A young philosopher at a ranked PhD program writes:
I’m in a top 50 research university. While on the job market recently, being humiliated in interviews in cramped bedrooms, the phone continually ringing, faculty members emerging from the shower still shaving, being firmly instructed to drink the leftover wine from an interviewer’s glass, etc. etc., I thought, “At least it can’t get any worse.” I was wrong. Three things stand out.
(1) “Teaching counts for nothing.” It was a shock to me how dishonest research schools are about teaching: on the brochures, to parents, in official pronouncements the line is that we care about teaching deeply. But in private all my colleagues, even at the official orientation, have said teaching counts for virtually nothing for tenure purposes, for merit raises, etc. (Exception: if your student evaluations are truly awful that might hurt a bit.) In other words, there is hardly any institutional concern for teaching, i.e. concern that manifests itself in aligning incentive structures with good teaching. It’s not 50-50 research/teaching, it’s 100-0 or maybe 90-10. Experiment: try explaining to your non-academic friends, neighbors, legislators that our top universities basically ignore teaching in their evaluation of teachers. I often wonder whether our actual policies could survive publicity.
(2) Many journals are run like soviet car factories (with honorable exceptions). This has been addressed at length, so I’ll just mention my own (perhaps anomalous) experiences, which have led me to tell others not to enter the field and to explore leaving it myself: Ethics – two and a half years to decision (including three months of me revising), J Phil – a year and a half; Phil Review – almost a year. My colleagues have told me I absolutely must not submit to sluggish journals in the foreseeable future to make sure I get something published before tenure review, which is again demoralizing.
(3) Checked-out colleagues. At every university I’ve been to, there have been senior colleagues who have effectively checked out. They don’t seriously work at new research and their teaching is eccentric and often unprofessional. I’ve seen several of them teach and they are incapable of communicating effectively at this point. (They mumble incoherently, get lost in their train of thought, etc. etc.) Yet there doesn’t seem to be any mechanism for detecting any of this and doing something. I find this bizarre. When the administration tries to change anything the faculty nervously protest, but although that’s in my long-term interest, I find the response depressing. I don’t want to work at a place where incompetence is overlooked or goes undetected.
Two comments of my own, and then I will invite reader comments. On teaching: it is clearly true that at research universities, teaching counts for relatively little in terms of promotions, salaries, etc. I'm less sure whether surviving publicity is a good criterion for any university policies, though, given that even the best ones would probably be found wanting by a public that is uninformed and has its own worries unrelated to the production of knowledge, which is what, one might hope, research universities do, and sometimes do well. Ohio State has been talking about creating different professional tracks within the tenure-stream ranks to reflect differing emphases on research vs. teaching. We'll see whether that goes anywhere.
On senior faculty who are in dereliction of their professional duties: they should be fired. Tenure means termination only for cause, and it requires that certain procedures be followed. But it manifestly does not mean that the incompetent and irresponsible are entitled to a job. The person who I heard make this argument most forcefully was a former general counsel of the AAUP: tenure has a purpose, but it can only be defended as serving its purposes if it is also stripped for malfeasance of the kind my correspondent describes. I will say I'm a bit skeptical how widedspread this problem is. At neither Chicago nor Texas is there anyone who would fit the disgraceful profile the correspondent describes; there was one borderline case at Texas, who did in fact retire a bit early after facing the prospect of post-tenure review by an admirably pro-active Dean.
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