new standards for tenure and promotion

A report last year commissioned by our provost’s office looks at the changing practices of academic work and calls for three major areas of change in evaluating faculty for promotion, both to associate with tenure and to full professor:

  1. Faculty engagement with the public outside the traditional scholarly community
  2. New forms of scholarly work and communication
  3. Work across disciplinary lines

At a discussion yesterday about implementing the report, one full professor whom I very much admire and respect said that only 10% of faculty production is really new knowledge anyway; since most faculty work is dissemination, publicity, gatekeeping, etc., we should acknowledge and honor that by expanding the tenure and promotion criteria to take these into account.

I understand and even probably agree with this impulse. My hesitation has to do with where the new line should be drawn. Say I decide to run for office, and I give a bunch of really good speeches. Since I work on political culture and citizenship, do my speeches count as a new form of scholarly communication? What about scatterplot posts? Weekend chats with my neuroscientist friend?

Peer review is broken–I get that, really I do. But I’m not sure how to evaluate what replaces it as a way of evaluating the scholarly value of academic work. And I’m pretty sure I don’t think we should just throw caution to the wind and designate anything said, done, or written with a modicum of thought to be scholarly work.

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

9 thoughts on “new standards for tenure and promotion”

  1. I remember discussions about blogging (at Scatterplot perhaps) where some people said they were reluctant to blog for fear that tenure/promotion evaluators would see blogging as time spent in frivolities and away from serious scholarly work.

    True, these other things are not like traditional scholarship. But should they count for nothing? Or, what should they be counted as?

    Our evaluation scheme has three categories: teaching, scholarship, service. I would think that running for office (and holding office) and giving speeches counts as service. As for weekend chats with a neuroscientist (or semi-weekly chats with a clinical psychologist), I would think that the key word in #3 above is not “across disciplinary lines” but “work.”

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  2. Gee, so all of our conservative Christian sociologists who publish opinion pieces in the mainstream media and in sectarian outlets, while also engaging theologians, historians, and other “scholars” who share their religious prejudices should be fast-tracked for full professorships? This should be especially true if they have a nice web site with a glamour shot photo and a list of their non-scholarly speaking engagements?

    In contrast, someone who regularly publishes strong research in her field, but tends to avoid the distractions of new media, and whose work is too technical to be adequately conveyed to the academics outside of her field (much less to the “public”) should be forced into a permanent associate professorship?

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  3. Blogging might contribute to our public obligations as people, not the professional obligations for our jobs. But maybe if academics want to have public stuff considered for promotions, the way to do it is prepare a bundle of samples and have them reviewed as part of the promotion process, with the reviewers considering intellectual merit as well public service.

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  4. There is an element of peer review in bloggery. Link density is not unlike citation index as a way to track discursive impact, and if we did get serious about taking this medium seriously the proliferation of blogs wouldn’t be that much more difficult than the proliferation of journals to chart for relative weight. Of course, in the process we’d reproduce all the gatekeeping tensions between democratized access and elite institutionalization that plague print scholarship and t&p themselves.

    I’m inclined to think that a certain familiarity with and contribution to the relevant fractions of the blogosphere are desirable features of professional development and public service. I’d hesitate to make them mandatory because that’s just an invitation to flood the ‘nets with crap, and I wouldn’t want to overweight them because to some degree the ‘nets are already flooded with crap. But I would like to see real contributions to decrapitizing the new media, like this blog mostly, officially credited and incented.

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    1. I am increasingly aware of how fuddy-duddy I sound. That said…. there’s a huge difference between peer review ahead of publication, which is a check on quality of material disseminated, and post-publication peer discussion, which is just a debate about the relative quality post-hoc. That distinction seems really important to me!

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    2. Right, I won’t disagree, although it might help settle the legitimacy of the claim to know why the distinction seems important to you. So, what if we thought of blogs as a good place for hypothesis-level scholarship and journals as a good place for findings-level scholarship? And could there be a place for blogs in investigative process?

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