1 BackdOER to Tenure: Using Framing and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning to Make My OER Work Count

Shawna M. Brandle

Case study writer: Shawna M. Brandle, Professor of Political Science and Open Education Coordinator, Kingsborough Community College, and member of the Digital Humanities MA Program at the CUNY Graduate Center

Institution: Kingsborough Community College (KCC), a public two-year institution, an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI), and the only community college in Brooklyn, New York

Type of intervention: Using open education work, scholarship of teaching and learning articles, and framing to make OER work recognizable through my institution’s existing guidelines for tenure and promotion to associate and full professor.


Kingsborough Community College is a public two-year institution offering more than 50 programs of study, from liberal arts and criminal justice to nursing and marine technology. Kingsborough is a part of the City University of New York (CUNY), and as such, is governed by the collective bargaining agreements signed by the PSC-CUNY (the union representing instructional staff and higher education officers), the bylaws of CUNY, and the CUNY Board of Trustees. As a community college, there is a significant teaching load; for tenure-track faculty, when I began in 2013, it was five courses in the fall and four in the spring, which was revised to 4–4 in fall 2016 due to a new contract being implemented.

Unlike many other institutions, at CUNY, promotion and tenure (P&T) are separate processes. Often, promotion to associate professor and tenure occur at the same time (in the fifth year for four-year colleges, the seventh for two-year colleges), but promotion can be pursued separately from tenure any time after four years of service.[1] Kingsborough, like all of the institutions in CUNY, has developed its own more specific tenure and promotion guidelines, the latest of which was released in July 2019.[2] Excellence in scholarship, teaching, and service is required for tenure and promotion to associate and full, with excellence in scholarship usually proven through at least two peer-reviewed journal articles (at least one of which must be solo-/lead-authored) and one additional item (another article, realized grant, or invited talk). Solo-authored books are counted as two journal articles, and “scholarly articles on pedagogy in one’s field” are explicitly recognized as acceptable articles for the purposes of tenure and promotion.[3] The two-plus-a-third publication formula is required for each personnel action whether they are applied for individually or simultaneously, so a total of four articles and two third items are needed for promotion to associate and tenure, with an additional two articles and one third item for promotion to full.

Kingsborough has a robust, faculty-driven OER program, which was started by librarians with funding from the college in 2016. As I had already begun working on OER in 2014 as will be discussed below, I was able to collaborate with the librarians on their projects and, when CUNY OER funding became available in 2017, to take on the position of faculty leader for OER. Five years later, the program has grown significantly in scale and complexity. I am now the open education coordinator at KCC, coordinating between our open education librarian, KCTL (Kingsborough Center for Teaching and Learning), KCeL (the Kingsborough Center for e-Learning), various campus initiatives, and program offices, such as College Now and faculty who wish to open up their pedagogy by using, adapting, or developing OER. We have helped instructors from most departments on campus convert some or all of their courses to zero textbook cost courses and offer a variety of programming for those who wish to further explore open educational practices.


The straightforward guidelines for tenure and promotion requirements provided by Kingsborough in the faculty handbook were extremely helpful; I made sure to corroborate my interpretation of the requirements with my department chair and several colleagues to ensure I was setting out on the right track. Because I knew finding time to do tenurable work would be difficult with my teaching load, I began early in my career at KCC to track all of my projects and working hours to ensure that they were all directly tied to something that would strengthen my tenure application as demonstrating excellence in either teaching, research, or service.

The current requirements for tenure and promotion at KCC, as well as those that were in force when I started, do not mention OER creation or innovation with open educational practices anywhere. So when I became interested in open education as a way to help my students who struggled to afford the expensive textbook for my class, I knew I could not justify the time it would take unless I could make it count toward tenure. So I identified a backdoor: I would apply for a grant from the CUNY Research Foundation—the CUNY Community College Collaborative Incentive Research Grant (C3IRG)—to create an OER and test its efficacy in my classes as a scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) research project. This OER project demonstrated excellence in teaching and excellence in research, as it was both a realized grant (a third item) and my first solo-authored scholarly journal article,[4] forming the cornerstone of my tenure application. Neither the call for the grant nor the journal I published in was specific to OER, but I was able to use the grant and SoTL publication to make the OER work I did legible to my tenure reviewers as research. Additionally, doing the OER SoTL project demystified the process of writing an article while showing me the value of systematically examining my teaching, which led to my second SoTL article,[5] further improving my pedagogy and adding another publication to my file.

Networking is an essential component of a successful academic career, and my open education practice and research helped me build my network and scholarly profile on my campus, across CUNY, and beyond, in my discipline and in the field of open education. Firstly, developing an OER for my SoTL project in 2014–2015 led me to seek out the few colleagues at Kingsborough who were also doing OER work at that time, which made me feel connected to others on my campus and positioned me to take on a substantial role when Kingsborough received OER funding from CUNY in 2017. My work as faculty leader for OER counted as significant service to the college while simultaneously giving me the chance to work with lots of new colleagues across all of the disciplines of the college; many of these colleagues would be sitting on the tenure and promotion review committees when I applied in 2019 and 2021, and they likely would not have known my name if not for OER.

My OER research helped me meet many new people across CUNY as well. Now that I was working on OER, I looked for opportunities to present about them at large-scale CUNY-wide events like the CUNY IT (Information Technology) Conference, where I met colleagues across the 25 institutions that make up the CUNY system who were also involved in OER. I was very lucky in that many of these chance introductions turned into fruitful relationships, generating invitations to speak and present at other events, which led to meeting more people, creating a virtuous cycle that connected me to colleagues, opportunities, and research collaborators on multiple CUNY campuses.[6] As a direct result of these connections, I was able to participate in the 2018 Open Education Leadership Summit and serve on a hiring committee at CUNY Central for a position related to OER. I was also able to collaborate with open researchers at several CUNY campuses to create the CUNY Zero Textbook Cost Student Survey, which used an open data protocol so that the data are available to anyone;[7] we further collaborated to publish a peer-reviewed article about the first semester’s results.[8] The people I met and the opportunities I got because of OER work helped me prove the quality of my reputation as a scholar and my service to the wider CUNY system, both of which are preferred requirements for tenure and absolute requirements for promotion to full professor.

A similar story unfolded for my networking in the field of open education. In the open education community, I found inspiration, fellow travelers, and much-needed support, both collegial and material. Through presenting my OER work at open education conferences, I made contact with open educators across the country and the globe, who I was lucky enough to learn from (and sometimes commiserate with), some of whom later invited me to give talks, resulting in more “third items” for my file that also raised my profile as a scholar, demonstrating excellence in research. From these open education friends, I learned about the existence of the Open Education Fellowship, which gave me professional development, another line for my CV, and financial support to write two more articles and publish them open access.

In my discipline, presenting my OER work at disciplinary conferences introduced me to interested political scientists and connected me to initiatives about pedagogy run by the primary professional society for the field, the American Political Science Association (APSA). Uniting my open education and political science research streams opened up new research questions for me, resulting in two published papers (one of which started because of the idea of adding an OER lens to a paper I saw at an APSA conference).[9] Because there are very few political scientists who also work on open education, my OER research and advocacy in disciplinary spaces became part of what I was known for by other political scientists, raising my scholarly profile and making me a resource for colleagues at many different institutions and at APSA, which again led to significant additions to my tenure and promotion file: a profile by APSA for their Career Paths Series,[10] an invited talk in a political science department out of state, and inclusion in the APSA Online Teaching Workshop in 2020. As it turned out, the close relationships I forged with political scientists through my OER work came in very handy, when through a bureaucratic error, I was not informed that I was required to solicit letters in favor of my application for promotion to full until the last minute. I am eternally grateful to my political science colleagues who replied quickly and flooded my provost with letters of support on extremely short notice. I likely would not have known any of them, nor would they have been familiar enough with my work to write letters, especially on no notice, without my OER work.


I was successful in my applications for promotion to assistant, tenure, and full, despite applying as early as possible for both promotions. While I had other research and service in my applications, without the OER-related contributions, my file would not have been sufficient for all three personnel actions. Throughout my time at Kingsborough, I have pushed for more explicit recognition of open education work for tenure and promotion, both on my campus and at CUNY Central, a practice that I have expanded since my promotion to full was made official. No changes to official policies have yet occurred, but until they do, I will continue advocating for those changes to every administrator, department chair, and tenure and promotion committee I encounter. I will also continue sharing my own experience, as well as grant applications and human subject research protocols, with every colleague I can, so they can navigate a path that works best for them.


  • As soon as you step on the tenure track, actively seek out documentation and guidance on the requirements. If your institution does not provide a written list (and even if it does), ask your department chair and others at your institution to confirm the requirements and for any unwritten expectations. Once you have identified the requirements, figure out where you can fit your open education work into the existing requirement and then frame all of the open education work you are doing around those requirements. Use the same words from the tenure and promotion guidelines wherever possible in describing the open education work you are doing. For example, you are not using open pedagogy in your classes; you are developing your excellence in teaching by using open pedagogy in your classes. You are not sharing your OER experience and knowledge with colleagues in your department; you are providing service to the department by sharing your OER experience and knowledge with your colleagues. You aren’t evaluating whether open educational practices are effective in your classes; you are demonstrating excellence in research by doing scholarly research on teaching and learning, which you will publish in a peer-reviewed journal. Use this framing in all of your communications with your department chair and provost, starting early to educate them about how your open education work really does meet the tenure and promotion requirements at your institution. This will not only benefit you when you apply for tenure and promotion but may help prime decision-makers like your department chair, provost, and senior colleagues to see open education work as a valuable (and thus tenurable/promotable) contribution to the institution for future hiring and promotion considerations at your institution.
  • If SoTL articles count toward your tenure and promotion, then design one, examining an aspect of your use of open educational practices (evaluating it in your class, testing OER against other materials, collaborating with colleagues to do the same in their classes; the possibilities are endless!). It is a great way to improve your teaching without worrying you’re spending too much time on it,[11] since the SoTL article will count toward your tenure, thereby demonstrating excellence in teaching and research simultaneously.
  • Network and collaborate with as many open educators at your institution and in your discipline as possible. This will give your open education work a broader reach on your campus; tenure and promotion committees are institution-wide at many institutions, so developing colleagues who know your reputation across the campus will be very helpful when you go up for review. In your discipline, sharing how open education has been helpful in your teaching will help you meet other like-minded scholars in your field, who you can learn from and collaborate with (on open education or disciplinary research) and who will form the pool of possible letter writers for your tenure and promotion files. You can share at disciplinary conferences, whether general or teaching focused, in SoTL articles published in disciplinary journals, and/or through participation in discipline-wide initiatives and workshops.
  • Even after you are tenured and promoted, continue to advocate for the explicit recognition of both SoTL articles and open education work at your institution for tenure and promotion so that those who come after you have an easier job of making their tenure and promotion cases, as both greatly improve teaching and learning at their institutions and align with most educational institutions’ stated values, missions, and goals. The ways in which you push and the methods you use will be specific to you and your institution, but what is most important is that you keep pushing!

  1. The minimum time in rank to apply for promotion to associate is four years, with another four years required at that rank before applying to full. While shortened tenure clocks can be negotiated, this is much rarer and more difficult to obtain than pretenure application for promotion.
  2. "Guidelines for Reappointment, Tenure, and Advancement" [PDF], Kingsborough Community College, July 2019."
  3. “Guidelines for Reappointment, Tenure, and Advancement" [PDF], Kingsborough Community College, July 2019,” p. 3
  4. Brandle, S. (2018). Opening up to OERs: Electronic original sourcebook versus traditional textbook in the Introduction to American Government courseJournal of Political Science Education.
  5. Brandle, S. M. (2019). Games, movies, and zombies: Making IR fun for everyone. Journal of Political Science Education.
  6. There are too many people within and beyond CUNY who have shared with me, inspired me, and helped me reach tenure to recognize them all individually in this piece, but I must mention Stacy Katz as both a major benefit of my open education work and a major contributor to it. As we work on different campuses in different boroughs, in completely different disciplines, it is unlikely that we would ever meet, yet OER brought us together. Since then, she has become a trusted friend, sounding board, co-presenter of numerous workshops, and coauthor on two papers.
  7. Brandle, Shawna M., Beck, Sheila, Beth, Amy, Brancaccio-Taras, Loretta, Cooney, Caileen, DiSanto, Jacqueline M., Hays, Anne, Katz, Stacy, Miles, Linda, & Morrison, Abigail. (2019). “CUNY ZTC student survey.”
  8. Brandle, S., Katz, S., Hays, A., Beth, A., Cooney, C., DiSanto, J., Miles, L., & Morrison, A. (2019). But what do the students think: Results of the CUNY cross-campus zero textbook cost student survey. Open Praxis, 11(1), 85.
  9. Brandle, S. M. (2022). The book costs how much??? Textbook cost & OER awareness in political science, Journal of Political Science Education; and Brandle, S. M. (2020). It’s (not) in the reading: American government textbooks’ limited representation of historically marginalized groups. PS: Political Science & Politics, 53(4), 734–740, which was inspired by the conference presentation of an early draft of Tolley, Erin. (2020). “Hidden in plain sight: The representation of immigrants and minorities in political science textbooks.” International Journal of Canadian Studies.
  10. Interested in a Community College Career? Dr. Shawna Brandle Talks about Her Experiences at Kingsborough Community College
  11. It is important to acknowledge the ludicrosity of this oft-repeated statement. I could not exclude it, as it is both common and helpful advice for most scholars seeking tenure and promotion. However, it is a major indicator that the tenure and promotion system has many mismatched incentives if spending too much time on teaching (which is between 25 and 80 percent of the workload of many tenure-track positions) is an actual concern.


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Valuing OER in the Tenure, Promotion, and Reappointment Process Copyright © 2024 by Shawna M. Brandle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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