Assessing Faculty Publication Productivity: Issues
of Equity. ERIC Digest.
by Creamer, Elizabeth G.
Faculty publishing productivity is often used as an index of departmental
and institutional prestige and is strongly associated with an individual
faculty member's reputation, visibility, and advancement in the academic
reward structure, particularly at research institutions. Lower levels of
scholarly productivity, as reflected by quantity of publications, is one
explanation that focuses on why women and minorities have not progressed
more rapidly in the academic reward structure; why they continue to be
promoted at slower and lower rates than majority, male academics; and why
they are concentrated in less prestigious institutions. Understanding the
factors associated with publishing productivity and how gender and race
are insinuated in traditional criteria, used to assess faculty research
productivity, can assist academic administrators in defining methods of
shaping institutional reward structures in ways that advance the careers
of a heterogeneous faculty.
An overwhelming amount of research has been published about faculty
research performance. A subset of this literature addresses variations
by gender and race in publication productivity and in the impact of the
criteria used to measure it. This study provides a synthesis of the research
literature about how gender is a factor in publishing productivity. The
discussion extends John Creswell's 1985 ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report
on faculty research performance by summarizing the literature, produced
since its publication, and in the focus on the role of gender.
The literature about gender differences in faculty productivity is grounded
in the work of a group of scholars, primarily in sociology and the sociology
of science, who have contributed to the study of women's success in science
careers in science and to stratification in higher education. It is supplemented
by the insights of feminists exploring the experiences of academic women
and the feminist critique of traditional measures of research productivity.
This study explores publication productivity, not other aspects of faculty
work performance, such as teaching or service. The focus is on faculty,
because they produce the majority of scholarly publications at doctoral
In addition to those initiating research in the area, academics, such
as department heads or deans, who have oversight for promotion and tenure
decisions, will find the topic of faculty publishing productivity to be
relevant. It is most germane to settings where research and scholarly publications
are considered central to rewards. It will be particularly useful for academics
called to judge the records of colleagues in a number of academic fields
as well as those trying to understand the broader context of their own
There are several major questions about gender and race differences
in faculty publishing productivity:
ARE THERE SIGNIFICANT GENDER AND RACE DIFFERENCES IN PUBLISHING PRODUCTIVITY?
Although there are large variations by discipline, the majority of male
and female faculty members at four-year institutions produce a dozen or
fewer articles in academic or professional journals over their careers.
While gender differences in average publication rates appear to have narrowed
in many fields (Blackburn & Lawrence, 1996), particularly when a relatively
short time frame is used for study, women are significantly less likely
than men to be among the top producers of publications in their fields.
This small group of highly prolific writers account for a large proportion
of the literature produced in an academic field (Cole & Singer, 1991).
The relative absence of the voices of women and minorities in widely cited
literature is explained in part by the fact that few women and minorities
are among prolific authors. Their under- representation among the prolific
and over-representation among nonpublishers is the major reason for the
characterization of faculty women as being less productive than faculty
HOW ARE TRADITIONAL MEASURES OF PUBLICATION QUANTITY AND QUALITY
INFLUENCED BY GENDER?
On average, gender differences in institutional rewards, such as tenure
and salary, remain even when publishing productivity is controlled. In
other words, women generally receive fewer resources and recognition than
men for comparable productivity (Long & Fox, 1995). This leads to the
conclusion that stratification in science, or the concentration of women
and minorities in the lower ranks and at less prestigious institutions,
cannot fully be justified by the assumption that impersonal, universal
criteria are equitably applied (Long & Fox, 1995).
WHAT EXPLAINS WHY SUCH A SMALL GROUP OF FACULTY ARE PROLIFIC?
Although the number of women is minuscule, prolific male and female
publishers probably are more similar than dissimilar. Prolific writers
are generally senior scholars at doctoral granting institutions whose interest
in research, work assignment, and access to resources have coalesced to
support a commitment to research that is sustained over decades. Many widely
recognized authors who have made a substantial contribution to the knowledge
in an academic field, such as through a noteworthy book, are not prolific
Institutional policies and practices contribute, but do not determine,
whether a faculty member initiates and sustains a substantial record of
scholarly publishing. The value awarded to scholarly publishing in the
institutional reward structure is most instrumental in determining whether
a faculty member initiates a publishing record early in his or her career
as a faculty member. The institution plays the most significant role in
helping a faculty member to sustain a commitment to publishing through
a work assignment. Time devoted to research and interest in research are
stronger predictors of career research productivity than the institutional
reward structure, including salary (Dill 1986).
Factors that are external to the institution play a central role to
sustaining the productivity of prolific scholars, and colleagues who are
external to the institution are the primary source of recognition and reinforcement
for prolific writers. Lack of engagement in influential networks is one
reason that the institutional reward structure may be even more influential
to women's productivity than it is to men's.
WHY ARE SO FEW WOMEN AND MINORITIES AMONG THOSE WHO ARE PROLIFIC?
Prolific writers are disproportionately likely to be white males because
the primary criteria used to define productivity, quantity of journal articles
and citations to them, reflect career paths, work assignments, interests,
and access to resources that are much more characteristic of white men
than most women and minorities. This suggests that, in addition to examining
the question of whether traditional productivity criteria are equitably
applied, it is essential to examine the question of whether productivity
criteria are equitable.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE?
A major implication from a synthesis of the research literature is the
suggestion that one way to create a more heterogeneous faculty is to recognize
a broad range of scholarly activities as making a contribution to the production
and communication of knowledge. Diversifying the faculty in the United
States requires diversifying the criteria used to judge their work performance.
Traditional measures of impact or utility of publications, such as citations,
must be expanded to recognize that academics are just one of many communities
that are impacted by the production of new knowledge. New, convenient methods
are needed to assess the impact of a variety of forms of scholarly communication,
such as through unpublished works, conference, presentations, speeches,
and the ever expanding electronic venues of communication.
There is almost no research about variations by race, and the correlates
of publishing productivity or to substantiate the hypothesis that traditional
measures of publishing productivity impact all or some minorities in the
same ways they have been suggested in this text to impact faculty women.
The characteristics of those acknowledged as authorities, can be explored
by assessing the extent that collegial networks and the communication of
knowledge is gender and race segregated.
Blackburn, R. T., and Lawrence, J. H. 1996. Faculty at Work. Baltimore,
MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Cole, J. R., and Singer, B. 1991. A theory of limited differences: Explaining
the productivity puzzle in science. In H. Zuckerman, J. R. Cole, and J.
T. Bruer (Eds.), The Outer Circle: Women In The Scientific Community (pp.
277-310). New York: Norton.
Creswell, J. W. 1985. Faculty Research Performance: Lessons from the
Science and Social Sciences. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 4. Washington,
DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education. 92 pp.
Dill, D. D. 1986. Research As A Scholarly Activity: Context and Culture.
In J. W. Creswell (Ed.), Measuring Faculty Research Performance (pp. 7-24).
New Directions for Institutional Research, No. 50. Volume XIII, No. 2.
San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers.
Long, J. S., and Fox, M. F. 1995. Scientific Careers: Universalism and
Particularism. Annual Review of Sociology, 21, 45-71.