University of Rochester

Report Promotes New Ways to Consider Tenure in English, Foreign Languages

December 11, 2006

English professor Morris Eaves served on national task force

Academics in higher education should have more options to "publish or perish," according to a wide-ranging national report that a University of Rochester professor helped prepare.

Professor of English Morris Eaves was one of seven task force members who spent two years researching and writing the report on "Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion" for the Modern Language Association.

"The task force was a response to several alarming symptoms of a 'crisis' in scholarly communication, which is tightly coordinated with life-and-death matters in our profession, like tenure and promotion," said Eaves. "After scrutinizing the role that publication—in all forms—is actually playing in the modern language disciplines, we concluded that there's a need for a broader, more diverse, and more balanced approach, better calibrated to realities of electronic communication and less obsessed with the printed monograph that has become the 'gold standard' for tenure in many departments."

The task force was formed by the Modern Language Association (MLA) to examine teaching and publication requirements for academic tenure. The group conducted surveys of more than 1,300 language and literature departments, interviewed senior administrators, received comments from association members, and consulted with other committees and organizations. The highly anticipated report can be found online at

Among the findings was an increased emphasis on publication for tenure and promotion at the same time that scholarly presses are facing decreased funding and libraries are cutting back on book purchases. While the task force made 20 recommendations on the tenure process ranging from mentoring to letters of recommendation, the report also called on the profession to consider and evaluate different forms of scholarly writing, including essays, book reviews, and new media production.

Eaves is a co-editor of a pioneering web site, the William Blake Archive (, which is considered a prototype for other humanities projects combining texts and images online. The site was created to showcase the words and images of the 18th-century British poet and artist, and features custom-designed programming that allows users to call up multiple screens, enlarge images, and obtain both descriptions of images and transcriptions of the sometimes heard-to-read original text. It is fully searchable by images as well as by text.

The Blake Archive was the first electronic publication to be awarded the MLA's Prize for a Distinguished Scholarly Edition and to earn the designation of "Approved Edition." It was also selected for inclusion in the archives of the Charles Babbage Institute, a major repository for information technology projects of historical significance.

Eaves is the recipient of the MLA's William Riley Parker Prize for his article "Blake and the Artistic Machine: An Essay in Decorum and Technology." He also received the Best Special Issue award from the Conference of Editors of Scholarly Journals for Romantic Texts, Romantic Times: Homage to David V. Erdman Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism. The author or editor of seven books, he is a Guggenheim Fellow, a National Humanities Center Fellow, and has received grants from the Getty Grant Program and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Modern Language Association, which has 30,000 members around the world, is the largest and one of the oldest American learned societies in the humanities.