In light of the frequent campus climate issues of recent years, many of us in higher education have been thinking about inherent biases in our institutions’ appointment, promotion and tenure systems. How might faculty of color and women be systematically thwarted when they try to move up the academic labor market? One fundamental way such biases manifest themselves is how academe gives credit for single-author and multiple-author journal article publications.
In my field of economics, the number of authors per paper has increased monotonically over time. … [I]f departments do not distinguish between single-authored and co-authored journal articles, it is easier to increase the number of publications with co-authors.
When I talk with faculty members of color, they express a concern about this practice of co-authoring papers. They tell me that it is harder for faculty of color to find co-authors. In many ways, finding a co-author is like finding a spouse. We tend to marry people who look like ourselves. Tall people tend to marry other tall people. Educated people tend to marry other educated people. White people tend to marry other white people. There are similar patterns with co-authors. They tend to have ties to the same graduate schools. They have interests in the same subfields. And faculty members of color tend to write with other faculty of color. But with fewer faculty of color in academe, it is harder for those scholars to find appropriate co-authors.
Unfortunately, while the practice of co-authoring articles creates a bias against faculty of color, we can do little to change the situation immediately. If we can increase the number of faculty members of color in higher education, that will help, but it will take some time.
For today, we must focus on being careful about properly crediting the work in co-authored journal articles when we evaluate faculty members. While single-author papers send a clear signal about skills and abilities of the author, co-authored papers do not provide specific information about each author’s skills and abilities. That ambiguity can result in systematic biases. We must make sure that we recognize the work of co-authors in a fair and consistent way. …