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


Lucinda H. Kennaley said...

This is really interesting. It makes sense that a professor's views should be known. Thanks for sharing this insight!

Anonymous said...

I had never looked at the requirement to publish in this light. With the move to hire more and more adjuncts who do not have to meet this standard, however, how are they evaluated (beyond the fact that they are warm bodies willing to work for less pay)? How does the university justify this double standard?

Marcia M.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly important that professors keep abreast and even add to the body of knowledge in their fields. If they don't publish, certainly the uncredentialed do! My question is this: To what, if any, extent is a college professor required to know and use effective research-based methods of instruction? Having wisdom and the ability to impart it in ways the student is able to know and use the information are two different things. (My bias: Even when I taught adults, I noted that lecture did not seem as effective as engaging more than the students' ears. On a personal, Jesus Seminar level, I experienced and will never forget chanting a portion of "The Thunder: Perfect Mind" with the group, Hal Taussig leading. That became the conduit and "hook" for an unforgettable learning experience. )
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Dahlonega, Ga.

Anonymous said...

I like Dennis' point of view. The superwoman teacher, of course, should be able to produce up to date research, demonstrate excellent skills of self- presentation, and master multiple classroom methodologies. And with what the costs of education are today, every damn teacher better have these characteristics, or I'm creating a college level home schooling program, so there.

Charles Hedrick said...

Hi Marcia,
I can only offer a partial response with respect to adjunct faculty. All universities and colleges employ some, and they are paid starvation wages. In my experience at MSU (retired December 2004) adjunct faculty were hired and fired by the chair/head. The department as a whole had little to no input in the hiring or firing. Even the little "supervision" offered to members of the department through the professional standards committee was not extended to adjunct faculty. They served on a semester or annual contract and renewed at the pleasure of the chair/head. In the Religious Studies Department the minimal qualification generally was masters or doctorate (I do not know what the current practice is but I suspect things have changed very little). The major indicators for determining the retention of the adjunct faculty appear to be needs of the department, student evaluations, and enrollment. I may be wrong but I doubt seriously that anyone knows what goes on in those classrooms, and that likely goes as well for the numerous on-line courses the university is currently using and who ever they get to teach those courses. I should like to point out this is my opinion and I have not pursued the matter.
I would like to say that Jim Moyer, the chair of the RS Department at the time I was hired by the university in 1980, gave me a great deal of support in achieving tenure. At that time there was no professional standards committee. He actually attended my class, as I recall, one day a week and we met afterwards to discuss the days performance and other pedagogical techniques (He offered and I accepted).
I hope that someone out there can give us a better insight to the plight of adjunct faculty.

Anonymous said...

The “Publish or Perish” discussion has been ongoing for the last few hundred years. I wonder if the argument is actually a discussion between ‘professors’ (academics) and ‘teachers’. Seems to me that the correct way to evaluate ‘teachers’ is on their ability to teach, not on their ability to publish what in some cases is academic jargon in obscure journals. Academic colleagues of professors are probably the least qualified observers to rate their peers’ teaching abilities, especially if they do so using published material unrelated to their actual performance in the classroom. Writing and publishing is completely unrelated to classroom teaching ability.

I suggest we ask those who are actually in the classroom to rate their teachers. I often wonder why some academics are mistrustful of students. Are they fearful of student opinion? Are they envious of teachers who are popular with students? Surely adjustments in student evaluations can be made for those professors who inflate grades. I believe that most university students are in class because they want to learn. They appreciate good teachers and can be trusted to evaluate them, if the evaluations are properly administered and interpreted.

My point is that student evaluations, and other ways of judging actual teaching performance, are more important than a requirement to publish in order to fulfill an “institutional/departmental minimum.” I suspect these minimums are more related to gaining academic titles (and higher pay) than gaining better classroom teachers, and the result is that ‘teaching’ has a lowered status in academia hierarchy.

I certainly agree that professional standards must be established. Publishing should be included along with other more important criteria. But in your statement — ‘A “good” teacher who does not meet the minimum academic standards of the institution should find some other less demanding line of work.’ — if you mean ‘minimum academic standards’ must include publishing, then I absolutely disagree.

Good teachers should be rewarded, not punished.

Wally akaButch Rees
BirdHaven PA

Anonymous said...

Charlie, I keep meaning to mention—as a layman, I'm fascinated by your work. I forgot to ask you to sign my copy of "When Faith Meets Reason" when we met at Chautauqua. Also".....Secrets of the gospel according to Thomas." I've read "The Meaning of Mary Magdelene" by Cynthia Bourgeault— Have you written about Mary Magdelene and her gospel? I'm sure you have studied it.
Wally aka Butch

Charles Hedrick said...

Good afternoon, Butch!
Thanks for sharing your views on the blog. In answer to your question: I have not written on Mary Magadalene, nor even on the Gospel of Mary. I have studied it a bit and find it a fascinating non-canonical text--not the least reason being the positive view of Mary as an authoritative revelation bearer over the male disciples. The record of the early church on its treatment of women in the canonical tradition is much less than stellar. In contrast to the orthodox church, on the other hand, the record of the "heretics" in the treatment of women was much more progressive.
Ps Religion seen from an oblique angle is always fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Hedrick wrote: "...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)."

Butch, I think this description is sufficiently reasonable and sensitive so as not to be classified as punishment.

Gene Stecher
Chambersburg, Pa