University of British Columbia: Recognizing Open in Promotion and Tenure

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Driven by student government advocacy, one university's change to its promotion and tenure guide highlights an important way institutions can incentivize open practices and provide a model for others to follow.

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Last year, the University of British Columbia (UBC) made a giant leap in the support of open education: the inclusion of language recognizing open educational resources (OER) in the institution's "Guide to Reappointment, Promotion and Tenure Procedures at UBC." Driven by effective student government advocacy, this change highlights the importance of tenure and promotion as a way for institutions to incentivize open practices and will hopefully provide a model for others to follow.

Daniel Munro, former associate vice president, Academic and University Affairs, at the Alma Mater Society  of UBC Vancouver (AMS), led the charge. The idea to include open education in UBC's promotion and tenure guide came from trying to figure out how UBC could incentivize faculty to adopt open practices. Since faculty have many demands on their time and various important campus initiatives already competing for their attention, the student-led society sought ways to make open education stand out. The president of UBC's Faculty Association at the time was eager to speak to the AMS about this issue, as his department was ahead of the curve when it came to open practices. He explained the restructuring of the guide that had taken place in the past several years, which had introduced the Educational Leadership tenure stream and listed various activities faculty might adopt as evidence of such leadership. He advised the students in the AMS to expose this particular group of faculty to the idea of adopting open practices and using them as evidence of educational leadership in the promotion and tenure process. The AMS decided to advocate for the addition of open educational resources to the examples of Educational Leadership activities listed in the guide.

This proved to be a good approach. Given that the requested change was small, UBC was more open to the idea, but even this small change had the potential to make a huge impact. On one hand, the AMS was merely proposing the addition of an example—not suggesting changes to the promotion and tenure process itself or proposing that Educational Leadership faculty necessarily adopt open practices. The hope was that the proposal would not be met with significant institutional opposition. On the other hand, the change would allow for open education to be featured in a high-profile and influential guide. Promotion and tenure processes influence the way in which faculty structure their careers, and this addition to the guide helps make open education a concrete, institutionally recognized means to achieve their professional goals.

It was essential to the AMS that advocacy come primarily from students, since it could be seen as self-serving to come from faculty already engaged in open education. They wanted to show that students themselves see open education as an extremely important way to improve learning—a method that is at least as important as the other examples of educational leadership already included in the guide. The AMS contacted the chair of the Senior Appointments Committee, the committee responsible for updating the guide each year, and requested a meeting to discuss the proposal. Before doing that, the Student Society reviewed the guide for every section that could potentially include some mention of open education and drafted an example of what that wording could look like. This was not meant as a proposal of specific wording, since that would be up to the committee; rather, the goal was to put together a tangible general proposal to show how simple it would be to implement and to make it as seamless as possible for the committee to identify relevant sections of the guide. The committee chair was very receptive to the message and proposal, and she agreed to bring the suggestion up with the committee during its annual process of guide revisions.

As a result of the persistence and suggestions of the AMS, open educational resources are now listed as a type of evidence that candidates in this stream can present for evaluation, which creates a way for faculty to receive formal recognition for engaging in OER activities. The new OER language applies to UBC's Educational Leadership Stream for promotion and tenure, which evaluates candidates based on "activity taken at UBC and elsewhere to advance innovation in teaching and learning with impact beyond one's classroom."

Excerpt from the "Guide to Reappointment, Promotion and Tenure Procedures at UBC":

Evidence of educational leadership is required for tenure/promotion in the Educational Leadership stream…. It can include, but is not limited to…Contributions to the practice and theory of teaching and learning literature, including publications in peer-reviewed and professional journals, conference publications, book chapters, textbooks and open education repositories/resources.

The University of British Columbia is paving the way for other institutions and demonstrating a strong commitment to open education. Among the informal scholarly culture of teaching and learning, junior faculty will hopefully now be encouraged to explore open educational practices and senior colleagues may look for this type of evidence when assessing the quality and impact of others' teaching. These changes create a way for faculty to formally be recognized for engaging in OER activities. More importantly, students will directly benefit from the greater commitment to open educational practices.

Brady Yano is a Research and Communications Officer at the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and previously served as Assistant Director of Open Education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.

Daniel Munro, currently a graduate student at the University of Toronto, previously served as Associate Vice President, Academic and University Affairs, at the Alma Mater Society of UBC Vancouver.

Amanda Coolidge is the Senior Manager of Open Education at BCcampus.

© 2018 Brady Yano, Daniel Munro, and Amanda Coolidge. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY 4.0 International License.