Academic Authority

Facilitator: Michael Mandiberg

Provocateurs: Stephen Duncombe, Cheryl Ball, and David Greetham

C 201

Faculty evaluation for purposes of promotion and tenure in the university has typically focused on individual scholarly output, measured by production and print publication of scholarly monographs and journal articles, and, to a lesser extent, estimations of teaching ability and provision of “service” to one’s academic discipline and department. The rapid growth and deployment of digital technologies in colleges and universities has begun to reshape not only classroom instruction but also the very nature of academic research and publication and the notion of academic service, in the process challenging longstanding assumptions about the structure and functioning of the academy. This workshop will explore the implications for tenure and promotion of the rise of digital scholarship and pedagogy, with particular emphasis on: the emergence of collaborative and multidisciplinary digital research efforts; the growing presence of refereed online scholarly outlets and non-refereed social networking sites (e.g. “blogs”) that are challenging traditional academic print journals; and the ways digital classrooms have helped transform teaching and learning by de-centering the “professor at the front of the class” and re-focusing attention on students as active creators of knowledge. A number of questions and issues flow from these developments:

  • How have digital technologies re-shaped and re-imagined the creation and distribution of scholarly knowledge?
  • How has growing use of these technologies by academics, especially younger ones, complicated traditional academic processes of tenure and peer-review?
  • How can we begin to challenge and change longstanding faculty and administrative opposition to valuing non-traditional forms of academic research and publication in the tenure and promotion process?
  • Will valuing digital scholarship and teaching diminish academic quality and standards?
  • Is it possible or desirable to broaden the notion of academic “service” to encompass digital development and production of websites, blogs, teaching resources, etc.?
  1. April 21st, 2010 at 18:04 | #1

    Some notes from the discussion:

    We primarily talked about three topics:

    1) Rigor. Do we believe in rigor (Yes). Is the current model working, either for traditional or digital scholarshop (No) What is an alternative model?

    Peer review is corrupt: *where* does the editor send the submission for review? The editor knows what scholars are going to say before they do the review.

    How do you define a peer group? My favorite sound bite from the conversation was Joe Cutbirth’s “I’m not sure my mom making comments is peer review”

    We spent a bit of time discussing forms of open review, from Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s open reviewed book with If:Book software. The consensus was taht open review has the potential to be less corrup. It is clear, rather than a blind secret peer review. Digital reviews log the users, and create more transparency. This directly relates to the transparency in the peer review process in Open Source software projects. On the other hand the consensus was that blind peer review is corrupt, with editors expecting certain reviews from reviewers, and other reviewers lashing out at their enemies while hiding behind the cloak of anonymity. This sounds somewhat paranoid as I retype it, but it was suggested that transparency is potentially the best way of bringing in colleagues: they all have had bad reviews by people with an axe to grind.

    We also spent some time bemoaning the demotion of digital scholarship in general by rules like giving digital scholarship 1/2 credit of the same type of analog scholarship, or giving credit to work by page count. If credit is given by page count, how do you count pages in a digital environment?

    Similarly, we talked about collaboration and how it is difficult because review committees do not know how to deal with collaboration. Several people reported having collaborative works simply struck from the portions of their CVs that were to be considered for tenure. It was pointed out that we are in an ironic position in between two models: we carry the importance of the single author book length monograph from the humanities and the disciplinary structure of the peer review of the sciences. In the process we loose the collaborative emphasis that is present in the sciences.

    2) How do we intervene in the academic institution and make a change

    We identified a number of tactics for negotiating the peer/tenure review process. Some of these were:

    * Start a digital humanities working group. Community organizing changes the community.

    * You have to explain your work to the committee. This means you have to work harder. It was pointed out that the people at the top are unfamiliar with emerging scholarly technologies and practices, but know that they are important. The key is to help them understand what you are doing so they can support you while not damaging their ego.

    * In terms of teaching, state how many classes were new preps. It is harder to teach digital focused courses, as the technology changes so frequently. When the technology changes that quickly, the same course number is effectively a new course. Claim it as such!

    The takeaway from this point was that these are social practices which have evolved over a long duration in the university. David Greetham pointed out that the University has gone through numerous similar epistemological transformation. All social practices evolve, and the university *is* evolving. In evolution, some people hunker down, and others rush to ride the wave.

    3) Comment culture: The hell with the idea of rigor. What ever rises to the top (hits/downloads). The problem with this is that it close to a business & sales model.

    Micki McGee pointed out that the rules governing comment culture, twitter, etc are highly linked to celebrity culture. It becomes not so much about rigor based authority, as fan based authority.

  2. April 21st, 2010 at 03:15 | #2

    Wow, we’re the slacker contingent at this CUNY conference! (no posts compared to the other workshops). Sorry folks! It’s just that there is SO MUCH good information to share — and to hear about — re this topic, that I didn’t want to start in on a rant/essay online. But here’s some very initial reactions/feedback to the great questions posed above:

    (1) use of technology re “academic authority” shouldn’t be discussed in terms of “younger academics” vs. whatever the alternative is. It just sets up a bad binary that isn’t necessarily accurate.

    (2) We should question whether faculty or administration actually have opposition to digital scholarship — in many cases, we might be assuming the status quo and not exploring what our local, on-campus alternatives might be. That is, there may be NO challenge to this work. (At least not in every case… although that’s not to say there is no challenge at all.)

    (3) Asking whether the valuation of digital scholarship and teaching with tech will diminish academic quality and standards assumes there IS some set of standards and a particular level of quality that should be uniformly aspired to. (Not!)

    (4) Teaching with technology and technological administration has been successfully (and also not successfully) argued as crossing boundaries between teaching-service-research in rhetoric and composition for over 12 years. At least since the CCCC position statement on evaluating work with technology came out in 1998: So maybe the question should be: Why isn’t this document working? Or is it, in which case why are we still asking this question?

    Yes, a bit of snark in my responses, but the reason is to provoke discussion and response at the f2f, yes? Let’s hope. I so look forward to meeting everyone tomorrow and chatting about all these great topics!


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