Teresa Thomas: Case #2
Characterization of Institution
Research I University
Characterization of Department
Ph.D. granted in English
How would this case turn out in your department? At your university/college?
At our institution, refereed electronic publications, in addition to print publications, are considered as evidence of published scholarship toward tenure. However, distinctions are made between scholarship that results in a publishable textbook or classroom materials and scholarship that advances research and theory in the field. Textbooks on occasion may represent an advancement in the field, but this must be demonstrated by the candidate and confirmed by referees. Unclear in this case is the focus of the candidate’s on-line dissertation. Contributions to the field of rhetoric and composition, on line or in print, may contribute to improved classroom practice without clearly relating to the development of rhetorical theory or empirical research in language, rhetoric, or non-literary writing. An on-line or print reference work—a term also used to describe Professor Thomas’ dissertation—could be a bibliographic essay, glossary, or annotated bibliography, again works that are certainly valuable, but not considered to move a field forward. At present, for a university press to only consider publishing the book on-line would suggest to me that it does not have the impact that one might expect—greater investment is implied by a print text. This situation may change, even within the next five years, but at present, on-line publication by a university press would be viewed as an experimental venture.
What are the Department Chair’s responsibilities toward Thomas? Which did she/he fulfill? Fail?
The Department Head has the responsibility to analyze each of Professor Thomas’s publications upon completing the third-year review as they illustrate that she had met departmental standards for tenure and promotion. The Department Head also has the obligation to apprise new faculty of tenure and promotion requirements upon hiring and to articulate how the new hire’s research plans do or do not suggest that he/she is on the road to achieving tenure. The dissent at the faculty meeting is a “teachable moment” for the department; here faculty and the chair should be giving serious consideration to how on-line publication is treated in the departmental and college tenure and promotion guidelines. The latter are not mentioned anywhere in the case, and it would appear that this faculty member very well may be at risk of failing to reach tenure even if her publications were all print-based, given her lack of orientation to or understanding of the department’s T&P requirements. Questions that remain unanswered: What part do grants play in the requirements for T&P? Does the department make distinctions among research that advances the field, research that advances pedogogy in the field, and scholarship in the service of producing teaching materials? What is considered a refereed publication and what criteria define the value of one kind of refereed publication as opposed to another? Finally, if written publications in addition to electronic will be expected or accepted for tenure, this criterion , if not spelled out in the T&P requirements, should be reflected in the annual reviews of the candidate as well as the third-year review.
What are the Personnel Committee’s responsibilities toward Thomas? Which did they fulfill? Fail?
If the department has a personnel committee that makes recommendations on T&P, this committee at each point of review should be reiterating the department’s expectations for publication venue, noting whether print publications in addition to electronic publications are expected, the quantity of publication expected, and how the quality of a publication venue will be accessed. Factors that might be considered include: refereed vs. non-refereed work, university press or commercial press, regional or national journal, and so on. The personnel committee that hired Professor Thomas, it appears to me, had the obligation to inform her, as part of the search process, of the department’s tenure and promotion guidelines, including expectations for publication as these are specified; however, this is more clearly the responsibility of the department head, who is the appointing authority.
What are the responsibilities of the Dean? Which did she/he fulfill? Fail?
The Dean, who also approves appointments, should assure that the candidate has received the written tenure and promotion guidelines of the department, College, and university (if the latter exist). In my view, Deans also have the obligation to provide mentoring workshops that supplement departmental and university information to appropriately inform candidates about how their accomplishments will be reviewed by College T&P committees and how to prepare their portfolio for review.
What are Thomas’s responsibilities? Which did she/he fulfill? Fail?
Professor Thomas is obligated to inquire about the Department, College, and University tenure and promotion requirements upon being hired. If her intention was only to publish on-line, she needed to state this up front, in my view, because this kind of profile for a publication record is so radically different from what is traditionally expected. In short, she should be expected to know a thing or two about the requirements of the profession, and if she is uncertain, to ask these questions of her department head and assigned mentors. The issue of receiving appropriate credit for on-line publications in an English Department is parallel to the issue of evaluating creative work as opposed to critical or theoretical work and of submitting pedagogical research as opposed to empirical or theoretical work related directly to the study of language or literature. Another parallel issue is that of crediting for tenure single-authored publications as opposed to multiply-authored publications. In each instance, a traditional area or mode is being challenged by a new approach. Like it or not, the person “breaking the barriers” has a responsibility to define how their work achieves departmental research expectations, as does the department to define, in writing, what those expectations are.
What went wrong? What went right?
As stated earlier, when the Department decided to hire a faculty member who was conducting research on a topic and in a mode never encountered before, the Department, through the chair, had an obligation to define how this research would be evaluated for tenure, preferably through articulating these expectations in tenure and promotion requirements. Likewise, the faculty member who is doing non-traditional work cannot expect that a department in which he or she is breaking ground to accept this work without question. New faculty members are obligated to present in their review portfolio the rationale for their publication choices, relating this rationale to articulated departmental standards. Finally, the department head has the responsibility in annual reviews to consistently relate the candidate’s productivity to articulated standards for tenure and promotion. Deans who review departmental evaluations have the obligation to communicate with department chairs and review committees about the helpfulness of their reviews as feedback for their faculty.