[iDC] Tenure in New Media
kham at uiuc.edu
Mon Jul 2 12:11:41 EDT 2007
Greetings from Banff, where I'm working at a co-Production residency
for the month. Trebor invited me to moderate a thread on the subject
of /Tenure in New Media/, something that's come up tangentially in at
least a couple of threads over the past year or so (notably in the
"Praxis-Based PhD" discussion).
This admittedly dry subject could serve as a launch point for several
lines of talk, and shouldn't be limited to those working within
academia. I'll introduce my position, and then suggest some possible
points of departure. Hopefully we can use the thread to collect and
share experience, but also to pry open some points for critique and
I've been teaching for five years at University of Illinois, Urbana-
Champaign, where I'm appointed to the Painting/Sculpture and New
Media programs, in the School of Art and Design. My tenure papers are
almost complete and out of my hands - so I speak from a position of
having almost (hopefully) traversed the system. Our New Media program
is growing - Nan Goggin and Joseph Squier hired me, and 2 years ago
we hired Ryan Griffis and Deke Weaver. We've had an MFA in New Media
for several years, and just added a BFA in New Media. Our curricular
emphasis, as determined largely by the experience of the faculty,
tends more toward fine arts than design, though our collective
practices span a much wider frame of reference, including
Performance, Creative Writing, Activism. We rely almost solely on
tenured and tenure-track faculty for instruction, not on adjuncts,
and some on graduate students.
Illinois is a Research Institution - here that means that though
we're evaluated for tenure based on a traditional trinity of Research/
Teaching/Service, the campus really places Research at the top of
that list. As artists hired to teach, our individual practices are
counted as "Research" whether or not we conform to any traditional
research methodologies in the sciences or humanities. It's up to us
to demonstrate how our work is deserving of tenure within our chosen
diverse modes of practice.
Here are some admittedly interrelated lines of discussion I would
suggest for our discussion. Scan down to see the breakdown, and
please jump in on what you think you can share, contest, or
contextualize. Thanks to Trebor for inviting me to moderate, and
thanks in advance for your contributions.
SOME LINES OF DEPARTURE
[full questions for topics follow]
1. Tenure Evaluation concerns unique to New Media
2. Other practices & systems
3. Tenure as a disciplinary technique for the forming of
practitioners, the establishment of a discourse
4. Tenure as a position of privilege and power
Assistant Professor, New Media and Painting/Sculpture
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
----- EXPANDED QUESTIONS -----
1. TENURE EVALUATION CONCERNS UNIQUE TO NEW MEDIA
We've talked some about this in past threads, and Trebor reminded me
of the work the faculty up at University of Maine have been doing on
this subject. (http://newmedia.umaine.edu/interarchive/
Chief among these concerns is the question of how our work is
evaluated when it spans disparate areas of disciplinary validation.
The folks at Maine have articulated these problems well, and I would
encourage all to have a look. New Media practitioners, for example,
are as likely to be publishing in academic journals as they are
posting to listservs, and might exhibit online as well as in
conventional gallery spaces, if they "exhibit" at all. Many have very
specific ideological reasons for adopting multi-form strategies of
For those of you within tenure-track or tenured positions, have
evaluation structures allowed you to make the case for your choice to
adopt hybrid or diverse strategies? How have your efforts outside of
New Media or Art/Design domains (Geography, Gender Studies,
Communication, Computer Science) been recognized and evaluated? Do
they count, and how do they count?
We might also look at how Teaching and Service are evaluated in the
tenure process for New Media academics -
I would guess, for example, that Service for many New Media faculty
takes the form of keeping labs going, making decisions about
technology purchases, problem-solving printing and network glitches.
Is that area of work getting figured in to your evaluation processes?
What other Service areas are unique to New Media teaching?
For teaching, I would offer that among the distinctive problems faced
in evaluation for tenure in New Media is this: that when teaching
evaluation is linked to student evaluations of our classes, we run
into some trouble. I'm thinking specifically here of the tension many
of us face between the expected technocratic function of our
curricula ("I'm here to learn Maya.") and our explicit and implicit
formal and contextual goals ("Let's talk about 3D space as a system
of meaning.") I've heard it from all over - many of us get hit hard
on the teaching evaluations because of this point, and it's not easy
to explain WHY our teaching evaluations look bad because of this,
when it comes to evaluation by higher-ups.
2. OTHER PRACTICES & SYSTEMS
What other systems are in place for evaluation and hiring of New
Media faculty? What problems or promise are encountered in these
For example, yearly evaluation structures in the UK and Australia
seem to have taken a very different turn than anything I've
encountered in the States. Most of what I've heard about these is
negative, in that they seem to allow for even less co-mingling of
diverse practices (i.e. writing as well as object production) than
American tenure systems do.
But what about schools that don't follow tenure practices? What other
evaluation systems are in place elsewhere in the world, and what
unique problems have you encountered there as New Media instructor-
3. TENURE AS A DISCIPLINARY TECHNIQUE
The whole tenure process, even framed in a way that provides for
evaluation of diverse practices, is still a way of shaping
practitioners and of determining discourse.
How is the proliferation of tenure-positions in New Media shaping the
ways in which we act, make, speak? What are we losing, in our
conversations and institutions, but also in our practices? What has
become habitual that was formerly contested, positioned? What
practices are falling away, and which ones are more valorized?
I recognize that this is a huge sub-topic here, but it's one I think
that bears some discussion - not unrelated to the whole post-ISEA
thread last summer, either.
Let's say for example, that listserv posts end up counted towards
tenure. Without question, this space will fundamentally change, for
those within and without the academy. I'm not denying that our
posting here isn't already motivated by desires for validation and
recognition, but if coded institutionally as such, our speech habits
We could ask the same of festivals, which already count for many of
us toward tenure.
Even more specifically, I think this question bears applying to HOW
we work. Are we working alone or together, on what time-schedules and
deadlines, with what materials and movements? As an academic
discipline, regulated through tenure and hiring, New Media stands to
become an increasingly efficient collection of practices. When I look
at my colleagues in the Sciences, where methodologies have often been
set in stone and products are carefully situated in relation to prior
products and possible funding, sometimes I'm afraid I see the future.
I'll just lob that one out there, if anyone takes it I'll say more.
4. TENURE AS A POSITION OF POWER + PRIVILEGE
In debates about the worth of tenure as an institution, the most
common case made for the process is as a guarantor of academic
freedom. If this is the case, how are we using this freedom, and how
I'm thinking here of potential influence on things like hiring
practices, campus policies on technical infrastructure (I.P. or
ecological concerns), and on the more traditional areas of curriculum
revision and tenure requirements.
Can the tenured faculty speak to this, on where they've seen tenured
status afford them specific opportunities for positive influence as
identified "experts" in new technologies?
Can others point to areas, in or out of academia, where tenured New
Media faculty could lend unique influence?
How are New Media programs doing compared to other areas in terms of
tenure as a measure of labor equality? (By that standard, my
department is not doing so well, truth be told.)
Hiring to tenure track, and granting of tenure, are important ways in
which faculties are gendered, raced, and classed. A study of such
across New Media programs in tenure-granting institutions would be
useful, and probably wouldn't take too long to compile. Has anyone
looked into such a thing?
Most places I go in the States, Universities are seen to rely less on
tenure-track faculty and more on adjunct instructors, as a way of
avoiding the cost of providing benefits for employees. (This isn't
the case at Illinois, though we do rely heavily on unionized grad
students to teach.)
I would suggest that New Media programs have more reason than some
other areas to rely on instructors hired to teach one-off,
specialized courses. I'm thinking here of where an instructor may be
already employed in the commercial sector and offers some specific
area of experience (technical or otherwise) that students require.
In this way, New Media faculty stand to embody within the University
the equivalent of "creative workers" within design and IT sectors,
expected to constantly re-tool and adopt "flexible" work habits. If
this is the case, then as New Media programs we stand to offer
critiques and alternatives to this approach.
Has anyone observed this dynamic at work in ways that might be
described as unique to New Media programs? I certainly know of some
who teach in New Media programs and specifically avoid the tenure-
track, and of others who wish they could escape the semester-to-
semester adjunct labor pool. Are there specific ways in which non-
tenure-track faculty in New Media programs end up unfairly bearing
the brunt of labor?
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