Monday, January 27, 2014

Open-source efforts, not for junior faculty.

At the JMM session a number of people noted that developing open-source texts and OERs in general can be a risky endeavor for junior faculty where the stock-in-trade for tenure and promotion is the peer-reviewed publication.  In this post , a talented young mathematician, expresses concern over the high cost of college textbooks.  Further, she laments the fact that though she'd like to contribute to open-source efforts, she fears such activity would hinder a traditional academic career trajectory.

Here at Whitman, I've been working to get our guidelines for tenure and promotion to include this kind of work.  Our faculty personnel committee is going to consider the issue this semester.  Until such work is recognized by colleges and universities as meritorious and worthy of tenure and promotion, it will continue to be risky for pre-tenure faculty to engage in this kind of activity.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if you or others could clarify this a bit. Both here and at the JMM session, those who warned of this risk said that contributing to OER projects could be problematic for those not yet tenured. As I am still a few years out from getting tenure, this is important to me. But there are two very different ways this problem could manifest itself. First, it could be that I would spend many hours on a project that does contribute much or at all toward tenure, specifically in the research category (at my institution we are judged on our teaching, research and service separately). Alternatively, the problem might be that if I engaged in this activity, then those making the tenure decision might view me as a trouble-maker - actually count the activity negatively. I do not think that this latter problem is too much to worry about, but I'm curious what other here think.

    If it is only the first concern, then I don't see this as too problematic at all. We all do things that don't directly contribute to our research portfolio. In fact, I would guess that most institutions would not grant tenure to someone who wrote a (traditionally) published textbook if they did not also have a solid list of research publications. We must all balance our many aspects of our jobs.

    Perhaps working on OER projects should count as professional activity (research), but surely even now it would contribute impressively to one's accomplishments in instruction.