Tenure-track faculty aspiring to achieve the highest academic ranks are often hesitant to explore creative and innovative modes of scholarship. While there are several possible reasons for their reluctance,  one may be the fact that alternative scholarship still does not carry as much weight during promotion and tenure reviews as traditional scholarship does.

Stephen Nichols, professor of medieval French literature at Johns Hopkins University, highlights this concern in Digital Scholarship in the University Tenure and Promotion Process: A Report on the Sixth Scholarly Communication Symposium at Georgetown University Library:

“… disincentives are so powerful as to discourage experimentation. Young scholars are counseled that they need solid print dossiers before they attempt digital scholarship and that, even then, they are still at some risk.”

A University of California, Berkeley report entitled The Influence of Academic Values on Scholarly Publication and Communication Practices acknowledges that while faculty members realize that it is important to experiment with using alternative methods of scholarly communication, the challenge may be the inability to have those works properly evaluated by tenure review committees:

“There is presently a somewhat dichotomous situation in which electronic forms of print publications are used heavily, even nearly exclusively, by performers of research in many fields, but perceptions and realities of the reward system keep a strong adherence to conventional, high-stature print publications as the means of record for reporting research and having it evaluated institutionally.”

Review committees have a difficult time understanding the significance of digital scholarship, let alone knowing how to assess its impact. Review committees understand citation indexes and journal impact factors or book reviews as the evidence of impact of traditional scholarship. How does one determine the impact of a blog post, a web site, a YouTube video, or a slide deck posted on Slideshare? As a result, emerging forms of digital scholarship are often not defined in criteria documents and therefore not fully valued the faculty rewards system.

Continue reading