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Cathy Davidson has an excellent post up at HASTAC thinking about the meaning of tenure and ways of imagining valid tenure standards for an increasingly interdisciplinary future. Along the way, she announces that HASTAC will be working with the MLA on reimagining tenure guidelines, and that they hope to work with other disciplinary organizations as well.

But the key moments of her post come after that announcement, as she ponders what the basis for tenure decisions ought to be:

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.


How in the world can a “floor” requirement ever predict future performance? That is, if you establish a quantitative measure, such as one book for tenure, two books for full professor, what in the world are you saying about future contributions? You achieve the measure and then you stop? Really? Is that the ideology of tenure?

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.

So what if we were to say, forget the book, or whatever number of articles one were to set, and instead focus the standards for tenure on the demonstration of an active, ongoing research agenda? How many different forms might meet these new standards? What new kinds of scholarly engagement might we foster?

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