Sunday, September 6, 2015

Promotion, Tenure, Contributions in Professional Schools

I teach in a school of public policy, urban planning, and related fields--the background for the following remarks.

1. University departments and faculty are not consulting firms. We try to advance our fields and convince our colleagues that our proposed advancements are worthy of their regard.
2. Applied research should lead to scholarly publications. You've learned something in a special context. If the work might be done by a consulting firm, you should not be doing it as part of your academic work.
3. If the output is a report or a design, that report or design might be shown to be influential both on practice or on scholarship. I know of at least one scholar whose reports over the years were widely read, tenured them at the strongest university, and on the side led to books.
4. I remain unsure about contributions in our field. (This may well reflect my limited purview.) I wish that all articles began with an informative (rather than cute or tempting) title and then a paragraph saying what was learned, discovered, argued AND indicated where the work stood in respect to previous and competitive work. It is often stated, but buried somewhere. 

Name one contribution (article, series of articles, book), in the last decade or even five years, not by yourself, that you believe made a major impact or advancement in our fields of inquiry.

5. Depending on your institution's values, if you don't like teaching, or writing articles/books, maybe you should find another role and another institution.
6. As for engaged scholarship, service, scholarship of teaching, none of this is outside my concern. If you do engaged scholarship, you should be able to document its contributions and so you will want to write about it in the strongest journals. If you have done extraordinary service, surely letters from peers will attest to that. If you have done scholarship of teaching, perhaps having transformed how a subject is taught, or written a textbook that is recognized as influential, again testimony is available for that. 
7. Institutions and sometimes schools share values with other (peer) institutions. That's what matters. What also matters is that you keep on contributing, and along the way be sure to get fellowships, awards, grants, etc. that not only attest to your contributions so far, but also allow you to go further. Again, if this work is not for you, find another venue where you will be appreciated and likely better rewarded. 
8. Universities have formalized teaching professorships, and are becoming sensitive to adjunct faculty teaching that might well be done by their regular faculty. In those positions, almost always not leading to tenure, you have to figure out what to do that is both valuable to your institution and to you. If you want to continue to do research and thinking and writing, you may not be able to do as much as your colleagues, but do what you can. And try to get grants and fellowships, so you have time to do the work you want to do.

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