Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Wolfgang A. Herrmann has been President of Technische Universität München (TUM) since 1995. Under Herrmann’s leadership, TUM became one of Germany’s first universities of excellence. The chemistry professor is a winner of the Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and was voted President of the Year by the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers (DHV) in 2012.
With its “TUM Faculty Tenure Track” career system, TUM wants to offer better prospects for advancement to young scientists from all over the world. What is new about this model, and how exactly does it work?
I would argue that, for Germany, the very idea of an institutionalised academic career ladder that can be scaled with excellent achievements is something new. So is the idea that open international competition should be the rule rather than the exception in recruiting professors. Even the notion of young scientists and scholars having the right to a clear view of their prospects is only beginning to take root. The comprehensive recruiting and career development framework that TUM has put in place is designed to implement these ideas. Central to this is the TUM Faculty Tenure Track System. TUM is committed to creating 100 new tenure track professorships by 2020. To begin with, this means recruiting early career talents through an open, competitive process. A successful candidate joins TUM as an assistant professor. While this position is temporary, it offers the prospect of promotion to associate professor with permanent status following an evaluation, typically in the sixth year. It’s up or out, but with clear performance criteria, advancement is largely in each young professor’s hands. From tenure onward, the way is open for further promotions. We developed a transparent end to end process before sending out the first calls for tenure track candidates. And we don’t just leave the new professors to sink or swim. A number of new measures are in place to help them get established, balance work with family, and achieve their best possible performance.
What makes this model interesting for young scientists from abroad, and what are the prerequisites for them to compete for tenure track professorships? How strong has the international response been up to this point?
I think TUM and other German universities already have a lot to offer young scientists from abroad, and of course to young German scientists who are doing doctoral or post doctoral work abroad. But in the traditional German system, even top performers typically face a discouraging choice: accept the civil servant status of “assistant professor for life” or leave the university for advancement elsewhere, essentially throwing away what the university and the young professor have invested in each other. This is the condition most likely to discourage young talents from choosing to build their careers in Germany. Our new model removes this obstacle and opens the way for advancement. The main prerequisites are evidence of excellence, according to international standards in the candidate’s field, and a profile that promises continuing scientific growth and achievement. In particular, we are looking for young women and men who have both a track record of excellent independent research and significant international experience. It’s too early to judge our success, but the international response so far has been very encouraging.
TUM is the first German university to introduce such a tenure track system. Why did you decide to do this?
Someone had to do it! For us, it became clear that some of our most critical strategic goals, such as making our faculty more diverse and international over time, and rapidly increasing the percentage of female professors, hinged on establishing a transparent, internationally competitive framework for career development. Our strategy also introduces executive headhunting methods for certain senior positions and establishes eight new professorships that are reserved for distinguished women in strategically important fields.
In deciding whether or not someone will be given a permanent professorship, what performance and selection criteria does the university use? What options are there for those who do not succeed in climbing to the top of the career ladder?
As I said earlier, demonstrated excellence and reason to expect future achievement are essential. Specific performance measurements vary significantly from one discipline to the next, so the aim is always to rank candidates objectively on the most appropriate in ternational scale. Criteria and procedures that apply to all such assessments at TUM are spelled out in a document that is accessible online in both German and English: TUM Faculty Recruitment and Career System - Statute for Quality Management. In the event that the outcome of a tenure track evaluation is negative, the assistant professor is offered a connecting package, a contract for one additional “winding down” year at the end of the sixth year.
A mentoring programme is also part of your new model. What does that entail?
TUM takes responsibility for the rapid orientation of young talents towards our academic system. We place special emphasis on rapidly bringing each young researcher’s scien tific profile up to high international standards; transdisciplinary qualification options are available for that purpose. Designated scientists form a mentoring team to provide support tailored to individual disciplines for each assistant professor, against the background of a personal development plan. Furthermore, TUM is committed to enhancing key competences such as leadership and entrepreneurial thinking, and to sensitising newly appointed professors with regard to guiding principles of gender and diversity.