Catherine Stimpson had a piece at Inside Higher Ed yesterday about the 2006 report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for and Promotion. The first thing that struck me was a statistic.
The MLA report estimates that of every 100 English and foreign language doctoral recipients, 60 will be hired to tenure-track positions within 5 years. Of them, 38 will be considered for tenure at the institution where they were hired. Of them, 34 will be awarded tenure.
So that makes me one of those 34 out of 38 out of 60 out of 100. Unless I’m figuring the odds wrong (quite possible), that’s actually a bigger number than I would have expected. I’m glad to be tenured, of course, but it turns out that it really doesn’t feel (to me at least) as completely a relief as everybody said. I still think about my career, where it’s going, I still have ambitions and new ideas, and I don’t seem to feel like I’ve totally “made it” or finished.
Stimpson (and the MLA) make another important point, too.
Moreover, because of those new communications technologies, much scholarly inquiry is now being done digitally. Some of the most important work about and in digitalized scholarship is appearing from university presses, an invaluable resource that the task force correctly praises and for which it seeks more institutional resources. Yet many departments are clueless, all thumbs in the old-fashioned sense of the phrase, in doing evaluations of digital scholarship that respect peer review. Of the departments in doctorate-granting institutions that responded to the MLAâ€™s survey, 40.8 percent report no experience evaluating refereed articles in electronic format, and 65.7 percent have no experience evaluating monographs in electronic format.
Now, this (deplorable) situation doesn’t really match with my experience, at least not recently. At my own institution, electronic publications were evaluated, were accepted, and did play a part in the decision to grant me tenure and (later) promotion. So that’s a good thing. But it’s also a relatively new thing, and this is something where most departments absolutely need to get on board. Electronic formats, electronic publication, holds the promise of the most exciting new venues for scholarship and publication–because the work can get out there farther, and faster, for more interaction, criticism and comment, than more “traditional” venues can every achieve.
And there’s another area, too, where I think most departments and administrations are “all thumbs,” inexperienced, missing the boat. Scholarship of teaching and learning (which my institution does value) is neglected too often, at too many places. I’ve heard too many stories of faculty who do this kind of work having to really struggle to get the work recognized and accepted in tenure and promotion decisions. I’m glad the MLA is urging more attention to electronic publications…and I’d like to see them urging more attention to SoTL, too.