Archive for Thursday, June 7, 1990


June 7, 1990


Maggie Childs knew academic research was essential to gaining tenure at Kansas University and fashioned a book about medieval Japanese fiction to achieve that goal.

"Yes, publish or perish is still in force," said Childs, who this summer becomes a tenured associate professor of East Asian languages and cultures.

"I felt it was possible to write a book that . . . would get me tenure," she said.

Childs was among 25 Lawrence campus faculty recently informed they will receive tenure, which is an employment reward for research, teaching and service.

EDUCATION publications often contain criticism that universities rely on a "publish or perish" policy emphasizing research over teaching in tenure decisions.

"The concept is that untenured professors feel incredible pressure to be publishing in unreasonable amounts," said Richard Levy, an associate professor of law.

KU officially weighs three factors in tenure decisions: teaching (40 percent), research (40 percent) and service (20 percent).

Philip Kissam, professor of law and member of the KU Tenure and Promotions Committee, said the real issue in tenure cases is a faculty member's publication record.

"My view is that almost everybody is clearly a competent teacher," he said. "Again, almost everybody does some competent service. Most of the focus in a tenure decision is on research and publication."

KISSAM, WHO has served two years on the tenure panel, said the policy "sends inappropriate messages to young faculty."

"One is you should do research in small bits so you can have lots of publications. It discourages any kind of risk taking or larger thinking by young faculty.

"It also sends a message that this university . . . wants more of an emphasis on research than teaching," Kissam said.

David Cook, who becomes a tenured associate professor of health, physical education and recreation, said there's "no doubt" that KU rewards scholarship above teaching.

"In the School of Education, we're teaching people to become teachers. Therefore, my teaching should be scrutinized more than scholarship," he said.

CHILDS SAID she enjoys her academic research, but believes teaching should count at least 50 percent in tenure reviews at KU.

Levy, who received an appointment to tenured professor of law, doesn't see the conflict between quality teaching and scholarly achievement.

"I don't see research and teaching as unrelated. I see them as related, but an active research program increases the quality of one's teaching," he said.

Lance Rake, an assistant professor of design who will join the ranks of tenured associate professors, said he's comfortable with the pressure to excel.

"In some way or another you're expected to perform in your field at a high level. I don't think anyone is surprised by the expectations," he said.

THOMAS ENGLER, who will be a tenured associate professor of chemistry, said an emphasis on faculty research doesn't harm instruction.

"It doesn't seem to me you would get to the point that you would have an incompetent teacher who would be granted tenure solely on the basis of being a great researcher," he said.

Engler said young scholars must get published to "establish some type of reputation in the national and international scientific community."

In addition, Rake said students are paying closer attention to the professional and research capabilities of faculty.

"Your credibility depends on what you're doing now," he said.

CHILDS, WHO will chair her department this fall, said a "fair amount" of academic journal articles are written to pad resumes.

"People worry about how many articles they have . . . instead of worrying primarily about quality," she said.

Childs said the "publish or perish" mentality strikes hard at some schools, such as Harvard or Yale.

"And even though I'm at the University of Kansas, which is not so pompous and rewards teaching to some extent and has more humane standards, I was still scared."

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