Tenure and Promotion in OER
J. Poritz Speaking Notes

Panel discussion with Mark Poepsel and Jaclyn Stewart for the Open Textbook Network & Rebus Community's Office Hours session on 21 November 2019.

I think the idea — good or bad — is that we each tell a bit of our very personal, local experiences regarding P&T [that is the acronym for "promotion and tenure" which comes most naturally to me] and OER, from which perhaps the group can extract generalizations. The best general idea we could find would be some sort of pressure point or points on faculty through their desire to get P&T where a policy could lead to greater use of OER.

I'm a mathematician. My institution, Colorado State University-Pueblo [CSU-Pueblo], is a four-year, regional, comprehensive university which has a handful of graduate programs and few thousand students (less than 4,000 at the moment, which is something of a crisis).

My department has ten tenured faculty members [which is too many for the number of students we have]. We graduate around a dozen math majors each year (maybe less?), the great majority of whom are heading to teach mathematics in high schools across the region. A few do go on to graduate school (one or two?) or enter some profession (e.g., actuary) immediately.

The great majority of students in our classes are there to satisfy a requirement: either a departmental requirement in a physical or social science, and/or the general education quantitative literacy requirement.

I started using OER — well, it was actually OEP: building a student-authored textbook for an advanced course in the major — in the springs of 2012. That was also when I found out that I had gotten tenure, so certainly using OER had no impact, positive or negative, on my receiving tenure.

Of course, my institution had at that time no policy on P&T and OER — nor does it have such a policy now. [In this way we were and are like nearly all other institutions of higher education around the world.] If we had had some such policy during the years before I got tenure, I doubt it would have changed my behavior in any way.

While on the tenure track, I felt enormous pressure not to screw up any class I taught in a spectacular fashion. I felt a similar pressure to do service in my department and around the campus as a whole. I felt an even larger pressure to be generally liked around the department: I always brought good, homemade treats when I was hosting the department tea; I never talked about politics with the several fascist full professors in my department, nor did I laugh out loud at the climate science-denying tenured physicist.

To get tenure, there was a requirement of one research publication while on the tenure track. I had this covered with scientific papers, so I don't know whether I would have thought to make an OER to get that credit, had there been such a policy at the time. I have to say that I doubt a policy could be imposed on my department requiring the consideration of OER creation as equal to research publication — there would be much tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth over disciplinary expertise and academic freedom. Even if such a thing were imposed on my department, I am sure that they would find a way to give such a thing less weight than real scholarship and it would piss them off. Since, as I said, not pissing off the senior members of my department was a high priority of mine, I would not have wanted to use this method (exclusively) to get that one required research publication.

There is not a similar numerical requirement for promotion in my department. Instead, one must show sustained contributions to the department, university, and discipline. I have written two OER textbooks since becoming associate professor, as well as a number of other teaching-related artifacts (various OEPs). I also have scholarly publications and other contributions to my field like organizing disciplinary conferences and doing peer review of submissions to respected journals.

But I don't think I will ever get promotion to full professor, at least at CSU-Pueblo. This is because I blew that other, more important, thing in P&T: I pissed off the senior members of the department. Since getting tenure, I laugh out loud at the climate science-denying physicist. I disagree in public with the homophobe and all the misogynists. I say out loud that if we fail half of the students in our gen ed courses, even though they all have the prerequisites to be in that class, the most likely explanation is that we are doing a terrible job of teaching.

So I don't have the direct experience of seeing what my OER productivity would do for an application for promotion. However, we do an annual self-flagellation exercise in my department, in which we write a detailed description of our activities in the three main areas of faculty effort: scholarship, service, and pedagogy. Our chair looks over this self-report and ranks each of us on a scale from one to five in our Annual Performance Review [APR], and these numbers are signed off on by dean, provost, and president, and eventually could be used to decide who might get a merit raise or not.

Of course, there has been no merit pay in the nearly fifteen years I've been at CSU-Pueblo, so this is mostly an exercise in ... futility?

One of the years I wrote a full OER textbook, I was given a 4 out of 5 on the teaching APR -- that's basically good, where a 5 would be excellent. I was furious, and in the required meeting with my chair to discuss the APR, I said that I didn't think anyone else in my department had every written a textbook, not to mention one which they gave away for free, and wrote with exactly zero support (financial or otherwise).

He asked what I would like him to do to acknowledge that work.

I said, with much bitterness in my voice (and heart), that I would at least like a pat on my back.

He grinned, said "I can do that," got up, came around his desk, and solemnly patted me on the back three times.

So that's how OER production has impacted my P&T trajectory so far. What about generalizations, proposals, thoughts about the future from my perspective?

Well, to be honest, I think the interest in P&T policies supporting OER is a little misguided, or at least is in no way the panacea it is sometimes described as being.

Let's do this in steps.

75% of student contact hours in higher ed in the US (I have heard; e.g., the AAUP has some related data on their site) are with non-tenure-line faculty. In terms of reaching the instructors who are in classrooms with students, tenure is not a relevant pressure point for most.

The majority of students in higher ed in the US attend community colleges, which have very different approaches to tenure and choice of resources used in classrooms, I believe, than the four-year institutions.

Among four-year institutions, the ones which define the cultural images of what it is to "go to college" are R1s and R2s, essentially. While I do not work at such a place, my undergraduate and graduate education were at R1s, and I strongly believe that teaching is a very secondary priority in P&T at R1s. Additionally, faculty at R1s would violently rebel if production of an OER was to be considered as the equivalent of a scholarly publication, in some administration-driven policy. And if such a policy were imposed on departments, it would be passively resisted and thus have little impact.

So OER are always going to be minor factor in P&T at R1s. At four-year, regional comprehensive universities like mine — which are where the majority of students attending four-year institutions of higher education go to school — one might think there would be a sweet spot for influential policies on OER in P&T.

But I don't believe that either: at least on my campus, faculty feel precariously balanced between the heaven of the research-driven life at R1&2s and the hell of the unmitigated slog of the teaching-only life in community colleges.

[Well, there are faculty who do care about their teaching and students, maybe in addition to scholarship in their disciplines, at institutions like mine. But those faculty are already doing open education, or are easy to convince, even without any direct relationship between OER and P&T.]

At institutions like mine, many faculty would balk at give research credit for OER/OEP. They might also say that such things are already in the policies for pedagogy in P&T, since such policies usually call out innovative and/or particularly effective pedagogical practice. So why do we need a specific mention of OER? they might ask.

I actually have some sympathy for this position, and I think it is not a battle I care to spend to much time or energy fighting. The reason is that I think the major change which will enable expansion of OER/OEP is a cultural shift, not one built on specific rewards or punishments.

My belief is that OER/OEP are nothing other than an entirely rational response to the privatization of higher ed, the end of the idea of higher ed as a public good, the transformation of the concept of a university into something which should be driven by market forces [social scientists would call this whole world view neoliberalism].

So I would assert we have to change people's hearts and minds, we have to change the culture, not treat them each even more like a little homo œconomicus, that only is buying more into the neoliberal worldview which is so pernicious.

It seems like a good idea Always to end with an action item. So how about:

One approach would be to support faculty with time, rather than money or some specific line in the P&T policy. The way to do this is to provide staff who can do typesetting, librarians who can find the obscure reference, etc. -- folks around the faculty we want to influence in favor of OER who can help with their expertise and labor make OER a reality.

I'm happy of course to discuss anything above or otherwise on everyone's minds!