Peformance based tenure – Here’s to good work!

Today’s AP wire had an article about Ohio State University, the largest university in the country, possibly changing the rules for granting tenure:

The leader of the country’s largest university thinks it’s time to re-examine how professors are awarded tenure, a type of job-for-life protection virtually unknown outside academia.

Ohio State University President Gordon Gee says the traditional formula that rewards publishing in scholarly journals over excellence in teaching and other contributions is outdated and too often favors the quantity of a professor’s output over quality.

“Someone should gain recognition at the university for writing the great American novel or for discovering the cure for cancer,” he told The Associated Press. “In a very complex world, you can no longer expect everyone to be great at everything.”

Emphasizing teaching over publishing would be radical. I’m intrigued by the idea because of bitter memories of a few classes where the professors clearly had no interest in teaching, treating it as a horrid obligation. Needless to say, I did not enjoy their lectures. I wonder how many undergrads are victim to that situation (and perhaps change majors as a result)?

Now of course, there are critics:

“The idea of awarding tenure based on teaching makes me anxious,” said Jennifer Higginbotham, an English professor at Ohio State who’s up for tenure in three years. By then, she will need to publish a book she’s writing about conceptions of girlhood in the Middle Ages to have any chance at the promotion.

“There’s a feeling, I think, that good teachers are a dime a dozen,” said Higginbotham, 32. “I’m not sure what you’d have to do to distinguish yourself enough as a teacher to get tenure.”

Are good teachers a dime a dozen or is this a mis-perception from faculty? Perhaps good is not an adequate superlative, how about great teachers? They exist. Students love them. Great teaching faculty engages their students and imparts passion and excitement for whatever discipline. Why do you think I graduated from Cal with a degree in Germanic linguistics? Professors Rauch and Shannon made it easy for me to fall in love with dead dialects.

So what are the implications for librarians? I think it could be great. It would be great if academic librarians were afforded the time to do great work for their library and publish when it made sense and they had something to share, rather than feeding the published article echo chamber because you need tenure. I wonder what this would do to some of the library world’s rock stars, but shouldn’t we all be rock stars for our libraries?

2 thoughts on “Peformance based tenure – Here’s to good work!

  1. I would love it if my progress towards tenure were based on my primary assignment activities. Instead, I find myself putting organizational work and scholarship ahead of serving patrons, especially close to P&T dossier review time. Drives me batty. Don’t get me wrong..I think LIS scholarship is important, especially when conducted by librarians in the field instead of SLIS faculties, but it shouldn’t be our primary raison d’etre.

  2. Sarah, I think many of us put organizational work and scholarship ahead of serving patrons, which in turn feeds the divide and fosters misunderstandings between the needs of our users and our mission. If academic libraries rewarded their librarians who work on projects that directly benefit their patrons, I think the patrons would recognize the improvement in service. (We are a service industry after all.)

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