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

Janice R. Walker

University of South Florida


According to Michael Salvo, "the Coverweb represents an expansion of the recognizable and authorizing constructs of peer-reviewed print publication into the web, to challenge the depiction of digital realms as 'permissive' publishing space. Coverweb as a concept (or construct) is young enough to be experimental, but staid enough to be recognizably academic." Thus, Kairos is in a way an attempt to make online work fit into existing academic structures, emulating the peer-review and selection process of traditional print journals, albeit in a non-traditional forum.

Simply mirroring existing forms in cyberspace, however, is not enough. We want credit for non-traditional forms as well, but can we justify what many in the academy perceive as a Burkean parlour -- our cafes and fancy-duck restaurants -- as "scholarship"? The problem with trying to define forms such as Tuesday Cafe discussions, MOO space, hypermail and listserv discussions, collaborative hypertexts, and other varieties of electronic work is that these spaces are still in the process of "becoming". Further, the very act of defining can often stifle change as we attempt to make what we do fit within the definitions.

Tenure and promotion guidelines define what kind of work is valued in the academy. This authority granted to tenure and promotion committees is achieved, to put it in Gramscian terms, through the "consent of those it will ultimately subordinate" (Turner 67). By consenting to the guidelines suggested by the MLA, we are, like WordPerfect's "Make-It-Fit Expert," attempting to force online work into traditional categories and not effecting change at all. Like so many wind-up ducks, then, we are simply mirroring existing structures in cyberspace rather than subverting them. So, ultimately, change must come from the outside. As David Foster says in A Primer for Writing Teachers,

If all the voices in a community operate from within consensus, must revisions not begin outside? But if they do, how do they join the conversation in order to negotiate new understandings? Oppositional voices clearly must be allowed into the constructionist process of knowledge making; yet the collaborative model, based on consensus, often seems to reject the initiative and force of individual thought. (66)

Much of the change that is happening in cyberspace is happening outside of the academy. Government agencies, commercial interests, and individuals, as well as academics, are developing new software applications, new forms, and new ways to use these spaces for writing, publishing, communicating, and educating. Those of us exploring these new spaces want academic rewards, but we also want to be part of determining the direction in which these new spaces will go. Many of us who work online, thus, would like to affect real change in tenure and promotion guidelines that will include not only work that mirrors more traditional forms but also work in non-traditional forms that are still being developed.

We want recognition that the work we do is valuable. We want publication in online forums such as Kairos and RhetNet and MOOs and MUDs to be taken seriously. We want virtual conference attendance and participation in listserv discussions to be taken seriously. We want recognition of the service we provide to the academy in developing new forums and Web sites, and helping other faculty learn to navigate through these spaces. And we want credit for online pedagogy and recognition of the hours of work that goes into developing these spaces as educational environments. Obviously, we do not want to stifle new forms that are still in the process of development. Neither do we want definitions that will force us to "fit" our work into prescribed limits that do not allow for exploration and change. Therefore, we need a new category that will encompass development and exploration of new ideas and of new forms, and that is flexible enough to continue to expand to allow for the unforeseen.

As insiders in the academy, we can effect change by serving on tenure and promotion committees and helping to shape the definition of what is valued. As insiders online, we can effect change by helping to shape the future of the online world. Can we, however, be "insiders" in both worlds? Institutionalization of the work we are doing online can be seen as "the moment of profound danger" (Hall 285). When the work that we are now doing is recognized as "valuable," will we still be willing to step outside in our fancy dress gowns to explore what lies beyond the limits of our definitions? Will we still be willing to continue fanning the flames of change? We must be careful to ensure that we do not lock ourselves into a new definition of scholarship that is itself inflexible.

So, again, we can change what we're doing to somehow make it fit existing criteria -- mirroring traditional scholarship online; we can continue to do as we've been doing -- exploring new ideas and new forms of writing in cyberspace -- and not have it count for purposes of tenure and promotion; or we can attempt to change the definitions of those criteria within the academy. If we, as academics, want a voice in shaping the future, then we must have the freedom to explore new forms and play with the possibilities. Locking ourselves into definitions that do not allow for this play and exploration, will only insulate us from the cyberworld as it continues to evolve with or without us.

If you feel you must be sure you've found all the "pages", start at the end.


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