University tenure and promotion committees are constantly being asked to evaluate scholarship that is outside the area of expertise of members of the committee. The chemist usually relies on accepted conventions in order to assess the work of the philosopher, and vice versa: How many refereed journal articles? What’s the acceptance rate of the journal in question? Committee members rely on each other as well as any institutional guidelines to learn how to weigh the value of the humanities monograph against the value of coauthored articles in STEM fields.
The last decade has seen a big turn toward a new kind of scholarship your committees may not know how to assess. Public and community-engaged scholarship, which has been flourishing in the social sciences and the humanities especially, can prove baffling to committees accustomed to portfolios with more traditional monographs or refereed journal articles.
This is where disciplinary associations like mine, the Modern Language Association (MLA), can be your friend. Disciplinary associations reflect, and sometimes shape, the direction of scholarship and pedagogy in our fields. That’s a big part of our job. We publish it, we feature it at our conferences and professional development events, and many of us, including the MLA, coordinate communication among department chairs and work with them to establish policies and guidelines for the discipline.
Our links with departments and scholars all over the country (and in Canada) who have been doing public and community-engaged work have enabled us to bring together a powerful group of public humanities practitioners in language and literature to help shape the way higher education values such scholarship. This MLA ad hoc committee recently produced a report and set of guidelines to help campuses understand and learn to evaluate the various kinds of work that gets classified as public humanities. This work can range from talks at public libraries through grant-funded archive digitization programs for community organizations, translation work with immigrant groups, and so much more.
Your faculty members are engaged in this kind of work already, whether they are getting promotion or tenure credit for it or not. In language and literature, faculty members of color are involved in community-engaged work in proportions higher than white faculty members, and such work often flies under the radar of their institutional structures when there are no clear metrics for considering it as part of scholarship. The MLA’s guidelines can help campus leaders and evaluation committees recognize the scholarship, often entwined with pedagogy, that your faculty members are already doing and help make sure that tenure and promotion committees know how to value it.
Provosts and deans can share the MLA’s new guidelines with department leaders and evaluation committees, to help you shape your own systems for reckoning with this work. This kind of report is just one example of the ways disciplinary associations can help with campus work. The MLA has many professional development offerings for faculty members and department leaders and many sets of guidelines and standards for language and literature teaching and publishing, and so do many other disciplinary associations. Here are links for the American Historical Association and the American Philosophical Association guidance on public humanities work. The disciplinary associations are here for you and for your faculty members–get in touch!