Hagar and Sarah/Publish or Perish: The Obvious Parallels

September 21, 2006 | 31 comments
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My husband is writing a book. Of course, this is nothing new. He is a professor. He is supposed to write books. Actually, he is required to write books if he wants a promotion. The book he has been working on since he got his PhD (1983) is about Shakespeare and the Renaissance family and challenges the Lawrence Stone idea (adopted by Virginia Wolf in “Shakespeare’s Sister�) that Renaissance families were not terribly loving, that the father had ultimate control–including the power to beat his wife so long as the instrument of beating was no wider than his thumb (folklore), and to arrange marriages for his daughters, who might be as young as thirteen. (Just for fun, guess how old most brides were during Shakespeare’s time. I’ll give the answer later in the conversation.) Some reviewers didn’t agree with Bruce’s conclusions, and though we almost had a publication contract a couple of years ago, it fell through. Finally, though, we have a contract in hand, just awaiting Bruce’s signature–which will be placed today and celebrated tonight. My brilliant, Harvard-educated husband (he was the assistant to G.B. Evans, the editor of _The Riverside Shakespeare_) at age 55 will finally be able to apply for a promotion to become a full professor.

Of course, many, much younger professors have beaten him to that goal line–including some of his own former students. But frankly, some of them have gotten there on much easier work. Creative writers can knock off a novel in a year and earn their promotions. Others, in less competitive fields than Shakespearean studies, can get a book out within three or four years. Need I suggest that this might not be fair? What is it we want from our teachers? WHY is that “publish or perish� mandate so much a part of academic survival? And if our teachers’ primary focus is publishing their own material, might they be less effective in the classroom? We’ve had wonderful teachers at BYU who have scant publications. In the olden days, when my father was a BYU prof, publication was nice but not required. My uncle, who taught at the U of U, didn’t publish anything but was promptly advanced to a full professorship. But now, at BYU (and I would guess it’s the case elsewhere), professors must have a book published before they can even think about becoming full professors, and the book must be done by a reputable publisher. (No Harlequin romances, thanks.) This policy has almost paralyzed some of our fine teachers. Of course, new hirees understand what’s required of them and dutifully head down the designated track. But can they possibly balance their church callings, family life, teaching, other faculty assignments, AND this requirement to publish? Will their spouses realize that conversation/dinner with other scholars is actually part of the job? How about those trips to England or Boston to examine primary data? Will their students feel slighted? (I remember hearing Brady Udall admit that his training at Iowa–THE place for creative writers–was less than he had hoped because the faculty members were so focused on their own work.) Will they go crazy?

The parallel between Hagar and Sarah and “Publish or Perish� is obvious. (Could it be that the story is actually prophetic of this exact situation in academia?) Sarah can’t produce, so a younger faculty member (Hagar) is hired. In fact, Sarah herself was on the hiring committee. Hagar produces and is promoted so high that she feels she can mock Sarah–and she does, relentlessly. Contention ensues and the whole department falls apart–and that new faculty member is dismissed to find another university, which in today’s world is like finding water in the desert. Now, if we were to make the parallel more specific, we would need to say that the issue which this new faculty member produces is required to have an apgar score of at least 8/10, and must be properly evaluated and circumcised–meaning edited. The issue must be significant and full of potential. And somehow, the new faculty member/handmaid must continue to do all chores expected of her (many will be rigorously evaluated) and must not mock the less productive old faculty member/first wife. Hmmm. How’s that workin’ for ya?

Thankfully, the Hagar/Sarah story ends pretty well–though not in the same household. Both women receive abundant promises of continued employment. And it appears that we of the Young household will also find a happy ending. At last, at last, we will get to fill out the massive pile of papers which will enable my husband–who has instructed several T&S readers–to call himself a FULL professor. (So what does that word imply about someone who’s not yet “full� anyway?)

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31 Responses to Hagar and Sarah/Publish or Perish: The Obvious Parallels

  1. Jeremy on September 21, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    The younger scholars may be under more pressure as well. In my field, it’s not a book for full professorship, but a book (or two) just for tenure. On the other hand, dissertations are often turned into books without the need for a complete overhaul, and academic publishers are increasingly favoring shorter books. (I’ve got two recently published books on my desk that were adaptations of doctoral dissertations; one has about 170 pages of text, the other about 250.)

    You’re right, the terms are kind of funny:

    New hire: Assistant Professor — you get to help the real professors
    Tenure; Associate Professor –you get to hang out with the real professors
    Full Professor — okay, you’re a professor.

  2. A. Nonny Mouse on September 21, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    What field are you in Jeremy?

  3. TrailerTrash on September 21, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    Margaret,
    First of all, congratulations to your husband! This is a big accomplishment and both of you should be very proud. However, I don’t have nearly the same ambivalence about the “publish or perish” dictum. Perhaps it is because I am still a naive student who hasn’t had to face perishing yet. However, I strongly support faculty members being encouraged to publish.

    If one doesn’t want to play by these rules, one can always choose less prestigeous universities where no one is expected to publish. There are plenty of places that do this. However, if one wants to belong to a university that has prestige, one should be willing to contribute to that reputation. The way that universities increase their prestige is by increasing the prestige of their faculty. The way that you increase the prestige of the faculty is by making them actually be participants in the field they claim to belong to. That means that they should go to conferences and write papers and books and generally be members of the academic community, not just glorified teachers. (The problem is when universities increase the expectations for publication and don’t also increase the funding for conferences and the release time for research. I can’t say whether or not this is true of BYU.)

    Despite the myth, I don’t think publishing requirements have any causal relationship to poor teaching. Ideally, they should increase the quality of teaching because the professor is keeping up with the latest research and doing innovating thinking.

    I also don’t think that BYU profs should get a free pass because they have church callings and families. Other scholars have families too, some even have church callings or other hobbies/obligations. As an LDS scholar, I doubt that I will be able to say to my tenure committee: “I know I haven’t been publishing, but I have a calling at church!” Why should a BYU prof get to?

    I also echo Jeremy that in my field if I want to be at a respectable university I will have to have at least one book published and show significant progress on a second to get tenure.

  4. Karter M on September 21, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    Besides a pay raise and the status title, who cares if someone is a \”full\” professor or not?
    I\’d prefer to send my kids to a college where the teachers are less concerned about status and more concerned about educating.

  5. Nate Oman on September 21, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    “(So what does that word imply about someone who’s not yet “fullâ€? anyway?)”

    They make less money?

  6. Wilfried on September 21, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    Hagar and Sarah, what a brilliant comparison, Margaret. Enjoyed the post very much, though you sent me on a guilt trip. I am in a field – education – where publishing seems easy. Moreover in a country with, I believe, less fierce competition to get accepted. It’s not fair, indeed, and I readily admit I’ve been privileged. All the more respect for your husband’s achievement. Bravo.

  7. Margaret Young on September 21, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    Wilfried–glad to have sent someone else on a guilt trip besides myself. TT–so let me draw the obvious conclusion from your post: BYU IS the Harvard of the west because of what it requires of its professors. Jim might be able to correct me if I’m wrong, but I am quite certain that no departments but Religious Studies give their profs credit for publishing with Deseret Book (meaning credit towards tenure or advancement), and I think publishing with Signature works to eliminate previously earned credit. (Btw, I am a part-timer, so I don’t have to worry about this reality myself. And I have published with both Deseret and Signature.)

  8. TrailerTrash on September 21, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    M: “BYU IS the Harvard of the west because of what it requires of its professors.”

    I am not sure how you are getting this from my post. I was arguing that academic publishing requirments for advancement are a good thing. How does the BYU Religion department disprove my thesis? From what I understand, they don’t have a particularly onerous publishing schedule, and as you point out, are not required to contribute to the academy at large. If anything, the quality of the BYU religion department is an argument for the kind of higher publishing standards I am advocating, not lower ones.

    As for the comparison of BYU’s publishing requirements to Harvard, I doubt that is the case. Of course, I have no idea what BYU’s publishing standards are like compared to other universities (though I am sure it is less than some other western universities I can think of). All I can say is that I expect my own publishing requirements will be much higher than those at BYU appear to be, which don’t sound too unreasonable.

  9. Ardis on September 21, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    Did I miss the answer? How old WAS the average bride in them thar days?

  10. Mark B. on September 21, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    12

  11. Margaret Young on September 21, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    TT–I probably wasn’t as clear as I needed to be (plus I’ve been having a hard time pulling my tongue out of my cheek lately.) The truth is, EXCEPTING the religion department, publishing standards are very high at BYU, and professors do not easily pass the third year review or receive promotions. So I’m suggesting that your post implies that because of BYU’s rigorous publication standards, it is indeed a prestigious school–like it claims to be. Many see BYU as provincial and extremely restrictive of academic freedom (which is a discussion for another blog). Honestly, it is very hard to get a job as a university professor, and it is particularly hard at BYU. Not only do you have to show tremendous academic acuity, but you have to get through a GA interview. So, tongue firmly out of cheek now, our professors at BYU can compete with professors anywhere in academic discipline. Many (I’d say the majority) have been trained in the most reputable universities around. Nonetheless, I do believe that there are many excellent teachers who are not particularly adept at getting themselves published–or simply don’t have that as a priority. And there IS a high cost in progressing up the academic ladder. My dad was away for many summers working in Central and South America on various dictionaries in various dialects. What he did has changed the world–but it also had a powerful effect on our family dynamics. We Blair kids raised ourselves in many ways and are notoriously iconoclastic. We are also messy and impulsive and have been known to simply take off to sundry parts of the world. Whether that’s good or bad, I think it would’ve been better to have Dad home more. Dad knew he never got the balance “right” and I’ve seen him weep over it. As far as the religion department goes, I’d love to hear how BYU alumni reading T&S enjoyed their religion classes and if they preferred religion classes taught in a “crossover”–meaning through importing an English professor like Steve Walker or a philosophy professor like Jim Faulconer–more than those classes taught by the hired religion faculty. I must admit, I didn’t like most of the religion classes I took. I felt that the teachers pablumized and sentimentalized the scriptures rather than unfolding them. But that was 30+ years ago. I’m hoping things have changed.
    Age of marriage in the Renaissance: About 23-25 for women; around 27 for men. Shakespeare actually lowered Juliet’s age from his source play to emphasize her innocense.

  12. S. P. Bailey on September 21, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    The first law I will pass by fiat upon my ascendance to the emperor of the bloggernacle throne:

    Public rumination on the hardships of academia shall be punishable by a sentence of one year engaged in the type of labor that the other 99 percent of working adults do each day.

    (I am happy for M. and her husband. Really. Part of me wants to simply rejoice with brothers and sisters who are rejoicing. But I have noticed that T&S (the most academic-credential-obsessed of all former bloggernacle hubs) is increasingly becoming the place where those cursed or aspiring to be cursed with doctorate degrees and (gasp) the obligation to research and write about subjects of their own choice complain about dissertation writing (glibly referred to as “dissertating�), the publication imperative, academic politics, the academic job market, etc., etc. Violators of my imaginary law should know how such complaints sound to non-academics: (1) boring, and (2) silly.)

  13. cut s dean on September 21, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    That is a nice (boring, silly) comment, Mr. Bailey.

    And I guess I will take the Earl of Boise, pops latest popping.

  14. Ann on September 21, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    I don’t know much about higher ed from personal experience, but I married well. It has been my observation that in the hard sciences, voluminous publication is expected; a minimum of 2-3 articles per year is pretty much standard. In addition, at least one first-tier journal publication is expected during a career.

    But in the end, what matters is funding. Publishing is a baseline expectation. If you want tenure, you need to bring in outside money. If you want to be a full professor, you need to bring in LOTS of outside money.

  15. TrailerTrash on September 21, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    Margaret,
    I think I am still not clear if you are disagreeing with me or agreeing with me. As I see it, you are arguing that

    1) BYU has extremely high publishing standards that are equal to many presitigious universities
    2) BYU is not a prestigious univesity

    Then, here is where I get confused. Either you mean:
    3a) Therefore, high publishing standards do not make a university prestigious.
    Or
    3b) Therefore, BYU should not have high publishing standards.

    3b doesn’t seem to follow at all, though this seems to be what the point of your original post is, that BYU should not have high publishing standards. That is what I was disagreeing with.
    If you mean 3a, then I think we agree to a certain extent. High publishing standards do not by themselves make a university prestigious. However, it is an essential part of the strategy for increasing prestige. I would agree that the bad rep that BYU has created for itself over limiting academic freedom is certainly a barrier. However, even though I am not an alumnus of BYU, I don’t think of it as an unprestigious undergraduate institution, at least not all departments. It’s US News rankings are certainly respectible if I remember correctly (2nd tier, about 150??). Part of this is corrected with time. As your post seems to indicate, the publishing standards have increased in recent history (past 25 years). It will take time to build a reputation, and one piece of that is by encouraging professors to continue to build scholarly networks through conferences and publications outside of the BYU universe.

  16. Naismith on September 21, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    “Honestly, it is very hard to get a job as a university professor, and it is particularly hard at BYU.”

    This depends entirely on the field, of course. I know of faculty jobs that have been open for years–in healthcare finance, economics, physical therapy, and nursing to name just a few. But that’s because people with those skills can earn big bucks in private industry, whereas English professors….not so much.

    Actually, we have some LDS professors around here who have rejected overtures from BYU for various reasons–the cost of living has gone up so much in Utah that we’d be a great deal of debt to afford a home, as well as the whole Utah Valley scene which some would find oppressive. So I don’t think it’s quite as hard to be a BYU professor as you make out–it’s not like there is near as much competition as at other institutions.

    I tend to agree with #12. I am happy for your joy, but I am not going to weep if Bruce does not get a promotion to professor. He already has tenure, which is more than most of us working folk get. I am hired on annual contracts, which I know is more job security than lots of people (who can be fired at will).

  17. Robert C. on September 21, 2006 at 8:40 pm

    Naismith #15: I’m pretty sure that the reason the BYU economics had a position vacant for several years was not b/c they couldn’t find a good candidate but b/c they couldn’t find a candidate they felt showed sufficient promise (and to agree to come to BYU)—they have very high expectations and I’m sure there are many LDS economists with brand-name PhD’s who would(‘ve) love(d) to (have) be(en) hired by BYU….

  18. Troy K. on September 21, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    I never had a crossover religion teacher, and am not sure they were available when I attended BYU in the early 90\’s, but have always thought they would have been a great way to help in accomplishing the meld of scholarship and the spiritual that is meant to be the ideal for the university (instead of complete segregation between the two–which unfortunately was usually the case–some notable and obvious exceptions, like H. Nibley).

    By the way, Margaret, I took a couple of your courses while I was there, and have been meaning to sing your praises. Your potent personality really made things stick–and I can trace several lines of thought all the way back to those early courses I took from you.

  19. Jenny on September 21, 2006 at 9:10 pm

    I took this post to be less about the hardships (or “hardships” if you prefer) of academia and more about the bottom line: What is it we want from our teachers? When I am the student, I want thoughtful discussion and guidance toward new ways of thinking, preferably performed in an engaging manner. When I am the teacher, I want (from myself) to create an environment in which my students feel safe to explore new ideas and formulate their own opinions and convictions. I also want myself to continue to grow so that I am 1. interested and engaged in what I am teaching and 2. providing the best/most current education possible to my students. I fall short on both accounts far too often.

    In this model, publishing is important as a means to an end (it keeps one engaged, thinking, researching, etc.) but it can become problematic if it detracts from the primary objective to actually focus on the students and their learning. It’s also, like many models, flawed by a sense of idealism …

  20. Jenny on September 21, 2006 at 9:36 pm

    Sorry, I thought of this after I submitted …

    I wonder if BYU professors feel guilt over the “Sarah/Hagar” tension more than other university professors (in general) due to an increased cultural/mormon value on personal (one-to-one/christian) teaching. A client of mine is a professor at a large university “back east.” She regularly shares her plans for how to spend as little time as possible in the classroom during any given semester—a favorite technique is to attend as many foreign conferences as possible. Another is to spend time away researching. She’s very focused on her next publication and gives it much of her time and attention. And while I’ve heard complaints about time constraints that press on her papers/book/conference presentations, I’ve never heard any guilt over the amount of time she spend away from the classroom. Having attended several lectures, I know her to be a gifted teacher—it’s just interesting that that really isn’t an emotional focus for her on the job.

  21. anon on September 21, 2006 at 9:59 pm

    “Honestly, it is very hard to get a job as a university professor, and it is particularly hard at BYU.�

    Well, yes, if you\’re not related to someone on the faculty already, it\’s hard to get yourself adopted, and that seems to be a big factor in who is hired.

  22. Jim F. on September 21, 2006 at 11:29 pm

    Margaret, very nice post about the kinds of choices that academics face. I think you reflect well the kinds of anxieties that beset professors. And congratulations to Bruce. He is one of BYU’s secret treasures: very bright and exceedingly humane. I’m glad to hear that a publisher was finally able to see the value of his contribution.

    In spite of that, I tend to agree with a couple of others: It takes hard work to publish, and sometimes more than a little luck, especially in the beginning of one’s publication career, but that’s part of the job. All jobs have requirements to be met, often requirements that depend on luck as well as talent and skill, and few have the rewards of continuing status. Contrary to popular opinion, having it does not mean we cannot be fired. We have post-tenure review which can result in firing. Nevertheless, we have much more job security than those in most jobs. And we get paid a reasonable salary to do what we love, something many can’t say about their jobs.

    Things I learned as an administrator (which, thank goodness, I no longer am):

    I don’t think we can complain that it is easier to publish in some fields than others. For example, it isn’t easy to compare the publication expectations in the sciences and those in the humanities because the work we do is so different, but in the College of Humanities the official expectation is one journal article every two years–not a very high expectation–while the sciences tend to expect 2, 3 or more per year. That also may not be very high; I don’t know. However, in the humanities single-authored pieces are the norm, while in the sciences jointly-authored ones are, which makes comparison even more difficult because it may make it easier to publish 2-3 articles with multiple authors than one single-authored piece. It is probably impossible to decide which is more difficult.

    As a result, these things are decided on a college-by-college basis, and my experience is that those making the decisions are rarely merely number crunchers. Outside the Marriott School, I don’t think anyone at BYU has a numeric protocol for deciding whether someone has met his or her publication expectation. So, I had five publications (journal articles; no books) last year, but I may have only one or none this year, and my chair and dean take that into account, looking at the long run rather than the short. Similar things are true between departments. I don’t know whether it is easier to publish in philosophy than in English. In fact, I’m not sure how I would know. But we decide at the department level what a reasonable expectation is (1 article in a refereed journal per year for the Philosophy Department) and the English Department decides what its expectations are. We don’t have to have the same standard between colleges or between departments. In fact, we don’t have to have the same standard between individuals doing different work.

    I also agree with others that publication is an important part of what professors do. Why require publication? Because we want our professors to be engaged in their professions so that they will do more than merely repeat their notes from graduate study, so that we have an external evaluation of how well they know what they are doing, and so that BYU will be involved in making contributions to the disciplines. There may be cases at BYU in which professors get so wrapped up in their research that they forget that their first duty at the university is to teach undergraduates, but it isn’t common. There may be cases in which someone is a great teacher and not a good researcher / publisher, but that is also uncommon. Having set on the promotion and tenure committee for a while, I can say that I never saw any of those cases. By and large I think it is true that good research makes a better professor.

    Does publication with Signature count against a professor? Not to my knowledge. But since Signature is not an academic press, things published with them might not count for someone–unless that were an appropriate venue, as it might be for fiction. The same holds true for the books published by FARMS and the BYU Religious Studies Center, not everything they publish helps a person’s application for promotion or continuing status. Though all three entities peer review the things submitted for publication, if I publish something with one of them that my college or department thinks should have gone to a national press, I’m unlikely to get credit for the publication.

    Why can professors in Religious Education publish with Deseret Book, BYU Studies, or the Religious Studies Center and get credit when I might not? Because those are the appropriate outlets for their work. As I think all who write about LDS belief, practice, etc. know, there are few places to publish. There are just about zero places to publish most things on the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants. It would be unreasonable to say to someone whose work is on the Book of Mormon that he or she must publish, but that publication in BYU Studies, FARMS, and the Religious Studies Center doesn’t count. What we do instead is have high standards for publication at those places and then accept them as legitimate publication venues for certain kinds of work.

    Religious Ed profs aren’t the only ones who have published in those venues and received credit for doing so. I’ve done so myself, with my work on Romans 1, with my article on the literal character of scripture, and with my article on apostasy in the New Testament. I know of no one outside one of those venues who would have published them. They were reviewed and criticized by peers (though the Romans book is an odd duck and may not have counted for a pay raise when it came out), and I’m not embarrassed to have published where I did any more than I’m embarrassed to have published in the non-LDS publications where I’ve been able to place things. There are Catholic and Protestant academic presses. I don’t see any problem with having LDS academic presses.

    So, all in all, I think that “publish or perish” is a poor description of the real situation. Someone who doesn’t publish during her probationary period will probably not get tenure, so “publish or perish” may be accurate for her. However, after that, it is more like “publish if you want to get a promotion (only one to a customer during your whole post-tenure career, and the pay difference is relatively minor), and publish if you want a better pay raise (in other words, if you want to get a raise of 3% rather 2 or 2 1/2%). I don’t think the publication expectation is an onerous burden.

    Finally (I’ll bet many of you are asking “When is he going to stop!?”), a lot of faculty outside of Religious Education have the intuition that the “transfer” religion instructors, those teaching Book of Mormon or New Testament or . . . from another department, are better teachers than the regular faculty in Religious Ed, but the students seem to think otherwise. The average teacher evaluation for Religious Ed faculty is much higher than it is for the transfer faculty. And the teaching loads in Religious Ed are enormous, four sections each semester and two during Spring or Summer term.

  23. TMD on September 21, 2006 at 11:29 pm

    I hate to be that guy, but I think it’s perfectly ok, even desirable, that university professors be much more interested in research than teaching. You want good teaching? Go to a liberal arts college. I’m trying to go the univ prof route, and I am ok admitting that it is the research, rather than the teaching, that gets me up in the morning (though some days, that doesn’t do it so well either). I have no desire to be a glorified high school teacher…

  24. Russell Arben Fox on September 22, 2006 at 12:40 am

    “You want good teaching? Go to a liberal arts college….I have no desire to be a glorified high school teacher…”

    TMD, please explain, if you can, a few things:

    1) Why do you think those students who go to large state and/or research oriented universities don’t deserve and/or shouldn’t reasonably expect good teaching?

    2) Why do you think teaching at a small liberal arts collect is comparable to teaching in high school?

    3) Why do you consider being a “glorified high school teacher” (whatever that is) to be a negative? (I’m not questioning your preference; I’m questioning why you rhetorically frame your preference in opposition to something you appear to think poorly of.)

  25. Jeremy on September 22, 2006 at 1:21 am

    Yeah, I take a little umbrage at TDS’s comment about liberal arts colleges.

    I teach at a small liberal arts college. Before I came here I taught at a large research university. The research expectation for tenure at my current job is at least equal to that at the research university, and here I enjoy more than double the yearly research funding (and a somewhat better salary). The undergraduate teaching I can do here is better too; every one of my classes at the other school had at least 60 students. Now I’ve got classes with as few as ten. When I come up for tenure, research and teaching will figure into the equation in equal parts, along with “service” (committee work, work on editorial boards, etc.)

    (Of course, among its cohort colleges, my institution takes conspicuous pride in its research support, in a way that perhaps carries the implication that most liberal arts colleges are perhaps less supportive of research…)

  26. Jonathan Green on September 22, 2006 at 4:57 am

    It’s a mistake to think of all universities as essentially similar. They can have radically different missions, resources, students, internal organization, etc. There are places where research counts for everything, and Jenny’s client is probably doing exactly what her employer wants her to do by focusing on research rather than teaching. My guess is that the majority of American college students and college faculty aren’t at places like that, though, but rather at colleges with higher teaching loads and lower or no research expectation. (The median number of publications by people who earn Ph.D.’s is 0, and the next most frequent is 1.) A lot of schools fall somewhere in the middle, and BYU occupies an eminently respectable position at #70 on the 2007 USN&WR rankings among national universities, tied with schools like Indiana and Michigan State. Considering BYU’s mission is primarily undergraduate teaching and the care with which it spends funds, it’s unlikely to substantially change the student-faculty ratio or average class sizes or anything else to move its ranking much. Given its usual 3-3 or 3-2-1 teaching load, the publication requirements that Jim describes (and that are in line with other things I’ve heard from BYU faculty) seem reasonable.

    Difficulties in publishing and getting a job are found primarily below the level of department and field, I think. Writing about Shakespeare is hard because there are thousands of books already published about him; it’s hard to keep track of what’s been said already, let alone say somethin new. Many classicists easily have to deal with 2000 years of uninterrupted commentary traditions in multiple languages before they know if their contributions are original or not. But even in foreign languages, where jobs are supposed to be difficult to come by, good programs will scoop up ABD candidates who specialize in second-language acquisition. It’s been a hot field for several years at least, but how long that will continue is anyone’s guess.

    I agree that publication is an important part of what professors do, and I think most find a good balance between teaching and research in the context that their school provides. One area that I think gets short shrift, though, is program building and maintenance. It takes a lot of work to establish a thriving program in a new discipline, or to continually enhance a program to meet the changing needs of students and their future employers, but that work is easy to overlook. People who are brilliant in both teaching and research can ignore the health of a program for a long time, but the results afterwards are ugly.

    I wish nothing but success to the people who aspire to jobs at research-intensive universities. I still have that aspiration, but I’ve seen enough of the world outside my doctoral program to realize that it’s pretty much a crapshoot, and that seemingly lesser institutions can sometimes offer a better place for research than other places with greater prestige, and that teachers with heavy teaching loads can still be productive scholars, and that there’s a lot worse that can happen than being one of them.

  27. Alison Moore Smith on September 22, 2006 at 5:27 am

    Margaret, great post and many congratulations to your husband!

    My most intense memories of Sam’s journey to full professor include:

    • multiple major publications each year
    • speaking at conferences so frequently that he was a Delta Gold Medallion for five years running
    • running a multi-million dollar AUV project

    Oh, and did I mention his severe case of shingles while finishing his dissertation?

    It actually happened relatively quickly, but he’s also in a technology that is growing by leaps and bounds every year. There is fierce competition, but it is easier to innovate in such areas. But, yes, you’re expected to bring in a boatload of money.

    Still, I thought #12 was hilarious and may have hit just a tad too close to the bullseye. Come on, generally speaking professors have a pretty great gig.

  28. diogenes on September 22, 2006 at 9:16 am

    First, like others, I want to say that I am very pleased that Professor Bruce has his publication contract, that he will be promoted, and that there is joy in his homestead. I do not doubt that the book will shift the paradigm in thinking about Elizabethan families, nor that he is a Prince among English professors.

    Having said all that, I have to wonder if there is not some failure in mentoring here; that either he received poor advice, or that if he received good advice, he failed to heed it. In my own field, we very often advise young faculty as to whether it is realistic to undertake a particular project before tenure, or even before promotion — a certain pathway or structure may simply be too complex to produce good data before a tenure or promotion decision, or may run the risk of never producing good data at all, or perhaps most tellingly, may never get good funding (the differences in cost of research infrastructure and the comparative burdens of grant writing are two more factors that Jim F. might want to add to his list of departmental variance).

    Margaret mentions that faculty other than her husband have been promoted on “easier work.” One way of reading that is, not that they are slackers, but that they chose projects that were manageable within the expected time.

    This is not in any way to question Professor Bruce’s project, only to say that Rome wasn’t built in a day — so that if an Associate Professor wants to become “full” in a reasonable time, the best project to undertake probably isn’t building Rome.

  29. Chris Grant on September 23, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    (1) BYU’s research expectations for its faculty are, in general, not comparable with Harvard’s. In the disciplines with which I am familiar, the expectations are slightly below average when compared to major research universities.

    (2) At a meeting I attended in 2001, we were told that while the tenure success rate nationwide was 40-60%, the tenure success rate at BYU was 97-98% at the department level, 95% at the college level, and 90% at the university level. At least until recently, the rate at which junior faculty got tenured at Harvard was in the single digits.

    (3) Re #21, in the 13 years I’ve been on the faculty of one of the larger departments at BYU, being related to a current faculty member never worked to a job candidate’s advantage. If anything, it has had the opposite effect due to fear of the appearance of impropriety.

    (4) At our annual college meeting during University Conference, we were provided with printouts of family relationships between faculty in our college (courtesy of http://roots.cs.byu.edu/). If anything, I was surprised at how distant the relationships tended to be (considering the history and demographics of the Church).

  30. TMD on September 23, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    RAF, Jeremy:

    I went to a wonderful liberal arts college, Sewanee, 1300 students, among the most beautiful campuses on earth, at the time ranked in the USNWR top-25 in the nation (since then they got an inept mediocre professional college president; at the time we were led by a major scholar who’d been tenured at harvard, provost at UNC-Chapel Hill, had continued publishing major books and articles, etc). I had a wonderful experience there–in almost all respects. The one exception is that only a few of the faculty kept up in a meaningful sense with the current literature–lots, including many of the great teachers–did not, so when I wanted to go tograd school or pursue honors papers topics, I was in a rather weaker position than I otherwise would have been. (In this sense all too many were glorified high school teachers–they were not producers of knowledge, but mere consumers, and not necessarily consumers of the most up to date stuff. Certainly there were exceptions, but they were exceptions rooted in personal interest rather than institutional or even social policy or practice. And whenever the pres tried to not grant tenure to a faculty member for lack of research productivity, he knew he faced a battle, most of which we won but some of which he was pretty much forced to give in on.) Notably, among those of us who led our class academicly and went grad school, despite in some cases remarkable GRE scores (not me) and great grades (despite our school’s non-inflationary grading practices and policies), no one got into an ivy league school…but I’m not (that) bitter about that.

    Quite frankly, I would never send a child to a big university (incl. BYU) unless they had really good reason to go. To me, the best reason to go to a research university is that they have really active faculty, involved in the cutting edge debates and the most important research. If you’re really motivated, think you want to go on in that field, etc., this is the place to go–since you’re going to seek out the field leaders and pretty much latch on to them, maybe even doing some work with them. Otherwise–based on my experience as a TA and instructor at one of the nation’s largest universities (in terms of people), I can’t imagine that the educational, social, etc., etc., etc., experience could compare with that I experienced. And to be honest, that’s what most of the students at these big schools want. So, rather than a case of ‘deserving’ or not, I think it’s a case of a market–’cause you can ‘just get by’ at a big school much easier thank you could at a place like where I went.

    To give a sense of the influence of the people and place of my lib arts college, this spring one of my under-grad advisors retired and there was a surprise retirement party. People who had graduated as long ago as the 70′s, and who traveled from as far away as Europe, made sure they were there.

    So I think they’re wonderful. But they’re not places of research–there’s no way that the research expectations at even very good liberal arts colleges (with the possible exceptions of Dartmouth and Swarthmore and two or three others) compare with those like the research university I’m currently a grad student at.

    As to the negative spin, it’s a question of personal preference. It is simply not among my aspirations. If I can’t get the job at a research university, I’ll happily go into the private or governmental sector (an option, since I study international relations) rather than settle for a more mediocre placement.

  31. grego on September 24, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    Fun posts. I teach. My wife wants me to go back to school for a PhD. I’m dreading it. We make more money now, as undergrads doing our thing, than I would as a PhD at a university. In addition, there would be large negative differences in personal freedom, teaching freedom, accountability, “teamwork”, etc. I’ve had great ideas for research, and done quite a bit of original research in subject area, and out. Never published, though. As one PhD professor said with a pleasant smirk on his face, the difference between getting published or not, being accepted or not, being believed or not, getting paid or not–often has little to do with the quality and content–but with three letters. So, another way to look at it is, just being a professor is a big help and blessing in that you CAN get published.

    Another option is what some professors do–have your students research and write, and then put your name on it.

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