Attention Academics in the Humanities
Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed has written two articles about calls at the Mondern Language Association to change general requirements for tenure.
The most dramatic of the proposed changes would be allowing other venues of publication besides "the monograph" to count for tenure. In layman's terms, you wouldn't have to turn your dissertation into the damned book to get tenure. This change might even include considering on-line, peer-reviewed publications to be legitimate. Gasp!
Other calls for change include:
- limiting the number of outside reviewers who write letters for the tenure seeker to six big whigs -- some universities require 12.
- requesting tenure letters from universities of comparable status (ie. Podunk U would stop asking for letters from big whigs at Ivies.)
- not asking letter writers questions that are unfair to candidates, such as "would you recommend this scholar for tenure at your university" (as though a Podunk U prof should be able to get tenure at HarvPrinceYale.)
- providing better systems of senior faculty mentoring for junior faculty.
- and creating "Memorandums of Understanding" with new faculty that will spell out what will be expected of them come tenure time.
I think that this last item is especially important. Scott emailed me for a comment on the proposal and then quoted this portion of my response:
“Among the junior faculty I coach, the most upsetting problems arise when the criteria for tenure are unclear or raised capriciously,” said Mary McKinney, a psychologist and the founder of Successful Academic Coaching, who helps junior faculty members navigate the tenure process. “It’s tough to jump over a bar that you can’t see. And even harder to clear a bar that is being lifted as you leap.”
I had some other thoughts about the possible tenure overhaul that were not included in Scott's article.
"From dissertation to book
"The MLA panel is to be applauded for making the kinds of recommendations it has. We in the scholarly publishing business agree that “it’s about time” that such changes were initiated; we have been calling for them for nearly two decades. Another reason for placing less emphasis on monograph publication as the “gold standard” for tenure is that, with academic libraries generally having access to dissertations in electronic form through ProQuest (which has just instituted an “open access” option as well), there is little motivation for libraries to order books based on dissertations unless very substantial revisions have been unertaken, and hence sales of books identifiable as having originiated in dissertations are even lower than the already low sales on monographs in literary criticism, which make them very difficult for university presses to publish. Yet tenure committees have continued to insist on junior faculty publishing monographs, which they can hardly verry easily do in the limited time they have unless they start with their revised dissertation as their first book. The conflict between library practices and tenure committee requirements is one more instance of the failure of universities to examine the logic of their institutional systems—puzzling in view of the university’s self-image as the bastion of rationality!
For now, however, if you are in English, or most fields in the humanities, and you're at a respectible university, you need to publish a book for tenure. If this is the case, THINK ABOUT THE ECONOMICS OF YOUR BOOK. FROM THE PUBLISHERS POINT OF VIEW.
Even at the time of their dissertation defense, no graduate student I've worked with has known the elements of a successful book proposal. Many junior faculty preparing manuscripts are clueless about the financial pressures on academic presses, or how marketing prospects affect editorial decisions. Ideally, all doctoral training would cover practical information about career planning and tenure requirements, including the basics of academic book publishing. For example, it would be helpful if professors revealed the practical importance of choosing a marketable topic when their students are developing dissertation proposals. While generating ideas for the dissertation, few students are asked "Who would want to read this, and why?"
How's this for an "earnest exhortation" as promised in my blog's byline?