Bringing Tenure & Promotion to the Digital World

A lively discussion erupted on a listerv I subscribe to in regards to this column by Nicholas Kristof— and I think it is relevant to discussions regarding faculty annual reviews. The column implores university faculty to become more relevant in debates on policy and practice. Our system of peer-reviewed journals and conference presentations largely dismisses practitioners, policymakers, and the public as key audiences for our work. While I don’t ignore the importance of these tools historically, I think it is time that we look more broadly at the literacies that will make our voice heard in the broader debate — not to dismiss journals, but to include digital technologies. With as quickly as information is currently shared, the lengthy process of having an article published often means we are outdated before our paper copy of the journal arrives in the mail. But blogs and other online portals are not considered in our world as academic vehicles, despite the fact that they are likely to reach a much broader audience and make our research (more) relevant in public circles. My colleague, Greg McVerry, writes about both digital spaces and community engagement, and how both need a bigger space at the table when it comes to annual review and T&P (particularly the latter), so that these aren’t expectations in addition to what is currently the gold standard, but that we find some algorithm for determining their weight as equal partners to traditional literacies in academia. Currently, neither are mentioned within the research section of annual review draft in our college.
These are not easy conversations to have, because they challenge us to reconsider the ways in which we disseminate high-quality research. They challenge us to think beyond what has typically been considered the standard for tenure and promotion — for what it means to be an academic. But, I think these are conversations we must have if we are going to keep up with the ways in which information is disseminated on a daily basis. Our penchant for reform efforts is generally overshadowed by think tanks and for-profit entities because they are consistently present in digital spaces, and we are busy waiting 9-18 months to get published…and once we do, we can rarely share the actual article widely. So the public has access to the documents that threaten our existence as public servants (particularly given the interest in privatization of education P-20 in Florida), but not to the documents that we develop.
I fear that without these conversations we will lose many smart, young, digitally savvy academics from the professoriate. The methods for gaining tenure and promotion are inconsistent with how we gather information in our daily lives, and are archaic compared to the ways in which we work with out community. Universities should be on the cutting edge, not stuck in the rut of how things have always been done.