AAA Webinar on Promotion, Tenure & Publications

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) held an interesting webinar last week on Promotion, Tenure and Publications

The digital event was a fascinating conversation between three anthropologists, each with extensive background with the promotion and tenure process. The Committee for the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing organized an online webinar to discuss the role of digital publications and the rapidly changing publishing landscape around us and how these forces intersect with promotion and tenure.
The slides of the three presentations as well as the audio files from the webinar can be downloaded from their website, but I'd like to highlight a few key points of the presentations. 
I'm aware that the context is the American university system, but most of the points apply to other educational cultures and context as well. 
The three main points I took away from the presentations and that I'll focus on in my post are:

1. The scholarly publication environment is changing which opens interesting new avenues for anthropology, but also creates new problems regarding financing, access and evaluating impact

2. In the reality of promotion and tenure committees (PTC) there is more flexibility with regards to assessing the quality and impact of publications beyond 'the impact factor' and an institution like the AAA can play an important role in informing PTCs on how to assess scholarly quality

3. It's all about peer-review. I didn't do a statistical analysis, but my guess is that it was the most used technical expression in all three presentations.

I was a bit surprised that Brian Foster didn't even mention the global academic publishing industry when he explained that there hasn't been a sustainable business model for the digital age yet. That may be true for (some) university presses, but as George Monbiot's article in the GUARDIAN in August showed, a conglomerate of academic publishers is making very healthy profits from the current system. And these publishers are relevant for anthropology as well. It would have been interesting to discuss how classic university presses (and academic libraries) may be able to cooperate with independent anthropological publishers and whether this could be a more viable business model (I wrote about academic publishing in the digital age previously). But even if alternative pubslishing models become available none of the presenters commented on their role in the hiring rather than the promotion process. I do believe that the 'right' publications still make a huge difference when applying for jobs and many departments will focus on 'impact' publications to be on the safe side.

But Richard Handler made an interesting point in his presentation that there is more flexibility in the promotion system than just looking at peer-reviewed articles. He stressed that departments can play an important role in informing PTCs about accepted standards of scholarly publishing or the disciplinary impact of publications beyond the impact ranking of a journal. He also stressed the importance of letters of recommendations that, although flawed, carry a lot of weight almost equal to the importance of publications. 

Don Brenneis also talked about the role that departments can play in informing PTCs on the qualitative aspects of publications, e.g. about the likely difference a publication is expected to make 5-10 years after its publication. He also mentioned the peer-review process as a corner-stone for any academic publishing endeavour. Brian Foster introduced the idea of post-publication instead of pre-publication peer review in his presentation, but concluded that open access, peer review and 'impact factor' a still hard to reconcile.

My intention is to give a first overview over the event and some of the nuances may have gotten lost. What I took away is that the anthropological promotion system does not seem to be too strictly focussed on impact factors (yet?) and departments can play an important role in informing PTCs about the 'value' or 'impact' of a publication-after all, this is still anthropology and not everything is governed by quantitative indicators. However, since peer-review was mentioned extensively it's also become clear that (junior) scholars need to prioritise them over, say, a blog, although it would merit another discussion whether alternative forms of writing could enhance your reputation and 'brand' which may be interesting for the aforementioned letters of recommendation. One of the professor remarked that they don't count blogging as an academic or scholarly activity, but depending on the blog as a 'political' activity which may still be a commuication activity of relevance-but is unlikely to land you a job interview, I guess.

Update I (20 October): 
There's now an interesting debate going on on the AAA blog (The future of AAA publishing: Opening a conversation) with long, detailed and thoughtful insights and ideas which I think are a proof itself of how valuable and important online publishing and debates are for the discipline.


Update II (20 October):
Greg Downey at the PLOS Neuroanthropology blog offers some great ideas on how blogging an online publishing in general as academic writing could be promoted for hiring and promotion committees: Blogging for promotion: an immodest proposal

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