"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

I'm "published"--an inside look at tenure and academia

Publication is a big thing in academia. Professors are supposed to do research, write about it, and submit articles to "scholarly journals." That means they're "peer reviewed"--several professors in the field will review the submission to see if it acceptable.
Major universities require it as part of your career--"adding to the academy" as one prof at the Indiana University School of Journalism told me a long time ago. Most major universities (called "R1" for research, doctoral-granting institutions like OSU and OU), and those that are not so major like UCO (MA- and BA-granting schools)--require publication for promotion and tenure. For the record, those universities put as much emphasis, or more, on research than they do teaching, and profs usually only teach one or two classes a semester to allow for it. At UCO we require it, even though we're a teaching university, and profs teach four classes a semester. (By the way, as a former newspaperman, I am not complaining--this is a great job.)
Fortunately, I'm at a school, and in one of those fields where creative work, or publication within my discipline, also matters. The doctoral degree is my union card, and yes, I've earned tenure, but those of us in journalism, and the arts, are often looked down on because we may not be published in the journals. And we shoot back that we publish writing that people want to read, not in snooty journals full of bloated academic language that nobody reads. And I contend, anybody who can meet my editors' demands is more than "peer reviewed."
We're both a little full of ourselves, and also defensive.
Tenured curmudgeon
By way of explanation, most people are hired as assistant professors, and depending on the school, have a certain number of years, about six, to be granted tenure and promotion to assistant professor. That's where the publication comes in. If you don't get tenure, you have one year before you're gone. If you get tenure, you have a certain number of additional years, and publication, service (You're supposed to serve on committees, etc. As someone who abhors meetings and committees, this has also been difficult for me), teaching and whatnot, to be promoted to assistant professor. The step is repeated till you get promoted to full professor. Then you're a "silverback" or "old dog" like me, and are still supposed to keep producing.
Tenure is terrific, but it's not complete protection against being let go. I suspect that in Oklahoma, at least, if the president of a university and other higher ups want you gone, you'll be gone. Obviously sexual harassment and other factors can affect it.  I know the system has protected poor teachers, but remember, those people are expected to do more than teach. There's also an increased fear of lawsuits.
I've said before that  I don't need tenure, because I can make a living doing other things,  unlike some professors who have done nothing else but straight academics. But I'm happy to have it. Among other things, it helps me speak my mind more freely--which somehow I've developed a reputation for as a curmudgeon.
I do have journalism professor friends who have published in journals, but alas, I have not. My research and writing has been much more practical through the years. I have "presented papers," and attended conferences, but I haven't written a book (which I do regret), nor been cited by others' research, nor  used a footnote in my writing (I don't think that I can remember).
But I know the power of a byline, for my students, and myself. For a young student, seeing your name in print is a huge boost, a validation of your writing skill and importance. It doesn't change with age. And publication and creative results, of some sort, are important for professors--how can you teach if you're not setting an example.
That's probably why I have written this blog for more than five years, and have written a monthly column for The Oklahoma Publisher, trade newspaper for the Oklahoma Press Association for 19 years. I'm still excited to see my byline in Oklahoma Today and Persimmon Hill magazines.
That's only one reason it was great to see my byline this week under "A letter home," the personal column "Coffee with Clark," in the new Waurika newspaper, the Waurika News Journal.
I'm published.


  1. Great post, the whole academic thing has been a mystery to me forever. Being a great teacher and doing the work necessary to advance in your career seems difficult. Tenure would be nice in the business world. I've seen people walked out the door, or demoted, or sidelined, for a single unfortunate, ill timed, comment to the wrong person.

  2. Interesting perspective from a non-academic academic, about academia! I suppose these days no job is guaranteed safe, not even a tenured professorship. Good read - thanks.


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