I couldn’t agree more with this call to reduce the amount of published academic research. Too much of what is published is of poor quality, and most published research is ignored by the scholars’ peers. (We can only hope that it’s the poor quality work that’s being ignored.)
All of us in academia have colleagues who enjoy teaching but who have little or no interest in scholarly publication — and yet are forced to pursue scholarly publication by the tenure system. How good is work likely to be that is done, not for the love of it or out of passionate curiosity, but at metaphorical gunpoint?
The primary valid reason for mandating such published research, I think, is to ensure that the teachers in our classrooms actually know what’s going on in their fields. (To be sure, that’s not the reason that university administrations mandate publications, but it ought to be.) Without publish-or-perish, there’s some danger that teachers will spend their careers placidly recycling what they learned in graduate school, without ever having to reckon with new knowledge and new approaches.
But is publish-or-perish the only, or even the best, solution to this problem? I tend to think that digital technologies — and especially technologies for sifting the web — offer all sorts of new ways for teachers to show their command of their disciplines, and to do so in ways that are more accessible to their students than traditional scholarly articles. A really well-curated wiki, for instance, would be useful to administrators trying to evaluate their faculty and to students taking that teacher’s course. The sooner we abandon the current models and encourage professors to explore those new technologies, the sooner we are likely to find a lively alternative to the current cycle of scholarly futility.
I will try to give more examples of how this might work in future posts.
June 29, 2010