I just heard: I got tenure because of my klout score!

Note: This is an April Fool's joke. I do not, in fact, have tenure :)

I just got off the phone with my department chair, who gave me the good news -- I've been awarded tenure! This great news was more than a bit surprising, since I hadn't applied yet; I'm scheduled to submit my tenure application in just over a year.

This is apparently a done deal: everyone from the dept to my deans to President Simon and the Board of Trustees has signed off, so as soon as I get the letter in the mail, I can call myself "Associate Professor" instead of "Assistant". It means that my job security is basically assured as long as I stay clear of felonies.

Now, normally tenure is granted only after a long, arduous process involving lots of paperwork, letters from external professors, and multiple levels of review. In my case, though, Michigan State decided to proceed directly based on my klout score. Klout scores are based on a numerical measure of social media significance, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The resulting score is increasingly being used to decide whether or not someone is an "influencer". Rumor has it that sites like GitHub (see esp GitHub Resume) and Stack Overflow are important in the tech industry, but no such similar sites are really much used in academia.

Klout itself has not been used much in academia, apart from some interesting experiments. First, there are many concerns as to what a low klout score really means, in particular -- does it mean you just don't do much social media stuff, or are otherwise below klout's radar? Or does it mean that you're active but not very influential? Second, academia has traditionally relied on well-established metrics like citations and impact factor to evaluate reputation, not to mention letters of reference -- although various numerical metrics such as "selectivity" are increasingly challenged as being less relevant upon detailed scrutiny. Third, there's a general feeling or belief that while scholarly contributions should be measured more broadly than they are, outreach and education are ancillary to direct research contributions.

I wasn't even aware Klout was on MSU's radar screen, frankly! When I talked to my chair, he said that he was surprised too -- apparently this is an initiative by the college deans and above to try to connect Michigan State U. with the wider community, by promoting influential people. I turned out to be one of the top three kloutish folk on campus (@captain_primate is another, I'm sure; but I don't know the identity of the third) and since I wasn't yet tenured they decided to grant me tenure largely based on my klout score.

While I've publicly expressed reservations about the utility of social media for things like tenure in the past, and even directly bashed klout, I'm going to have to take all that back: klout is not only saving me from lots of annoying paperwork, but really points to the growing effect that social media is having on the "real world" of employment considerations.

Note that MSU has now posted revised guidelines for tenure.

One final thought -- I think it just goes to show you that Mike Eisen really is right when he says that high impact publications are no longer necessary for tenure. Amazing.

Go Klout!


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