Sunday, November 20, 2011

What counts (in tenure)?

I seem to have re-caught the cold from which I was recovering, so I walked around the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association - this last week / end in Montreal - rasping like an aging chanteuse who had loved her Gitanes a bit much.

My blog posts were put on hold for the last couple of weeks as I continued to prep classes and grade piles of papers and exams and in the wee hours after kiddos were put to bed, finished my conference paper then continued to edit it, right until the morning of my panel. Such is the academic parent's life.

Being at the meetings got me thinking again about a concern that is never far from my mind, which is what it means to be an academic parent or parenting academic, and in particular a female parenting academic.

A few weeks back, I posted a few musings inspired by biological anthropologist and blogger Kate Clancy on being a radical scholar. I stand by my musings with even stronger conviction today. At the meetings, friends were telling me about the pressure to publish or perish in their departments - and by publish, they mean specifically peer-reviewed journal articles. Not even chapters in edited books count for much. Much less contributing to a policy paper or testifying as an expert witness or blogging or organizing and presenting a paper at a well received and well attended panel at the annual meetings.

There are more than a few points to rant, like:

* It was noted at the business meeting of the Association for Feminist Anthropology that even while we all recognize changes in the structures of the academic publishing - with presses scaling back their operations - the expectations for tenure, especially at research institutions, have been slow to change. Undoubtedly, the expectations for tenure will need to change, but unfortunately, the female junior faculty whom I know fear falling into the gap. (I imagine that this is true for male junior faculty also, but for the moment, I am concerned with the challenges facing my female colleagues in particular.)

* Feminism has forced changes in institutional ideas and practices that now enable women to come into the academy, including women like myself and my female colleagues who work on issues such as reproduction - not because they are women's issues, but because they are also everyone's issues. It is clear that the institutions themselves are failing us. Note that I blame not feminism, but the institutions themselves. There continues to be both a bias against studying so-called women's issues and a misperception of issues like reproduction as not a men's issue.

* I have to ask, what is the point of peer review exactly? Ostensibly, it has something to do with validating the quality of the work that is being published, and that might be even more important in the age of "going viral." (On a related, but tangential point, here are a few considerations about the challenges that surround alternative forms of review, such as attempts at "crowd-sourcing" peer review, at the New York Times and at AAA's blog.) So, perhaps my rant is not so much about peer review - I recognize that there ought to be a process of some sort to check our claims and evidence - but about the particular kinds of venues (e.g., journals, but not edited books) and activities that count for tenure.

On a related note, I just read this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about anthropology professors who (gasp!) love to teach undergraduates. Of course, at a so-called teaching college like the one where I teach, the challenge is more to convince administrators and staff (and sometimes even other faculty) that research contributes directly to teaching.

In short, I find frustrating the reductionist thinking about what counts in a scholarly career.


  1. This is rather unrelated, but it does get at that pesky "peer review" issue:


  2. Kate, thanks! I will have to take a look at the wisdom of The Daily Show :)