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Standards for Retention and Tenure of Art Historians

Adopted by the CAA Board of Directors on February 21, 1996; revised in October 2002 and May 2005 and on October 25, 2009, and May 2, 2010.

Preface and Acknowledgements

In February 2009, the Professional Practices Committee (PPC) and Executive Director Linda Downs approved the formation of a task force to amend the College Art Association Standards for Retention and Tenure of Art Historians to include community and two-year colleges. Even though community colleges are large employers of art historians, they are not referenced in any of CAA’s current professional-practice guidelines. This revised standard is especially important to art historians at the community college, because they often are only one or two faculty members in a larger academic department. Inclusion of community colleges into these standards will make this document relevant for art-history faculty who attempt to achieve the highest standards of professional practices in such an institution. The task force offers a document that will validate the objectives of a professional who has few peers to back proposals and will present/give legitimate support for improvement to the practice of art history at their institutions.

Sandra Esslinger, a PPC member, agreed to: 1) establish a task force to assist in the amending of the guidelines to include community colleges and two-year institutions; and 2) serve as task-force chair. The amendments were made in the spirit of the existing document but provide inclusionary language where appropriate and elaborate on community-college practices where they varied from practices at other institutions of higher education.

The task force, comprising community-college professors for whom the document is potentially most relevant and whose experience can be reflected in the amendments, included: Martina Hesser, Mesa College; Bertha Gutman, Delaware County Community College; Trudi Abram, Glendale Community College; and Sandra Esslinger, Mt. San Antonio College. A draft of this document was prepared and circulated to the PPC.


The College Art Association has established the following standards respecting the Retention and Tenure of Art Historians, a copy of which has been sent to each accrediting body in the United States and to institutional members of CAA under the cover of a letter from the current president of the association urging the said accrediting body to recognize the standards as appropriate to any collegiate art-history program.

CAA encourages institutions to maintain their diverse and unique departmental missions, recognizing that such diversity makes it essential that applicants for positions be provided with as much information as possible.

Status of Art-History Faculty

All art historians on full-time appointments other than visiting professors or lecturers on appointments of one year or less are to be granted all responsibilities and rights of faculty status at that institution. Such status should include eligibility for academic rank, promotion, tenure, a retirement plan, and any other economic packages. Equal access to university or college support for research and professional development is essential for those with regular faculty status. Adjunct faculty, such as museum professionals, who are hired part-time and over a period of time, should be accorded the opportunity of participating in curricular development and other appropriate areas concerning their areas of expertise.

Terminal Degrees

The doctor of philosophy (PhD) is usually the terminal degree for art historians, though a different degree with appropriate scholarly work that contributes to the field of art history may well take its place. In the case of two-year colleges, the minimum qualification should be an MA in art history. In the absence of such a degree, specific recognized equivalent professional achievement and scholarship should be regarded as qualification for appointment to professional rank, promotion, or tenure. Neither the EdD nor the MFA are appropriate degrees for faculty hired to teach art history (though holders of these other degrees with solid art-history backgrounds may be asked from time to time to teach art-history survey courses in small, nonspecialized departments when a degreed art historian is not available). The legitimate use of adjunct faculty with full-time appointments in their professional areas is appropriate, especially in such areas as museology and historic preservation. The academic degree held by those professionals may vary from the norm.

Criteria for Retention and Advancement

The criteria for promotion, retention, and tenure for art historians shall be teaching effectiveness, research and professional accomplishment, and service to the institution, the profession, and the community. Evaluation of the published research, teaching effectiveness, and professional service will be carried out with the participation of other visual-arts professionals, with the greatest weight being given to the evaluation given by art-historian peers in the same area of specialization. Unless the candidate being evaluated for retention, promotion, or tenure is the sole art historian in the academic department, other art historians shall be consulted during the first stage of the review process and will be represented on any department review committee.

Colleges and universities should make certain that their policies and procedures relating to matters of renewal, retention, promotion, and tenure are clear, concrete, and made available to each faculty member when he or she is hired. In addition, said policies shall be supplemented with more specific criteria as relevant to art historians, whether as members of a distinct art-history department or as members of a broader disciplinary or academic unit. At the time of hiring or reclassification of an art historian’s position within a program (e.g., moving from part-time to tenure-track), the institution should provide the faculty member a written account of all previous research (scholarly products), service activities, and teaching that will count toward retention, tenure, and promotion. Reviews of each faculty member’s record in the three areas of research, service, and teaching should be held on a regular schedule, at a minimum in the first, third, and pre-tenure year of the probationary period. The person under review should be given full information in writing about his or her status at each review and an opportunity to respond to the review.

Specific criteria:

1. Both the relative weight among research, service, and teaching and at the levels of performance expected in each must be explicit and in writing; two-year colleges may place emphasis on service and teaching, liberal-arts institutions may give equal weight to all three areas, while research universities are more likely to place greater emphasis on research accomplishment.

2. In regard to evaluation of research, expectations for both the quantity and significance of published work must be made clear.

  • Definitions of scholarly accomplishment must be clarified by the institution. For example, if the institutional standard is as specific as a “book,” it must be made clear whether or not a monograph published by a major commercial press, a substantial exhibition catalogue, or a major annotated bibliography would meet that criterion. See also Addendum, “Publishing Requirements for Tenure and Promotion in Art History,” below
  • There should be a clear expression of the level of recognition demanded of the candidate for advancement in rank or to tenure, whether local, regional, or national, including examples of how such recognition would be met. Such level of recognition must be realistic and consistent with the teaching load and research and financial support available to the individual faculty member
  • Should outside referees or reviewers be consulted as part of the decision process of promotion and tenure, they must be informed of both the institution’s and the department’s standards and expectations, including the relative weight accorded research, service, and teaching. Recognizing the differences in the mission of various institutions of higher education, the outside reviewer should be requested to limit the review of published (or in manuscript) research to its quality and contribution to the candidate’s field, without commenting on the likelihood or suitability of tenure for the candidate. (The question of the outside reviewer not commenting on suitability for tenure at the candidate’s institution is one that derives from American Association of University Professors (AAUP) suggestions and belief that the outside evaluator is certainly most clearly able to respond to issues of quality and assess the standing of the candidate in the profession; however, it is condescending to the institution to suggest that the faculty and administration cannot best decide how to use the critique in light of the needs of their own institution and their weighing of priorities.)
  • For those art historians whose research is dependent on travel to distant locations, usually abroad, there should be clear recognition of the financial and time implications of such travel on the faculty member’s productivity
  • The evaluation of teaching should include both student evaluations and peer review. The candidate should also be given the opportunity to present the reviewing body with any syllabi, examinations, examples of student papers, descriptions of museum-based assignments, and other material relevant to his or her teaching
  • In the area of service, each faculty member should be informed of the level and amount of service expected, and whether community service as well as service to the profession and to the candidate’s home department is expected
  • Any expectation of having the faculty member participate in the governance of professional organizations such as the College Art Association, Society of Architectural Historians, etc., should be accompanied by financial support by the faculty member’s home institution
  • If art historians are expected to give public lectures, to speak at primary or secondary schools, or to participate in the programs of local service organizations, the necessity of providing such service should be explicit
  • While service to the department and institution may be expected of even the most junior faculty, it is desirable to avoid making substantial demands on young teachers and scholars; it would be helpful to limit the amount of service to permit those at the start of their careers to concentrate most of their attention on improving their teaching and establishing their research directions
  • Should department or institutional standards or requirements for research, service, or teaching substantially change during the probationary period of a faculty member, the candidate should either be allowed to continue to serve under the standards in force at the time of initial appointment or be given an appropriate amount of time (normally three additional years) to meet the new standards
  • CAA strongly urges institutions to comply with AAUP standards with respect to the length of probationary periods

All candidates for academic advancement should be informed in writing of the specific timetable regarding cases being considered for professional advancement and of decisions made at each level of the review process.

Teaching Loads

The full-time teaching assignments of art historians should be comparable to those of other humanities faculty at the same institution (with two courses per semester as the norm at research universities, three at four-year institutions where teaching is given greater priority, and five at two-year colleges). Institutions must also recognize that class preparation in art history differs from that in other liberal-arts disciplines because of the time expended on the selection and arrangement of visual materials. Appropriate reductions in the number of classes taught are warranted when the position also includes administrative responsibilities for a department or program, image collection, or gallery, or for teaching studio courses. In two-year colleges, it is usually the case that art-history faculty are assigned five courses per semester and that they sometimes manage their program in its entirety—in short, they “chair” their programs without carrying the formal title of “Chair of the Department.” It is appropriate to consider reducing the number of courses in such cases of responsibilities that exceed the duties of most humanities faculty. It is also appropriate to either reduce the number of classes taught or to provide teaching assistants when courses that require both examinations and papers are larger than a norm of forty students.

Class Size

Class size must necessarily vary by the level and structure of the individual course and the availability of graduate assistants or student help, and should be consistent with the size of similar offerings in other humanities departments at a given institution. However, student access to visual-arts material for study purposes should be a factor in establishing class size for art-history courses.

In the two-year colleges, course load should be based at least in part on class size, since qualified teaching assistants are customarily not available.


In order to give the fullest opportunity for success of a beginning faculty member, the chair of a department should assign a senior art historian to serve as a mentor. Such a mentor would be available to answer questions and respond to concerns of the new faculty member, and would make sure her or his work is progressing as necessary to achieve professional advancement.

Positions Listings

The Online Career Center is the official CAA site for positions listings; institutions are encouraged to advertise their positions listings therein to insure transmission to all members of the organization.

It should be noted that there has been an increasing tendency in recent years for many institutions—even those that traditionally hired at all ranks—to restrict appointments to the level of assistant professor or instructor. As well as minimizing access of some students to more experienced teachers and scholars, a form of “senior gridlock” has thus been created, excluding the possibility of senior faculty from being considered for academic positions at other institutions. CAA notes the value of having a more diverse faculty, by rank and academic accomplishment, and urges that institutions attempt to recruit and hire faculty members across the ranks whenever possible. Detailed information regarding the position—minimally including the rank, tenure status, specialization required, and salary range—should be part of the listing for the position. Additional information should be available to all candidates upon request, including but not limited to the following:

  • A thorough description of the position, including the number and type of courses to be taught
  • Such information about the institution and the department as educational philosophy, size, areas of specialization, class sizes, resources, etc.
  • A listing and description of any nonteaching duties attached to the position (e.g., gallery supervision, care of digital-image and slide collection, etc.)
  • Information on working conditions such as availability of office space, computer facilities, travel funds, availability of paid sabbaticals, and access to secretarial services
  • Departmental and institutional expectations concerning office hours, advising, and other aspects of availability to students
  • Relative weights of Research, Service, and Teaching in annual evaluations, retention, promotion, and tenure
  • Discipline-specific standards and expectations of accomplishment in each of the areas to be evaluated
  • A brief description of the procedures and evaluation processes used in making decisions relating to professional advancement
  • Support for research and faculty development, from the department, institution, community, etc.
  • Additional information that will define and clarify any expectations or demands unique to the institution or department

Addendum: Publishing Requirements for Tenure and Promotion in Art History (2005)

The College Art Association is the professional organization of art historians, artists, and others engaged in the practice, teaching, and research of the visual arts. The Association has over 13,500 individual members, of whom some 4,500 are art historians, as well as 2,000 institutional members, including university art and art-history departments, museums, libraries, and professional and commercial organizations.

For the use and protection of its membership, CAA issues guidelines that set national standards of practice and professional advancement in art and art history, including academic practice and advancement.

In view of recent developments in academic and commercial publishing, CAA hereby supplements the section of the “Standards for Retention and Tenure of Art Historians” respecting criteria for judging research productivity. This supplement affects the paragraph above, under “Criteria for Retention and Advancement,” beginning, “Definitions of scholarly accomplishment” and in particular the statement, “. . . if the institutional standard is as specific as a ‘book,’ it must be made clear as to whether or not a monograph published by a major commercial press, a substantial exhibition catalogue, or a major annotated bibliography would meet that criterion.”

With the Modern Language Association, the American Council of Learned Societies, and other exponents of the humanistic disciplines in the United States, CAA observes a sudden and steep decline in the publication of scholarly books in the humanities in the United States. Respecting art history, the association notes with regret the recent cancellation or severe reduction of art-history lists by such eminent English-language presses as Cambridge University Press, Princeton University Press, and Ashgate. Other presses have skewed their lists in favor of topics with commercial potential, disregarding the full chronological and cultural spectrum of art history as it is practiced and taught.

Further, CAA affirms that the escalating cost of publication rights for photographs or digital media provided by museums, commercial archives, galleries, artists’ estates, and other sources is an additional impediment to art historians who seek to publish the results of their research. In light of these developments, the College Art Association advises academic institutions that the well-documented “crisis” in scholarly publishing in the humanities is especially acute for art historians, and threatens the integrity and continuity of the discipline if colleges and universities continue to insist on books as the chief criterion for tenure and promotion.

CAA recommends that colleges and universities consider the following forms of publication (whether in print or electronic format) equivalent to single-authored books as vehicles of scholarly productivity:

  • journal articles
  • essays and substantial entries in museum collections or exhibition catalogues
  • articles in conference proceedings
  • unpublished manuscripts, whether or not under contract with a publisher

Further, CAA advises that qualifications for tenure and promotion in art history cannot be judged purely on the basis of English-language publications and publication venues. Art history is an international discipline, and American art historians routinely publish their work on other continents and often in other languages. As a consequence, the association strongly recommends against the practice of measuring the value of scholarship in art history by the number of its citations (as in science), because existing citation indexes do not reliably report citations of works published outside the United States.

In addition, CAA observes that many journals published outside the United States have selection procedures that do not match the American system of peer review. This is true of even the most highly regarded and prestigious journals and does not by itself suggest that the journal is any less rigorous or selective than its American counterparts. In the absence of homogeneous procedures it is impossible to rank journals for the purpose of assessing the quality of scholarship published in them. The association recommends that judgments of the quality of a candidate’s publications should be based on the assessment of expert reviewers who have read the work and can compare it to the state of scholarship in the field to which it contributes.

Addendum: Endorsement of Recommendations of the Modern Language Association (2007)

Addressing the continuing difficulties attached to scholarly publishing in the humanities, the CAA Board of Directors endorses a set of twenty recommendations proposed by the Modern Language Association in its Report of the Modern Language Association Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion (2007), presented in the Executive Summary. These recommendations supplement CAA’s own statement on tenure publishing in the arts.

Addendum: Supplement to “Endorsement of Recommendations of the Modern Language Association (2007)” (2010)

Although the MLA’s report does not mention museum publications, they constitute the most glaring omission from books considered eligible in tenure decisions for art historians and scholars of visual culture. During the past ten years, while academic publishing has been shrinking dramatically, museum publishing has flourished, moving to the forefront as the venue for much substantial scholarship in our field.

Museum exhibition and collection catalogues are not, by and large, peer-reviewed in the traditional sense. The long lead times required for blind peer review do not accommodate the tight schedules of most exhibition catalogues, which must appear when shows open. Yet exhibition catalogues do undergo a form of peer review. Though not blind, it is thorough, as the collaborative curatorial teams that produce exhibition catalogues, and museums’ editorial departments and consultants, carefully evaluate the scholarship contained within, striving to ensure that it is accurate and of the highest possible quality.

In the past, one argument lodged against exhibition catalogues has been that the essays can vary in quality. Some essays in exhibition catalogues—at times in the same catalogue—contain original, important scholarship, while others can be included for political reasons, perhaps to secure certain loans or financial contributions essential to the successful mounting of a show. In fact, this situation is not fundamentally different from scholarship published in festschrifts, anthologies, or other nonmuseum collections of scholarly essays. It is not unusual for some authors in such publications to be included for practical, rather than scholarly, reasons. Yet this does not disqualify every essay in these publications from being considered in tenure decisions.

In the words of the MLA report, “presses or other outside referees should not be the main arbiters in tenure cases.” Ultimately, departmental colleagues are responsible for determining the scholarly value of contributions not only in museum publications, but in all publications. In other words, whether or not a publication has been blind peer reviewed should not be the primary criterion in determining its value to the scholarly community. As much as academic departments, serious museums care deeply about the scholarship in their publications. As a result, museum publications are often recognized for their significant contributions to the advancement of scholarship through major awards from many institutions. It is, therefore, inappropriate for scholars to be denied recognition of their contributions to major museum publications by the elimination of museum publications from the tenure process. In recognizing that the academy and museums are engaged in a shared enterprise, tenure committees should recognize the value of serious museum publications, and thus, ultimately strengthen and improve our field.

CAA therefore advises that committees of tenure and promotion evaluate scholarly publication in the arts without regard to whether the publisher is academic or museum-based.

Authors and Contributors

Submitted in 1996 by the Professional Practices Committee: David Sokol, University of Illinois, Chicago (chair); Emma Amos, Rutgers University; Michael Aurbach, Vanderbilt University; Phillip Blackhurst, University of Kansas; Judith Brodsky, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University; Whitney Davis, Northwestern University; Kathleen Desmond Easter, Central Missouri State University; Samuel Edgerton, Williams College; Dennis Ichiyama, Purdue University; Dorothy Joiner, West Georgia College; Jon Meyer, University of Arizona; Jock Reynolds, Addison Gallery of American Art; James G. Roger, Jr., Florida Southern College; Larry Scholder, Southern Methodist University; Susan Sensemann, University of Illinois, School of Art and Design; Gregory Shelnutt, University of Mississippi; Adrian R. Tio, Bowling Green State University; Victoria Star Varner, Southwestern University; Monica Visonà, Metropolitan State College of Denver; Annette Weintraub, City College of New York, City University of New York; Barbara Hoffman, Schwartz Weiss Steckler Hoffman.

Revised in 2002 by the Professional Practices Committee: D. Fairchild Ruggles, Chair, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Addendum in 2005 by the Publications Committee: Nicola Courtright, Chair, Amherst College; Susan Elizabeth Chun, Metropolitan Museum of Art; S. Hollis Clayson, Northwestern University; Marc Gotlieb, University of Toronto; Dale Kinney, Bryn Mawr College; Winifred McNeill, New Jersey City University; Patricia C. Phillips, State University of New York, New Paltz; John Paul Ricco, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Larry Silver, University of Pennsylvania.

Addendum in 2010 by Helen Evans, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Lucy Oakley, Grey Art Gallery, New York University; and the CAA Publications Committee: Anne Collins Goodyear, Chair, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Randall C. Griffin, Southern Methodist University; Karin Higa, Japanese American National Museum; Natalie Kampen, Barnard College; Karen Lang, University of Southern California; and Katy Siegel, Hunter College, City University of New York. (Oakley is also a committee member.)