MLA assesses tenure in the humanities

The requirements for tenure in humanities departments nationwide place too much weight on published research, according to a Modern Language Association report released Tuesday.

The Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion report examined the changing demands on tenure-track junior humanities faculty across the country. While the task force did not find evidence of a decrease in the rate of tenure appointments in the humanities, it noted that monographs and published books are overvalued in evaluating the scholarship of tenure candidates. The report offered 20 broad recommendations to remedy the problems that the task force identified.

The task force was created in 2004 in response to concerns within the humanities community, including the dwindling number of publications in the field and the possibility that younger generations of scholars may have a decreasing chance of being tenured.

The survey, which was conducted in 2005, included over 700 American colleges and universities. It found that more schools are demanding that tenure-track candidates publish a greater number and variety of materials. Schools consider the monograph the most important form of such publications, the report found.

A committee of Yale faculty, led by Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler is currently considering revamping the University’s own tenure policies.

Yale is one of a few schools in the country that does not have a tenure track for junior faculty, which would guarantee that resources are available to tenure junior professors if they meet the standards of research, teaching and service. Lawrence Manley, director of undergraduate studies in English, said tenure-track appointments are one of the options currently under consideration by Yale.

Butler said he thinks the MLA report is referring to the tenure standards of second- and third-tier universities, not top research institutions like Yale. The University’s tenure standards have always been high and have required substantial amounts of publication, he said.

“Much of the MLA report really concerns the ramp-up of tenure for colleges and universities that previously have had very modest standards of tenure,” Butler said.

Some Yale faculty members said they agree with the MLA report’s findings.

Classics Department chair Christina Kraus said published works should not be the only criterion used to determine a candidate’s tenure appointment.

“I think that it’s important to take candidates’ entire dossier into account, and not just published work,” she said. “Tenure depends on much more than just published work.”

But Manley said the importance of publication in tenure varies between types of schools.

“It depends very much on the kind of educational institution,” he said. “In the context of research institutions … publication is important.”

The report’s recommendations included promoting transparency in tenure processes, using additional forms of scholarship in evaluating candidates and creating standardized intermediate reviews to precede tenure reviews.

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