Statement of Standards for Evaluating the Performance of Art Historians in Matters of Tenure and Promotion

Adopted by SECAC at the 1992 Annual Meeting, Birmingham, AL, October, 1992 and amended at the annual meeting in Jacksonville, FL in October, 2004.


Over the past several decades the discipline of art history has established growing presence upon college and university campuses within our southeastern region. While undergraduate and graduate programs in art history, with the faculty and staff to support them, are now more common at a number of this region's major institutions, smaller colleges with heavy teaching responsibilities often have only one or two art historians on their faculty. In many cases, these art history faculty members are not housed in art or art history departments with peers but are integrated into larger units such as colleges of arts and sciences, humanities divisions, colleges of fine arts, or departments of liberal arts. It is in these circumstances that problems are more likely to arise during annual reviews and when merit raises, retention, tenure, and promotion are under consideration.

The art historian takes as his/her primary focus objects created by artists, architects, and artisans and interprets and analyses them utilizing many of the investigative techniques and theories familiar to those working in historical, literary, philosophical, and anthropological fields. In many ways, art historical research involves an encyclopedic knowledge. Many administrators and colleagues in other disciplines may be unfamiliar with the specifics of the art history discipline, the problems faced by its practitioners (e.g., access to primary source materials and objects under investigation, obtaining photographic rights), and the nature of its research and avenues for publication. Those charged with the duty of making evaluations, consequently, may find it difficult to properly and fairly appraise the performance of the art historians on their faculties. The formats, for instance, often chosen by art historians for the presentation of their research activities — the organization of exhibitions, the preparation of accompanying catalogues, the publication of catalogues raisonnés, etc. — may be unfamiliar to those not in the discipline.

As is the case with the other humanities disciplines, the field of art history in this country does not enjoy the wide range of granting opportunities from public and private sources available to s scholars in the sciences and certain social sciences (e.g., for an art historian a grant of $3500 is a significant accomplishment). Opportunities for the publication of monographs also are limited.

Publishers often are wary of taking on art historical projects, with their high production costs and generally limited distribution potential. Publication rights for the many needed illustrations are often difficult to obtain and can be costly. In art historical publication therefore, the writing of articles has assumed a more prominent role than in other disciplines where the publication of books is more feasible. In art history, the “essay” generally replaces the “book chapter” common to a number of other disciplines. Normally, the art historian is a solitary scholar, eschewing the multi-authored article or paper of the scientist or social scientist. Because of the problems encountered in the publication of monographs and the frequent delays in journal publication, the presentation of formal papers at professional gatherings has become an important avenue for the prompt dissemination of art historical research. Here, however, the publication of delivered papers in volumes of “proceedings” is rare, although abstracts are sometimes included in related journals. Exhibitions also are a major vehicle for art historical creativity but are extremely time-consuming and involve enormous logistic difficulties. They often take years to bring to fruition, with site venues being increasingly difficult to arrange due to rising cost factors.

Statement of Standards

The scholarly productivity of an art historian should be regarded as being directly related to such factors as the mission of the department and the institution, the nature of the faculty member's research, access to source materials necessary to its advancement, and the availability of institutional support of for research materials and necessary travel. Expectations for levels of research and publication should differ between universities and colleges, between departments largely devoted to undergraduate instruction and those with an added graduate and research mission. Faculty members in smaller programs with heavy teaching loads and who bear considerable administrative and service burdens — who, for instance, are responsible for the development and maintenance of visual resource collections and/or study collections of art reproductions, superintend galleries, or organize study tours to museums and architectural sites — should not be evaluated according to the same standards as those working in larger departments with collegial and staff support.

The factors serving to distinguish the nature of art historical scholarship and its dissemination, taken together with the varying objectives of individual institutions, make the evaluation of performance difficult for those not familiar with the discipline. The expectations of an administration in regard to teaching, service, and scholarship should be announced to the faculty member in writing at the time of employment, with periodic reviews of the faculty member's performance undertaken in anticipation of consideration for tenure and promotion. Where the size of the art history faculty is limited, tenure and promotion committees and others responsible for making career judgments should actively seek the advice of outside reviewers. Such expert advice should play a key role in the evaluation process. Outside reviewers should be art historians and/or museum professionals of distinction sufficiently familiar with the candidate's field of investigation to facilitate a proper evaluation of achievement, contribution, and promise. These reviewers should be provided with not only the candidate's vita but also with samples of the candidate's publications, course syllabi, the record of his/her course load each semester, sample examinations, student evaluations, as well as departmental and institutional mission statements, approved copies of tenure and promotion criteria, and a thorough indication of the candidate's service obligations. If annual reviews are conducted (and they are recommended), outside reviewers should receive copies covering the period of time since the last significant personnel action taken. All of these indices should be weighed before reaching any conclusions regarding the candidate's contributions to and stature within the field.

Those responsible for making promotion and tenure decisions involving art historians within the southeastern region are invited to correspond with the President of the Southeastern College Art Conference for further advice and for recommendations regarding qualified outside reviewers.


Wherever possible, a tenure-track art history faculty member should be provided with a faculty member who is familiar with art history research. If there is only one art historian, efforts should be made to find a mentor from another institution with similar requirements for tenure and promotion.

Travel and Sabbatical or Leave

Due to the nature of art historical research — which involves source documentation and first-hand analysis of objects — every effort should be made to support travel. In institutions with high research expectations, art history faculty should be granted sabbatical or leave before they become eligible for tenure and promotion.

SECAC Presidential Committee on Art History Tenure and Promotion

  • Chair: Dr. Charles R. Mack, Professor of Art History, University of South Carolina and William Joseph Todd Professor of the Italian Renaissance
  • Dr. Lloyd Benjamin, Dean, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  • Dr. Perri Lee Roberts, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Miami at Coral Gables
  • Dr. Pamela Simpson, Professor of Art History, Washington and Lee University
  • Dr. Shaw Smith, Associate Professor of Art History, Davidson College