Advocating DIE: “ It’s taken decades for us to get to a place where most people agree that the academy is not the objective, level playing field we all hoped it would be”

Beth Mitchneck and Jessi L. Smith

That hegemonic, numbers-crunching conceptualization of merit in the American academy today stifles innovation and constitutes one of the main techniques of maintaining the status quo and reproducing the social order that undermines efforts toward DEI. We are not the first to point this out, of course, but thinking about merit as embedded in the system helps us focus on change strategies.

In the academy, we have been using the same metrics to assess merit in annual performance and promotion reviews for eons, despite the fact that our work lives and expectations have changed significantly over the last half a century. For example, the advent of the internet has meant that, at a minimum, many new outlets for and forms of scholarship should be part of the reward structure.

The missions of our colleges and universities have also changed substantially. Today, most of our academic missions include public engagement, student success and DEI. Yet those mission-critical activities rarely receive adequate attention in the assessment of merit. As we know, if a new scholar actually follows the mission of the institution, the majority of her daily work will not “count” toward promotion and tenure.