Monthly Archives: April 2008

Tenure in the Faculty Blogosphere

“The tenure process is intensive and demanding.” So say Richard Danner and Barbara Bintliff in the article that Steven B quotes in his Academic Freedom Quiz post (Richard A. Danner and Barbara Bintliff in Legal Reference Services Quarterly, V. 25 (4) 2006, pp. 17). And so say many in the faculty blogosophere in this tenure season.

Inside Higher Ed (“the online source for news, opinion and jobs for all of higher education”) has written a lot lately about tenure. The most compelling story, Scott Jaschik’s April 1 story “Changing the Tenure Rules — Without Telling Anyone?” describes some assistant professors at Baylor University who were up for tenure this year:

“[S]everal university officials said [that] senior administrators have come to believe that departmental standards were not rigorous enough and so applied new standards, which have never been shared with faculty leaders, let alone with those who submitted tenure portfolios under the old standards. Largely as a result, tenure denials at Baylor this year — which have been about 10 percent annually in recent years — shot up to 40 percent,” including six of the nine women up for review.

Jaschik highlights the case of Rene D. Massengale, an assistant professor of biology. Although she won grants and published many journal articles, and “… thought she had prepared a portfolio reflecting the latest requirements, … [s]he said that she received a ‘form letter’ from the university … saying she had not sufficiently excelled in research.” Jaschik notes that “[m]any in the University” believe that Baylor 2012, an effort to increase the University’s focus on research, might conflict with its historical teaching mission.

This case and others are being discussed at length in the faculty blogosphere.

Tenured Radical comments on the Inside Higher Ed article, wondering about the effect the tenure process has on the untenured: “what is the effect of the tenure process on young scholars, and how do we protect their academic freedom?” She writes about the tenure process in a March 18 blog entry, where she describes her experience with tenure (not bad) and promotion to full professor (painful) and suggests faculty unions as a better alternative to tenure.

For a personal look at the tenure process, read Mommy/Prof’s thread about tenure, in which she talks about the anxiety leading up to the tenure decision, a very quick post when she finds out (“I was denied tenure. The poor dean was really uncomfortable. But I didn’t cry, so I guess I can at least be proud of that.”), followed by the fallout from not getting tenure. Mommy/Prof is a pseudonym for a “tenure-track college person at Central State, in a Suburb of Mid-Sized City” and her personal story (start at the bottom) is heartbreaking.

Reassigned Time writes about the issue from the tenure track, which is to say, from the untenured perspective. She says on the one hand that tenure will not change her life much, but it might make her feel more part of her institution and thus more likely to work to effect positive change. Her list of positives is a different twist on the issue and speaks to the benefit of tenure to the institution rather than to the individual. Finally, Reassigned Time notes that she is one of the few (only?) who is writing about the issue without the benefit of tenure.

Finally, for an administrator’s perspective, check out Dean Dad’s post at Confessions of a Community College Dean. He talks about the pitfalls of transparency — in order to know exactly how the tenure decisions have been made, in this case — which “would involve letting the entire college community know every perceived shortcoming of every denied candidate.” Which, in turn, would not make anyone feel better. Instead, his solution to the tenure question: “… finite but renewable multiyear contracts, with performance expectations (and job protections, such as academic freedom) written explicitly into the contract language.”

All of these posts point to many more posts about tenure, for and against, and the comments to each of the posts both rail against and support tenure … so if you are interested in what folks in the professoriate are thinking, this is a great topic to follow.

Lawsuit on “Electronic Course Packs”

This story in The New York Times is alarming – does anyone know more about it? Though libraries, CMS’s, and e-reserves are not mentioned, it appears to have widespread implications.

Three prominent academic publishers are suing Georgia State University, contending that the school is violating copyright laws by providing course reading material to students in digital format without seeking permission from the publishers or paying licensing fees.

In a complaint filed Tuesday in United States District Court in Atlanta, the publishers — Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Sage Publications — sued four university officials, asserting “systematic, widespread and unauthorized copying and distribution of a vast amount of copyrighted works” by Georgia State, which the university distributes through its Web site.

The lawsuit, which may be the first of its kind, raises questions about digital rights, which are confronting many media companies, but also about core issues like the future of the business model for academic publishers.

If anyone has the inside scoop, please share it with us.

Update: The AJC writes a really confusing headline but adds some information about the library angle; Inside Higher Ed writes journalistic circles around the Gray Lady. The complaint is here. The Chron comments on the commentary and links to a fascinating take from Kevin Smith that argues libraries and faculty aren’t free-riders on publishers, it’s the other way around: publishers get free content from academia, then wants to be paid all over again when it’s used for courses.

Feeling Lost In A World Of Search Zombies

Maybe I’m getting more removed from mainstream search. I know that some aspects of online searching can be complex, and depending on the uniqueness of some disciplinary databases (think about using financial screening tools in NetAdvantage or ValueLine Research Center) search can reach the extremes of complexity. But I would never have thought to associate the word “complex” with three basic search functions: formulating a search question; evaluating the results; and revising the search strategy. True, these basic skils are hardly intuitive for college students, but it certainly seems within their ability to learn – and I know that many have. So I was surprised to read this in a recent Jakob Nielsen column:

How difficult is it to perform a search on Google? I’m not talking about the challenge of formulating a good query, interpreting the results, or revising your search strategy to reap better results. Those are all very complicated research skills, and few people excel at them.

Complicated research skills? If you take away those basic skills what is left to a search? Have we created a generation of search zombies who listlessly tap away at the keyboard with no strategy at all just hoping they’ll find some information, and then mindlessly settle for whatever their first Google page yields? On the positive side, this suggests to me that librarians are among the few professionals who do excel at these tasks. While it’s great to know we have an increasingly rare skill , I’d feel much better if, as a profession, we were making greater progress in helping more people to develop these basic search skills, or getting more recognition for what we can do.

This leaves me with two thoughts. First, if excellence in navigating the complexity of search (and mind you that Nielsen isn’t talking about library databases – he’s just referring to search engines) is a rarified skill, why the heck can’t we leverage our expertise to raise our profile in society. You would think that the ability to cut through the web wasteland would be a prized skill that people would seek out. Second, if everyone other than librarians lack these skills, then the state of searching and the public’s research ability must be far worse than we might have imagined. Perhaps the “good enough” (or is it now “barely good enough”) mentality has finally turned the masses into search zombies. What’s the cure for that?

Cheaper by the .pdf, but still . . .

SUNY press has announced an initiative to sell .pdf files of new books for only $20.00 for a title that costs $75.00 in hardcover. And you can browse the first two pages of every chapter absolutely free! What a daring initiative!

Sorry, but I’m undewhelmed. I totally support the mission of university presses, but it’s really hard to imagine that the industry will be transformed by giving readers the amazing opportunity to shell out twenty bucks for a computer file 258 pages long. Twenty bucks is more than the price of most trade paperbacks outside academia – and you have to print it yourself. I realize, we write for a tiny niche audience, but still – if this is the revolution, wake me up later, would you?

And you can see a whole two pages of each chapter? This is progress? The National Academies Press has pretty well proven that free full text browsing is good for sales. And they seem to sell trade paper copies immediately for a price close to the .pdf price. If I were publishing with a university press, I’d want my book affordable on its release, not a year later, and not just as a .pdf.

I realize there are significant costs involved, but this seems so wrongheaded to me. No wonder so many libraries are getting involved in publishing. Maybe our nutty fascination with access is just the counterweight to this kind of innovation the system needs.

Academic Newswire‘s e-mail announcement calls this groundbreaking. Exactly what kind of ground are we talking about?

death's head

photo courtesy of Queen Roly.

An Academic Freedom Quiz

As a profession we’ve spent lots of time debating academic freedom and tenure for academic librarians. Do academic librarians need the protections of academic freedom? If not, why do they need tenure? If yes, why are some on the tenure track and not others? These are questions for which there are no easy answers. But academic librarians should know the answers to basic questions about academic freedom and tenure that demonstrate their knowledge of these cornerstones of higher education. If we don’t have a firm grasp of academic freedom, its origins and function then how can we understand how it impacts our profession.

If you already have a deep understanding of academic freedom and intellectual freedom that’s outstanding, but if not or you want to test your knowledge, take this quiz. It’s based on information found in an article titled “Academic Freedom Issues for Academic Librarians” authored by Richard A. Danner and Barbara Bintliff in Legal Reference Services Quarterly, V. 25 (4) 2006, pp. 13-35. As Danner and Bintliff write:

Whether or not a university has chosen to extend the protections of academic freedom to librarians and professional staff, it is important for librarians to understand the implications of current and ongoing challenges to academic freedom, and be able to respond to them…It is essential for academic librarians to understand the differences between the concepts and the importance of academic freedom and tenure to faculty, students, and others involved in teaching and research.

1. Academic freedom is:
a) an inherent right granted to faculty
b) a protection guaranteed to those who have a faculty contract
c) a privilege granted to faculty by individual institutions
d) all of the above

2. A tenured professor directs a member of your library staff not to remove from the stacks several “library use only” books that need bibliographic maintenance work because she may need to refer to them at any time for her studies. Academic freedom gives the faculty member the right to do so. True or False?

3. Academic freedom is not a guarantee of freedom of speech. True or false?

4. Both tenured and tenure-track faculty enjoy the full benefits of academic freedom? True or false?

5. For academic librarians, having traditional intellectual freedom typically means:

a) a guaranteed right of free speech
b) a commitment to ensuring users’ access to information
c) a right to enjoy the protections of academic freedom even if not tenured
d) a form of academic freedom that applies only to collection development work

6. Which of the following organizations was the first to issue an official statement on the right of intellectual freedom:

a) american association of university professors
b) american library association
c) american civil liberties union
d) united nations

Now, to see how you did on the quiz go to the answers page. Whether you are an academic freedom expert or novice, get a hold of Danner and Bintliff’s article to refresh or boost your academic freedom awareness. I agree with the authors. Whether you have it or not, understanding academic freedom and tenure is an essential component of academic librarianship.

NOTE: the answers are based on information found in the article, and I’m aware that academic freedom, tenure and intellectual freedom issues can involve gray areas. So if you have a different interpretation of an answer or have additional insights to share, please add them with a comment.