Tenure and Technology: New Values, New Guidelines

HyperNews Forum

The Kairos editors set up a HyperNews forum for the authors of this issue's CoverWeb to post about their hypertext submissions. We were instructed to introduce ourselves and post drafts of our hypertexts to the forum. Posts from Douglas Eyman (as CoverWeb editor) and Greg Siering (as Links editor) gave us support and important how-to's for constructing our nodes. But the forum soon took on a life of its own beyond the technical how-to's and editorial comments, and we decided to include parts of it in its own lexia.

The HyperNews forum quickly opened up into a discussion of the tenure and promotion system and how we might fairly describe and evaluate computer-based academic activity, a text in itself, to which we each brought our own specific interests and perspectives. This illustrates an important aspect of interactive, collaborative investigation, an important strength that collaborative research and writing have over traditional modes: rather than putting on our regalia and having discourse with texts that cannot respond (like Machiavelli did after his exile, although someone who talks to dead people in this way might otherwise be regarded as a lunatic), we sit at our ease and talk and argue until we really come to understand the texts. This does not mean we lose ourselves or that our positions are weakened; on the contrary, we gain and grow, and our positions, for being more thoroughly tried and discussed, become more fully developed and stronger. In short, we learn.

Our interaction in the HyperNews Forum also gave us the chance to get to know each other on a more personal basis than traditional print journal discussions might have allowed. These developing relationships are revealed by the ways in which we added our own personalities to the discussion:

This sort of language looks like "cocktail party chat" and "play"; but in terms of traditional criteria for evaluation, this is collegiality of the most productive sort: by such interaction, the participants represent their respective home institutions, their departments, and themselves as places and people who are interested in forming congenial, working relationships. We find (and show) ourselves to be interested in promoting each other's scholarly endeavors in a pleasant atmosphere, an atmosphere that admits both the intellectual and the personal to have play. Such an environment brings us closer to classical notions of community and quality as values to which we should aspire. Curiously, I suspect that those rigid T&P guidelines that we attack here were intended to insure the maintenance of our community and standards of quality; but by raising resistance to the new, they seem to work against innovation and the very sorts of productive pleasure that led us to become academics: the pleasures of text and talk, of the ready exchange of ideas, of experimentation with words. The online discussion on the HyperNews Forum aptly shows how computers can help foster the spirit of what is best and most attractive about humanistic study.