Tenure has different meanings in different levels of education. Even among universities there are nuances of differences. The following definitions represent tenure as practiced at the University of Colorado.
Tenure - Tenure is a contract for continuous employment with the university until resignation or retirement, subject to certain conditions. A tenured faculty member is subject to all rules and regulations of the University; tenure is not a shield against charges of incompetence, malfeasance, or misconduct. Tenure carries no salary guarantees. The system ensures that tenure is earned, never simply given, following a lengthy probationary period and a demanding peer review. Tenure does not exempt faculty from performance evaluation; they are subject to annual reviews and periodic comprehensive reviews.
Probationary Period - For many faculty members, the probationary period begins even before initial appointment - during graduate school years - with a five to ten year apprenticeship of learning, research, and teaching. The next step is to achieve appointment to the faculty. Every national search to fill a tenure-track position at the University of Colorado attracts fifty or more candidates. The screening process is rigorous, and whoever is selected has undergone careful and exacting scrutiny. Everyone involved takes this process seriously, for choosing a new faculty member is one of the most important decisions the University makes.
Finally, the successful candidate formally begins a seven-year probationary period as an assistant professor. All assistant professors are subject to annual evaluations, a re-appointment review, a comprehensive pre-tenure review, and finally, for those still under contract, a review for tenure. There is significant attrition on the way from graduate school to tenure, and when the final decision is positive (and not all are), the University has the experience and confidence to make the commitment of tenure.
Peer Review - There are multiple levels of review: first the department, then the appropriate College or School, then the campus. At each level a faculty committee as well as the appropriate administrator (department chair, dean, vice chancellor for academic affairs) reviews all cases. Finally, following approval by the campus Chancellor, recommendations are sent to the office of the President and from there to the Board of Regents. The recommendations seen by the Regents come through a process involving 25 - 30 reviewers.
Post-Tenure Review - There are three types of reviews that faculty undergo after achieving tenure, only one of which is actually called "post-tenure" review.