a remnant from the previous system. During the soviet occupancy we had similar higher education and research system to the rest of the USSR – universities dealt with teaching and research institutes with science. And there was little overlap. Somewhat similar system is still used in many countries. But in Estonia, which is a small country – in a words by one Estonian writer “it´s like New York´s taxi drivers decided to have their own country” – there is not enough quality staff to run these parallel systems. Which is why in the 90s basically all research institutions were united with universities. But the remnants of the previous system persisted. Some people are still exclusively teaching, other doing just research. The newly implemented tenure track will try to connect these worlds – each scientist need to be responsible for his or her successors. Also, the new career model states clearly what are the requirements for getting a certain position – so far these conditions were mostly unknown, depending on the person applying for the job. So hopefully there will be less “tayloring” of the positions from now on.

By the way, among the newly elected tenure track professors was Ülo. Congrats!

In addition to Ülo, two permanent positions in our group were decided by the university (though these are not yet tenure positions as the implementation will be stage-by-stage) – Eve Kaurilind was elected as researcher in plant physiology and Lauri Laanisto as senior researcher in macroecology.

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