January 21st, 2015
As more universities move toward a corporate model of organization, faculty are asked to prove their worth through “impact factors.” “Impact” is most commonly measured in the number of citations a scholar receives. It’s actually a fairly shallow way of measuring “impact,” and an overreliance on these kinds of measures, particularly for tenure cases, will only serve to hurt universities and students.
Relying upon the number of citations a scholar has—particularly early in her or his career—will miss the real “impact” a professor may have. Citation counts are just that—but there is no way to know how or why a work was cited unless one were to track down each one and analyze the context of the citation. For example, if someone’s work is cited as “possibly the worst example of…” or “a sloppy example of…” it will count as a citation. But does this measure impact? I’ve seen cases where work is mis-cited (my own, by a grad student who clearly hadn’t read it)—is that impact?