The Evaluation of Faculty in Creative Specialties for Promotion and Tenure
An official policy statement of the University Film and Video Association
Consideration for academic promotion and tenure traditionally involves an evaluation of a faculty member’s contribution in each of three areas: teaching, research/creative activity, and service. Since procedures and standards for evaluation of teaching and service are generally well-established at most institutions, the focus of this statement is on the procedures and standards for evaluation of research/creative activity.
Creative work should be fully accepted as part of the faculty evaluation process when such work is appropriate to both faculty specialization and teaching load. Just as the primary professional contributions of a faculty member teaching media history should be expected to be in the form of published scholarship, so the primary professional contributions of a faculty member specializing in a creative area should be expected to be in one or more of the areas of creative production.
The fine arts have clearly established a precedent for the consideration of creative work as a part of the evaluation process for promotion and tenure. Exhibitions of paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, etc. are accepted as evidence of professional contributions in the visual arts. Musical compositions and reviews of recitals and solo performances are accepted in the field of music. Creative writing, direction and design of plays, choreography, and dance performances are likewise accepted as evidence of faculty contributions in other creative fields. The same should be true of creative work by a film or video faculty member.
Comparison between Criteria for Evaluating Creative Work and Criteria for Evaluating Traditional Scholarship
In order for traditional scholarship to be acceptable evidence in support of promotion and tenure, that scholarship must be disseminated and evaluated by experts in the field. The same is true of creative work in film and video.
Dissemination and evaluation of traditional scholarship is usually accomplished by means of publication. Over the years a fairly clear set of criteria have evolved for the evaluation of publications, which are ordinarily books or articles. The value and importance of a particular book can be determined by the prestige of the publisher, the prepublication comments of peer reviewers, and post-publication reviews in scholarly journals.
Articles are often judged on the basis of the reputation of the journal in which they appear. Articles in refereed journals are given more weight than articles in non-refereed journals. Journals, refereed or not, are rated on the basis of their reputations, the reputations of their editors and peer evaluators, and their acceptance rate. Invitations to a faculty member to write particular pieces for a journal can be viewed as recognition of that faculty member’s status within a specialization.
Creative work in film and video can be disseminated and evaluated in a similar way, although the process of dissemination and evaluation is less well-developed and less well-understood by some within the academic community.
Review of Film and Video: Initial Considerations
Dissemination of scholarly work typically is accomplished by means of publication in articles, books, and, less frequently, monographs. Completed creative work in film and video consists of products whose forms have a greater variety in length than is found in printed materials. A faculty member might be involved in the production of a feature-length dramatic film, a half-hour documentary, a three-minute animated work, or a work of some other type and length; many possibilities exist. The length of a finished work is significant but not indicative of the effort required to complete it. A short experimental video piece or a multi-media production might require even more time and effort to create than a relatively straightforward hour-long documentary. When peers evaluate film or video work, it is important that they determine the probable difficulty of particular projects. Their task is analogous to that of judging the importance of a multi-year horizontal study in the social sciences; such a study might require many years of effort, yet result in an article of only modest length.
Instances of joint authorship occur in traditional scholarship. In such cases it is necessary to establish the contribution made by each author, if the work is included in a promotion or tenure dossier. Film and video works are frequently, although not always, collaborative endeavors. Thus, it is extremely important to know what role a faculty member played on a particular production. In many cases, the faculty member will have had total responsibility for the production. In other cases, his/her role might have been that of writer, editor, etc. It is appropriate to give varying levels of credit for varying levels of responsibility. In cases of shared responsibility, it is best to rely on experts in the field to determine the relative importance of each individual’s contribution.
Dissemination of Film and Video Works
Public showings of a film or video work to informed audiences should be considered dissemination of the work, equivalent to that of scholarly publication. This is similar to the traditional acceptance of a music recital performed for a knowledgeable audience as the equivalent of publication.
Certain forms of film and video can be adjudicated in festival competitions. Many festivals have rigorous selection procedures for inclusion of films and tapes within their programs. Selection of a faculty member’s creative work for showing at a festival that has a good reputation can be considered indicative of the quality of the work. Festivals can be of local, regional, national, or international importance. Because the reputation of festivals is not static, it is important for the current reputation of a pertinent festival to be specified in any promotion and tenure dossier.
The quality of a film or video work may be partially indicated by any festival awards or prizes that have been bestowed upon it. Festival awards and prizes are evidence of a positive competitive judgment about the quality of the work. In evaluating the importance of a festival award or prize, it is important to consider the current reputation of a festival at which it was received.
Some academic associations schedule screenings based on a preconvention evaluation of submitted works. Selection for screening can be considered an indicator of quality, provided the current reputation and procedures of the association are known.
The merit of a film or video work may be indicated by its having been televised. It might be shown on commercial and/or public television, and might be aired on cable systems. Greater weight is often given to works selected for network presentation than to those carried only locally. In all cases, it is important to consider the level at which the work has had public exposure. It must be acknowledged that television showings are not equally accessible to all types of work.
Sometimes museums, media arts centers, and universities schedule invited presentations, often including oral presentations by the filmmakers or videomakers. The prestige of such invitational showings varies, of course, depending upon the importance of the institution and the rigor of the selection process.
It should be noted that multiple showings of the same film are not the equivalent of reprints of a scholarly work. In the case of reprints of books or articles, the original printing is often still available through libraries. Reprinting of an article is primarily for the convenience of the readers of a particular periodical. There is generally no such easy access to media works; thus, in most circumstances each showing of a media work makes the production available to a new, previously inaccessible audience.
Film and video works may be disseminated through distribution agencies and companies, although this system is considerably less comprehensive than the equivalent dissemination of published scholarly works. Some distributors are highly selective, and the inclusion of a faculty member’s work within their inventories can be considered an indication of quality. However, most film and video distributors are commercial, and the exclusion of a faculty member’s work from such distribution is not necessarily an indication that it has little or no artistic or social value. It must be remembered that faculty works must compete for distribution with works produced by individuals whose careers are exclusively dedicated to creative film and video production.
Sources of Written Evaluations of Film and Video Works
Meaningful reviews of faculty creative work appear in scholarly and professional publications, library media publications, and even, in some cases, newspapers. In evaluating such reviews, the status of the reviewer and the reputation of the periodical are important.
Some professional associations, including the University Film and Video Association, regularly provide written evaluations of works selected for showing at their conventions. The judges of some festivals also will provide written critiques, if requested.
Letters evaluating a faculty member’s work can be requested from responsible individuals at museums, media centers, colleges and universities, and other institutions at which the work has been shown. As in the case of scholarly reviews, it is important to consider the reputation of the individual or institution contributing the evaluation.
The Evaluation of Professors of Screenwriting (1)
At the outset, it must be recognized that screenwriting is a worthy artistic and academic endeavor in and of itself, and that scripts have intrinsic value whether or not they are produced as films, for television, or for other media form. Scripts selected for production might be chosen for their own merit, but it is equally possible for a script to be chosen based on its perceived target audience, availability of funding, or support of a well-known celebrity, among many possible factors. A script might be re-written by someone other than the original writer before it is produced. Or an optioned script may not ever get made. Thus, the fate of a screenplay is not necessarily a reflection of its quality or the skill with which it is written.
Further, the timelines of commercial productions are seldom aligned with schedules of the academic world. There are famous anecdotes about scripts being made into successful films ten, fifteen, and even twenty years after they were originally written. This is far in excess of the length of time professors of screenwriting have available in order to prove the value of their work before being subjected to the tenure and promotion process.
As with all creative projects, scripts must be disseminated and evaluated as part of the promotion and tenure process.
Though less visible in the world of commercial film, short film scripts also merit inclusion here, provided they are disseminated and evaluated as described below.
Dissemination of Screenwriting
The possibilities for the dissemination of faculty screenwriting projects include the following:
- Distribution of scripts to peer screenwriting professors at other universities for reading and evaluation
- Distribution of scripts to professional organizations that include script evaluation sessions and/or partial or complete script readings among their activities
- Distribution of scripts to organizations for possible production
- Readings by local and regional groups, provided selection of material is based on a jury or panel decision rather than mere proximity to the writer
- Publication of scripts in whole or in part. Publication possibilities might include the following:
- Selection for existing or future print publications of the University Film and Video Association
- Selection for other print publications
- Selection for media publications of professional organizations
- Internet publication where allowed by institutional regulations
It must be noted that the possibilities for publication of scripts are extremely limited relative to the number of scripts completed each year. In no case should a college or university require that a script be published in order to validate its use as an accomplishment in promotion and tenure cases.
Evaluation of Screenwriting
Sources for the evaluation of the work of screenwriting professors include the following:
- Peer reviews written by screenwriting professors at other colleges and universities: This might be completed for individual works or a body of writing.
- Peer review of scripts by the University Film and Video Association: The Association uses a blind selection process to select the scripts chosen for review at each annual conference. A peer reviewer produces a written review, and, in addition, the public discussion that follows the formal review can be recorded and/or transcribed.
- Screenwriting awards of merit by professional organizations: Using a blind review process, expert judges would normally select a limited number of scripts for recognition
- Reviews by industry professionals in situations in which institutions allow such reviews, and in the event that the industry professionals are sufficiently aware of the goals of the promotion and tenure process in academe.
- Optioning or actual production of scripts by recognized professional production companies; optioning indicates sufficient merit in a script to warrant a commitment.
- Published reviews in print or media format: These might include but would not be limited to print reviews that appear in the Journal of Film and Video, and reviews that appear in the DVD issues of the same periodical.
- Screenplay competitions that screenwriting professors are eligible to enter: In many instances, individuals who have already earned income as a professional writer may be ineligible to compete.
- Selection for competitive writing residencies, writing fellowships, and/or screenwriting awards or grants.
Quality vs. Quantity in Screenwriting
The number of scripts a professor produces may be an irrelevant consideration. The number of scripts often is not indicative of the effort, care, and talent needed to produce them. Of far greater importance is the challenge posed to the writer by the project, the degree of originality demonstrated, the depth of the work, and the skill with which it is executed. As with any artistic creative endeavor, a scriptwriter produces multiple drafts before arriving at a manuscript ready for submission and dissemination; thus "one” screenplay is the result of numerous versions.
Because of the complexities of the process of dissemination and evaluation of screenwriting, the University Film and Video Association recommends that a panel of three to five faculty experts be used in all cases involving the promotion or tenure of screenwriting professors. In some cases, an industry professional might also be included on such a panel.
Media production is inherently expensive. Thus it is not infrequent for a faculty member to be involved in seeking in support for creative work. This can be a time-consuming process, which requires clear written articulation of creative goals and methods. Credit should be given in the promotion and tenure process for the seeking of grants as well as for any grants received.
When a faculty member’s creative work is presented at a university, a festival, or an association conference, it is usual for the faculty member to introduce the work and to respond to any subsequent questions, comments, and criticisms. Although such a presentation is difficult to document, it should be considered the equivalent of the presentation of scholarly papers for peer critique in academic settings.
It must be noted that there are certain types of creative works for which appropriate means of dissemination and evaluation have not yet been devised. Multi-image pieces and some types of experimental work fall into this category. In such cases, it is necessary to rely on peer evaluations to establish the value and importance of faculty creative work.
It is fairly usual for faculty members within a department to evaluate the creative output of their colleagues as part of the promotion and tenure process. It is increasingly common, and indeed essential in a relatively new field such as film and video, for a panel of outside evaluators to be established for the purpose of examining creative work. It is important that the evaluators should be knowledgeable about, and sympathetic toward the type of creative work completed by the faculty member who is being considered for promotion and tenure. For instance, an evaluator whose sole interest is narrative film should not be asked to evaluate an experimental video work. In some cases an institution might wish to include professionals from the media industry on an outside evaluation panel. It must be remembered, however, that media professionals may not be attuned to the requirements of the promotion and tenure process.
THE UNIVERSITY FILM AND VIDEO ASSOCIATION STANDS READY TO ASSIST INSTITUTIONS OR INDIVIDUALS IN THE SELECTION OF OUTSIDE EVALUATORS, THROUGH THE OFFICE OF ITS PRESIDENT.
Compiled by Peter J. Bukalski from material submitted by Richard M. Blumenberg, Raymond E. Fielding, Ben Levin, Calvin Pryluck, Mimi White, and Donald J. Zirpola
(1) The material on screenwriting was added to the original statement in 2008 and was compiled from discussions of the Script Caucus of the University Film and Video Association and approved by the Officers and Board of Directors 3/26/08.