Publish and perish

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 1 June 2003



Abeles, T. (2003), "Publish and perish", On the Horizon, Vol. 11 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2003, MCB UP Limited

Publish and perish

Publish and perish

The academy may be on shifting sands

When I was a first-year graduate student, I and another student, across campus and in a different department, did some original research which did not seem to strike the fancy of faculty in either discipline until our paper was accepted in Nature with no faculty member acknowledged or appended as a co-author. At that point, the subsequent attention became less than comfortable for both of us. Later on, I developed a simple paper which I was preparing to submit to an educational journal of the disciplinary society when it was politely suggested that, perhaps, my advisor might co-author the article. I was beginning to appreciate the academic pressures for publishing for promotion and tenure, which, of course, became evident when I was finally awarded tenure based, in part, on the weight of the documents published and presented at scholarly meetings and symposia. As I traverse the world, consulting on higher education and also on issues of the environment, I have become very conscious of the various levels of published materials and meeting attendances which qualify for promotion, tenure and pay increases. Several recent events and trends have brought these issues to the top of my screen. First has been a number of exchanges with authors and potential authors for On the Horizon, all of whom have been very concerned as to when their papers might be published and whether I could provide full references for these, yet to appear, articles because of the author's need for verification fortheir portfolios.

Currently, there are many pieces and variances in the "Open access initiative" (OAI). One of these is the promotion of the idea that universities would archive all the publications of their faculty on the university's servers which, subsequently, would be searchable by software such as Napster. This starts to raise numerous issues regarding quality control and distribution, much of which could be handled by other emerging technologies such as that used for book reviews on, in addition to weakening the seemingly avaricious grasp of the publishers, it seems as if we are changing the nature of these articles and hence their historic value as both ways for new ideas to emerge and mechanisms for breaking the guild nature of certification for promotionand tenure.

This process also makes the research accessible to students and faculty locally where an academic's body of research is open to the entire campus. While this may raise other issues, such as that of the "public intellectual", what is important here is that there are changes in the academic winds where teaching as an evaluative criterion for tenure is being given more than lip service when laid next to research. Local publishing of research and campus evaluations of teaching now can be profiled and examined, and not shunted around the Internet for review by peers in exotic places. More than one institution is opening old battle scars around the right balance between research and teaching in traditional research driven departments.

Administratively, the issue is of much more than passing interest. As funding resources become tighter, institutions are forming partnerships where areas of expertise are shared. In some communities where several academic institutions exist, course sharing and, even, degree sharing are becoming commonplace. The rise of the Internet expands these collaborations, thinning the mobility options which faculty had with extensive publishing and refocusing more on the present institution with its increasing demands on providing support for education. Significant research results on the effectiveness of technology in instructional design is also changing the role and responsibilities of faculty, again challenging the institutions to rebalance their reward system between education and research. Interestingly, a recent report on the impact of technology in universities did not have one faculty member as a participant. This, of course, shows the increasing institutionalization of higher education and raises issues regarding the role of the faculty and raises questions about the values of the global publish/perish industry.

Teaching as a principle basis for promotion and tenure has always been seen as problematic. It has been associated with community colleges, vocational schools and similar post-secondary institutions where the faculty have often been of an adjunct nature or whose permanent faculty were often less than PhD qualified. "Real academics" did research as evidenced by their publications, often to the detriment of long-suffering undergraduates enduring arduous lectures and first-year graduate students as teaching assistants. Rising quality in the "for-profits", emphasis on competency rather than seat time, and rising costs for a degree are all raising the bar for academic institutions, particularly in the classroom. The rise of the Internet presents new challenges from mobility between classrooms and institutions at the click of a mouse to changing, increasingly cost-effective, and learning-effective, methods for delivering didactic knowledge. Here, research and teaching start to take on different colors. Opportunities for growth, mobility and other traditional options for academics are changing, and often constricting. As research consolidates in fewer institutions and participation in these projects, via the Internet, reduces the requirements of mobility between sites, the power of the faculty to determine the directions of the institutions and even their own mobility is called into question. Faculty in post secondary education become more like those in the K-12 arena in all dimensions. The institution takes on more of a corporate role and the faculty no longer become the drivers that shape the academy.

In such a situation, an inversion occurs; the contribution of the faculty members to the educational mission becomes primary and the publishing of scholarly works becomes a potential liability when it impacts on the quality of the educational mission. Here, one must risk that the research carried out becomes significant in the eye of peers and funding agencies external to the institution, or that the work raises the academic to the role of a public intellectual, one that commands the audience of a community wider than the specialist arena of the academic. Mobility becomes constrained as the rewards for promotion and tenure are indeed made and recognized at the local level rather than the faculty receiving rewards locally based on external recognition by peers.

As mentioned above, part of this has been precipitated, by the academic movement to publishing on the servers of the institution regardless of where else these ideas may be delivered, such as in a traditional academic journal. In fact, the value of such publications, other than for peer vetting may be moot. And even the latter, with emerging software, may be even further diminished as vetting of authors by reviews placed on the institution's own servers will become commonplace. The controversies and critiques which remained in cloistered circles within arcane academic communities will be carried into the public light as intellectual exchanges around such publications become visible and remain obscured only with difficulty. Thus, the research community, in its rush to circumvent the journal markets through open access may have hastened the transition in its effort to achieve lower costs and easier access.

Tom AbelesEditor

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