Tenure

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The requests begin in August and, mercifully and hopefully, cease in January. The request can be in the form of a telephone call, email, letter, or, in the worst of circumstances, an overnight delivery 
package. The recipient of such requests should be honored; as such a request signifies one's status in the pantheon of accomplishment in the academy.  However, the normal first reaction evokes the Mark 
Twain story about the man who was tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail -- "If it weren't for the honor, I'd just as soon have walked."

And what high honor would most intelligent academics decline? The dreaded request for an external letter of evaluation for an individual being considered by his or her college or university for promotion and/or tenure. I do not know the exact history of the expectation that candidates for promotion and tenure be evaluated by professionals in their field from outside the candidate's university, but by the early 1980s such letters seemed to be a normative component of promotion dossiers. Those who send and receive such letters know the basic format: evaluate the candidate's scholarship, place the candidate among his or her peers in the field of expertise, and state whether the candidate would be promoted and/or tenured at comparable institutions.

It was a combination of the zeal of youth and quest for professional recognition that filled me with glee and self-satisfaction the first few times I was asked to prepare an external evaluation. Twenty years later I view the prospect of "external evaluation season" with the same joy I experience when I go for a root canal procedure.

It is not that the actual task of reviewing a colleague's scholarship and preparing a letter of evaluation is so onerous -- it is not.  What I simply hate is the nearly complete professional disrespect that has become a routine part of the process.  The following, in no particular order, are my pet peeves:

  • The unsolicited request. Granted it is not every time, but at least two or three times a year an overnight package arrives containing a letter requesting an external review, a CV, and a four-inch stack of papers, offprints, and perhaps even a book (which I am supposed to then return).
  • The "do it yesterday" request. From the deadlines that accompany the request, I assume that my colleagues at other colleges and universities assume I am just sitting around reading The New York Times waiting impatiently for the opportunity to evaluate a colleague. Not very likely. It is incomprehensible to me that the individuals who select external reviewers, probably because of some perceived stature in the field, then go ahead and assume such a person will drop everything to prepare a careful and thoughtful evaluation.
  • Read everything the person ever wrote. The sending along a four-inch stack of reprints is just a waste of your money and my time. Most of us are just not going to read all this stuff, especially if we are given a short time frame. If the candidate is stellar and worthy of promotion, at least to professor, we have probably read the good stuff already.
  • The "reminder." Sometime close to the deadline, if you have not yet submitted the evaluation, the requestor will inevitably send a reminder that the review is due "Friday." Yes, I know the deadline is approaching. I also know you want it Friday to reduce your own anxiety -- it is not like someone is going to spend the weekend reading my thoughtful prose. But the reminder would not be as aggravating if it were not for...
  • The complete lack of courtesy after the review has been submitted. Here is my scoreboard for this year. Seven requests for external reviews; five reminders, zero acknowledgements that the review was received (even though all were sent overnight -- granted, because I was at the deadline), zero thank you's; and in most years, zero follow-ups reporting that the individual had been promoted or tenured (I don't expect to hear about negative decisions).

OK, so now I have vented. But that will not eliminate the process of impolitely seeking external evaluations. So, now let me propose some minor suggestions for infusing common, professional respect into the process:

  • Ask the reviewer if he or she has the time and would be willing to prepare an external review.
  • Think like an academic. Send the request and set a deadline that fits the academic calendar.  Never send a request in November and expect a response by December; never send a request in March and expect a response by the end of the semester.
  • Prune the pile. Ask the candidate to select no more than three (3) of his or her best publications or the like.
  • Provide a pre-paid overnight mail label. Hey, if you want me to invest my time to do the review, at least invest $19 so you will get it back.
  • Acknowledge receiving the review.  An e-mail or postcard would be just fine.
  • Say thank you. A note or even an e-mail would be fine. I will admit that some colleges can go a little over-the top. Years ago the University of Notre Dame paid me $100 for a review. That seemed a bit too much. However, one university just sent a colleague of mine a $20 gift certificate to Borders as a way or thanking her for her review. I believe my colleague will truly now look forward to doing external reviews for that institution.

I would strongly advise universities and colleges that seek external evaluations to consider all of the above suggestions.  Otherwise, before too long, your requests will evoke the same response that telemarketers get from most people they call, and your response rate will be about the same as those of telemarketers.

Author/s: 
Richard J. Gelles
Author's email: 
info@insidehighered.com

Richard J. Gelles is dean of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

Tenure Reform: The Time Has Come

Tenure is to higher education what Latin is to romance languages: essential to its fabric, not widely understood by the public and in danger of becoming anachronistic.

Yet tenure is as vital to the success of higher education as Latin is to the structure of our language. But in its current form, the age-old process of promoting and retaining quality faculty members is in danger of going the way of Olde English.

The first step toward an effective tenure system is examining and strengthening what exists. Subsequent steps should look at how it might be improved. It is imperative that we in higher education take the initiative to examine ourselves. There are many lawmakers at the state and federal level willing to intervene if we do not do so. Much of the scrutiny we are under is of our own creation. Colleges and universities have been less than forthcoming with the public and legislators about tenure, leading to the suspicion that higher education’s primary focus is protecting its own rather than guaranteeing the highly effective and productive teachers and researchers that students and taxpayers deserve.

I am president of the University of Colorado, which like many major public research systems, has struggled to ensure the centuries-old concept of tenure is relevant and effective at a competitive, contemporary university system. Our university found itself in the midst of a crisis in 2005 when a firestorm erupted over a tenured professor, Ward Churchill. Questions about tenure were a small but important part of the controversy, causing some of Colorado’s elected leaders to contemplate intervention into and oversight of tenure.

If there was a silver lining, it was that the episode galvanized faculty leaders and the Board of Regents into action. The university in March 2005 launched a comprehensive, systematic review of all its tenure-related processes, from point of hire through post-tenure review and dismissal for cause. It proved to be perhaps the most thorough tenure review effort ever undertaken at a major American university system, and the 40 recommendations adopted from the year-long process are leading to a clearer, more robust and more rigorous tenure system.

The University of Colorado’s experience may be illustrative to other institutions considering tenure reform, or at the basic level, a tenure-processes audit. While some may see the effort as a hill not worth climbing, much less dying on, the journey was worth taking for us. Here’s why. Public confidence in academic tenure, much less its understanding of the concept, is dropping. To reduce this downward trend, we must be transparent in our processes and straightforward in our explanations of why tenure is necessary and how it works. These steps are crucial to tenure’s future, just as tenure is crucial to the academy’s and America’s long-term well being and international competitiveness.

The university’s Board of Regents, after consulting faculty governance leaders, appointed an Advisory Committee on Tenure-Related Processes to conduct a thorough review of processes for awarding and maintaining tenure. Three regents, faculty from each of the university system’s campuses and a graduate student comprised the committee. A provost from one of the campuses chaired the committee. The regents were clear that they wanted an independent review they believed was critical to the integrity of the process. Retired Air Force General Howell M. Estes, III, who was well regarded in the state and familiar with complex undertakings, but who importantly had no prior experience with or opinions of tenure, was asked to lead the independent review.

The review was conducted in four phases: planning, data gathering/report writing, feedback/evaluation, and implementation. Two separate groups (internal working group and external working group) worked independently, but on parallel tracks. The internal group comprised 14 veteran faculty from across the system; a nationally known consulting firm formed the external group. The groups received the same charge but worked independently.

Four goals guided the process: to rebuild public confidence in the university’s tenure-related processes and tenure in general; to ensure students receive the best possible education by hiring, developing and maintaining a nationally acclaimed cadre of tenure track faculty; to maximize the university’s investment in its faculty; and to provide clear, understandable explanations to the public and university community on the importance of tenure and the university’s tenure-related processes.

They reviewed all tenure-related processes and how they were being implemented. The two groups conducted nearly 160 interviews with those involved with awarding tenure or conducting post-tenure review. The university’s processes were benchmarked against those at 19 peer universities and 10 schools of medicine. The external group performed a confidential audit of 95 randomly selected tenure files, the first time tenure files had been opened to independent scrutiny in the university’s history.

The internal and external groups came together for the first time to write the report in December 2005. While the separate groups came to many of the same conclusions, they also tended to fill in gaps for each other.

The report they produced noted that tenure processes do many things right. But the caveat was that they were not followed as rigorously as they need to be, either in granting tenure or in post-tenure review. The latter activity was particularly problematic. Accountability for faculty performance was lacking, documentation of individual faculty strengths and weaknesses was insufficient, and there was no meaningful system of incentives and sanctions.

New policies for junior faculty mentoring and tenure and tenure-track faculty professional development were implemented to enhance the success of faculty contributions to the university.

The university’s dismissal for cause process was also found wanting, particularly in its inability to conduct and conclude processes in a timely manner. Separately, concerns were raised about the lack of policies to address the circumstances under which tenured faculty should be removed from the classroom, especially in those situations when students are being adversely affected.

The advisory committee did a good job of recognizing and reporting on the parts of the process that need improvement. It made 40 recommendations that range from periodic audits of tenure files by external groups to shortening the dismissal for cause timeline (to less than six months; by contrast, the Churchill proceedings have taken nearly two years and are ongoing). But the process did not stop with recommendations. The advisory committee reviewed each recommendation with an eye toward practicality, budget implications and relative importance. Recommendations were labeled desirable, important or critical.

With the report in the public domain, feedback was sought from internal and external constituents. Faculty assemblies on each of the university’s three campuses weighed in, as did the public, particularly state political leaders, who had tenure on their radar screen in light of the Churchill controversy. His case proceeded under the old rules, but the shadow it cast informed changes to the process.

With a report filed and public input gathered, it would be easy to deem the process complete and get back to business as usual. This would be dangerous. Implementation is key, and if it is not accomplished effectively, all will have been for naught. An effective accountability system is imperative.

While the university’s system-wide faculty council has adopted the recommendations and changes have been made and approved into Regent Laws and Policies, it will be up to academic leadership to ensure that there are incentives in place to recognize good performance and consequences for poor performance. It’s early on in that process; each campus is busy developing specifics.

The university is working to keep the issue high on the priority list and to keep the discussion of tenure alive. Presentations about recommendations and changes have been made to faculty and academic staff across the system. A Web site is being developed to provide clear, concise definitions about tenure for internal and external audiences. The university is committed to annual reports on tenure to the public. It will publicize aggregate data on who applies and gets hired, who receives tenure and who does not, as well as summary results of post-tenure reviews. The reporting will be within the bounds of personnel rules.

The advisory committee has established several measures for what success will look like, including:

  • Routine independent audits of processes.
  • Faculty leaders’ understanding of the recommendations and commitment to them.
  • Accountability in all tenure-related processes.
  • Clear communication to the public.

The jury will be out for a while on the success of the endeavor, but early signs are positive. Faculty and academic administrators across the University of Colorado system are embracing the proposed changes, as is the Board of Regents.

The process the University of Colorado engaged in is an important first step toward ensuring tenure remains relevant and effective in tomorrow’s universities. Yet it is only the first step.

Discussions must move beyond tenure processes. We must now examine the tenure system itself, future career pathways for our increasingly diverse and mobile faculty, and standards of performance in a global academic marketplace. There may be alternative models to explore. Those discussions must involve a variety of stakeholders who focus on one key question: How do we create and maintain a rigorous and competitive tenure system that best meets the needs of our students and our publics, and best positions America for long-term success? Tomorrow’s students and the next generation of Americans deserve nothing less.

Author/s: 
Hank Brown
Author's email: 
info@insidehighered.com

Hank Brown is president of the University of Colorado system.

Tenure and the Unspoken Rules

Now that I have successfully achieved tenure at an R1, I feel the need to speak about what I have learned in the process. Some of this drive to write is because I want to share important lessons, but I also am compelled by the frustration and fear my junior colleagues share in facing the lack of clarity in expectations for tenure. (NOTE: I am writing this with my field in mind, which is an article-driven, empirically-oriented, positivist-dominated field.)

This lack of clarity is endemic to the nature of a process that is both institutional and extra-institutional, discipline-specific and interdisciplinary. That is, candidates are reviewed by people in their disciplines who are outside the school, people within their department or school, and people in the larger university. Each set of these folks has their own standards, and then there are differences within each group as well. (In one of the programs where I used to work, every member of the tenure committee outlined completely different standards and approaches to evaluating a candidate for tenure. That was not reassuring!)

To wit, my department values a variety of scholarship (theoretical, empirical, pedagogical, conceptual, etc.) and expects outstanding teaching in addition to one's ability to publish. Our expectations regarding publications are clearly quantified, although there are unspoken expectations regarding the high quality of publications and venues. There also is nothing in our written standards about single or co-authored articles or a need for external grant funding.

Within the larger discipline, however, there is a higher value on empirically-oriented articles, particularly articles that address the main topical issues in our field, and many R1 scholars would consider a lack of single-authored articles an indication of a lack of ability. Further, in the frenzy for funding at all R1s, some scholars would consider a candidate without external grant funding to be a failure and untenurable. While we send external readers a copy of our standards, reviewers read tenure files with their biases firmly intact.

These issues become more complicated at the college and university levels, where people in a variety of disciplines try to interpret candidates' work from their own disciplinary perspective. Scientists think nothing of articles with four or more co-authors, while those in the humanities may struggle to value articles over books. Further, some academics simply fail to value others in different disciplines. My friends who have served on university tenure committees tell me it is not uncommon for people to make fun of candidates' research areas, methods, and even the names of journals in different fields. Sometimes, when people on these committees find they have little to say about the candidates or their work, they find it easier to nitpick (e.g., "Why didn't the candidate publish an article in 2001 or 2003, and then publish 3 articles in both 2002 and 2004?").

What I take away from these many differences is that it is important for candidates to think about all of their audiences and be as proactive as possible in addressing the concerns of each. Some of these concerns can be addressed early in one's career:

  • Make a plan for how many articles or grant proposals you want to write each year. Return to the plan a lot, updating it with successes, failures, and amendments. And keep your eye on the tenure clock at all times.
  • Always be working on something: initial write, rewrite, grant prospectus, etc. I try to work on several things at the same time -- then, if I hate the article I am writing, I move to the prospectus and work on that. I convince myself that I am being rebellious and decadent (not writing what I am supposed to be writing), while still getting work done.
  • If you are doing a research project, map out the articles that can come from that project. Try to get at least three articles out of each project, either through a division of findings/topics or a mixture of conceptual and empirical pieces.
  • If you have to write grants for tenure, consider working in groups. Ask to join an ongoing project or ask someone senior to assist with your project. No one said you have to be funded all by yourself!
  • If you work in teams, work out a deal in which some of the articles will be single authored and some will be jointly authored.
  • Mix up the lead authorship for the jointly-authored articles so you can be lead author on one or more of them. It makes a difference!
  • Send your articles out to a variety of venues; don't publish in just one or two places. Pay attention to the status of the journal ... all journals are not considered equal. Ask around about a journal before you choose it. (Ignore this by year four -- start focusing on quick turnaround!)
  • Get to know senior scholars in your area: ask their advice and input on your research.
  • Go to your professional conferences and present or attend sessions on your research area. Introduce yourself to the speakers; they may eventually become your outside reviewers.
  • Take on leadership/participatory roles in your professional organizations, especially in organizations related to your specific research area; again, people will get to know you and you will be earning a "national reputation."
  • Be sure to ask around about outside evaluators before you select them. Some people who may seem very nice at conferences can sink you with negative or weak comments. They tend to get a reputation, and you can find out a lot from others who have gone up for tenure before you.
  • When selecting readers, see who has published in the same venues where you publish. Outside readers will not fault the quality of a journal in which they were published!

I also think it is important to note that you don't need to go about getting tenure the most traditional way. We all know how to get tenure: consistently publish in the top journals on federally funded, mainstream research on ONE mainstream topic using impressive methodology. Write most articles by yourself, but have a few that are written with others. Don't completely screw up your classes and serve on some committees. Brown-nose your way to being well-respected and liked by the best and brightest in the field.

The issue is ... we academics are a testy bunch of people, often driven by a passion for specific kinds of research, teaching, and service, and we don't usually follow rules too well. This certainly applies to me. I am a feminist lesbian academic who adopts a constructivist approach to research. This subject position makes me an outsider in many ways. Further, I ignored the advice to research an area that was (a) recognized as legitimate and (b) readily fundable, choosing to focus on topics that I cared about. While this cost me insofar as receiving funding, I believe I have been more productive because I was passionate about the topic area. I knew that to get the respect of some of my colleagues, I had to publish in the biggest journals, and I needed to publish a good number of articles. Nonetheless, I also ignored the advice to focus solely on articles; I co-edited a couple books along the way. I knew they would net me little in the way of tenure, but I saw a gap in the literature (and in teaching) that needed to be filled. I would argue now that the books did help raise my profile and introduce me to many scholars in my area of expertise, while making a clear contribution to the field. As you can see, most "minuses" can be turned into "pluses" if you learn about the game.

The gf has often told me that part of my success in getting tenure was really in understanding the game. I think that is true. I hope that, as a tenured faculty member, I can help others to do the same, in their own way. As I told a colleague of mine, we need to help junior faculty identify the best (unique) ways for each of them to achieve tenure.

So, if you like writing conceptual pieces, write the conceptual section of a colleague's empirically-based article. If you want to focus on teaching, not matter how much they tell you to phone it in, then turn your class experiences into a pedagogical article. If you enjoy service as a mentor to community youth, turn it into a research project. Make your own way and find what works for you! And if you find you don't want to play the R1 game, for God's sake, get out and go somewhere more to your liking. Don't wait until the tenure year. No matter what they told you in your grad school, there are many ways to be an academic!

Now that I am on this side of the untenured/tenured divide, I have to admit to feeling a little abashed. I don't feel that I have accomplished something so amazing in getting tenured. I suppose I have written some good pieces, along with some more average ones, and I have done some interesting research, but I have not done anything especially extraordinary. As I have written before, the "accomplishment" of tenure feels rather nebulous. But I do know that I feel much less stressed, and that is worth a LOT! In fact, I highly recommend it.

Author/s: 
Lesboprof
Author's email: 
info@insidehighered.com

Lesboprof is the pseudonym of a faculty member at a public university in the Midwest.

Service: The Un-loved Third Rail

Conventional wisdom among tenure track faculty members is that nobody was ever denied tenure for being a bad committee member or not getting elected to the strategic planning committee. Service -- by which we mean service to the college through participation in faculty governance and on institutional committees -- before tenure is often seen as subtracting time and energy from the teaching and research that gets an instructor promoted and recognized by peers off campus.

But this is wrongheaded and unrealistic. It not only undervalues service, it denies the realities of the typical college’s needs. Service can be rewarding and, more importantly, it is the way faculty can most effectively shape teaching and learning.

Yet this is the area that is least discussed in graduate school, for which no training is typically provided, and that the interview process rarely brings up. Furthermore, while tenure and promotion evaluations pay homage to the trinity of "Teaching, Scholarship and Service," service surely gets the least amount of attention. It is very rarely rewarded either monetarily or in terms of prestige. In fact, the view of some faculty is that service is to be given grudgingly, if it all.

In liberal arts colleges, advising, club sponsorships, determination of academic policy and the execution of that policy require deep commitments of time from faculty. Many tasks, such as organizing pre-law advising or guiding students through graduate applications -- assignments many large universities fill with a staff member -- are elements of service for faculty at smaller colleges. Organizational realities may encourage this on the one hand, but on the other, there may also be better student outcomes in having a teacher-scholar actively engaged in these roles.

Many faculty feel pulled in multiple directions by trying to balance teaching and scholarship, but most recognize that both elements of the academic life offer unique rewards. Too often, the rewards for service are overlooked. In service roles a faculty member can utilize and continue to hone valuable skills such as organization, leadership, policy development, writing, critical thinking and analytical ability. Many, if not all, of these skills are used in the classroom and in research, but the results are often different when they are applied in service. An excellent writer who has labored through years of graduate school may well be appreciated by her students and by peers in her scholarly field, but her carefully crafted prose may also serve all her faculty colleagues, as well as current and future students, when she drafts important policies while serving on the Academic Planning Committee.

How important is institutional service, and does service truly improve educational outcomes? It is possible to imagine a college where faculty have no service role. Issues such as college governance, curriculum development, determining degree requirements, participating in resource allocation decisions, playing a role in admissions, participating in tenure and promotion decisions could be left to professional academic administrators while the faculty role would simply be to teach and do research.

We believe, however, that active faculty participation in institutional governance is not only the historic right of the faculty, but also improves educational outcomes. Such faculty involvement is critical even when it’s painful. And some do find it punishing, such as a senior faculty member who bargained: “if you promise that I would never have to serve on a committee again I will gladly teach an additional course every year.”

It would surely be less time consuming for the faculty if they could shed their committee work, but the quality of education would surely suffer without the insight of the faculty who are in daily contact with students. How many times have faculty heard an administrator or trustee say something like, “Why doesn’t the faculty just do ____?” Fill in the blank with any one of the many impossible things people who do not teach think it is possible for faculty to “just do.” (To be fair, faculty in some fields could make the same criticism of their colleagues in other departments: “Why don’t the English faculty just teach those students how to write [in one semester]?” is our personal favorite.)

Though many colleges and faculty members might not see it this way, institutional service can be viewed as a way to improve education and keep professors involved and connected to their colleges. Albert Hirschman’s classic work Exit, Voice and Loyalty offers an interesting insight on the topic of how different kinds of social mechanisms promote quality outcomes. Hirschman points out that economists have historically focused on “exit” as a corrective instrument. Exit is the logic of competition. If a college doesn’t produce good outcomes, students will leave. The pressure to keep students from leaving will force the college to pay attention to the desired student outcomes. (This is the argument for school vouchers in K-12 education.)

Hirschman identifies “voice” as an alternative corrective mechanism. There may be circumstances in which desired outcomes will be restored faster and better if customers or employees of organizations have the opportunity to speak openly or complain about the ways in which the firm or organization fails to produce quality outcomes, instead of just taking their business or services elsewhere. Simply put, a college or university will produce better educational outcomes for students if it provides its faculty with the opportunity to express their views and participate in decision making on matters of curriculum, enrollment management, promotion and tenure, etc.

Service is not misuse of faculty energy. The system of higher education depends on it. Each faculty member has already been the beneficiary of the service given by faculty at their own alma maters. Every professor in the world owes a huge debt to faculty unknown to them who helped create and sustain conferences, journals, professional associations, and who acted as peer reviewers and received precious little credit for it.

Liberal arts colleges need to see service for the vital element it is and credit faculty accordingly for using their time and talent in this area. Faculty participation in college and university governance contributes significantly to the quality of higher education in the United States. The evolution of a system of higher education that does not accord significant voice to faculty will surely erode educational quality.

And the importance of service to individuals, to institutions and the academy at large, makes it imperative that colleges and universities create a climate that encourages faculty to serve committees great and small.

Author/s: 
Jim Lakso and Jim Tuten
Author's email: 
info@insidehighered.com

Jim Lakso is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., where Jim Tuten is assistant professor of history and recently completed a five-year term as assistant provost.

Academic Freedom Needs Defending -- From Ward Churchill

Two years ago, the University of Colorado found itself at the center of a national scandal involving one of its ethnic studies professors, Ward Churchill. His characterization of 9/11 victims as “little Eichmanns” rightly provoked condemnation from commentators across the country.

But Churchill is in the headlines today for something other than his opinions -- this time, because of Colorado’s attention to his scholarly record.

Despite having only a master’s in communications, Churchill’s Colorado career was put on the fast track -- landing him both a tenured professorship and chairmanship in ethnic studies. In subsequent years, charges of research misconduct began to surface. And in 2005, his university chose to ignore those allegations no longer. Having first made clear that Churchill was not being punished for his public utterances, the university launched a meticulous investigation centered on specific charges of scholarly misconduct. That is, it did what any institution claiming to care about academic standards must do. For this Hank Brown, who became president at Colorado after the scandal broke, deserves great credit.

When the Boulder campus’s Standing Committee on Research Misconduct issued its report on Churchill last summer, it unanimously found Churchill guilty of severe, sustained, and deliberate breaches of professional integrity. It further noted that the evaluative system that nurtured and rewarded Churchill needed an overhaul. Now, as Brown advises what sanction should apply, the investigation has also galvanized an important discussion about what academic freedom is -- and what it is not.

To Brown, accountability is a crucial component of academic freedom. In recommending that Churchill be dismissed, Brown noted that the university’s policies define academic freedom as a set of privileges and correlative responsibilities -- the latter often ignored in academic discourse on the topic. Academic freedom, he wrote, is “the freedom to inquire, discover, publish and teach truth as the faculty member sees it. … Within the bounds of the definition, however, ‘faculty members have the responsibility to maintain competence, exert themselves to the limit of their intellectual capacities in scholarship, research, writing, and speaking; and to act on and off the campus with integrity and in accordance with the highest standards of their profession.’”

Noting that academic freedom entails both individual and institutional accountability, Brown observed that taxpayer-supported institutions have particularly binding obligations to the people. “The public must be able to trust that the university’s resources will be dedicated to academic endeavors carried out according to the highest possible standards,” he wrote. “Professor Churchill’s conduct, if allowed to stand, would erode the university’s integrity and public trust.” Churchill’s conduct, said Brown, “clearly violated the University’s policies on academic freedom.”

Of course, Churchill and his defenders claim that Colorado’s two-year investigation was an assault on academic freedom because it arose from a public scandal about Churchill’s speech. Churchill’s lawyer even suggested to The Rocky Mountain News that “[a]ny discipline is wrong” in this case. But to suggest that notoriety somehow exempts Churchill from scrutiny is risible. Scrutiny should be applied to scholarly work – as a matter of practice. And Brown -- himself a public figure -- has rightly pointed out that public figures cannot escape accountability by hiding behind their fame.

Crucially, disagreement on this very point is dividing the American Association of University Professors. As Inside Higher Ed has reported, Margaret LeCompte, an education professor who is also president of the Colorado AAUP chapter, calls the Churchill investigation “an opening wedge in the concerted effort to curb academic freedom and tenure.” But Jonathan Knight of the national AAUP’s academic freedom program has defended universities’ right to investigate allegations of faculty misconduct.

Historically the custodian of academic freedom, the AAUP is struggling to clarify, for itself and others, what academic freedom is. And that struggle centers on accountability -- which, unfortunately, explains much of why the AAUP is encountering such difficulty. Roger Bowen, the outgoing general secretary, has vocally defended the notion that academics should not have to answer to anyone but themselves. “It should be evident,” he has written, “that the sufficient condition for securing the academic freedom of our profession is the profession itself.”

This is a far cry from Brown’s conception of academic freedom as part of a public trust. It’s also a far cry from the AAUP’s own foundational 1940 statement on academic freedom, which defines it as a set of “duties correlative with rights” and which sees academic freedom as the means by which colleges and universities serve the public trust: “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher … or the institution as a whole.”

Colorado has acknowledged that its system of peer review and professional assessment failed in Churchill’s case. It has taken steps to repair that system. And it has urged academics across the country to learn from its example. As Brown observed last March, “It is imperative that we in higher education take the initiative to examine ourselves. There are many lawmakers at the state and federal level willing to intervene if we do not do so.”

Noting that “much of the scrutiny we are under is of our own creation,” Brown urged academics to recognize how their reluctance to be accountable to the public has produced “the suspicion that higher education’s primary focus is protecting its own rather than guaranteeing the highly effective and productive teachers and researchers that students and taxpayers deserve.”

The arguments of Churchill and his misguided defenders do -- regrettably -- arise from a basic conviction that academics should be free from accountability. They involve manipulating the term “academic freedom” in ways that undermine a concept of foundational importance to the academic enterprise. They amount to an attempt to turn the concept inside out -- morphing what was originally a cluster of interlocking privileges and responsibilities centered on the public good into a justification for the false idea that academics have no obligation to the public at all. Finally, they stem from the profoundly mistaken premise – which Brown rebuts in his letter to the Board of Regents – that input from the public, from constituencies such as alumni and trustees, violates academic freedom as well. Why else would Churchill and his defenders absurdly claim that Brown’s advisory role with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni -- which ended a decade ago -- invalidates his opinion?

Far from being an “attack” on academic freedom, Colorado’s handling of the Churchill affair is, in fact, in defense of academic freedom. And if Churchill and his defenders win the day, their perverse redefinition of academic freedom will result in an immeasurable setback for that concept -- not to mention the academy itself.

As the decision-making process winds down in Colorado, Churchill’s career hangs in the balance. But so does the integrity of academia.

Author/s: 
Anne D. Neal
Author's email: 
info@insidehighered.com

Anne D. Neal is president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and a First Amendment lawyer.

The Churchill Firing - I

The case of Professor Ward Churchill has received considerable national attention over its two-plus year run. With the next act to be played out in the courtroom, the talk shows will soon be on to other things.

But the ripple effects for higher education will be much longer lasting. The University of Colorado Board of Regents on Tuesday accepted my recommendation that Professor Churchill be dismissed from the faculty for engaging in serious, deliberate and repeated research misconduct. The reaction to the regents’ decision from the university’s constituents has been overwhelmingly positive. Yet in the higher education community across the country, things are a bit more unsettled.

There are those on one end of the spectrum who believe Churchill is free speech martyr who was persecuted because of statements that flew in the face of prevailing winds. On the other end of the spectrum are those who think he is a charlatan, selling snake oil while disguised as an academic. Perhaps the largest group is the one in the middle, which recognizes that his academic misconduct sins were egregious, but remain decidedly uncomfortable that those sins came to light after he engaged in controversial speech.

The case’s implications for academic freedom are also compelling. The term being employed, particularly by those who either support Churchill or are concerned for his free speech rights, is that the decision to fire Churchill may have a “chilling” effect on academic freedom. That’s understandable, but holding Ward Churchill up as the poster child for academic freedom runs counter to the facts.

His own writing shows us why. His essay, "About that Bering Strait Land Bridge ... Let’s Turn Those Footprints Around," which takes archaeologists to task for holding to a migration theory, he writes, "Tailoring the facts to fit one’s theory constitutes neither good science nor good journalism. Rather, it is intellectually dishonest and, when published for consumption by a mass audience, adds up to propaganda."

Three separate panels of more than 20 tenured faculty, from the University of Colorado and other universities, unanimously found that important pieces of Professor Churchill’s research and writing met his own criteria for intellectual dishonesty. The faculty members, to a person, agreed that he engaged in research misconduct and that it required serious sanction. The faculty found a pattern of serious, repeated and deliberate research misconduct that included fabrication, falsification, improper citation and plagiarism.

The tenured faculty who reached these conclusions, like all faculty, have a significant stake in academic freedom. The bedrock of any university, particularly public research universities, is academic freedom. The scholars and researchers who investigated Professor Churchill’s work understood this relation to the work they did. They have the same stake in this bedrock principle that all academicians have.

If there is any real chilling effect in this matter, it is the threat posed to academic freedom by the types of serious academic misconduct in which Churchill engaged. Academic freedom exists only because tenured faculty can be trusted to act responsibly. When Churchill breached the obligations of trust imposed upon him, responsible scholars had no choice but to act.

Still, there are those willing to give his shoddy work a free pass because his intellectual dishonesty came to light after complaints about his controversial speech. There is no doubt that Churchill drew attention to himself when writing and speaking about 9/11 victims. It is also clear that allegations of research misconduct, unrelated to his 9/11 comments, were brought to the attention of the university.

Indeed, Professor Churchill invited his readers to challenge his work. In the introduction of his 1997 collection of essays, A Little Matter of Genocide, he writes, “I do believe that when making many of the points I’ve sought to make, and with the bluntness which typically marks my work, one is well-advised to be thorough in revealing the basis on which they rest. I also believe it is a matter not just of courtesy, but of ethics, to make proper attribution to those upon whose ideas and research one relies. Most importantly, I want those who read this book to be able to interrogate what I’ve said, to challenge it and consequently to build on it.”

The ethics of proper attribution and the basis on which his work rests were what the University of Colorado investigated after learning of potential research misconduct. His courting of public controversy on one occasion does not immunize him from adhering to professional standards in all his professional work. The university had an obligation to investigate serious allegations of research misconduct. Our policy statement on research misconduct prohibits us from turning our back on such allegations. Hiding behind the First Amendment is a smokescreen aimed at distracting people from the real issue: academic integrity.

In the final analysis, the Board of Regents of the university had little choice but to dismiss him. His acts of academic fraud were numerous, serious and intentional. Professor Churchill refused to apologize or correct his errors. He did nothing to indicate he would refrain from fraudulent research in the future.

Fraudulent scholarship violates the public trust and damages the profession. Faculty integrity is the cornerstone of any great university. The quality of the faculty’s work is at the heart of everything we in higher education do. To excuse the kind of academic fraud Professor Churchill engaged in would do irreparable damage to all universities.

Author/s: 
Hank Brown
Author's email: 
info@insidehighered.com

Hank Brown is president of the University of Colorado.

'Too Good' for Tenure?

Like most young faculty members, I began my first job with my eyes on the prize six years ahead -- tenure. Even though I was coming out of University of the Elite and heading Rural College, I was under no illusions that it would be easy. Amidst the bucolic surroundings and relaxed environment of my new institution, I knew I would be buried under a 4-4 teaching load, the pressure to produce a book pre-tenure, and the usual service work and personal attention to students that small institutions expect.

I believed that I would need to prove myself to my colleagues every bit as much as I had had to prove I belonged in my graduate program. And since I was lucky enough to land the job ABD, I was even more concerned that my performance would be under close scrutiny. I felt I had to catch up with my colleagues. So I immersed myself in my work the way I had in graduate school -- as though my professional life depended on it.

Over my first year and a half, I worked very hard -- 70-80 hours a week on my teaching, as well as keeping up with professional activities. I was getting a sense of my reputation among the students. “Tough but fair” was what most said. “Best professor I have ever had,” said some. “Too hard!” said others. I expected as much. I kept a close eye on my assignments, student performances, and my evaluations, and as long as their work was good, a few students got A’s, and the positive comments continued, my growing reputation as the toughest professor in the department didn’t bother me. And even if it had, I wouldn’t have known how to teach otherwise.

But at my second-year review, I got a shock. My chair, Professor Fuddydud, said, “There’s a problem. I don’t know what it is. Just fix it.” Panic and confusion! I began searching my mind for what I could possibly be doing wrong. I approached senior colleagues for advice. Professors Queenbee and Bullykid told me that it was very important that my students know that I like them. Was that in my job description? Does tough love count? For lack of any other solution, I worked harder. I would make it impossible for them to say that anything I was doing was substandard. It would all be stellar!

By the time of my third-year review, I was feeling confident about my performance. My file was huge. In six semesters not only had I finished and defended my dissertation, I had prepared eight new courses from scratch with myriad tailored assignments and teaching aids, created a new concentration for the college curriculum, and spent hours mentoring students, including taking them to conferences and on field trips. But not to be over-balanced in the teaching area, I also had written nine articles and papers of various sorts, participated in over a half-dozen conferences and symposia around the country, served on college advisory boards, committees and panels, pulled strings from my graduate days to bring in important speakers, received five awards from top research libraries to work on my manuscript as well as interest from top presses, and got rave reviews from students and colleagues alike, inside and outside the college.

I wasn’t nervous when Fuddydud told me she wanted to meet so she could convey to me the sense of the department about my performance. Again what she said astounded me. But now she had pinned the problem down a bit more. I was working “too hard,” I didn’t know how to “prioritize,” and what I was producing was “too good.”

I couldn’t fathom what she meant at first. I pressed her for explanations and examples, but got only vague and unsatisfying answers. Clearly there was an issue of “fit.” I had heard about fit. When a department can’t or won’t be explicit about what they don’t like about a candidate for tenure, it’s about fit. So I didn’t fit well with the department, but I didn’t know why.

On paper at least, the fit looked great. I had all the requirements covered and then some. I got along well with my colleagues and had a growing following of devoted students. But as I pondered the few hints Fuddydud gave me and began to think seriously about the culture of the school and the department, the problem began to come into focus. It was exactly that I was exceeding expectations that was the trouble, especially in my teaching.

Then I took a good look around me and saw things clearly for the first time. I had colleagues who showed movies several times a week, some who routinely came to class 20 minutes late or not at all, and others who freely admitted that they prefer it when their students don’t show up. Students said that when Professor Slackjob assigned a 20-page paper, they usually wrote five pages and printed them four times. They got A’s and B’s.

When I had a class full of upper-level students who didn’t know how to cite their sources, I consulted with Fuddydud. She told me without compunction that she didn’t teach her intro-level students to cite their sources because she “just didn’t want to deal with it.” She explained that students should learn to adapt to a variety of professorial styles. I was suspicious. The responsibility would naturally fall to those of us who thought it was important. I found this interesting since some members of the department had accused me of placing the burden of teaching on them. My courses were too hard, they said, and too many students were defecting to their classrooms. I clearly only wanted to teach the “good students” and they were getting all the “stupid” ones. I supposed my style was not one to which students should be compelled to adapt.

So I thought I would try to fit in better. I compared my reading load and teaching style with that of Professor Queenbee, whose pedagogy I respected, who was popular, but who also had a reputation for being rigorous. The page count was the same. I couldn’t understand what the problem could be, so I resorted to asking a student why her peers objected to my reading assignments. “You expect us to answer questions about them!” she said in their defense. “Professor Queenbee just tells us what they say.” I guess I just don’t like my students enough to do that for them.

Students complained. Colleagues disapproved. I was a troublemaker.

In retrospect, I should have seen the bizarro review coming. Much earlier when I told Fuddydud that I usually worked weekends, her response was: “What do you want? Brownie points?” I guess merit pay was out of the question.

Fit is important for new faculty. It can mean a happy career or no career. To “fit” in academia means to conform to the culture of the institution. It is in your interest to assess it carefully before you take a job. The logical way to go about this is to read the institution’s mission statement, check out the web site, look at rankings, and talk to faculty members, administrators, and students.

But what you learn this way and what the true culture of the school is may be very different things. What I heard when I interviewed for the job was that Backwater prioritized teaching. It considered its aspirant peers to be the top liberal arts colleges in the country. All the signs indicated that these priorities and aspirations were sincere, and even if they weren’t yet realized, there was great potential. So I accepted the job because I was serious about teaching and wanted to devote my efforts to undergraduates.

And the department seemed serious about me. Not only did they hire me ABD from an institution known for its academic rigor, they made me an early offer that didn’t allow me to explore the nine other schools with which I had interviews. At the time, I felt I had made a sound choice. The fit seemed excellent.

But what most small colleges won’t tell you -- not even in the fine print -- is that teaching and students often really don’t come first. And for the professors, they can’t. Once upon a time teaching colleges taught and research institutions researched. But these days, with the market for students competitive, and teaching schools scrambling for recognition, they have shifted their priorities. Now they market what is measurable -- not good teaching, but big names and publications. They look to hire new faculty from top research universities who will embellish the faculty roster and bring attention to the school by publishing. And they can do this, because even job candidates who don’t really want to be at places like Rural College (although it is ranked quite well) are grateful to get a tenure-track position.

And here is where the problem is compounded. Small schools want books instead of teaching; and many new faculty -- even the mediocre scholars -- want to publish instead of teach. In the new small college, both win. Everyone looks the other way while courses are neglected for the sake of publications. What few devoted teachers will admit -- because to do so would be impolitic -- is that it is impossible to teach a 4-4 or even a 3-3 load effectively and publish a book pre-tenure without working “too hard.” What’s more, when you suggest that a small teaching college should prioritize teaching over publishing, what your colleagues hear you say is, “I am not good enough to publish.”

Sadly, many of the students also think they win in this scenario. They get good grades with little work. Once a culture like this is established, a new faculty member who is serious about teaching rocks the boat. And if she still somehow manages to excel in all the other required areas, she might be sunk. Unfortunately for the small schools, the best solution for her might be to jump ship.

Author/s: 
Alison Wunderland
Author's email: 
newsroom@insidehighered.com

Alison Wunderland is the pseudonym of an assistant professor of history at the University of Midwestern State.

Academic Freedom, Outside the Academy

I recently had a discussion that led me to a basic question: Why is the concept of academic freedom as a semi-protected activity limited by custom to people who teach in universities? Why doesn’t it apply to any person engaged in research and publication on issues important in our lives? What is the theoretical underpinning of the argument that non-faculty don’t have academic freedom in the same sense that faculty do? What is it that faculty actually do that is different from what I do, at least part of the time?

Is it that faculty need to be free to publish important books and articles? I have published four books as author or contributing editor (three with a university press), one of which is a five-pounder and is considered the definitive modern work in its field. I have published chapters in other major books, 36 articles or commentaries on education issues, 75 on ornithology (mostly in non-refereed outlets) and another two dozen that don’t fit neatly into categories. This doesn’t count work that I produce in my job as a college evaluator. I’m also the new book review editor for a small, well-respected refereed journal and a glorious but undiscovered poet.

Because I work as a college evaluator and routinely review faculty qualifications, I can say that my actual output of what would normally be considered scholarly work is quite similar to what I would expect of a mid-career professor at a mid-level college. In short, in terms of tangible product, I do what they do.

Is it that faculty teach? Let us define teaching. Let me know when you’re done -- with luck, I will have retired by then. I suppose we have an obligation to at least attempt to answer the question, but allow me to argue that teaching and learning take place all the time in all parts of society, whether or not a traditional cage is constructed around the putative teachers and learners.

Is the difference that I as a non-faculty member have been classified by society as fit for some tasks but not for others? By whose order? Under what theory? With what brief? Certainly as a state employee I am obligated to perform the tasks that are in my job description, and likewise obligated not to go about publicly trashing the goals of my employer. Beyond this, am I not free to pursue the truth wherever it may take me?

Universities have traditionally been assigned by society the role of pursuing truth and transferring knowledge in a semi-protected setting, if not beyond the reach of interfering powers, at least having some defenses against those powers. This is a good thing, but doesn’t it seem strange that a special kind of institution in society must be set aside for this purpose?

I do not think that the traditional collegiate cloister as our sole reservation for academic freedom works very well any more. The ability of independent scholars to operate outside institutions has increased along with the utility of the Internet. The Supreme Court wrote, in an era before the personal computer, PDA and cell phone (to say nothing of iPhone), that:

“Our nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom.” (Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 1967)

Where, and what, is the classroom today, 40 years downstream from Keyishian? If a friend of mine publishes a detailed study of hospital spending practices, molt strategies in the American Wigeon or the perfidy of Donald Rumsfeld on a blog, Web site or other nontraditional venue, and invites comment from all comers, isn’t that just as much a classroom as an enclosed space in which one human is bleating in person at a roomful of (mostly) younger humans? Certainly the gray area is taking on more and more layers and shades with the advent of more varieties of distance-learning.

To spend a moment longer in the relatively cramped legal arena, the Supreme Court has also granted certain kinds of academic freedom protections to universities themselves, under a theory that they as institutions have a special role in society and need to have some protection from unseemly attempts to influence their work. Yes, to be sure, that is true, but there are other institutions in society, e.g., publishers, think tanks, foundations; whose role is, if not the same in structure, surely overlapping in goal and function.

At a time when more and more people of all ages get their news and information off the Internet, and when young people of traditional college age do a vast amount of their fact-gathering online (whether the facts are, if you will, true, is another question), the argument that universities need a special protected status as our principal conductors of information and values to young adults has been losing weight for years.

We see more and more corporate sponsorships of research or faculty positions and degree programs that, as a practical matter, relate solely to the products of one or two companies. The idea that the university is separate from the pressures of the outer world (and therefore that people who work there should have a special status for themselves and their work) is getting harder to sustain. Should people employed by banks, supermarkets or governments who publish academic work be afforded protection under an academic freedom theory from retaliation by their employer if the employer happens to dislike the work? I can’t think why not.

When we have resources as good as, for example, Reginald Shepherd’s teaching-blog on poetry, the argument that the traditional classroom is necessary as a baseline for the theory, practice and legal protections of academic freedom begins to look like an argument that a sufficiency of draft horses is necessary for national security.

Norms move forward. I argued a while ago ("Accrediting Individual Instructors," The Independent Scholar 18(1):10-12, Winter 2004) that we need to stop accrediting colleges and start accrediting teachers. The fact that a top-flight poet like Shepherd now contracts with students privately and engages in significant dialogues on poetry and culture via a blog is but one example of an educational trend that militates toward recognition that academic freedom, in its purposes, results and legal classification, needs to be decoupled from the nature of an individual scholar’s employment.

Academic freedom adheres to the purpose and function of academic inquiry, not to technicalities of institutional affiliation. Anyone who engages in inquiry and publication according to the norms of academe is entitled to the scholar’s woolen cloak. It may not protect against all enemies, but it serves to reduce the chill of unpopular thought.

Author/s: 
Alan Contreras
Author's email: 
newsroom@insidehighered.com

Alan Contreras works for the State of Oregon, where Article 1, Section 8 of the Oregon Constitution allows him to publish what he pleases. His views do not necessarily represent those of the commission. He blogs at oregonreview.blogspot.com.

A Call for Slow Writing

What will it take to make essays the standard of achievement once again in the scholarly world? This is not where we are: Books are the gold standard for tenure in most of the humanities and some of the social sciences, so much so that journal articles almost don’t even count. As august a figure as Helen Vendler assured me recently that essays could never replace books as a basis for tenuring junior colleagues. So, in departments of English as on Wall Street, counting is all that counts. “It’s the bottom line, stupid.” Countability is the thing whereby you’ll catch the conscience of the dean, as a friend of Hamlet might advise the young Danish assistant professor or the young Shakespeare scholar. Articles don’t make a thumping sound when you drop them on a table the way a body might in Six Feet Under.

I have claimed elsewhere (subscription required) that the book-for-tenure system is coming to an end, that it is unsustainable, that its growth has been an obscenity, because it was mindless, because it sought to make something automatic and machine-like play the role that should only be played by the soul. Please excuse my antiquated language: The “soul,” I remind you, is that faculty of the human body whose juices are made to flow by the exercise of judging myself whether something is of merit. In earlier publications I have charged that professors have been seeking to dodge the one activity that is most essential to their own development when they outsource tenure decisions to bureaucracies and counting replaces reading as the central job of tenure committees, because in that situation content goes by the by. Personally, for me as a publisher, the situation that has arisen is sad beyond endurance. I believe the contents of the books I publish matter. I am not selling milk, which does sustain life, but is homogenized by comparison to book. In fact, milk’s the very definition of homogenized. Each of the books I publish is different.

Books are the standard now, and for me to ask you to think that the future will feature the renaissance of journals and the replacement of the book by the essay might seem crazy. (You should know that it does not seem crazy to many of the leading university press publishers.) My suggestion is not crazy; it’s utopian. We don’t live in that world I am asking you to imagine, the world in which essays are the norm, but if we were to imagine that world could exist even for a second, how might seeing things that way cause us to change what we are doing?

We need to slow down, and remember that the essay has been the main form for humanistic discourse. The book is an outlier. Many of the writings that changed the direction a scholarly community was marching toward were essays. Think of Edward Said’s “Abecedarium Culturae” or Paul de Man’s “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” to stay in recent history and not begin, as I easily could, an epic catalog from Montaigne’s “De l’amitie” onwards. Some of the most important books are collections of essays, sometimes assembled with no pretence to forging a unity of them, such as John Freccero’s Dante: The Poetics of Conversion. One could give many examples.

There is no good reason why the essay should not replace the book, and a lot of good reasons why it should. I am tempted to say -- in order to be maximally provocative -- that anyone who publishes a book within six years of earning a Ph.D. should be denied tenure. The chances a person at that stage can have published something worth chopping that many trees down is unlikely. I ask you: How are you preparing for the future that could be yours and mine? We -- I mean the world in general -- don’t need a lot of bad writing. We need some great writing. “Pump Up the Volume” has been the watchword in the scholarly world and in America long before that movie with Christian Slater came out. “Don’t Believe the Hype” somehow got twisted into “Believe the Hype” along the way, too. Totally.

The big problem that afflicts the humanities in the United States is not a problem of quantity. Yes, I know, some politicians ridicule university administrators who retain on their staff professors who produce so little by way of income, student-credit hours served, and publications. The newspapers said that U.S. troops could “walk tall again” after conquering Granada. Will professors be able to walk tall again if they produce tall heaps of publications on the scale of manufactured goods coming out of the factories in Suzhou? (If you don’t know where Suzhou is, look it up. It’ll do you good. You are going to want to know in fewer years than you can imagine.)

No, the productivity problem of professors in the U.S. is not one of quantity, but quality. (Same is actually the case in China, too.) I recently got a book proposal that I decided to look at closely rather than reject it summarily as I knew it deserved. It consisted of a welter of confusing sentences. It was contemporary, very up-to-date, located right where the profession is. And the scholar, though young, was very accomplished in the way the world judges achievement, a dozen or more fellowships, a book from a major press, tenure too at a respectable university. But the views in the proposal were those manufactured by others and the linking of them in the proposal had no coherence, and the problem was manifest in the clumsy writing. Who had ever read anything by this young scholar seriously before, I wondered?

Has social passing come to grad school? A friend teaches in a clinic to help people from 3 to thrice 20 to remedy problems of speaking and reading. I have been curious about the stories she tells me of people in their 50s confident enough about their personal success in life to address what used to be a source of deep embarrassment -- the fact that although they could talk like a college grad they could not read better than a second-grader. It takes great self-acceptance to go to the clinic at that age and confess you cannot read and to be taught the things little kids learn.

One of the chief explanations these learners give for how it was they got by for so long without learning the basics of reading is social passing, the decision of teachers to ignore what it is they think they cannot deal with. Imagine an air-traffic controller ignoring some slight intimation a plane is going off course? You cannot, but you know that Captain Delano in Benito Cereno stifled his worries that something was amiss on the San Dominick. Problem too big for me to solve. “I’m a mere fourth grade teacher. I cannot remedy such a huge problem. The system is so much bigger than me or this kid. The principal will be angry if classes get clotted up with the unfortunate. Pass.” So a person might say to themselves privately. Are professors in grad school saying such things to themselves now? I am sure most of them are not, but some must be. Otherwise how did this person get this far writing like this? This person is not alone.

In his Enemies of Promise, Cyril Connolly lambasted Joseph Addison, co-founder of the journal The Spectator because he was “an apologist for the New Bourgeoisie.” The problem: Addison wrote playfully and unapologetically about nothing, casting a smokescreen in front of his readers. Addison is like Zizek. If Zizek is a success -- and you know he is -- the consequences are worrisome. The kids who flock to see him might try to write like him. In fact, if the elders present Zizek as a star speaker, then what is a kid to think? If this stuff flies, my prose -- a young scholar might reasonably say -- can crawl and stumble and I can become a superstar of theory, too.

I believe sometime in the dark backward and abysm of time, when Zizek was closer to Hegel and Lacan, he must have been a good expositor of the thinking of Lacan, but he is not now. He’s an entertainer, an ersatz version of real explorers like Derrida and Umberto Eco. People used to complain bitterly about the way Derrida, DeMan, Deleuze wrote. Such people’s problem was that they did not pause to read what newly emergent scholars wrote. Derrida and the others wrote perfectly well. Their sentences were difficult to read, perhaps, but they parsed. It is different with Zizek. The torrent that flows from him is like (to go to a realm he’s visited to criticize someone else and very unfairly, too, I might add) a toilet overflowing.

As one critic of his writes, “He does not develop a clear-cut idea, nor does he structure a book around a definable topic. His proofs are mostly introduced with an ‘of course,’ or ‘it is clear why’. He delivers what his fans want -- razzamatazz.” Pascal wrote, “A maker of witticisms, a bad character” ( Pensees, p 12). Let me give a sentence of his to be concrete: The first sentence of the Preface of his new book For They Know Not What They Do is: “There are philosophical books, minor classics even, which are widely known and referred to, although practically no one has read them page by page (John Rawls's Theory of Justice, for example, or Robert Brandom's Making It Explicit) -- a nice example of interpassivity, where some figure of the Other is supposed to do the reading for us.” First of all, even if you accept the Lacan-lingo (“other”), what could the made-up word “interpassivity” mean? And why would I want to know when, second, the sentence in which it occurs is a lie, not a clever one, but a stupid one. Almost 300,000 people have bought the Rawls and the reading of it was so important to enough of them that they have kept their copies of the book, so the used book market is not swamped with copies. And Brandom has nowhere like the same sales, but his book is an international sales success. Remember the “blancmange” skit in Monty Python? Zizek’s writing is “blanc-et-noir mange.” It was a style. Eliot complained the West was but a heap of broken images. Zizek, in this still a Soviet sympathizer, wants like Kruschev to bury us in the heap of his verbiage. It’s not fun anymore, if it ever was. Beware, Mr Zizek, Connolly also says that “one can fool the public about a book but the public will store up resentment in proportion to its folly.” Words suffer under the whip of such a taskmaster.

If words lose out, so do we all: We are in danger of losing our souls, our backbones, our bearings. We are in danger of losing the civilization that was created in the West in the Renaissance. Until I’d read Ingrid Rowland’s book on 16th century Rome, the Rome of Raphael, I had not known about what I’ll call “the Renaissance of the sentence.” I’d lived in Florence when I decided to study the Italian Renaissance, and I’d gotten a very concrete sense of the how, what, when of the Renaissance of architecture at Santo Spirito. I knew about the Renaissance of narrative plotting from immersing myself in Ariosto and Milton and seeing the debate about plotting over Tasso. But the Renaissance of the Sentence -- it had never occurred to me. Hadn’t the monks kept the art of the sentence alive through the Dark Ages? Short answer: No.

Ingrid Rowland recounts how Angelo Colocci (aka “Serafino Aquilano”) pioneered the transformation of writing in vernacular Italian. No longer was it revolutionary to use the vernacular instead of Latin; no, revolutionary was using the vernacular with rhythm, with passion. The point of writing in such a way was because it unleashed a power one could have using word to “unlock the emotions through a combination of words and music.” To write in this way was to have style, what Colocci called “modo.” Sure, one could write about sexy topics in the vernacular, as shown by the author of Hypnerotomochia Poliphili, one of the most famous books of the Renaissance, but the results were not sexy, because the Italian was in a ponderously Latinate style. Sexy sentences got to have rhythm. As Rowland wonderfully describes what I, not she, call the Renaissance of the Sentence, (but my description owes all to her interpretation of the historical record), Castiglione wrote in a manner that “set standards for vernacular style: like the building blocks of a classical temple, the subordinate clauses interlock, one after another, to construct the sonorous bulk of Castiglione’s monumental run-on sentences.” Castiglione brings “epic muscularity” of Michelangelo’s sculpture into sentence construction. The writers of the Renaissance had figured out what made Ancient writing click, and they’d found a way to do it on their own.

What I’m saying is that the first step to re-establishing the essay as the standard in humanistic writing is to reinvigorate the sentences we write, so that, when one reads an essay, one feels it. One feels it the way one tastes -- and here I’m going global -- a good curry. It really sets you back. Or maybe forward. Style, maniera, modo is what we readers demand. The humanists of the Renaissance knew the Romans had the ability to put sentences that had concinnitas, but that their ancestors in what we call the Middle Ages had lost that ability. When the Ancients constructed the Arch of Constantine, it stayed together for centuries, even though neglected. Concinnity -- what a splendid word!

It seems to me that when bad styling of sentences became accepted, we got used to it. We compensated for the lack of quality and impact of the sentences that people wrote as evidence of their scholarly abilities by asking them for more of them in the hopes we could get the same buzz going that we used to get from fewer sentences. Last year I ran a panel at the Modern Language Association on “Slow Reading,” and today I’m advocating slow writing. Editors are in the position to make this change take place.

Now, I can hear you saying: Who am I to think I can turn the academic world around?

I suggest that what we in scholarly publishing -- books and journals -- need to do is to simultaneously go down-market and upscale. I am also an editor for a journal, a member of the editorial board of the Duke University Press journal boundary 2. We decided to change our policies to deal with a whole set of changes that have beset the academic world since 1989. Before I talk about the specifics of the changes in policy, I ask you to step back to take in the bigger picture. It’s important to see our moment in historical perspective from the Oil Crisis of 1973-4, which had a profound effect on university libraries, until 1989-2001. Because of the oil crisis of the early 70s, librarians cut back drastically on purchasing books but maintained journal subscriptions. As a result some publishers decided they could raise prices on serials with impunity. It was license to print money. The result radically distorted university library budgets.

After September 11th the universities finally decided they could reduce purchases of journals as much as they’d cut back on books. I’m talking about general trends. Of course, there are exceptions to what I’m saying. The development of electronic forms of publication provided the justification for the cutbacks. There was a sense that if a library switched its purchasing to electronic media, it was not really cutting back, because there were alternative avenues for publication. This was partly true, but in the meantime, there was a growing sense that educators needed to be policed better and given measuring sticks for productivity. Thus, the demand for books increased even at the time the budgets for purchasing books were slashed. And libraries were appropriately looking for opportunities to cut subscriptions to print journals that were perceived as unnecessary.

Journal editors felt the need to rethink what they were doing to make themselves seem more essential, less cuttable. In the meantime, the good intellectual and academic times that ran from the late 60s were over. The wonderful flowering of new theories in almost every field of academic endeavor had run their course. In literary studies, for example, the great excitement of theory had mutated into the police state tactics of the New Historicism that in fact often focussed on policing, setting rules, enforcing market conditions. So it was not a time for developing new journals and readers’ interests were waning. When people did not understand de Man and Foucault, there was interest in essays by scholars telling readers they’d finally come to understand these gurus of the postmodern, but this sort of thing gets stale. It got really stale. And we found our pages filling with careerists eager to add another line to the cv. Jonathan Arac, one of the lead editors of boundary 2, describes the new policy for acquisitions for the journal in these simple terms: We decided to serve our readers more than our contributors. Paul Bove summarizes the changes in the journal editorial policy as consisting of four criteria:

1. ordinary language, not jargon
2. essays first, scholarly articles second
3. application of the “cui bono?” test to all submissions
4. contents of journal must educate the readers and serve the audience, not the careers of the writers

We must, he said to me, appeal to the curiosity of the reader and recover the right to use the word “stupid” as a judgment call.

A journal, hopefully, stretches on and on. Editorial principles will change if the journal stays as flexible and fluid as the sentences that we hope will appear in it. It should be structured to make the needs of the readers primary, those needs as imagined by the editors in an act of empathy and political responsibility. How could one set up a journal or any publication where essays were being gathered in order to make them command respect. We have some work to do on this at boundary 2, but we are trying to demand more of ourselves in order to give more to readers.

I am involved in a project now where the essay is the monarch, where we have set up editorial procedures to push us, the editors, to publish the best essays, and that is my book, forthcoming in Fall 2009, called The New Literary History of the United States, whose chief editors are Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors. In publishing it’s always about how to rig things for the best results, knowing there’s going to be a lot of resistance coming in from every which way.. The book depends on the chief editors and the members of the editorial board leaning on the best people they know to contribute. But having done that, how can you be demanding? Beggars can be choosers, I say!! We set up the editorial procedures to make sure the personal loyalty of the editors to contributors doesn’t interfere with the loyalty of the publication to its readers. I’ve been through this twice before with the French and German literary histories in 1989 and 2004, but I think we’ve improved things! Working with my chief editors who have each had a lot of experience editing the work of others, we set the editorial procedures up to fight the lazy writing habits that have entered the academic world over the last decades.

When Edward Said predicted the decline of writing by professors in the early 1980s, I did not believe him; but he was right and I was wrong. A lot of bad habits developed, and now they are protected by power by those who write poorly who have now risen in rank as a result of what I called “social passing” in educational levels above the primary and secondary schools. We had fights and had to have emergency meetings of the board for Hollier’s New History of French Literature because, although Hollier was demanding and so were we at Harvard University Press, some members of the board did not think we had the right to make professors revise to the degree that every page would be readable.

What an outrage! I remember the would-be contributor whom we were demanding more of who said “But I’ve written the perfect New Historicist, feminist, deconstructionist essay. You dare not tamper with my very self and voice. And we dared not tell Professor Polonius that he did not have any writing voice at all. You cannot be comical-pastoral-tragical (I am playing on what Polonius says at Hamlet 2.2.397.) and speak in any tongue in which humans have spoken. We nearly turned down an entry by one of the chief editors of that book. With the Marcus/Sollors I confess to having stacked things towards readability by making one of the founding editors of Rolling Stone be one of the two editors-in-chief of the volume. Guilty as charged. The way I have set up the Marcus/Sollors is all around the essay. The book is a collection of 220 essays that resonate in surprising ways so that the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts, but each individual part is a free-standing essay.In the making of this book I have pursued the essay so strongly that I have made it function in a new way like an individual instrument in Alexander’s Ragtime Band.

If we want change to happen so that essays become the norm of scholarly publication for tenure for junior people, then we will have to make it happen. It is in our power, but it will not happen unless we make a concerted effort. We need to make changes in our journals, as I described we did with boundary 2 and the Marcus/Sollors. . We need to do what we might fear will be dumbing down our publications by insisting upon clearer language set forth in rhythmical sentence. The reason for the persistence of gobbledy-gook is that it’s a lot easier to hide mediocre thinking under the cloak of gobbledy-gook. If we insist upon clarity, we will miss those moments of professional “stuplimity” (to use my dear author Sianne Ngai’s word) caused by the deep unclarity of the sort we get from Zizek. But we’ll win back readers. We want to publish writings people will talk about.

The real, dirty secret of academic publishing, as a daring author of a letter to the editor of Nature had the courage to say, is that it’s too easy to get published nowadays: “Let’s admit it . . . one can publish just about anything if one goes low enough down the list of impact factors,” wrote Vladimir Svetlov of the Department of Microbiogology at Ohio State University. There are procedures for refereeing and they make some difference in an international context (this is going to be a bigger and bigger issue in the years to come), but those procedures don’t in and of themselves guarantee anything. In fact, where I hear people talk the most about journals edited according to international standards for refereeing, it often attached to mediocre publications and is a reason for excluding from counting towards one’s record publication in essays it is almost impossible to get into because they have their own, very high standards, like Critical Inquiry.

A good journal has a direction, a mission and scholarly goals. The for-profit publishers know how to set up a journal that gets credibility in the most facile way possible. It has become harder to make money from journals since September 11th. The old tricks won’t work, but the authorities in the universities have not adjusted to them and in some way they feed into them, feed into the undermining of scholarly standards. The profit motive undermines true credibility of many scholarly journals. I have been clipping the articles from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other papers that document the assault on the authority of scholarly journals by a number of for-profit operations. It has become a lot more dangerous to edit a scholarly journal, especially in the medical sciences where there is big money to lose when the claims for a Big Pharma product are contested by a scientist. I have a big sheaf of such essays gathered over the last three years. All this would be bad enough were it not that papers like the Wall Street Journal also run essays by -- what is the right word for it? -- people like Professor Thomas P. Stossel of the Harvard Medical School saying that scholarly journals “are magazines,” no better than the magazines you find in the grocery store with no more authority than such publications. The pull-quote from the essay reads: “Why are scientific journals regarded with such reverence?” This shameful screed was meant to undermine scholarly journals. To say the least such talk is of no help in the effort I am encouraging to bring more authority back to the scholarly journal.

We live at a time when I can see that a whole series of great developments are emerging in philosophy, literary studies, and other fields. We are on the verge of great things, and they are apparent in a number of articles appearing in journals and some of the projects have developed far enough to merit publication in book form. But these are also desperate times for many, a time of uncertainty and false prophets. Now, Mr. Zizek is about to be shut up by a whole set of people who are tired of hearing him blab his mouth. About time! But, look, it’s America: There are still a lot of snake oil salemen ready to try to convince you that up is down. Beware! As we prepare for the next thirty years we need to refind our foundations, to re-establish learning on the best foundations, and the best one of all is the sentence that the Renaissance reinvigorated. A sentence is not like a laundry line on which we pin words so they can flap in the wind. No, a sentence “is a sound in itself on which other sounds called words may be strung.”

Will the Internet, will Google destroy the scholarly journal? Will blogs spell the end of little magazines? I hope not. Look at N + 1. There’s no authority in being disseminated by the Internet in and of itself. As Benjamin wrote of technology, it is is a force for good and ill; all depends on humans subordinating the tool to human needs. The iron we smelt we can use to make railway tracks that bring us together and movie cameras we use to make art that brings us together. Or that metal can be made into bullets and bombers. It is up to us. The tools don’t determine our course. That’s why we have to go back to fundamentals, to the sentence, to judgment -- it’s no surprise those words can mean the same thing -- to reassure others, and more importantly,ourselves that what we do is essential. Against the bluster and braggadocio of a Zizek and so many other boastful denizens of the Roaring Nineties, let us affect the modesty that seems to be endemic to the essay!

Author/s: 
Lindsay Waters
Author's email: 
http://info@!insidehighered.com

Lindsay Waters is executive editor for the humanities at the Harvard University Press. This essay is adapted from a talk he gave at the meeting of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, held in December at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association. His Enemies of Promise came out from Prickly Paradigm Press in 2004, and then from State University Press of Sao Paolo in 2006 and will come out from Editions Allia in Paris in 2008 and from Commercial Press in Beijing in 2009.

Why Assistant Professors Should Earn More Than the Tenured

Although it is far from the norm, a few colleges pay their assistant professors more on average than they do their tenured professors. Although such pay scales might harm the egos of tenured professors, they can benefit colleges.

Organizations often pay high salaries to (1) attract new employees, (2) keep existing employees, (3) compensate workers for unpleasant working conditions and (4) compensate workers for taking on risks. These four criteria support colleges giving relatively higher salaries to assistant professors.

Consider a college that has some extra money to spend on faculty salaries. In many fields, this college competes intensely with other schools for talented assistant professors. So the college could increase the quality of its faculty by using its extra money to boost assistant professors’ salaries.

Compared to assistant professors, tenured professors rarely switch jobs. Our hypothetical college probably won’t lose a significant number of its non-superstar tenured faculty if it doesn’t allocate its extra money to raising their salaries. (And the college can always cut separate deals with it superstars.) So to maximize the quality of its faculty, the college should create a pay structure in which tenure-track assistant professors earn more than tenured professors. As the following example shows, a college can do this without ever decreasing a professor’s salary even if the professor is promoted.

Year Tenured Professor’s Salary Assistant Professor’s Salary
2008 $77,000 $80,000
2009 $80,000 $83,000
2010 $83,000 $86,000

[If an assistant professor were promoted at the start of 2010 he would make $83,000 in both 2009 and 2010.]

Assistant professors in many ways have harder jobs than tenured professors do. They have more pressure to publish. They usually spend more time on class preparation because they have taught their classes relatively few times. And, keeping in mind their looming tenure bids, they often feel compelled to be more deferential to their senior colleagues than they would prefer. Those who care about economic fairness consequently should support the idea of assistant professors making more than tenured professors. And those who care about markets should understand that the less pleasant the job, the higher salary you must pay to attract top talent.

Job security is a large part of tenured professors’ compensation. So even if a tenured professor has a somewhat lower monetary salary than an assistant professor does, he probably, over all, receives more total compensation than his non-tenured colleagues. After all, I suspect few tenured professors who are not superstars or close to retirement would agree to exchange, say, $3,000 in extra salary in return for abandoning tenure.

Markets compensate intelligent risk takers. For example, investing in the stock market yields a higher average return than investing in safe government bonds does. Up or out tenure decisions foist enormous risk on tenure-track assistant professors. Ph.D.’s in practical fields in which many non-academic jobs are available should be willing to take on tenure risk only if they are suitably compensated for it. In contrast, however, being a tenured professor is one of the safest jobs on the planet, and consequently you would expect markets to pay tenured professors a negative risk premium that reduces their salary.

It’s relatively less risky for a college to increase its assistant professors’ salaries. For reasons economists don’t fully understand, employers almost never decrease their workers’ nominal salaries. So if a college gives a raise to a tenured professor, it is stuck paying this raise until the professor retires. In contrast, if an assistant professor becomes too expensive the college can simply not reappoint him.

I’m actually surprised that the academic market doesn’t induce more colleges to pay greater salaries to assistant professors than to non-superstar tenured professors. Tenured professors, however, have on average vastly greater bureaucratic power than their untenured co-workers and perhaps such power discrepancies explain why at most colleges tenured professors earn more than assistant professors.

Some might claim that not rewarding tenured professors for their long experience would harm their morale. But I wonder how many talented assistant professors have had their morale damaged (or indeed have even voluntarily left academe) because they are paid less than some of their less talented and less hardworking senior colleagues.

Author/s: 
James D. Miller
Author's email: 
newsroom@insidehighered.com

James D. Miller is an associate professor of economics at Smith College. He is the author of a newly published Principles of Microeconomics textbook.

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