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Editing Wikipedia Helps Professor Attain Tenure 139

Hugh Pickens writes "Lianna Davis writes in Watching the Watchers that Michel Aaij has won tenure in the Department of English and Philosophy at Auburn University Montgomery in Alabama in part because of the more than 60,000 edits ... he's written for Wikipedia. ... Aaij felt that his contributions to Wikipedia merited mention in his tenure portfolio and a few weeks before the portfolio was due two of his colleagues suggested, after they had heard him talk once or twice about the peer-review process for a Good Article, that he should include it under 'research' as well as 'service.'"
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Editing Wikipedia Helps Professor Attain Tenure

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  • Over 60,000? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @08:06AM (#35755716)
    Maybe this guy needs to list Editing Wikipedia as his primary job and Professor at Auburn University as his 2nd job?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Petrushka ( 815171 )

      Maybe this guy needs to list Editing Wikipedia as his primary job and Professor at Auburn University as his 2nd job?

      Perhaps, but I suspect this story says more about Auburn University Montgomery than it says about his research profile.

      I had never heard of Auburn University Montgomery before today; given the nature of this story, I don't expect ever to hear of it in any serious context again.

      • Re:Over 60,000? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @09:14AM (#35756204)

        at least he's probably doing better than most professors in terms of being useful to humanity in general.
        If his edits are even half decent then more people will read them and actually learn something than ever will from many entire departments.

        Most of them never write anything of worth which isn't behind a paywall.

        an expert contributing his time to an open and free store of knowledge should be lauded.

        It really is amusing though how threatened some professors feel about the whole idea of wikipedia-like systems.
        I had one a while back who was so bitter that he spent time just about every class ranting about how awful it was. "AND YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHO WRITES THESE THINGS!!" meanwhile one of his more gifted masters students is mugging away behind him and mouthing "me".

        On the other hand I had another professor who pointed the class towards a particular wiki entry(and a specific revision) which he'd read and considered to be extremely well written and without error which explained the subject material extremely clearly.

        • at least he's probably doing better than most professors in terms of being useful to humanity in general.

          I agree with that. The future of wikipedia, or sites like it, could serve to be a summary of a particular issue, and a portal into the most relevant peer-reviewed articles. This is an excellent example, [] and does a much better job of summaries the debate than any of the peer reviewed "scientific" articles in the field.

        • Unfortunately, for every "gifted Masters student" writing in Wikipedia there are three angry fourteen-year-olds focused like lasers on advancing some social agenda or another.

          • Unfortunately, for every "gifted Masters student" writing in Wikipedia there are three angry fourteen-year-olds focused like lasers on advancing some social agenda or another.

            Oops, ths software most of drop a word in your comment, let me fix that for you...

            ... there are three thousand angry fourteen-year-olds ...

      • by Moryath ( 553296 )

        Indeed. From what I've looked up of AUM's college rankings, "Secondary High School" would be a better description of it than "University."

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          As an Auburn University graduate (Auburn), I can assure you that Auburn University (Montgomery) is basically the 13th grade. Auburn is a fine public institution with a good Engineering school... I'm not sure what AUM is good at.

      • Maybe this guy gets points at good ole' AUM (I saw the moniker on Wikipedia) for spreading the name of such an obscure school (even to Alabamians). I mean, look at these "notable" people:

        John_Veres []

      • As someone who works in academia and has published a few peer-reviewed articles, I have no problem with his edits being considered "Service" -- after all, he's significantly assisting in the accumulation of knowledge.

        But "Research"? Wikipedia specifically forbids original research!
        • I took that to mean that his Wikipedia editing constituted research into "peer review", not that he did original research into the topic of the Wikipedia articles.
          • Maybe. But at my university, acting as a reviewer is still considered service, not research. Research only refers to original research, or published works for which you've been credited.
      • I had never heard of Auburn University Montgomery before today; given the nature of this story, I don't expect ever to hear of it in any serious context again.

        Maybe you forgot? Home of the Prof that censored Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain -- "The new edition's Alabama-based publisher, NewSouth books, says the development is a "bold move compassionately advocated" by the book's editor, Twain scholar Dr Alan Gribben of Auburn University, Montgomery." []

      • by Dabido ( 802599 )

        I had never heard of Auburn University Montgomery before today;

        Oh, come on. Everyones run into at least one of the 60,000 mentions they've had on Wikipedia at some time or another!!! :-)

    • Re:Over 60,000? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @09:08AM (#35756158)

      Ah... so most professors should list "Writing Books" and "Publishing Articles" and "Applying for Grants" as their primary job and "Professor" as their secondary jobs then.

      Somewhere below that they can put "actually teaching students instead of letting my grad students do it".

      • Oh man, my kingdom for a 'so funny but so true' mod right now :)

        • by WNight ( 23683 )

          That's actually an interesting idea for moderation. Instead of giving out open mod points all the time give people specific ones, like two 'overrated' and three 'funny'..

          But yes, sadly true.

    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      That's well OVER 9000 !
  • He makes a reference to wikipedia and gets tenure, but my lecturers threaten with the guillotine if I do the same!


    • "Department of English and Philosophy"

      That's the reason. You don't need to be an expert to make up your own interpretation of some literary works.

      • Obligatory: []
        • by Moryath ( 553296 )


          The second response is: the collaborative nature of the apparatus means that the right data tends to emerge, ultimately, even if there is turmoil temporarily as dichotomous viewpoints violently intersect. To which I reply: that does not inspire confidence. In fact, it makes the whole effort even more ridiculous. What you've proposed is a kind of quantum encyclopedia, where genuine data both exists and doesn't exist depending on the precise moment I rely upon your discordant fucking mob for m

  • And rightly so... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nick Fel ( 1320709 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @08:21AM (#35755794)
    If he's editing articles in his field, which will be a lot of people's first port of call when learning about it, then he's providing a valuable service to his discipline. If academics want Wikipedia to be a better and more accurate resource, they know what they can do about it...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Of course it doesn't actually matter, since any edit by anyone who isn't a 60000+ contributor will automatically be reverted. This is a one-off, with no long-term significance. Wikipedia is phenomenally hostile to anyone who isn't already an established part of the wikiscape.

      To boot, this appointment is almost certainly crooked, but that's a separate matter and has nothing to do with WP directly.

      • An edit by anyone who doesn't follow the policies and guidelines [] or makes an edit that makes an article worse will be reverted.


        • It appears that a lot of the reverters attempt to exert undue control over an article's text [] and give Wikipedia a bad name.
          • I haven't seen where this as occurred. People have tried to point me to articles where this happens, but all I see is people trying to keep an article good by reverting bad edits. I'm sure it does happen, but I haven't seen it. What I have seen is people who edit an article for years, participate in many discussions, hone and refine the article, and then when someone comes along and makes an edit that makes the article worse or reverses a decision that was made they revert the bad edit.
            • In my opinion, undue control over an article begins where a reverter neglects to leave an edit summary beyond the default "(Undid edit by X)" and/or fails to defend a revert on a talk page [].
            • by WNight ( 23683 )

              Deletionists, especially notability trolls, are the ones who ruin things. Their entire purpose could be solved with an appropriate template such as "Warning - this page is about a very obscure subject, you may want the disambiguation page instead." or "This page's quality is ranked 'Horrible' - if you know about this topic please help fix it."

              And instead they run around deleting things others, actual contributors, have done.

          • by Moryath ( 553296 )

            You nailed it.

            Here's how wikipedia really works []. I've found this to be an incredibly helpful resource in understanding the mentality of the behavior of people on Wikipedia.

            Remember: Wikipedia is about keeping people away to most wikipedians. They see their site as always "under attack." If consensus is changing on an article, they want to STOP that - so they need to get the newcomers to either leave on their own, or ban them. If 10 new editors show on the article over time and all stay, that could cause con

            • Wikipedia edits are not based on consensus. They are based on providing a citation to a reliable source that verifies the information []. If you make such an edit that follows those guidelines and it gets reverted, there are policies in place to resolve the dispute. I have used these, and the disputes do get resolved. More often than not, however, the dispute is resolved by the person who is not following the rules slinking away and complaining about how unfair Wikipedia is. For example, when an article doesn'
              • by Moryath ( 553296 )


                Wikipedia edits are not based on consensus. They are based on providing a citation to a reliable source that verifies the information []. If you make such an edit that follows those guidelines and it gets reverted, there are policies in place to resolve the dispute.

                Just try to actually follow them as a "new editor" (e.g. less than thousands on thousands of edits proving you have no fucking life outside of Wikipedia). What you'll find in practice is that you are immediately accused of b

              • If you make such an edit that follows those guidelines and it gets reverted, there are policies in place to resolve the dispute.

                Except that there will be a discussion to come to consensus where you will argue with the same Wikipedia clique, have your replies marked with an indicator that states you have few or no edits on Wikipedia and therefore anything you say can be ignored, and then "consensus" will be arbitrated by another douchebag from the same pool that reverted your edits in the first place.

                In reality, most of us realize that this does not happen in a majority of cases. But if you even hit a few percentage points, by the

                • by Moryath ( 553296 )

                  Wikipedia is its own Catch-22.

                  If you are a new editor and you take the time to read the various policies, procedures, manuals of style, etc and then start editing, you will immediately be accused of being a "sockpuppet of someone" because your "edits betray a familiarity with wikipedia."

                  Then, the witch hunt will begin. Eventually they'll decide whose "sockpuppet" they want to call you, ban you without benefit of any way to clear your name or argue against their behavior, and that's that.

                  On the other hand, i

      • by AJH16 ( 940784 ) *

        Hostile much? I have under 4000 edits, almost all of them vandalism removal related and any time I make a content update, it sticks. Even when I was much lower in edits they stuck and I was actively encouraged to edit more with constructive edits than simple removal of obvious vandalism. Did you source your edits? Non-grammatical edits without source from users with low edit counts that haven't been mentioned on the discussion page do tend to be reverted as the volume of edits makes trying to discover i

      • I have less than a dozen edits. Several are still intact. A few were replaced by more detailed edits. One I disagree with but life goes on.

      • I was going to reply that it's not so, but I checked Wikipedia first. And guess what, my last edit (a page creation with references and everything) has been cited as a candidate for deletion. So yes, it seems Wikipedia is becoming a closed circle of 60000+ club
      • I've never found this so. But ofcourse, I write about technical topics of which I know a lot. Not about stuff I don't know anything about but have strong opinions on.

    • In a way, this should fall under public outreach, so yes, I could see this falling under helping tenure. (assuming that he's maintaining pages in his field, and not just his favorite TV shows ... unless his field is pop culture, of course)

      The 'peer review' aspect requires it to have been judged by his peers, and I don't know that other wikipedia editors would be considered academic peers, even if there's a review process.

      Now, there is a need for tenure to be granted on more than just writing journal articl

    • It's also excellent writing practice.

      Writing is a good exercise for organising your thoughts, and having to explain some of your edits (and sometimes fight over them), makes you analyse exactly what you are trying to express and makes you check your sources.

      Wikipedia is also ahead of academia in some aspects. On writing source, Wikipedia is usually way more precise. While academia requires that a fact be referenced with "Benkton, J. 2004", which means nothing to most people and not precise at all, Wikiped

  • Any bets... (Score:5, Funny)

    by DataDiddler ( 1994180 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @08:23AM (#35755804)
    ... on what percentage of the edits were to pages on old Star Trek episodes and anime? The over/under is 75%.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Don't forget the sterling work on documenting each and every pokemon.

  • I'm not sure what Watching the Waters is, but this article is an exact copy of what's in the wikimedia blog. []
    • Oh, so on top of the internal corruption at the university we have wiki-corruption too! ... What a surprise. That's never happened before [], naturally.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      I don't know either (the site is "Watching the Watchers"), but considering the licence, they have every right as far as I can tell to republish the article in the way they did. The link you provide is linked to from the bottom of the article.
      The licence is Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) []. I cannot see anywhere on the Wikimedia blog how attribution should be given. My understanding is that in such cases how the WtW site referenced the original is sufficient. The relevant section of the licence is 4.b


      • Oops. Misread the website name. I did miss the attribution at the bottom of the article. However, I would say that at least, the slashdot summary should relink or not specify that Liana Davis wrote in Watching the Watchers, and at the very most, they didn't accurately follow the attribution clause if Hugh Pickens easily mistook Liana Davis as a writer for that blog.

        You may not implicitly or explicitly assert or imply any connection with, sponsorship or endorsement by the Original Author, Licensor and/or Attribution Parties, as appropriate, of You or Your use of the Work, without the separate, express prior written permission of the Original Author, Licensor and/or Attribution Parties.

  • {Citation needed}
  • by StupendousMan ( 69768 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @08:34AM (#35755886) Homepage

    We're in a job search right now for two tenure-track professors in a Physics Department. None of the five candidates interviewed so far has mentioned Wikipedia. I'm pretty sure that if one did, he wouldn't gain any credit by doing so.

    Our department made recommendations for a tenure decision earlier this year. No mention of Wikipedia in the supporting materials for that candidate, nor have I ever seen such a mention. I am pretty sure that neither my colleagues nor the administrators involved in granting tenure would give any credit for editing Wikpedia.

    • no one expects that. RIT is a serious institution and physics is a hard science. we're talking relatively obscure institution and the study of english and philosophy

    • by radl33t ( 900691 )
      That's a shame. Any educator who substantially improves the portal to information about their discipline should be proud. Granted, it shouldn't carry the same weight as research metrics (for a research position anyway), but given two equal candidates I would strongly favor one with 60,000 contributions to publicly accessible physics knowledge, possibly above many other qualities. IMO declaring it irrelevant is simply a sign of the dangerously contagious pointy hat syndrome that we academics develop to guard
      • I prefer Scholarpedia over Wikipedia for physics articles. I wouldn't apply the phrase "guard our section of the ivory tower" to it, either.

    • I have to ask because I've never seen that process. What kind of information besides employment history, research and publication history goes into those supporting materials? Would one normally include things like, "social work with XYZ organization"? If the process doesn't normally involve the evaluation of unofficial work you do in your spare time, then I'd expect this is a case of just unimportant padding at the bottom, and someone was looking for wiki-related news. If they do, then I'd think being
  • by j_f_chamblee ( 253315 ) on Friday April 08, 2011 @08:42AM (#35755950) Homepage Journal

    A search [] of the Auburn Montgomery website, produces several "News & Events" hits which show Dr. Aaij giving public lectures and supporting student scholars. A Google Scholar Search [] on Michel Aaij shows a regular publication record in peer reviewed journals dating back to the late 1990s, at least. This guy is a good scholar and, from the article, strikes me as a good colleague, even without the Wiki contributions. He deserves tenure. The fact that he found the time for this other form of service/scholarship on top of his other work is very commendable and I'm glad to see it included in his portfolio. The fact that this did make it into his portfolio is better for Wikipedia than it is for Dr. Aaij, who I think wouldn't have gotten tenure no matter what. In any case, I say "Congratulations, Dr. Aaij!"

  • Well, since he is working for a public university that is subsidized by tax dollars, it is nice to see him giving back to the community at large. I, for example, work at Ohio State and our purpose statement is "To advance the well-being of the people of Ohio and the global community through the creation and dissemination of knowledge." In my humble opinion, I find it hard to see how updating Wikipedia doesn't support that vision.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 08, 2011 @08:44AM (#35755964)

    Nothing in the article suggests to me that his wiki editing helped him get tenure. In fact, it even says: "Michel expects his academic C.V. was strong enough to support his tenure without his Wikipedia contributions". There's no connection between the two. This is like saying that, since his name was also on his C.V., being named Michel helped him get tenure.

    • by im3w1l ( 2009474 )
      It'sn't impossible that it did help. Since names contain information about gender, class and race it could definitely influence this kind of decision.
    • This is like saying that, since his name was also on his C.V., being named Michel helped him get tenure.

      Thanks, I was going to change my name to Michel Aaij to see if it helped me...

  • It's too bad that this happened at Auburn, as it's often otherwise a negative example. It is, after all, the school where a prof. recently bowdlerized Huck Finn by editing out the word "nigger," a moved decried by people a sensitive to race issues as Ishmael Reed. Now that's "scholarship" you don't want to imitate. I could offer further reasons that no program wants to imitate Auburn, but saying too much would cause problems for friends.
    • Yea, but this is Auburn Montgomery. Sounds like a community college...the Wikipedia article, edited by this professor no doubt, says it isn't even a branch of Auburn (just the board of trustees). So, not even University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) in Huntsville level of dignity.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Auburn Montgomery, not Auburn. Aside from sharing a common structure at the very top, I doubt the two have anything to do with one another.
      • Looks like I should have taken the time to read the article before posting....
        • Looks like I should have taken the time to read the article before posting....

          Well, that surely would have been an unexpected move from a slashdot reader :P

  • Of course, he just wrote a script that adds "That's what SHE said" to the end of every article. That's still better than the average Wikipedia edit...

  • I am a PhD molecular biologists with expertise in areas like gel electrophoresis, PCR, etc
    I no longer contribute to wiki for two reasons:
    1) because of the license, people can take my work and resell it for a profit; I don't mind people reusing it, but the thought of some biz marketing type making (probably a right wing free market wierdo) making money off of my work seems just wrong

    2) I am tired of morons editing my work, and making it worse; for instance, the article "dna sequencing" has gotten w
    • Of course, if you tried to fix the bad edits, people would accuse you of owning the article and not letting anyone else contribute. I think that's better than letting the article get bad, but then you also get people coming to Slashdot and claiming that Wikipedia is broken because it's so "hostile" to newcomers.
      • by WNight ( 23683 )

        Depends, are you sitting there shooting down any edit you disagree with without making proper notes and without proving your side of the issue? Because if you do, you are acting like you own it.

        I've seen revert battles where one person spells out their reasoning carefully - they're over in no time. Wars only last when someone pulls rank.

  • She did not write that for Watching The Watchers - she wrote it for the Wikimedia Blog [] and they just took it. Please correct this and link to the original source.

  • on wikipedia...****sending her this article**** :-)
  • This is good to hear. At the Encyclopedia of Life (, a website that is aggregating scientific information for all 1.9 million named species, curators are encouraged to edit Wikipedia content where it is appearing on a species page. One challenge, of course, is getting academics to devote valuable time to this type of service work. Institutional recognition for these contributions seems to be on the increase as alternative forms of academic contributions become more widespread. The education group f
  • ive been telling folks for the longest that wikipedia is credible.

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"