In a recent survey of Georgetown University faculty, we found that many are interested in sharing their work with readers outside of their disciplines using both traditional and social media. These non-peer reviewed channels of communication allow faculty to communicate their knowledge broadly and contribute to public discourse on important issues of the day.
The University’s mission statement speaks directly to “creating and communicating knowledge … for the glory of God and the well-being of humankind.” And the merits of public communication and public engagement were explicitly recognized at Georgetown University in the report of the Georgetown Conference on Public Scholarship and the University (2008). The skills required to translate scholarly work into clear and concise language that can be understood by non-specialists is critical to effectively communicating new research, ideas, and knowledge to inform public debate and influence policy making. The Conference report noted that "[p]articipants felt that the lack of incentives to encourage scholars to participate in public scholarship will be a bottleneck for the University as it tries establishing a center. Many agreed that blogging and writing newspaper editorials can be perilous for untenured faculty since that work is not seen as scholarship by the academy." (p. 7) If the goal is to promote and encourage public communication and engagement, then it should be rewarded by being taken into consideration in the promotion and tenure process.
In the post-truth era, more than ever, the value of bringing in-depth research and thoughtful analysis from Georgetown University to the attention of the public and policymakers is critical. Scholars and researchers use their expertise to comment on current issues and policy debates, as well as making news themselves with new research findings. The same concern that was raised a decade ago in the Conference Report remains today: Given the value of public communication to the individual, university, and the public, is there a way to reward faculty who participate in public communication? To that end, several associations and institutions have explicitly recognized the value of faculty contributions to public discourse and have adopted or proposed policies to ensure that these activities are rewarded in the promotion and tenure process. In no case has anyone suggested that new and alternative forms of communicating knowledge replace the traditional forms of scholarship, especially since most public communication arises directly from a candidate's peer-reviewed work. If non-traditional forms of communication are to be rewarded by the institution, then we must consider how to assess the quality and impact of non-traditional scholarly work. There are some quantitative measures available for traditional and social media (e.g., Altmetrics), but they have limitations. Therefore, a qualitative assessment will need to be used to effectively determine the contributions of blogs, op-eds, tweets, podcasts, and other forms of communication. The links below address these issues.
Reports and Guidelines by Discipline
Health and Medicine
Daniel Cabrera et al. “More Than Likes and Tweets: Creating Social Media Portfolios for Academic Promotion and Tenure,” Journal of Graduate Medical Education 9, No. 4 (August 2017): 421-425.
The authors, all affiliated with the Mayo Clinic, discuss a framework to incorporate social media scholarship into academic promotion and tenure systems. The Mayo Clinic’s Academic Appointments and Promotions Committee began including digital and social media scholarship among the criteria considered in review of proposals for academic advancement in 2016.
See Dr. Cabrera’s web page, Social Media and Academic Promotion, for links to articles, papers, and videos discussing non-traditional media and academic promotion for health and medicine.
Leslie McCall et al., ”What Counts? Evaluating Public Communication in Tenure and Promotion”: Final Report of the American Sociological Association Subcommittee on the Evaluation of Social Media and Public Communication in Sociology, American Sociological Association (August 2016).
This report discusses how tenure and promotion committees might consider sociological researchers’ involvement in public communication and social media. The report reviews the pros and cons of public communication offers assessment criteria in three areas: type of content; rigor and quality of the communication; and public impact.
American Anthropological Association, American Anthropological Association Guidelines For Tenure And Promotion Review: Communicating Public Scholarship In Anthropology (May 1, 2017).
This document provides guidelines to assess the quality of public communications of anthropological scholarship, defined as “dialogue with non-academic as well as academic audiences, and that is informed by anthropological scholarship and knowledge.” The guidelines are designed to inform tenure-line faculty, departments, promotion and tenure committees, and external reviewers.
American Association for Applied Linguistics, Promotion & Tenure Guidelines, (rev. March 2015).
The AAAL’s guidelines include a section recognizing contribution through mass media and social media within the Service requirement. The guidelines encourage departments “to recognize the service that raises the level of public awareness of and discourse on language-related issues and enhances the presence of applied linguistics in 21st century media.”
Bonnie Thornton Dill et al., Women’s Studies: A Statement by The National Women’s Studies Association Field Leadership Working Group (2013).
In addition to informing promotion and tenure decisions in Women’s Studies, the Working Group’s expected it Statement to contribute to the conversations and calls for change in tenure and promotion practices more generally. The Working Group recognizes scholarship in online journals, blogs, op-eds, policy reports, social media, and community action projects.
Conference on College Composition and Communication, CCCC Promotion and Tenure Guidelines for Work with Technology, National Council of Teachers of English (rev. Nov. 2015).
In this document, the CCCC's Committee on Computers and Composition recognizes that a candidate's "sustained and careful participation in social media" can have a positive impact on the profession. Candidates are instructed to "be prepared to explain and advocate for the value and complexity of their work with digital media, rather than offer only the final “product” (such as a website, social media platform, interactive research article, etc.) for review."
This call to action recognizes that “[s]cholars have the long and broad view devoted to the pursuit of knowledge that policy makers and the public can’t get elsewhere” yet most do not engage in public conversation effectively. The reasons are: scholars are leery of making strong claims; translating scholarship for non-specialists is difficult; and the lack of incentives for public engagement.
This video presents a discussion of the use of social media to promote academic research and how that relates to promotion and tenure. The emphasis is on the field of Medicine.
Linda Stamato, Making Research Matter: A Public Challenge to Scholars, Inside Higher Ed (October 12, 2017).
This article argues that in order to encourage faculty members to engage in public communication activities, they should be rewarded by giving public engagement weight in the promotion and tenure process.
Amy Schalet, Should Writing for the Public Count Toward Tenure?, The Conversation (Aug. 18, 2016).
This article by the director of the Public Engagement Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst notes that promotion and tenure evaluations usually only reward peer-reviewed research and rarely consider articles written for the popular media. If more value given to public communication, scholars would be encouraged to share their knowledge with the members of society who could most benefit from it.
This blog post summarizes and highlights the value of social media for health professionals.
M.V. Lee Badgett, How Scholars Can Become Influential Public Professors, Scholars Strategy Network (June 2017).
Professor Badgett writes that, in addition to being fully-engaged academic researchers, and have resumes with the peer-reviewed journal articles, books, “publicly engaged scholars also do three additional things that can be instructive for others: they grasp the big picture, learn to communicate with multiple audiences, and build diverse networks.” She suggests that professors demonstrate to tenure and promotion committees how their engagement enriches their research and teaching. Professor Badgett, an economist at UMass Amherst, also wrote a book, The Public Professor: How to Use Your Research to Change the World (NYU Press, 2016), with practical advice for scholars wanting to become engaged in public communication.
The article discusses the value and limitations of using Altmetrics as a measure of reach and impact.
In this call for professors to communicate their research and expertise to the public, Kristof quotes Will McCants, a Middle East specialist at the Brookings Institution. “If the sine qua non for academic success is peer-reviewed publications, then academics who ‘waste their time’ writing for the masses will be penalized.”
American Educational Research Association, Rethinking Faculty Evaluation, (Nov. 1, 2013).
One of the recommendations in this report from the AERA is “[t]o evaluate outreach and modes of dissemination, develop valid indicators of quality.” Results of scholarships that are disseminated through policy reports, op-eds, blogs, and social media could be considered in evaluating a faculty member’s work; however, more research is needed and valid measures of outreach and engagement must be developed in order to measure their academic quality.
Anatoliy Gruzd et al., Tenure and Promotion in the Age of Online Social Media, Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology (Jan. 11, 2012).
The authors of this study found that the use of online social media was not recognized by most research institutions as part of their tenure and promotion review process, but that the idea of incorporating social media into the evaluation of scholarly impact is growing in popularity and acceptance.