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Peer review: The value of teaching vs. publishing

In “Just Because We’re Not Publishing Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Working” (Chronicle of Higher Education, June 11, 2012), psychology prof Bruce B. Henderson comments,

The general public does not understand our workloads, and we have not done a good job educating them about what we do. We often haven’t made a convincing case even to ourselves. A common academic’s response to questions about our work focuses on our time spent in generating new knowledge, usually in the form of publications. Indeed, faculty productivity is often measured by numbers of publications.

But that defense won’t stand up to scrutiny for many of us who don’t work at research universities. Critics might be surprised by how much some faculty members at regional universities and liberal-arts colleges do write; however, compared with faculty members at major research universities, we typically spend more time with students, teach more courses and more different courses, and provide more direct service to local and regional communities. Yet for many of us, the number of hours we spend teaching and performing service doesn’t account for a large proportion of our time.

We have no concise term to describe what we spend much of our time doing. Our colleges are focused on scholarly products that can be peer-reviewed and published, but the reality is that many of us spend much of our time on being scholarly, not on producing scholarship.

This is an unsettling admission. What if a doctor’s time was spent on “being physician-like” and not on “practising medicine”? Henderson’s’suggestion – describing the work of the academic who mainly teaches as “consumatory scholarship” – is a word game. There is a more direct way.

One might point out that

1) teaching is just as valid an activity in a discipline as research if we agree on the need to replace the current generation of researchers one day;

2) the current peer review paper chase actually generates far less useful knowledge than the public may imagine. Teaching – especially teaching critical evaluation – is a reasonable choice for a scholar;

3) Right now, the student’s enemy in getting a liberal arts education is the growing illiberalism on campuses, not research-driven or supposedly idle profs.

See also: Why peer review is obsolete and what to do about it

Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista

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