Blog Post

More Ammo: Digital Scholarship and Activity in Tenure and Promotion

On the “Academic Publishing in the Digital Age” HASTAC forum, Jon Ippolito’s comment “Need ammo for tenure?  These resources should help” helpfully points to the New Media Department of the University of Maine’s new tenure and promotion guidelines and their recognition of digital scholarship.  (He also talks about the document, “New Criteria for New Media,” here and here.)  Jon mentioned that he shared these guidelines as they might be useful to other scholars and departments invested in recognizing digital scholarship.  In the same spirit, I’d like to share a departmental document that also might be helpful.  

This fall I’ll be joining Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of English.  I’m happy about this for many reasons, among them the English department’s position on digital scholarship and activity in its tenure and promotion guidelines.  In short, digital work “counts” (taking up a term from Cathy Davidson’s post, “Should blogs count for Tenure and Promotion?”). In its governance document, under the section titled “Tenure-Eligible Faculty,” VCU’s English department lists its guidelines for scholarly activity (approved April 2008).  Among these guidelines is the recognition of “the burgeoning area of digital scholarship and creative work” (21).  The document goes on to list examples of existing digital scholarship in English studies, including “book-length projects published exclusively electronically; journals distributed electronically without a print version; and published multi-media work with demonstrated impact on the field, such as hypertexts, content-based CD-Roms, digital scholarly editions, and databases most prominently” (21).  The English department, recognizing digital practice as evolving, also leaves open the possibility of “counting” future digital scholarship that currently doesn’t exist (“Other forms may develop in the future”) (21).

Other digital activity that “counts,” according to VCU’s English department: “Postings to professional list-serves or discussion groups, e-mail, blogs, and unpublished articles posted on personal or other websites.”  These practices count, but they don’t count as scholarly publication. Or, as the governance document specifies, blogs, participation in discussion groups, etc. “may be considered evidence of scholarly activity but will not be considered scholarly publication.”  (Cathy’s post provides an excellent discussion of the differences between blogs and refereed publications, and the value of both in academic practice).  The department is also committed to digital engagement in teaching (see page 38 of the governance document, “Statement Regarding Online Instruction”).

Katherine Montgomery, in her post “Assessing Work on Digital Projects for Hiring and Tenure: Discouraging Young Scholars?”, asks about the evaluation of collaborative digital work: “how do you hire and assess someone based on their digital work, when major digital projects are, by nature, highly collaborative?”  VCU English’s governance document addresses the often collaborative nature of digital scholarship with the following guideline:  “Frequently digital scholarship is collaborative. As with such collaborative work in the print medium, faculty presenting such collaborative digital work as evidence of scholarship should be able to document the nature and extent of their individual contributions to such projects” (22).

Here’s more on how VCU’s English department handles the tricky question of evaluating digital work:

  • Some forms of digital scholarship (such as publication in a refereed electronic journal) are evaluated “according to the same standards as print scholarship” (22).
  • Digital work without a non-digital correlative will be evaluated according to “the intellectual content and impact of the work” and “the efficacy of its use of the media” (22).  For this latter media-specific evaluation, the department will seek the expertise of people who are knowledgeable in said media form.
  • Digital work will be evaluated “in the medium in which it was produced” (22).

Jon ends his comment with a call to share guidelines for recognizing digital scholarship:

“[...] the worst time to make the case for digital scholarship is when you're submitting your final tenure documents. So get criteria like ours under your faculty's noses (and your dean's and provost's) early on. It's a pain to justify your job at the same time that you have to do it, but at least you don't have to reinvent the entire wheel. And if your university decides to come up with criteria of their own, post them to discussions like this and we'll all have more ammo.”

Great call.  I hope VCU English department's governance document helps.  Here’s to more ammo!




The more departments like yours think through ways to recognize digital and networked scholarship, the more they chart a course not just for their own faculty but for other institutions as well.

I'm especially impressed that the governance document leaves room for "other forms to develop in the future." Universities seem particularly bad at future-proofing their policies--it's nice to hear VCU is an exception!



Thanks for sharing your document, Jon, and for starting the call!

Openness as "future-proofing" - I like it.  (I'm impressed by that part of the document, too.)

Hopefully we'll be seeing more of these guidelines and documents!




I want to credit my English Department colleagues who developed the digital scholarship guidelines in our governance document.  They are as follows: Kathy Bassard, Marcel Cornis-Pope, Richard Fine, and David Wojahn.  Your work is appreciated!