First published in Liberal Education, Fall 2006. Peter A. Facione, a former Provost at Loyola University Chicago, served as an academic dean for 19 years and was president of ACAD in 1999-2000. He is known for his work on the assessment of critical thinking. Currently he is a principal at Measured Reasons LLC, a Los Angeles based strategic consulting firm, and the CEO of Insight Assessment.
Careers in the Balance
Senior academic leaders are in consensus that for purposes of tenure we should highly value a candidate’s significant contributions to collaborative scholarship. That consensus, however, may be as fragile as it is shallow. At an operational level we do not agree on what sorts of things should count as “potentially significant contributions to collaborative scholarship.” At a conceptual level we appear to conflate three different notions: “independent scholarship,” “solo-authored publications,” and “significant scholarly work.”
The fundamental issue is how to give due weight and proper consideration for purposes of tenure to the intellectual work and scholarly worth of various kinds of contributions. As a group we are not sure how to value such work as: designing and assuring the integrity of a collaborative research project, serving as the content expert on a research team, developing and validating the research instruments used in the project, writing the first solid draft of a scholarly manuscript for publication, being an invited co-author on a scholarly manuscript, providing the statistical and analytical expertise needed to undertake the project, being the principal investigator of the grant that funds the collaborative project, being the person who had the initial idea for the collaboration, or being the leader of a collaborative research project or team.
If we who are experienced in making tenure evaluations and tenure decisions year in and year out on candidates from a wide range of disciplines are not in accord, how can we meaningfully discuss tenure expectations in an informed and detailed way with colleagues? How can we supply sound academic leadership or helpful collegial guidance about this to department chairs, tenure-eligible faculty, their mentors, or the faculty who serve on departmental, school, or university level tenure review committees?
I offer two recommendations. First, we senior academic leaders should inform ourselves more fully about the intellectual or artistic work required for successful scholarly collaborations in a very wide range of fields and disciplines. We are mistaken if we believe lead-authorship is the only collaborative contribution of potential scholarly significance.
Second, we should engage the academic leadership of our institution in explicating operationally the types of contributions to collaborative scholarship that shall be regarded as potentially of greater or lesser value for purposes of achieving tenure at the institution. Clarity regarding the operational meaning of “potentially significant contributions to collaborative scholarship” is critical for candidates and for those charged with reviewing candidate files. As the opportunities and the demands for collaborative work from the larger academic community, from journal editors, and from funding agencies increase, sound leadership and justice demand that our institutional policies and practices keep pace. With tenure on the line, the future quality of our institutions and the careers of our tenure-eligible faculty are in the balance.
Three False Starts – Three Lessons Learned
I recall one particularly vexing conversation early in my years as a department chair. Tenured faculty in our department worked by themselves on their individual research projects. But some of our assistant professors were beginning to collaborate and to publish as co-authors. This was a new thing, believe it or not, to those of us on the departmental evaluation committee. Our department guidelines did not cover this situation. We tried to figure out how to count these co-authored publications using the dreadful point-system with which we had saddled ourselves. One senior colleague glibly suggested that however many points we might assign a publication should simply be divided equally among its co-authors. The message he intended to send to his not-yet-tenured colleagues was obvious: every one of his solo-authored articles was automatically at least twice as valuable as any of their co-authored work. How convenient. Many years later at a different institution a good colleague in physics got quite a kick out of the “divide-by-the-number-of-authors” suggestion. He was one of several hundred authors on a couple of ground-breaking big-science pubs. Lesson learned.
Sad to say, but the second approach “always-trust-the-department” can backfire too. I recall as a dean on more than one occasion working with serious-minded groups of faculty leaders to clarify school-level tenure standards. Naturally we always began by attending to the well-rehearsed differences between the disciplines in our college or school. But candidly, we knew that some departments were less than fully able or willing to articulate the various ways candidates in their fields could potentially contribute significantly as individuals to collaborative projects. Unfortunately, in some departments influential people expressed serious difficulties with the evolving character and broadening range of what their own larger disciplinary community counted as acceptable forms of scholarly work. Some would not accept certain methodologies, or they did not consider certain kinds of questions as worthy, or they were vaguely suspicious of any work that was interdisciplinary, or they assumed collaboration meant people were getting credit for work not truly their own. In moments of candor some might confide that they were a bit embarrassed themselves because they simply did not know how to judge the scholarly quality of these different kinds of things.
Departments occasionally suffer internal turmoil because of vested interests, misunderstandings, interpersonal strife, factious politics, poor process, or weak management. Some department chairs are better than others at explaining their discipline’s research modalities to those of us from other fields. Not all the tenured faculty of the department contribute useful evaluations of a candidate’s research. External reviews can be compromised by questions about the reviewer’s selection, competence, impartiality, or appreciation unique institutional context. Thus, departmental level tenure recommendations may not always reflect a broad, informed, unified, objective, and impartial analysis of the quality or the significance of a tenure candidate’s scholarly work.
Every provost or president responsible for the final decision knows that some cases are neither a clear Yes nor a clear No. At times a president or chief academic officer must make the final decision which turns on the central issue of this report, namely, “How can I evaluate in a fair-minded and informed way the quality and merit of the scholarly contributions this candidate made to collaborative research projects?”
Faced with this problem, and wanting not to tenure unworthy candidates, some chief academic officers adopt a third approach — “demand-independent-scholarship.” For them the candidate who produces solo-authored publications is the only surely worthy candidate. Thinking they are being rigorous, rather than simply confused, these good colleagues then mistakenly narrow their demand for “independent-scholarship” until operationally it equates to “solo-authored-pubs.” At least with divide-by-the-number-of-authors a candidate whose only contributions were co-authored could accumulate some points toward tenure. But if solo-authorship is a sine qua non, then we really have taken a step backward toward an outmoded, incomplete, and stifling notion of scholarly work.
Lesson learned: If we who had been making tenure decisions cannot untangle the different meanings of “independent scholarship,” “solo-authored publications,” and “significant scholarly work,” how should we then discuss these things meaningfully with colleagues? Again, how should we give well-informed and helpful guidance to deans, chairs, tenure candidates, and faculty on departmental, school, or university level review committees?
Gathering Insights from Experienced Academic Administrators
To learn what senior level academic administrators might understand about the nature and significance of individual contributions to collaborative scholarship, I invited many of my colleague administrators by e-mail to respond to some questions.1 Do not, however, confuse my opinion-gathering with rigorous research. This was merely a convenience sample designed to give friends and colleagues an organized way to participate in an exploratory conversation.
We limited our conversation to collaborative scholarship in applied behavioral science oriented professional disciplines, such as Education, Journalism, Communication, Health and Human Services, Counseling, Applied Psychology, Criminal Justice, Nursing, or Social Work. There is no reason, however, to limit the conversations on our campuses only to the fields asked about in our e-mail survey. Research paradigms are expanding in almost every discipline. Opportunities as well as the demands for collaboration grow. Professional journals expect more and more to accept submissions for publication, resulting in increasing numbers of co-authored and multi-authored work. Funding agencies increasingly target multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary questions that require building collaborative research teams. The demand from employers, students, and parents for effective workplace collaboration skills as learning outcomes begs the question whether the academy’s historical penchant for solo scholarship really best equips faculty to respond knowledgeably to this demand. As academic leaders our understanding of scholarly work and its place in the life of the teaching-scholar must continue to expand and evolve with these kinds of changes. The problem of sorting out the potentially more significant from the potentially less significant contributions to collaborative scholarship must be raised periodically in every area from the performing and studio arts through the physical and behavioral sciences, mathematics, and the humanities as well as in all professional schools.
Fifty-six senior academic administrators2 responded to the invitation join this conversation. Adding my own responses, 57 of us participated. Our ad hoc group included 46 from US News top-ranking private masters level regional comprehensive universities and 11 from nationally-ranked private research universities. In all we were 5 presidents, 28 academic vice presidents, and 24 academic deans.3
How We Rated the Tenure Candidate
To anchor our potential responses, we first considered a hypothetical case. Each of us indicated how that case would likely be viewed at our own institution by estimating the chances of such a candidate being granted tenure using percentages. The fictional case was designed to make the candidate strong in all areas so no weaknesses would distract us from the issue of independent scholarship. Every one of us picked a percentage based on the limited information given4 and without caveat regarding reading an actual file, set of publications, or external reviewer’s comments.5
All fifty-seven of us saw the case as at least a good faculty member, someplace in the top 40%. In all 53 rated the candidate in the top 20%, 33 put the candidate in the top 5%. Eight of the 11 respondents from doctoral institutions and 45 of the 46 respondents from masters institutions put the candidate in the top 20%. All but one of the deans and all but 3 of the chief academic officers put the candidate in the top 20%. Given this level on consensus, let us think of ourselves – at least for the moment – as more or less equal when it comes to rating the prospects of tenure candidates.
The universally positive judgments expressed about the anticipated success of this case were tempered by caveats regarding institutional mission. One chief academic officer said, “The only issue that might derail this candidate would be a lack of ‘fit’ with the mission. Otherwise, this candidate seems very strong.” Some respondents made the connection between institutional mission and the explicitly faith-based or values-based character of their institution. For example, while allowing for “an impressive ecumenical kaleidoscope in terms of faith traditions, theological understandings, and social orientation” one dean went on to report that at their institution “all faculty members must be serious about their Christian faith and practice.”
The case was then tweaked by adding the information that none of the candidate’s publications were solo-authored. Our responses then split down the middle. Twenty-eight said that it made no difference, or perhaps helped the candidate’s case. Obviously concerned now to learn that the fictional candidate’s scholarly contributions were all collaborations, 26 now said this new information hurt the case.
Those with diminished enthusiasm worried that free riding as a marginal contributor on the publications of others is not going to be sufficient. Yes, they do value substantial contributions to multi-authored work highly, but they wanted now to know more about what this candidate did or did not do as part of the collaboration. All three of the fundamentally flawed approaches characterized earlier emerged. Using versions of the divide-by-the-number-of-authors strategy, some proposed giving lesser weight if the other co-authors were already well-established senior scholars or giving greater weight if the candidate were the “first author.” Several of said they would defer to the “expectations of the discipline,” although none went all the way to always-trust-the-department. One respondent took the third approach, “I would like to see some evidence of independent, creative scholarship.”
“Independent” Gets Fuzzy
To close in on the issue at hand, survey participants were asked whether a university or a professional school ought explicitly to state a requirement that either “collaborative scholarship leading to co-authored publications” or “independent scholarship leading to sole-authored publications,” be demanded of all candidates for tenure in applied professional fields.6 The terms “independent” and “collaborative” were intentionally left undefined to mirror the way conversations about this complex topic often unfold. At first people think they are talking about the same thing only to discover as the conversation unfolds that their conceptualizations are close but not identical.
Written comments on this item revealed some worrisome misunderstandings. For example, at least one person linked collaborative research with “empirical” as contrasted with “theoretical.” Others associated collaborative work with “interdisciplinary,” as contrasted with research conducted solely within one’s own discipline. One chief academic officer reported having heard the argument made that qualitative research cannot be conducted unless it is collaborative. The fuzziness of the concept of “independent” scholarly work was beginning to reveal itself.
Regarding requirements limiting the kind of scholarly work a candidate could present, one chief academic officer summed up the situation for regional comprehensive universities this way, “I think it would be unnecessary and unproductive to dictate the type of publication required at a place … where we do not prepare doctoral students, but only undergraduate and masters level students.” One dean expressed the majority view succinctly with, “Both are acceptable, neither should be required.” Forty-two (74% of us) said both were acceptable modes of scholarly work and neither should be explicitly demanded as a necessary condition.
Two colleagues argued for making tenure candidates demonstrate competence working as independent scholars and as collaborative scholars. They argued that the complexity of the research paradigms which the next generation of senior faculty will have to master in order to be effective as scholars and teachers requires that faculty demonstrate a broad range of research abilities. While thought-provoking, these kinds of suggestions were the exceptions, not the norm.
What Does “Independent Scholar” Mean?
Question #6 asked whether it was possible to be an “independent scholar” without having a sole-authored publication. Forty-two of senior academic administrators affirmed that these were different things; eleven indicated, however, that it would be highly unlikely that one could be considered an independent scholar without at least one sole-authored publication. But it was the comments that told the tale. Many urged that we needed a more complete and probing analysis of the ways that candidates might make significant independent contributions to collaborative research projects.
The final question supplied a list of different ways to individuals could potentially make a significant contribution to a collaborative scholarly project. You were welcomed to endorse as many items from the list as you believed applied. The list is tabled below with those contributions receiving the greatest number of endorsements at the top followed in order by those receiving fewer endorsements.
|Endorsements Received From Academic Administrators out of a Possible 57 (100%)||Potentially Significant Individual Contributions to Collaborative Scholarly Research Projects|
|50 (87.7%)||Lead author (journal article, book chapter, monograph)|
|36 (63.2%)||Person who designed and assured the integrity of the research project|
|35 (61.4%)||Content expert on the research team for the project being reported|
|34 (59.6%)||Lead developer of the research instrument(s) created for the study|
|33 (57.6%)||Leader of the research project team|
|31 (54.4%)||Person who wrote the first good draft of the manuscript for publication|
|29 (50.9%)||Person invited to co-author a journal article, chapter, or monograph|
|26 (45.6%)||Person who provided data and statistical analysis expertise|
|23 (40.4%)||Person who had the initial idea for the collaboration|
|20 (35.1%)||Lead presenter of a paper reporting on the research findings of the study|
|19 (33.4%)||Person coordinating the work of the research team|
|17 (29.8%)||Person whose externally funded grant supported the study|
|12 (21.1%)||Person who refined data gathering tools|
|12 (21.1%)||Person who’s previously existing dataset was used in the study|
|10 (17.5%)||Statistician who analyzed some portion of the data in the research study|
|9 (15.8%)||Person who rewrote the manuscript to respond to reviewers’ comments|
|6 (10.6%)||Research staff who facilitated data gathering from subjects|
|4 (7.0%)||Person who identified literature review sources for study|
|3 (5.3%)||Person who rewrote ms. to fit publisher’s editorial specifications|
|2 (3.5%)||Research staff person who coded or entered respondent data|
|1 (1.8%)||Person who read and edited the manuscript|
We found this a challenging question. One respondent reported, “This is tough. Essentially for me it boils down to how much knowledge and skills did this person bring to the scholarship/research and how much did this person shape the significance of the scholarship? Sort of leader/director versus follower/worker bee.” One chief academic officer wrote, “This is hard: in a given case, any of those could be tenure-relevant; but any of them (except, I think, ‘lead author’) could be sign of a marginal role not influencing a decision.” Another said, “It’s difficult to make distinctions in this generalized list.” One person said, “This is a difficult task for me…”
The challenge posed by this question further exposed the inadequacies of the “independent vs. collaborative” distinction. It is unclear and unhelpful. As our responses reveal, we are not in accord about where to draw the line between those contributions which are potentially of higher significance and those that are potentially of lesser significance. A telling observation came from the chief academic officer who, after working through the list, said, “I don’t find the meaning of the independent/not-independent distinction to be intuitively as clear or as relevant as the significant/not-significant distinction.”
Final Thoughts: What Advice Should We Give?
The conversation so far appears to be more than a muddle but less than an accord.
The notion of independent scholarship turned out not to be helpful. We do not agree on its meaning or its value at the conceptual level. We are unclear about what it includes and what it excludes at the operational level. Although we all would appear to be ready to endorse the idea that significant scholarly contributions must be demanded of tenure candidates, our list of the sorts of things we are inclined to view as of greater potential significance as contrasted with those of lesser potential significance offers no sharp lower limit.
That list can serve as a useful starting point for campus discussions. Analyses and clarifications of the sorts of contributions listed, appropriate to your institutional context and sensitive to disciplinary differences, can then emerge. With greater knowledge of the real intellectual work of making different kinds of individual contributions to scholarly collaborations, many of our outmoded ideas and misleading ways of talking about this would, one hopes, fall by the wayside.
In closing I therefore offer the two aforementioned recommendations. First, we senior academic administrators should inform ourselves more fully about the intellectual or artistic work and work-products required for successful scholarly collaborations in a very wide range of fields and disciplines. Second, we should engage the academic leadership at our own institution in explicating operationally for ourselves the range and kinds of contributions to collaborative scholarship which shall be regarded as potentially of greater or lesser value for purposes of achieving tenure.
A final thanks to all the respondents and other readers of this manuscripts who have participated in this conversation.7 I sincerely hope this report, incomplete as it is, will advance the discussion on campuses and more broadly among discipline-focused professional associations and among those with responsibility for tenure and promotion reviews including institutional tenure committees, provosts, and academic deans.
1. I wish to acknowledge and to thank Dr. Noreen C. Facione, my wife and frequent research collaborator, for her assistance with the development of the questionnaire, the coding and entering of the data into SPSS, and her insightful advice about the shape and content of this essay. Noreen was the founding Director of the Center for Faculty Professional Development at Loyola University Chicago. In that administrative leadership role, she worked extensively with faculty mentors, chairs, deans, assistant professors, tenured faculty, and emeriti. The sensitivities gathered from that work informed this project. back
2. In sending the e-mail invitations only to academic administrators I assumed faculty who review tenure cases have benefit of group conversations in their tenure committees when considering and voting on tenure cases. In contrast, academic administrators are more likely to review cases and render their written recommendations working alone. Thus, administrators have less of an opportunity to test any presumptions they might be making about the way research is conducted in a given field or the significance in that field of the various independent contributions of different scholars to a collaborative project. back
3]. I focused on private institutions believing that because of traditions of confidentiality and campus cultures of more centralized decision-making, at private institutions the chief academic officers, presidents, and academic deans exercise significantly greater leverage on tenure decision outcomes than do their counterparts at public institutions. back
4. The fictional case was described this way: “Consistently excellent teaching and curricular development at the undergraduate and graduate levels, a heavy advising load; exceptional faculty service, positive collegiality, and good leadership skills; and eight or more solid publications in blind-peer-reviewed, professional journals relevant to the discipline (Education, in this case), some of which are first or second tier venues, numerous additional publications including lesser papers, book chapters, and presentations at national professional meetings, at least one substantial competitively-awarded external grant, and evidence of the beginnings of national and international recognition through citations, invited presentations, and adoptions of the person’s materials by others for their scholarly uses in the US and abroad.” back
5. This is characteristic of experience-based expertise, namely a readiness to make holistic judgments grounded in widely shared cultural understandings — in this case your understandings of what generally to expect of a candidate successfully going up for tenure at your institution. back
6. Five said “Yes require collaborative scholarship leading to co-authorship.” Ten said “Yes, require independent scholarship leading to sole-authorship.” And forty-two said, “No, make neither of these ‘required’.” back
7. There was one other question on the survey not reported on above: Suppose that a university does require scholarship of a certain kind as a necessary condition for tenure, in such a case ought that be published in promotion and tenure documents? For example, it could be stated that “Candidates for tenure must demonstrate that they can engage in independent scholarship leading to sole authorship publication.” Or, alternatively, “Candidates for tenure must demonstrate that they can engage in collaborative scholarship leading to co-authorship publication.” All but one of us affirmed that these kinds of expectations “certainly should be in the published promotion and tenure documents.” As one chief academic officer said, “Yes, absolutely: all rules on the table, no secret criteria or local lore.” Another respondent said, “The greater the transparency, the better. Better to have generic heat for the expectations than after-the-fact disgruntlement or litigation.” So strongly was this sentiment felt and so widely shared that forty-eight of us (84%) affirmed that it would be both unreasonable and unethical to apply a standard about collaborative vs. independent scholarship as a necessary condition for tenure if the institution had not so advised its faculty in its written promotion and tenure documents. One respondent took exception by suggesting that not everything can be reduced to writing. The respondent said, candidates “…should be savvy enough to know what is up so it may not be entirely unreasonable” not to put every single expectation into the documents. In addition to tenure documents there are such things as the “norms of one’s scholarly community.” Many reminded us that there were other valid and important ways of making tenure expectations known. It could be reasonable and ethical in each context to apply a standard, even if it is not written in the tenure documents per se, if, for example, candidates had been informed of the expectation in their mid-probationary reviews or in earlier annual evaluations. One chief academic officer advised, “…there are often tensions around the evolution of tenure standards, but to make dramatic changes in a single year is asking for trouble and is not fair.” back