¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 What got things started was a December 2005 report by the online journal Inside Higher Ed on the work that had been done to that point by an MLA task force on the evaluation of scholarship for tenure and promotion, and on the multiple recommendations thus far made by the panel.
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At the request of the editors of The Valve, one of the most widely-read literary studies focused blogs, I wrote a lengthy consideration of the recommendations made by this panel, and extended one of those recommendations to reflect one possible future, in the hopes of opening up a larger conversation about where academic publishing ought to go, and how we might best take it there.
Many of the recommendations put forward by the MLA task force (and now concretized in the task force’s final report, published in December 2006) were long in coming, and many stand to change tenure processes for the better; these recommendations include calls for departments:
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 — to give serious consideration to articles published by tenure candidates, thus decentering the book as the gold standard of scholarly production, and to communicate that expanded range of acceptable venues for publication to their administrations;
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 — to set an absolute maximum of six letters from outside evaluators that can be required to substantiate a tenure candidate’s scholarly credentials, to draw those evaluators from comparable institutions rather than more prestigious ones, and to refrain from asking evaluators to make inappropriate judgments about the tenure-worthiness of candidates based on the limited portrait that a dossier presents.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 These were extremely important recommendations, and ones to which I hope tenured faculty will begin to hold our departments and our institutions. For my purposes, however, there was one further recommendation that demanded emphasis, one that stands a significant chance of effecting great change not simply in how the academy tenures its faculty but in how those faculty do their work, how they communicate that work, and how that work is read both inside and outside the academy. This recommendation was hinted at in the IHE article:
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 “Sean Latham, associate professor of English and director of the Modernist Journals Project at the University of Tulsa, said that departments need to recognize that scholarship — good, bad and everything in between — is being produced online and needs to be evaluated without any media-based bias. ‘This process has begun without us,’ he said.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 “Latham — to knowing nods in the audience — joked about how some professors who favor print journals somehow ignore the fact that most of the print journals’ readers these days are online, through various consortiums that make the journals available electronically. ‘If we read something through Project Muse, are we supposed to feel better because somewhere there is a print copy?’ he asked.”
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 2 Most of my audience at The Valve was already on board with Latham’s point. He was precisely right that the vast majority of scholarly articles are being distributed and consumed in electronic format (as is evident in the citations of many of my students, who seem at moments a bit unaware that many journals actually have print existences!). He was also dead-on in attempting to nudge many senior (and many not-so-senior) faculty out of their continuing and unreasoning biases toward the primacy of print publication. But, at least as reported in IHE, Latham’s interests largely focused on the online journal as a reputable venue for publication. My own interests revolved around the future of the monograph, and ways that it might be made sustainable in a new electronic venue. But the issues raised by the MLA panel called attention to two overarching questions:
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 What exactly do we in the humanities want the future of scholarship to look like, and what do we have to do in order to persuade ourselves, our senior colleagues, our departments, and our institutions — all of which tend, if unconsciously, toward an obstinate luddism — that such a future is not only acceptable but necessary?