Fanning the Flames:
Tenure and Promotion and Other Role-Playing Games

Janice R. Walker

University of South Florida

Tenure and Promotion and Other Role-Playing Games

What we would ultimately like to do, of course, is change the definition of "scholarship," of what is valued, so that we can continue to "play" and reap traditional rewards. Bradley University, according to Seth Katz, has taken a mini-step in this direction. However, the language that the tenure and promotion guidelines use -- that online work is to be evaluated just the same as traditional forms of work -- is, in effect, no step at all. So, the alternative is to change the very "language" of scholarship, to evaluate what we do on its own terms rather than on traditional ones.

Our third choice, then, is to try to change our definitions of what is valued, but attempting to do so may seriously undermine the already crumbling foundations of tenure in the academy. Yes, tenure itself was intended to protect just such radical ideas as these. But today tenure itself is under attack by conservative factions calling for a "back-to-basics" approach to education -- the kind of education that might, perhaps, value the use of computers in a drill-and-skill or word-processing or "democratizing-by-homogenizing" environment, but which is not yet ready to grant traditional academic rewards for learning how to create animations or sound files or bot scripts.

Ultimately, both in print and online publications, we can only value that which is currently valued. So how do we affect real change? How do unpopular ideas and "unscholarly" (i.e., new) ideas become accepted? Says Dale Spender,

Women were locked out of the powerful information medium for 500 years. It was not until the 1970s, and the establishment of women's presses in the western world, that women were able to exercise any influence within the medium. It was not until women were the owners of presses, not until they were independent publishers, editors, sales people and booksellers, that women were able to speak in their own voice, and to break through the "sound barrier" in significant numbers. (qtd. in Kramarae 52)

Essentially, then, we can create our own forums for publication and our own criteria for evaluating online work. The value of online writing may not be in the product at all -- at least not yet. Instead, it may lie in the process, in the act of exploration, in experimentation with forms. It is not what we say; it is how we say it (or, even more to the point, how we attempt to say it) that counts here -- at least for now. I am not sure at this juncture that we necessarily want our work to be "valued" if by placing that kind of value on what we're doing -- institutionalizing it -- we are locked into a definition of online work before we are ready to define it -- if, indeed, defining it is something we can or want to do. Remember the adage: "Be careful what you wish for -- you just might get it!"

Of course, as academics we all want and need the recognition that only this kind of justification can afford us. We want tenure-track jobs (if they still exist); we want promotions -- we want recognition for what we do. Many of us (C&W folks) at all levels -- graduate students, new faculty, adjuncts, tenured professors -- have been doing two jobs: doing what has always been necessary in the academy to achieve these goals (i.e., print publications, face-to-face conferences, committees, etc.) while quietly (okay, not so quietly) publishing, conferencing, teaching, and working online, not for academic credit, but because we are scholars -- and scholars pursue knowledge simply because it's there.

However, when we attempt to define what constitutes scholarship here for purposes of valuation, the "scholarship" -- the reason we're here in the first place -- could very well be silenced. It's very easy for most of us to write a paper, add a few tags and a few links here and there, some nice coding, a background.gif, perhaps a frame around our bit of reality, and we have an online publication that current scholarship can value. But, beyond that, are forms that cannot be made to fit into current definitions and that perhaps cannot be easily defined at all because they are still evolving.


J. Walker, 1997.
Last modified 21 February 1997.