For all the hype we give Open Access Week, (and yes, at Boston University we work hard to provide activities and events to engage students, staff and faculty) progress toward making open access the default or even dominant model for scholarly communication often seems slow. Dorothea Salo’s “Innkeeper at the Roach Motel” drew much attention when she strongly asserted that ‘the “build it and they will come” proposition has been decisively proven wrong.’ Salo and others are right that the barrier is not technological. Steven J. Bell’s recent essay, “Why I’m Not in the Mood to Celebrate Open Access Week,” points to issues embedded in academic culture that prove to be significant barriers to success for the open access movement. It’s worth a read.
I know there are some interesting new ideas about open access floating around out there, and Barbara mentions some of them here. Dorothea Salo shares some as well in an informative podcast interview with Roy Tennant. For much of the conversation Salo expresses her frustration with our lack of progress in creating change. Some things are beyond our control, but in other ways we can do better. For example, she says that we are at fault for poor communication that fails to make faculty aware of “the very real inequities and difficulties that their own behaviors cause.” Well, when I try do that I hit the brick wall of having faculty point at the current system, and acknowledging that it may be broken but they don’t want to be the ones to change it because it will potentially cost them their chance at tenure, a thousand dollar merit increase or a promotion to a more prestigious university. The Tennant-Salo interview ends on a more hopeful note with Salo seeing some signs that higher education (faculty bloggers, the occasional essay in IHE or the Chronicle) is starting to question the current system. I am feeling less optimistic.read more
The point of the tenure evaluation is supposed to be using a scholar’s past performance as a predictor of continuing performance — on some level, the existence of the first book is meant to stand in for all the future books that will follow. For too many scholars, though, the book requirement becomes a literal end in itself, a finish line that, once crossed, leaves the scholar without future direction or motivation.
The basic question is not have you published that book. The fundamental question is, based on one’s first six or seven years in the profession, is one likely to be a lifelong, energetic, idea-filled, responsible, creative, innovative contributor to the profession, even when the Damocles’ Sword of tenure is no longer swinging above.
The Whole Monograph Thing seems to me, in the end, to be a Trojan Horse in which our profession has hidden a lot of warriors in a battle whose outlines are vague and whose outcome uncertain. By that I mean, tenure is precious, folks. How many people anywhere are guaranteed a job once they have passed a basic threshold of entry? Tenure is an amazing privilege and gift–and a necessary one if our society is ever going to have a place where ideas are supported regardless of either politics or profitability.
But, if we believe tenure is precious, then what in the world are we doing having a silly, reductive quantitative rule for what allows tenure? Tenure is basically the profession’s “best bet” on who, if fortunate to be awarded career-long job security, will deliver on the promise of fresh ideas, without regard to politics or profitability, and will continue to contribute to the profession over the next decades, including to those generations of future young thinkers known as students.