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 â€œShakespeareâ€™s Sisterâ€?) that Renaissance families were not terribly loving, that the father had ultimate controlâ€“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 Shakespeareâ€™s time. Iâ€™ll give the answer later in the conversation.) Some reviewers didnâ€™t agree with Bruceâ€™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 Bruceâ€™s signatureâ€“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 lineâ€“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 â€œpublish or perishâ€? mandate so much a part of academic survival? And if our teachersâ€™ primary focus is publishing their own material, might they be less effective in the classroom? Weâ€™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, didnâ€™t publish anything but was promptly advanced to a full professorship. But now, at BYU (and I would guess itâ€™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 whatâ€™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 Iowaâ€“THE place for creative writersâ€“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 â€œPublish or Perishâ€? is obvious. (Could it be that the story is actually prophetic of this exact situation in academia?) Sarah canâ€™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 Sarahâ€“and she does, relentlessly. Contention ensues and the whole department falls apartâ€“and that new faculty member is dismissed to find another university, which in todayâ€™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 circumcisedâ€“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. Howâ€™s that workinâ€™ for ya?
Thankfully, the Hagar/Sarah story ends pretty wellâ€“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 husbandâ€“who has instructed several T&S readersâ€“to call himself a FULL professor. (So what does that word imply about someone whoâ€™s not yet â€œfullâ€? anyway?)