I think it’s time to start seriously addressing the problem of reward systems for tenure and promotion in universities. Currently, we have a “one size fits all” model that rewards publications in peer-reviewed journals. This works well in some disciplines, where scientific achievement requires that researchers delve more deeply into increasingly narrow research frontiers in order to solve large problems. But when that model is applied in other fields such as professional programs, or even perhaps many social science and humanities disciplines, I think there are many cases that we follow a model that leads us into irrelevance. That is, we delve more deeply into increasingly narrow research frontiers that have very little payoff in terms of larger implications for scientific or human advancement. We publish in journals for the benefit of five or ten other people. And we do so blindly because it fits the reward system.
I see very talented people who, given the opportunity to influence discourse in alternative ways (blogs, speaking, teaching, micro-blogs, and other ways I have not even seen or thought of), could make a huge impact in the world. And yet, particularly junior faculty, must spend the majority of their time engaged in traditional activities such as publishing in peer reviewed journals.
Again, I’m not saying these traditional activities are all bad. But I do think there are emerging and existing channels of influence that we should consider including in our reward system.
My own discipline, user experience design, is a new discipline that has grown up around the emergence of the web and mobile communication and information use. We look at how we can design such systems to be easy to use, effective and efficient. The professionals in this field don’t value, in general, academics or academic literature. So I wonder if I could contribute more to my courses, students, and the literature of that discipline, if I did an exchange program with members of the profession. They could teach for a semester or two in my program, and I could work as an intern in their agency. I could then write about my experiences and frame those experiences in existing theoretical contexts, and begin to bridge the academic and professional worlds. Public scholarship might be more effective overall than academic scholarship, in this case.
As it was, I felt like a kid who wanted to go out and play baseball with his friends, but his parents made him stay inside after school and practice the harpsichord. There’s no real future in the harpsichord, but it was important to my conservative parents. (At least give me a piano, for the love of God!). I had to publish to get tenure, but it didn’t socialize me in the profession I was teaching students to enter.
I put this in the “Developing Our People” category because it is pertinent to the happiness and productivity and effectiveness of us as scholars to be able to devote our efforts toward scholarship that we feel will make a real difference and that will be valued by the professional and academic communities we serve. Maybe I’ll also post it to “Expanding Research and Creative Endeavors.”
Sorry for the wordines, btw.