Friday, August 22, 2014

Publish or Perish

Resolved: faculty publications are essential to quality teaching in the university.
This is something a little different; last week I had an interesting conversation about the quality of college instruction by teachers who did not, as a matter of course, publish in peer-reviewed journals or with peer-reviewed presses.  My argument was that a college instructor in an academic discipline was obliged to publish in his/her area of expertise, if he/she taught students in courses of study leading to bachelors or masters degrees.  The reason for requiring publications was to ensure that instructors are current in their fields and to ensure the instructors' engagement with colleagues in their disciplines.  The purpose of requiring they publish is to make their ideas about the subjects of their disciplines public so that they can be vetted by colleagues in both the university and their discipline.  Were it otherwise, colleagues would not know if the teacher was competent in the subject matter of the discipline and knowledgeable about current discussions in the field. Publically submitting one's views and ideas to colleagues in the field by publishing them is the only way a discipline can police itself.
               In academic institutions that practice self-governance faculty members of academic departments are regularly involved in evaluating other faculty members for promotion and tenure, and it is not uncommon to ask for reviews from others in the instructor's discipline outside the university.  At my university (as in most accredited universities) faculty are evaluated in terms of teaching, research, and service.  The percentages of evaluation in each category, within certain limits, may be set by the individual faculty member.  For example, on a scale of 100%, the instructor may select 90% in teaching and service and 10% in research and publication.  But research and publication must be a part of the faculty member's package.  Teachers are required to maintain institutional/departmental minimums in all three areas in order to be promoted and tenured.  If an otherwise excellent teacher fails to meet the required minimum in all three areas during their probationary period, that teacher will not be renewed.  If the teacher somehow manages to make tenure, but does not perform at the required level in future years, the teacher will not be promoted beyond assistant professor.  I affirmed that process while I was teaching and still affirm it.  A "good" teacher who does not meet the minimum academic standards of the institution should find some other less demanding line of work.
               Let it be understood that there are varieties of "publishing" and not just print media.  Faculty members can publish on-line, as long as there is a peer review process involved, or they can submit professional papers for reading at professional meetings (these papers are peer-reviewed).  In my field the accepted method of publishing is generally in print media that is peer reviewed.  All of these publishing venues lead to informing colleagues about the kind of work being done in the classroom.  A teacher should make public the nature and quality of the research, reading, and thinking that informs what the students are experiencing in the classroom.  A teacher that will not do this is irresponsible in my view.
               The instructor controls his/her classroom.  Visitors to the classroom are there by permission of the instructor—even university administrators and colleagues work out a mutually agreed time for a visit.  Only the instructor and the students know what goes on in the classroom 95% of the time.  The state, however, demands accountability from publically assisted and supported universities, and the primary indicators for the 95% of class time that is unsupervised are the instructor's publications in whatever form, enrollments, and student performance (grades).  Enrollments and grades, however, cut both ways.  They can either indicate that the instructor is doing an excellent job in the classroom, or that he/she is inflating grades to cover a poor performance in the classroom or in order to support sagging student enrollments.
               In my university each department has a professional standards committee.  The purpose of the committee is to interpret standards set by the department (and university) for faculty facing tenure or promotion, to help the faculty member prepare his/her professional package that winds its way forward for recommendations from the professional standards committee, the department, the dean, and eventually to the president and the board.
               Let it also be said that during the probationary period poor teachers with excellent publishing records for beginning instructors will very likely not be successful in the tenure process.  The quality of classroom teaching plays a major role in an instructor's success in academia. But for the record: it is not either/or—it is both/and.
What are your thoughts?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Does God provide Portents that Warn of Future Events?

Does the God of Modern Christian faith deal in portents?  I suppose in the final analysis, it will depend on who you ask.  Portents are well known phenomena in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.  Occurrences, which otherwise might seem to be simply natural happenings in the world, are regarded as omens or signs of future events that are sent by the gods—for example, the flight of birds, the movements of the stars, the falling of trees in the woods, etc.  There were also those in the ancient world who were thought to be endowed with the ability to recognize and interpret the signs that portended future events, and thus avoid disasters.  The practice of foretelling the future through such signs was called "divination," for the portents were thought to be sent by the gods.
               Although the practice of divination was forbidden in Israelite law (Deut 18:9-12), nevertheless portents show up in the Old Testament.  For example, Isaiah's nudity was thought to be a portent (Isaiah 20:2-3, 8:18) and the "handwriting on the wall" was a portent of doom for Belshazzar (Dan 5:5-31).  Some prophets thought that the Day of the Lord would be preceded by fearful portents in the heavens (Isa 13:9-11; Joel 2:30-31). Some New Testament writers thought that the end time would be preceded by similar portents in the heavens (Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:8-28).  The Apocalypse describes some specific portents (Rev 12:12:1; 15:1).  The birth of the messiah in Matthew was preceded by the portent of a star in the heavens leading the three magi to Bethlehem (Matt 2:1-23). The ripping of the curtain of the Judean Temple at the death of Jesus (Mark 15:37-38) is likely a portent, which Mark declines or neglects to clarify.
               A case on point may be the crowing of the rooster that portended Peter's denial of Jesus.  Before they went out to Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested, Jesus told Peter that "before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times" (Mark 14:30), Matthew (26:34), Luke (22:34), and John (13:38), however, describe only one crowing of the cock followed by the three denials.  I have always wondered why it is that the other canonical gospels have only one crowing of the cock while Jesus in Mark predicted two.  It may well be because Mark's narration of the actual event of Peter's denial cites only one crowing of the cock (Mark 14:66-72).  The first crowing of the cock is apparently not stated in the passage, although some reliable manuscripts add a first crowing at the end of Mark 14:68: "and the cock crowed."  New Testament textual critics add the first crowing appearing in some manuscripts to the end of 14:68 in [square brackets], indicating that they are not completely convinced of the authenticity of the enclosed words.  In any case a first crowing of the cock, whether or not Mark narrated it, must have served as the portent of Peter's great denial and initiated the sad drama, which concluded immediately upon Peter's third denial (Mark 14:72).
               The motif of a crowing cock as a portent of some kind of disaster is mentioned several times by the first century Roman writer, Cicero ("Divination").
               Does God actually warn us of tragic events through seemingly inconsequential natural events like the flight of birds, the crowing of roosters, the cawing of crows, or some other natural occurrence?  Portents are attributed to God in the Bible, but how about today?  Should we modern users of the Bible regard portents as superstition, or should we regard them as "gospel truth," and consult modern diviners or augurs for a reading of "divine" signs before undertaking significant activities in our lives?  If, on the other hand, we determine that portents and divining the future are simply the stuff of ancient superstition, which have no basis in fact, how should we then regard and use the Bible?  Any thoughts?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University