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Redefine “Scholarship” and Tenure: for the good of all

March 18, 2009
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Scholarly output rises; undergraduates are disengaged. “This is the real calamity of the research mandate — 10,000 harried professors forced to labor on disregarded print, and 100,000 unwitting students missing out on rigorous face-to-face learning,” Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, writes in a new paper on relieving research expectations in the humanities.

I am absolutely convinced of Bauerlein’s position. Not only does the requirement to publish a monograph dilute effective teaching/increase unread scholarship, it also diminishes what is, my opinion, the central role of a university–to disseminate and encourage knowledge. Try this supply-demand thought experiment (in the spirit of research): increase the output of monographs past the point of possible consumption (assuming an eager audience). What is the result? Unread scholarship, wasted effort and diminished interaction time (with students, family, colleagues, etc.). But, what is that line?

Bauerlein doesn’t really, according to the article, indicate what is the appropriate point at which scholarship advances (which is importan) and teaching is improved. 90 pages of scholarship for tenure? Perhaps.

How about scholarship that encourages effective teaching? A seriously engaging BlackBoard insert that engages students in grammar and style? Would that be tenure-worthy? How about a means to explicate Emily Dickinson that is not an article, presentation or book, but students love? Once the definitions of scholarship move away from the write/cite model will Bauerlein’s suggestions really take traction.

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