24 Asking For It: The Importance of Advocacy in Establishing Open in Tenure and Promotion Processes

Michelle Harrison; Brenna Clarke Gray; and Brenda Smith

Case study writers:

  • Brenna Clarke Gray, Coordinator, Educational Technologies
  • Michelle Harrison, Senior Instructional Designer and Assistant Professor
  • Brenda Smith, Open Education Librarian

Institution: Thompson Rivers University

Type of intervention: How to implement language about and support for open education in tenure and promotion standards documents.


Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada, has a legislative mandate to support open learning, and its institutional values are based on the principle of open access to education (Thompson Rivers University Act, 2005; Thompson Rivers University, n.d.a.). Its campus-based faculty have either bipartite (teaching/professional role and service) or tripartite (teaching/professional role, research, and service) appointments. These structures led to an environment that bred faculty interest in and support for open education. Advocacy for open led to two major initiatives in 2018: the development of an active faculty-driven Open Education Working Group (OEWG) that advocates for open education initiatives across the institution and the establishment of an OER development grant program that provided financial support for faculty wanting to integrate OER into their teaching. The implementation of Canada’s Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications—which requires all peer-reviewed journal articles that were funded in whole or in part by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), or Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to be made publicly available within 12 months of publication—had also increased institutional and faculty interest in open (Science and Innovation Canada, 2016). TRU faculty have also received multiple open education grants from BCcampus, a provincial body for supporting open practices in postsecondary education, which created expertise and interest in open activities.

As more TRU faculty engaged in open education practice, they wanted their work to be explicitly recognized in the tenure and promotion process. The announcement that the University of British Columbia (UBC) had included language and standards about open education for tenure and promotion in 2017 galvanized the conversation about how we could do something similar at TRU (Yano et al., 2018).


In the fall of 2019, it was noted that many of the tenure and promotion departmental standards documents were in need of revision. The provost sent out a memo in November to the deans and faculty council chairs about the need to update standards documents and provided a revision schedule for the various departments. As highlighted by Skidmore and Provida (2019), a lack of formal policy or guidelines related to open education work within the tenure and promotion process was seen as a possible barrier to further faculty work and engagement. This was recognized by both faculty and senior leaders. Inspired by the UBC example, the provost and members of the University Tenure and Promotion Committee discussed how to implement explicit support for open at TRU. It was decided that rather than having one general, overarching statement recognizing open work, this language would be included in the revised departmental standards so that the language could be framed in discipline-specific terms. Each department was encouraged, with help from open education experts (if desired), to include language around open that represented their disciplinary focus and needs.

To date, departments in the Faculty of Science, Faculty of Arts, School of Business, School of Nursing, Learning Design and Innovations (LDI), Faculty of Culinary, Adventure and Tourism Management, and Faculty of Student Development have included language in their assessment of teaching/professional role and scholarship to varying degrees (Thompson Rivers University, n.d.b.). Most departments include criteria under their “leadership in teaching activities” sections and directly reference the “development and dissemination of OERs and repositories including open-source textbooks.” Others provide more detail and include specific evidence for each rank in both roles (assistant, associate, and full teaching professor/professor), which reflects an increasing sphere of influence and expertise. For example, the Faculty of Science outlines criteria for each rank, starting with “incorporating OER, open tools and data or open educational practices (OEP) into course materials and course design” at the assistant rank, to evaluating, assessing and adapting at the associate rank, and to working with communities to create at the full professor rank (Faculty of Science, 2021, p. 8). The LDI department, which includes faculty members in instructional design, educational development, and learning technologist roles, has the most explicit criteria for both their practice and scholarship. Criteria in the section “Scholarship in the professional role” explicitly references the development and dissemination of open pedagogies, platforms, and materials and specifically references dissemination in open access outlets (Learning Design and Innovations Department [LDI], 2021, p. 7). These standards, and those modeled after them, which includes other instructional support faculty, also include explicit language for scholarship in a tripartite role, which states, “We would like to emphasise the importance of dissemination that supports open and collaborative practice, including open access publishing, the development of Open Education Resources and texts, and the creation, documentation and sharing of open process and/or open data” (LDI, 2021, p. 10). Of the 21 standards documents that have been revised since 2020, only one does not have an explicit reference to open education.


While the progress our institution has made with embedding open in tenure and promotion practices has been both significant and welcome, there are still barriers that emerge in taking a truly open approach to this work. A key component of the ongoing work of open advocates at TRU is to educate our colleagues about open practice and scholarship. Tenure and promotion standards documents, even when they are explicit about the value of open, are still subject to interpretation by faculty evaluators. Establishing a broad, campus-wide understanding of the value of open ensures that an evaluatory context is not the first time faculty evaluators are encountering these discussions.

Often, barriers to further exploring openness in tenure and promotion are formal and reflect the rigidity of the process as it has been traditionally understood, and as such, they impact not only open scholars and practitioners but also the ability of the process to respond to equity, diversity, and indigenization (EDI) needs. For example, while open work may be welcomed or even celebrated depending on the discipline, the traditional tenure and promotion portfolio is by design a closed form. Nothing in the standards or processes at TRU expressly stops the candidate from opening up their portfolio, but this does represent a duplication of effort, as the open portfolio will not be evaluated because it does not match the formal requirements (a specifically structured folder of PDF files, saved to the university’s enclosed shared drive system). This means that candidates with a community responsibility to share their work are doubly burdened; there are also, increasingly, EDI-related questions about who is served by confidential processes within the institution, especially since the sector has not achieved equity in successful moving candidates through tenure and promotion (Jones et al., 2013; Knight, 2010; Lawrence et al., 2014). Open is not a salve, but opening out the process in the interests of transparency may be a step toward improving equity. Making it optional for faculty to openly share their T&P portfolios may therefore be worthwhile, depending on the work being represented in the portfolio.

The Learning Technology Team at TRU supports the development of open portfolios by providing WordPress (an open-source content management system) server space and a predeveloped template to any interested faculty; this is based on the existing architecture created for student e-portfolios and other open web projects. Basic WordPress training and support is also available. The first faculty member on this team to go through the tenure and promotion process used the template to produce an open portfolio: Brenna Clarke Gray’s Portfolio for Tenure and Promotion. Providing space, support, visibility, and models to challenge the singular view of the portfolio as a collection of PDFs does not resolve the duplication of work burden, but it does offer another way to think about portfolios for tenure and promotion for those whose story is not best told by static documents.


In building openness into the tenure and promotion process at TRU, we note the central role of advocacy at every stage: the Open Education Working Group has sought funding for and recognition of open work, the student union has articulated the value of open for students, TRU has benefited from past senior leaders with a strong sense of open’s role in advancing equity, and individual faculty members have taken on the mantle of open champions in a variety of ways. Institutional change is slow, but by embedding advocacy for open across the institution, change to an inherently conservative process like tenure and promotion has been possible.

However, change is not unipolar. As leadership shifts and new strategic priorities emerge and as committee makeup evolves over time, we do not yet know if our work to establish open as a key component of tenure and promotion at TRU will hold. New leadership has yet to articulate a vision for openness at TRU, and some established practices, like the OER development grant program, have come to a close. Standards documents are revised at TRU every seven years, so the next round of revisions will help us determine whether these changes will persist. We will maintain our advocacy and education and continue to celebrate the work of our open education champions and, when possible, work to enshrine open in process documents. We have demonstrated that cultural change can happen; now, we seek to sustain it into the future.


  • Open is best recognized through a combination of administrative leadership and encouragement and faculties and departments establishing what open means within their disciplines.
  • A broad cross section of the university community needs to be engaged, including student groups, in conversations about open and its value in teaching and scholarship so that faculty evaluators have a strong understanding before they first view portfolios.
  • Advocacy of open needs to continue to encompass new members of the university community and to embrace changes in the open movement in order to make sure that open’s presence in and relevance to tenure and promotion standards is sustainable.



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Valuing OER in the Tenure, Promotion, and Reappointment Process Copyright © 2024 by Michelle Harrison; Brenna Clarke Gray; and Brenda Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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