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Standards & Guidelines » CAA Guidelines

Standards for Retention and Tenure of Art Historians

Adopted by the CAA Board of Directors on February 21, 1996; revised in October 2002; May 2005; October 25, 2009; May 2, 2010; and May 2, 2021.


CAA 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. Furthermore, CAA notes that, before implementing the document’s recommendations, it is very important that individual institutions recognize the differences in retention and tenure standards in diverse institutions, including but not limited to two-year colleges, universities with a dominant pedagogic focus, and research-heavy institutions. Identifying and articulating acceptable standards that address local needs and cultures and that are also compatible with the principles laid out in this CAA standard should be the goal of each institution.

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. CAA recommends following the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)’s guidelines on this matter.

Terminal Degrees

The doctor of philosophy (PhD) is usually the terminal degree for art historians, though another doctoral-level degree with scholarly work that contributes to the field of art history may take its place. In the case of two-year colleges, the minimum qualification for teaching appointments should be a master of arts (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.

The doctor of education (EdD), the master of fine arts (MFA), or other related degrees may be a suitable equivalent for faculty teaching in programs that combine art history with emerging fields such as visual studies, visual culture studies, and digital media. It is also suitable for holders of other degrees who possess an amount of expertise in art history to teach art history survey courses in nonspecialized departments. The use of adjunct faculty with full-time positions in related professional areas is appropriate, especially in disciplines such as museology and historic preservation. The academic degrees held by these professionals may also vary from the norm. For further clarification, please see the CAA Statement on Terminal Degree Programs in the Visual Arts and Design.

Criteria for Retention and Advancement

The criteria for promotion, retention, and tenure for art historians shall be: research and professional accomplishment; service to the institution, the profession, and the community; and teaching effectiveness. 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 accorded 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 they are 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 with a written account of all previous research (scholarly products), service activities, and teaching that will count toward retention, tenure, and promotion. Such a written account should include but is not limited to:

  • A detailed 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, and access to administrative support 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
  • Any particular service responsibilities that are specific to promotion in this position
  • 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, including but not limited to travel funds, availability of paid sabbaticals, or other support from the department, institution, community, etc.
  • Additional information that will define and clarify any expectations or demands unique to the institution or department

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 candidate under review should be given full information in writing about their status after each review and an opportunity to respond to the review.

Specific criteria:

  1. Both the relative weight among research, service, and teaching and 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 catalog, or a major annotated bibliography would meet that criterion.
    • Furthermore, as per the 2005 Standards for Retention and Tenure of Art Historians subcommittee recommendations, it is important for departments and institutions to recognize the “crisis” in book publishing that includes: the shrinking of book publishing opportunities in specific areas of the field; the exorbitant and prohibitive prices of images and reproduction fees that can limit the publication of a book; and the move away from commercially unpopular titles by university presses and other conditional factors. Therefore, 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:
  • A set number of peer-reviewed (or similar quality) journal articles
  • Essays and substantial entries in museum collections or exhibition catalogs
  • Articles in conference proceedings
  • Unpublished manuscripts, whether or not under contract with a publisher, may also contribute to the assessment of the quality of scholarly accomplishment. Note, though, that it is the responsibility of the author to articulate how a manuscript is moving toward publication and why it should be considered as part of the promotion portfolio.
  • 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 therefore it should not be assumed that the journal is any less rigorous or selective than its American counterparts. In the absence of homogeneous review 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.
  • 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 missions of various institutions of higher education, the outside reviewer should be asked 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. Note that the primary judge of the quality of scholarship remains the disciplinary faculty within the institution in conjunction with evidence of outside disciplinary peer review.
  • 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.
  • For those art historians whose research is intended for the public or a specific community rather than primarily an academic audience, there should be a clear recognition of the time and effort that the individual has put in as well as clear expectations articulated in departmental standards and guidelines for the evaluation of public and community-based scholarship. Examples of public and community-based scholarship may encompass a range of activities, including though not limited to curating exhibitions, conducting oral art history projects, participating in Indigenous ceremonies, writing policy, participating in community forums, engaging in public art projects, and negotiating repatriation cases. As public and community-based scholarship are often ephemeral, departmental standards should also include clear criteria for the evaluation and documentation of public and community-based research. Modes of documentation and impact may, for example, include a research portfolio, letters from community members documenting the research project’s impact on or benefit to the members of a community, and grants acquired.
  • For those art historians working in collaborations and/or in digital scholarship, there should be clear recognition of the time and effort that the individual candidate has put in as well as clear expectations articulated by the department in relation to the recognition of digital scholarship (see CAA’s Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Scholarship in Art and Architectural History).
  • For those art historians in tenure-track curatorial positions, CAA recommends that departmental standards for tenure and promotion include provisions for the candidate to submit a dossier that documents their academic work to the departmental committee and external evaluators either in digital or hard copy. The portfolio ought to include a framing statement that links the candidate’s research projects to the museum’s and/or collection’s mission as well as illustrates how the projects demonstrate originality, contribute to the scholar’s field, and point to directions for development in the future. Following the framing statement, the dossier ought to be divided into sections that conform to those on the candidate’s CV, such as curatorial projects, publications, etc. As curatorial projects are often ephemeral, it is particularly essential that unwritten scholarship be carefully documented through photographs, published brochures, exhibition labels, posters, links to web exhibits, copies of supporting grants, published reviews, etc. to help the external evaluator assess the caliber of research presented in support of the tenure and/or promotion cases. As members of the departmental review committee may not be familiar with the particular nature of the tenure-track curator’s program of teaching and research, CAA also recommends that whenever possible at least one member of the review committee be knowledgeable about academic museums and related appointments (see CAA’s Standards for Tenure-Track Curatorial Appointments).
  • The evaluation of teaching should include both student and peer evaluations, keeping in mind their limitations as evaluative tools. Student and peer evaluations should never be the sole criterion for evaluating teaching. Candidates should also be given the opportunity to present reviewers with a teaching portfolio including but not limited to syllabi, examinations, examples of student papers, descriptions of museum-based assignments, and other materials integral to assessing teaching effectiveness.
  • 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 CAA, Society of Architectural Historians, etc. should be accompanied by financial support from 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 preferable to avoid making substantial demands on probationary teachers and scholars; it is helpful to limit the service expectations to permit those starting their careers to concentrate most of their attention on improving their teaching effectiveness 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 tenure and promotion should be informed in writing of the specific timetable for decisions about tenure and promotion at each level of the review process.

Teaching Loads and Class Size

When assessing teaching effectiveness for the purposes of retention, promotion, and tenure, evaluators should keep in mind that the full-time teaching assignments of art historians vary considerably across two-year colleges, four-year liberal arts schools, and research universities. Teaching assignments should be comparable to those of other faculty teaching in the humanities at the same institution, and those loads should be clearly stated together with the expectations for retention and tenure at the moment of hire. Appropriate reductions in the number of classes taught are warranted when the position also includes administrative responsibilities for a department or program, managing visual resources or a gallery, or teaching studio courses.

Smaller programs in two-year or four-year colleges may occasionally need contingent or probationary faculty to take on significant administrative responsibility up to and including service as chair. It is appropriate in such cases to consider course load reductions, and to make clear to the faculty member how administrative loads are valued for retention, promotion, and tenure. It is also appropriate to consider reducing course loads or providing teaching assistants when faculty are teaching large courses (more than forty students) that require both examinations and papers.

Class size must necessarily vary by the level and structure of the individual course and the availability of graduate or undergraduate assistants or student help, and should be consistent with the size of similar offerings in other humanities departments at the same institution. In two-year and smaller four-year institutions, class size should be a significant consideration when assigning teaching loads, since qualified teaching assistants are usually not available. Student access to visual arts materials for study purposes should also be a factor in establishing class size for art history courses.


In order to give probationary art history faculty the best opportunity for success, a senior art historian should be assigned to serve as a mentor for the promotion and tenure process. Such a mentor would be available to answer questions and respond to concerns of the new faculty member, and would make sure their work is progressing as necessary to achieve professional advancement.

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 (MLA) in its Report of the MLA 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 catalogs 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 catalogs, which must appear when shows open. Yet exhibition catalogs do undergo a form of peer review. Though not blind, it is thorough, as the collaborative curatorial teams that produce exhibition catalogs, as well as 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 catalogs had been that the essays can vary in quality. Some essays in exhibition catalogs contain original, important scholarship, while others—at times within the same catalog—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 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 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 acknowledge 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.

Supporting Resources (2021)

The reader is also advised of related CAA policies that may help further clarify standards, procedures, peer review, or other issues raised in this document in particular cases. These include but are not limited to:

Standards for Tenure-Track Curatorial Appointments

Guidelines for Curatorial-Studies Programs

Peer Review in Publications

Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Scholarship in Art and Architectural History

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. Rogers 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; and 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; and 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 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.

Reviewed and revised in 2019–21 by Denise Amy Baxter, Carolyn Butler-Palmer, Laura Gelfand, Paul Jaskot, Charles Kanwischer, and Sandy Ng.