Andrew McKinney

Why Tenure, Promotion, and Reappointment?

If you have been a part of the field of Open Educational Resources (OER) for any length of time, you’ve likely come up against a very basic problem: how do we incentivize faculty to adopt, adapt, or create OER. The easiest (although not always easy) answer is “with money.” Monetary incentives for OER work is largely the field standard. However, a two-fold question arises fairly quickly for anyone looking to build an OER program: what if we don’t have any money or run out of it and what if money isn’t enough to incentivize faculty? It’s a response to those questions that animates much of this volume. Lacking money or faculty motivation, how do we build culture around OER at our institutions? The answer for many of us in the field is through the inclusion of OER work into the standards of tenure, promotion, and reappointment. As has been encountered by countless OER practitioners, however, the work that they do is not immediately or obviously relevant in their journey towards job security or promotion. So, how do we make it relevant?

This volume is the most recent of many attempts by Driving Open Educational Resrouces for Sustainable Student Success (DOERS3) to address this question. DOERS3 is a collaborative of 36 public higher education systems and state or province wide organizations that are committed to supporting student success by promoting free, customizable OER. Members of DOERS3 divide themselves into three working groups: Research, Equity, and Capacity Building. DOERS3’s work on tenure and promotion has come out of the Capacity Building group, whose charge has been to address persistent obstacles to the sustainability of OER programs. As a group, we chose to work on the issue of tenure, promotion, and reappointment because of the volume of questions we were seeing at our own institutions and in the field writ large that asked for guidance for OER practitioners as they navigated the tenure, promotion, and reappointment process.

Initially, we thought about a number of approaches. We could draft a model policy that institutions could adopt. However, there weren’t many policies at the time that included OER in their tenure and promotion guidelines that we could build on and we had some reservations about the kind of top-down guidance this would represent. We also thought about creating a model “dear colleague” type of letter that provosts and deans could use to advise departments and faculty that OER work should be valued when making personnel decisions. This also felt top down and potentially not very effective given what we understood to be a process mostly governed by departments.

Given our reservations about more top-down approaches, we settled on the idea of creating a tool that faculty could use to translate their OER work to the existing standards of tenure, promotion, and reappointment (a big theme in this volume). In our initial conversations about this work, Deepak Shenoy, Amanda Coolidge, and I struggled to understand the best approach. With the help of the folks at The ScholCommLab’s Review, Tenure, Promotion project, we were able to get access to a large collection of RTP documents from all over North America. Review of this corpus gave us the sense that our instincts towards a bottom-up approach were warranted especially given the wide array of standards we saw in the RTP documents, not just across university types but within schools themselves.

With that in mind, we settled on what we came to call the OER Contributions Matrix (see Appendix A). In the matrix we have list a variety of types of OER work (adoption, adaptation, and creation, along with other types of work like improving learning and building community) and try to map that work to the three most common categories of tenure and promotion dossiers: research, teaching, and service. Our initial draft of the matrix had just the work and categories, but after some feedback from faculty, we added an evidence column that suggested how you would document the work you were doing and justify its inclusion in a given category. We tried to keep the categories, work, and evidence as abstract as possible so that it could apply to as many institutions as possible and we openly licensed the work so that it was clear that our intent was for people to remix it for their particular contexts.

Upon release, Amanda Coolidge and I wrote a couple of short articles for Inside Higher Ed and the New England Board of Higher Education’s “Practitioner’s Perspective” blog and gave numerous presentations at conferences and showcases to socialize the matrix with the OER community. The response has been tremendous. You’ll see several remixes in this volume but it’s worth highlighting two adaptation not in this volume. First, a great remix from Oregon that adds a column for examples of how faculty in Oregon have included their OER work in the tenure and promotion dossiers. Second, a translation of the matrix into French done by the Canadian Association of Research Libraries’ Open Education Working Group. This is the type of work we envisioned when we created the matrix.

However, as we presented at conferences, fielded questions about the matrix, and saw how people were remixing it, two major things stood out.  First, what we envisioned initially as a bottom-up tool for faculty to use while they narrated their work in their individual dossiers was being used at a multitude of levels on campuses and across systems. It was clear that this issue was resonating at the policy and culture building level and that administrators and other supporters of OER were looking for guidance. Second, faculty in Oregon weren’t the only ones who wanted to see examples of how people were talking about their OER work in their dossiers. Time and time again, when we presented the matrix or spoke with folks interested in using it they asked for examples. The matrix addresses the need for a tool to help people think through the translation of OER work to the standards of their institutions but the necessary abstract nature left people wanting for more narrative. So, with the help of a grant from the Hewlett Foundation and support from the whole DOERS3 Capacity Building Work Group,  this volume came to be.

Why Case Studies?

Aside from the obvious pedagogical value that a case study has (clear structure, not too long, emphasis on actions taken and results achieved) and the clear desire the field had for concrete examples, a major reason we decided on this format was the influence of Marking Open and Affordable Courses: Best Practices and Case Studies, a guide that I personally refer to on a regular basis and resonates with everyone in the OER community who uses or wants to use course marking at their campus. In the spirit of Marking Open and Affordable Courses, we wanted to create a resource that people could come back to and would help guide them as they navigated the tenure, promotion, and reappointment process or tried to change culture or policy at their institution to value OER.

Casting a wide net as we solicited case studies, we wanted to hear from faculty who were at any stage of their career, from administrators supporting OER, from librarians (faculty status or not). We wanted to hear success stories and lessons learned from failure. We wanted to hear from community colleges, regional comprehensives, and R1s. The response we got did this and more. This volume contains 27 case studies from faculty, librarians, and administrators at a broad range of college and universities who are working through the tenure, promotion, and reappointment process themselves, supporting others as they do so, or both. All of the case studies went through an open peer review process, a process we know from several of the case studies themselves is essential to legitimate OER work as valuable.

The case studies in this volume could have been organized in a variety of ways: by college type, by job description, by type of intervention. The organization settled upon, however, was faculty narratives about their process, narratives of policy and culture change, and a section dedicated to case studies all from one university, Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia. A number of case studies could have been in either of the first two sections as so many of the authors here occupy dual roles at their campuses as both faculty and as support people for others doing OER work. A significant theme across the sections is the way that those in both support roles and faculty roles find that advocating for the value of the OER work of even one person has network effects across an institution. Faculty who do OER work and attain tenure become advocates for others doing the same; seeing someone go through the tenure and promotion process gives administrators data for what resonated with committees and what didn’t; and committees themselves become educated as to how to understand OER work. But, this wasn’t the only theme that arose out of these case studies.

Major Themes

Mapping activities to a standard

Just as we attempted with the OER Contributions Matrix, a recurring strategy and recommendation is to map your OER work to some kind of standard. This might be your college’s strategic plan or mission. It might be the (hopefully clear and documented) standards and categories of your department or college’s tenure and promotion guidelines. It might be something outside the campus like the UN’s sustainable development goals. Either way, by mapping your work to accepted and supported standards at your institution, you are doing some of the work of translation that many of the case study authors pointed to as one of the primary labors that OER practitioners and administrators needed to do in order for their work to be intelligible to decision makers. Multiple authors talk about the difficulties they had getting campus administrators and their colleagues on tenure and promotion committees to actually understand both what OER work is and also how that work would fit into their institution’s goals and standards.  There are numerous examples of this translation work throughout the studies collected here.

Keeping track and measuring impact

A common recommendation for faculty, wherever they are in their careers, is to track the amount of work they’re putting into their OER efforts and to gauge the impact that work has beyond themselves. This is good general advice for all faculty regardless of their level of involvement in OER, but it is especially important for faculty engaged in OER to track their time and engagement so as to help make their work commensurate to more traditional academic labors. In addition, after the work of adoption, adaptation, or creation is done gauging its impact is also important. Multiple authors argue the digital nature of most OER and the platforms that serve them can be leveraged relatively easily to help decision makers understand the reach of the work. An essential aspect of OER is its ability to travel and keeping track of your work’s journey into other classrooms and campuses is invaluable as you argue for its significance.

The scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL)

Adopting, adapting, or creating OER is often seen as outside the category of research. However, as a majority of the authors point out, assessing the impact on learning that your use or creation of OER has had in your classroom can easily become research. SOTL is increasingly recognized as valuable research across the disciplines and comes up again and again in this volume as a viable strategy for making OER work count as research, often the most heavily weighted of categories. Folding your OER activity into SOTL projects can also bridge the gap between teaching and research. Researching your work’s impact on learning can apply to individual faculty as an effective strategy but also could be leveraged as a culture building strategy as well where administrators and staff at Centers for Teaching and Learning or faculty or staff in libraries can hold workshops or convene SOTL researchers to seed interest in doing OER SOTL projects. The more SOTL research into OER there is, the better that is for OER.


Networking is another strategy that appears in many forms here. Networking within your campus, within the field of OER, and within your discipline to find others doing OER. At the faculty level, networking gets you a higher profile, showing how your work impacts the field more broadly but also helping you recruit outside reviewers for your tenure case. For culture builders, networking outside your institution exposes you to different approaches and networking inside your institution build more institutional knowledge of OER and creates for less translation work for the faculty practitioners. For everyone, networking creates opportunities to share your work and learn about the work of others but also to connect and collaborate.

Legitimization strategies

Mapping work to standards and measuring the reach and impact aren’t the only strategies suggested for making OER work read as legitimate academic work.  For those looking to build a culture around OER at their campuses , the OER (sub)committee is a common theme. Not only do committees set up a space and model for collaboration but they also signal to the community that there is support for the idea of OER across the campus. Internal grants for OER adoption, adaptation, and creation is another important strategy that many in this volume argue has been vital to their colleagues understanding OER work as both valued by the institution but also as commensurate activity with research and innovative teaching practice. Similarly, the use of awards and letters to officially recognize OER faculty is a proven strategy to legitimize both the honored faculty but also the idea of OER in the eyes of colleagues.

Sharing Resources

As a field, we value sharing across the board and this is no different in the T&P discussion. A major theme across throughout this volume is an emphasis on the transparency that sharing materials can create. This includes faculty who are going through their tenure process sharing their tenure and promotion dossier so that others can see how they talked about their OER work, administrators and staff creating and sharing resources that demystify the tenure and promotion process, and researchers compiling and analyzing the tenure and promotion criteria from the departments on their campus to see who does and doesn’t mention open or OER. Hopefully, readers can see this volume as another instance of this type of resource sharing that contribute to the transparency of opaque processes.

Things missing

Although this project yielded a robust and diverse set of case studies that should benefit the field for years to come, it’s worth noting some of the things that are missing.


Readers may notice the lack of adjunct faculty in this volume. According to the American Federation of Teacher’s 2020 “Army of Temps” report , nearly 75% of instructional workers in US higher education are non-tenure track employees, the vast majority of which are part time. In our request for proposals (RFP) we tried to make it clear that this collection was for everyone: full time tenure track faculty, non-tenure track faculty, part time faculty, librarians (many of whom have faculty status), administrators, staff members, etc. Case study authors were paid for their time and we made that clear in the RFP. However, we did not have any responses from adjunct faculty. Why this happened is something I’ve mulled over quite a bit. It’s hard to reach adjuncts due to contingent nature of their employment so perhaps we just didn’t reach enough people with the RFP. It has also been my personal experience as an adjunct and as an administrator that the terms of adjunct employment can be extremely arbitrary and that no matter the quality or volume of work an adjunct produces, reappointment can hinge on budgetary and enrollment factors more than anything. Hence, an adjunct being reappointed on the strength of their OER work might not be a very common occurrence. The foregrounding of “tenure and promotion” in our communications about the project might also have made adjuncts assume the project was not relevant to them. Regardless of the reason, the lack of adjunct representation amongst the case studies is troubling and cause for reflection.

Very few university-wide policies

Amongst the many successful stories collected here, there are very few university wide policies that include OER in tenure, promotion, or reappointment guidelines.  Although this is a significant missing link in the process of building a sustainable culture around OER at a campus, it is clear that the lack of university-wide policies has not stopped folks from organizing from below. It could be argued that the lack of university-wide policy has animated many in their culture building and individual struggles for recognition. An optimistic read of the situation is that this lack is merely an expression of how much room for growth we still have for a field. A slightly more pessimistic read of the situation is that changing university policy is so difficult in some institutions that it’s better to concentrate on departmental level politics and hope to build your culture from below. Either way, university-wide policy that includes OER in tenure and promotion guidelines is notably absent from the vast majority of stories here.

Not a lot of finished stories

The lack of policies above might also just be explained by this last missing element. A major theme across these case studies is that of unfinished work. Partially, this just mirrors how OER itself are very rarely finished products. The field of OER places an emphasis on iterative work and continuous improvement. Culture building is also not a linear process. As we deal with new developments in academia (new trends in ed tech, changing fiscal environments) and with rapid turnover in administrations, it can be hard to maintain consistent momentum. However, if we can understand this work not as “unfinished” but as “in progress” we can see this collection as a series of stories meant to guide us only part of the way. As OER are iterative and in a constant state of revision toward improvement, so is the process of legitimizing it as a field and practice.



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

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