The other day, after a lecture at Australian National University in Canberra, someone asked me if I thought blogs should count towards tenure and promotion. I answered, definitively: "YES!" The same person asked if I thought blogs should could "the same as" refereed scholarly publications. I answered, definitively: "NO!" Then another person asked if I thought electronic or other online refereed publications should count "the same as" refereed scholarly print publications. I answered, definitely: "MAYBE!"
Confused? I'm not at all. In fact, I think we make these gradations of distinction all the time, even without benefit of electronic publishing to confuse us. The point I am making by my tripartite answer is that, in some situations, things count and in others they don't and just about nothing is the "same as" anything else. We are constantly varying the terms of our judgment. We just have such crude mechanisms for "counting" at present that we don't often even recognize that we do.
This is especially the case in Australia which is on the verge of accepting the abominable British system of racking up points that are tied to actual funding (of individuals and departments) based on how many articles one publishes in a journal that someone or other has decided has certain status or not. Count up the points, award the money. Objective, isn't it? Well, it isn't at all. It is a reductio ad absurdum of all the systems for evaluating quality. If I win a Nobel Prize, does that count less than three articles in Grade A journals? Obviously not. The point I make is simply that our system for deciding what does or does not count for tenure and promotion is broken and we need to fix it. A mechanical form of assessment is not going to do it.
Now back to that blogging question. Precisely what I love about blogs and about blogging myself is that it is not refereed. I write what I want and people can choose to read or not. A refereed scholarly publication--whether printed or published on line, whether refereed by two anonymous experts or crowdsourced as in the recent experiment in Shakespeare Quarterly (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/24/arts/24peer.html?_r=1&ref=patricia_cohen ), has already been vetted before it goes public. The latter, for me, "counts" as a refereed publication. I certainly would insist that the book David Theo Goldberg and I did--The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (MIT Press, 2010)--counts as refereed after being the subject of three public forums and being posted in draft on line on an Institute for the Future of the Book tool for two years where it received dozens of comments from the profession at large. Those are scholarly publications and should count as such.
But a blog? To me it counts as "service." However, I think it is appalling how little we count "service." If the purpose of higher education is to create a community of the best scholars, then all of the ways we contribute to that community, for ourselves and our students, are hugely important to our collective endeavor, at least as much so, in many cases, as another article in one of those Grade A journals. At ANU, I was told there are three categories: scholarship, teaching, and "other." Blogs, to my mind, contribute to "other"---but "other" needs to count far, far more in our assessment process.
I don't know about you, but even with my hyper-productivity as a scholar, I still spend at least as much time each week on "other" as I do on teaching and writing. I consider "other" to be a key part of who I am, what I do, what I contribute. To think of that as marginal creates selfishness and cynicism. Blogs should count for tenure and promotion . . . but the whole metric of what does or doesn't count needs to be reimagined for learning institutions of the future, for a digital future where learning is a community activity and one that, in multiple and important ways, counts.