e-Books, Tenure and Promotion

“The ‘Publish or Perish’ model in academia might be missing a third ‘P’ – Profit,” says Mel Odom, a successful e-book publisher and faculty member at the University of Oklahoma.

Odom, alongside Michael Kent of the University of Oklahoma and Lisa Schreiber of Millersville University, led a pre-conference on e-publishing at the National Communication Association 2011 Convention in New Orleans, LA.

Academics have made careers out of giving their research and editing skills to publishing houses for little or no return. But what would happen if academics started publishing their work for wider distribution and higher return?

Schreiber raised the issue of open source books, e-publishing and academic criteria for tenure and promotion. If professors write books that aren’t considered “research” under their universities’ models, the work then falls in the “service” category.*

How does a professor meet the peer-review requirement for research** and move toward e-publication?

Respondent Bryan Crable of Villanova University suggests that the peer-review process might return to a university press model: “How is it can we use our university resources to generate conversations that are not happening in other spaces … or interactions that we are not already having?” The new university press alongside university libraries would have to focus on building community and conversation around books, not the promotion of its books or its own faculty and authors.

Respondent Robert Heath of the University of Houston calls this proposed change “a galatial shift” for the future of the academy. Heath continues, “I’ve never sat on a promotion and tenure committee that gave any of this stuff credence. It might work for promotion to full professor, but not for tenure.” Dr. Heath is not opposed to the idea, but suggests this is a realistic interpretation of the typical promotion criteria in a climate where tenure and promotion “is only going to get more and more strange.”

A faculty member’s research is evaluated on four things: (1) quantity, (2) quality, (3) reputation, (4) impact. Respondent Maureen Taylor suggests that reputation and impact might be determined through the a journal’s ISI rating, peer review reputation**, acceptance rate. Articles can be cross-checked through the Web of Science or Google Scholar and double-checked to see who is citing the work and what awards it has won. “Self publishing is unknown territory,” she says. “The peer-review process** becomes hidden.”

How does Taylor suggest that faculty utilize self publishing in a tenure and promotion case?

“You need to provide information to make the case for impact in self-publishing,” she says.

For example, Downloads of an e-book can be counted and measured. Blog impact aggregators can measure impact for public scholars. Encouraging student participation in the creation, promotion, or evaluation of content can add to a tenure argument. Any hidden review processes should be revealed. Included information could also explain why self publication was the best way to reach the target audience and list a concrete plan for the target impact.

One final excellent recommendation for faculty members wanting to invest in e-publishing: “Gain agreement from your chair, dean, and others in the school about the value of self publishing,” says Taylor. “And,” quipped Heath, “making sure it’s on university letterhead is probably a good idea.”

* Professors and other faculty members are typically evaluated on three criteria: teaching, research, and service. Each university sets its own standards for faculty tenure and promotion in relation to these three areas.

** Typically, to be classified as “research” in a university setting, projects must be reviewed by experts in the field. The process of having one’s research reviewed is called “peer-review.” Peer-review is a standard practice for articles that are included in most journals, books published by academic publishing houses, and textbooks.

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