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Knut Hamson

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Teaching and Publishing

A Scholarly Book and a 4/4 Teaching Load

The piece below the cut is from The Chronicle. I was wondering, for those of you with heavy teaching loads, how has your load affected your publishing? Sure, it means you publish less than you could if your teaching load were lighter. But has your teaching load helped shape what you write as well as how often you write?

Here's how a heavy schedule affected one assistant professor's desire to write.


Before I formally accepted the job offer at the liberal-arts college where I now work, I spoke with a top administrator about tenure expectations. He had said that in addition to good teaching and service, the college would expect "a pattern of continuing professional development." On the telephone, I pressed him for specifics.

That pattern, he said, certainly could include peer-reviewed articles, but he assured me that I was not entering a publish-or-perish situation. Other professional activities, like presenting at conferences or serving in academic organizations, could signal such development. That he was trying to ease any worries I might have about taking on both a heavy teaching load and onerous publication requirements was crystallized in his final remark: "We don't expect you to write a book or anything!"

Maybe I wouldn't have to publish a book. But what if I wanted to? Not to strengthen my tenure file, but for the rather naïve reason that I thought I had something to say that other scholars might profit from reading.

Then again, wasn't the fact that I had ended up teaching four courses a semester at a college explicitly chartered "to educate the sons of coal miners" evidence that I had little worth saying to other scholars?

I hope that's not the case. In the three years since that conversation with the senior administrator (who is now deceased), I have written a book that will be published next fall, Secret Faith in the Public Square: An Argument for the Concealment of Christian Identity (Brazos Press).

While a heavy teaching load obviously didn't keep me from writing the book, I found it did affect my writing schedule, topic, research methods, and choice of publisher. I would surely have written a different book had I a lighter teaching load or a pretenure sabbatical. Not a more ambitious book exactly, but one in which the ambition was placed differently.

Someone teaching at a college like mine simply cannot write certain kinds of books. At least, they cannot write them in only a few years.

But that should not discourage those of us at liberal-arts colleges who want to be active scholars. Nor should it dissuade the many graduate students who, despite their desire to work at a large research university, will end up with heavy teaching loads and minimal publishing requirements for tenure. I hope this account of my experience will show that those of us at teaching-intensive colleges can contribute to scholarly conversations in our fields. But if we hope to publish books, we must take into account our real limitations and exploit our advantages.

Choice of topic. In planning my book, I knew I wouldn't be able to do lots of work in original languages. I wouldn't be able to do work requiring extended trips to archives. I would need to make as much use of my dissertation as I could. About half of my dissertation research became the foundation for the book, but nearly all of that ended up being rewritten, as the book's argument was considerably different.

Those time and travel limitations meant that my contribution to the scholarly discussion would not be an exhaustive study of a narrow topic, region, or period. I would need to write something that could use materials readily available in nearby college libraries; I had no time to track down long-overlooked sources.

I decided that my book could have an impact by challenging the contemporary theological consensus on a significant issue. Few books and articles made arguments like mine, yet my approach was well received at conferences and in conversations with friends and colleagues. That gave me confidence that the book was needed and would receive attention, despite not looking like a standard university-press monograph.

Choice of publisher. In my field of theology, the best books are not always published by big-name university presses. Independent houses (many of them affiliated with religious organizations) put out perhaps half of the academic titles reviewed in journals that I either read or at least glance at. That, along with the fact that I didn't need a monograph published by a major university press for tenure, meant I didn't need to pursue, at all costs, a contract with the most prestigious publishers.

I initially shopped the idea around to only a handful of presses — some of the big-name university variety and some independent. Not all of them got back to me. Those that did wanted to see a sample chapter or two. After reading my proposal and samples, the editorial director at Brazos Press offered me a publishing contract.

I signed it for three main reasons. First, Brazos showed considerable interest in the manuscript from the moment I began talking about it with the company. The editorial director even asked if he could meet with me when he was coming through town. At that point, I had little more than an idea for the book. We chatted about it for some time, and he asked me to keep his press in mind.

Second, I thought that Brazos would do the best job of getting the book into the hands of the people I most wanted to read it. Although the press is young, academics I respect often say that it publishes interesting and important books. I read the press's books and see them reviewed and referenced frequently.

Third, I liked everyone I met at the company. They have turned out to be easy to work with. All of their requests have been reasonable, and they've granted all of mine. For example, although I had a signed contract, I still wanted the manuscript to be peer-reviewed before it was officially deemed acceptable for publication. The people at Brazos understood the book's importance for my academic reputation, and they found reviewers whose criticism certainly made my argument stronger, even though the review-and-revision process took several months, delaying the time when the book could start making money for the publisher.

Writing during the academic year. Finding time to write during a semester is hard for everyone, no matter your course load. But when teaching is unmistakably the main part of your job, it can seem as if you should write only once the day's teaching tasks are finished.

After I had finished teaching for the day, I found I had few weekday afternoons free for writing. Committee meetings, lectures, and ceremonies for the many on-campus honor societies added up quickly. Although Friday afternoons tend to be quiet at the college, too often I was wiped out by then and didn't do much more than stare blankly at whatever chapter I was nominally writing or editing.

I learned never to put off writing until later in the day or later in the week. A couple of good hours on a Monday morning built some momentum that I would need by Wednesday. I arranged my teaching schedule so that it was heaviest on Thursdays, so that by the time teaching had worn me out for the week, I had already given over a couple of days to writing.

There were times when I sacrificed meticulous classroom preparation to write, although I hated to find myself cramming to teach in the hour before class met, like my students too often do.

My deans were supportive of my book project throughout. I was awarded an internal grant one summer, and during the final year of writing, a dean allowed me some creative class scheduling so I could teach a less-burdensome mix of five courses one semester and three the next, leaving me a bit more time to write as my publisher's deadline loomed.

Use of summers. At the risk of sounding like the coach played by Gene Hackman in the movie Hoosiers (who used a measuring tape to show his small-town basketball team that the hoop in the big field house in Indianapolis was still 10 feet off the ground, just like the one at their tiny rural high school's gym), I point out that the summer break is as long for me as it is for people who teach two hours down the turnpike at the University of Pennsylvania. I knew I had to exploit the summer's relative lack of limitations.

I spent one summer in a university town that houses a first-rate theological library. My wife and I had been living apart while she worked on a Ph.D., so we lived in her little basement apartment, and I took advantage of the rich academic resources available in her city. I spent several hours a day in the library doing research and writing, and made tremendous progress on my manuscript.

That was genuinely fun — a rare time when no aspect of writing felt like drudgery. My mind felt as alive as ever, and I walked to the library always eager to find out what I would learn that day. It seemed like a do-it-yourself sabbatical.

That feeling couldn't last, of course. Now that the book is finished, finding the time and motivation to write has again become difficult. I expect I will eventually start another book project. For now, though, teaching 100 education and business majors is project enough.

Jonathan Malesic is an assistant professor of theology at King's College, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. His book, Secret Faith in the Public Square: An Argument for the Concealment of Christian Identity, will be published by Brazos Press in the fall.


Being able to tie my teaching into my research has been key.
I teach a 24 credit load per year plus overload (which is 7 or more classes per year, depending on how many preps, honors students, and 3 vs. 4 credit courses you are teaching) and have a very heavy advising and service load. My fall semesters have a heavier load than my spring semesters, and in my first fall I had 2 new preps and got almost no research done. But now I am setting aside one full workday a week for research-related work and will have 1-2 months in the summer for research. And yes, I do have research expectations for tenure.

I know that where I work has shaped my options in research to some extent--I can't get travel funding very easily, for instance, and I don't have time for certain types of projects. I have come up with a new project that's more connected to what I teach about, but it's still in line with my earlier projects. To me, the thing that makes the biggest difference is the possibility to hire or otherwise acquire undergraduate research assistants--so I apply for a lot of grants both internal to my institution and external.

While I chose to go the teaching-intensive route and would rather give up research than teaching, I don't want to give it up. Given the tenure & promotion expectations of my institution, I really can't give it up until I am a full professor anyway. So you find time, you find a way, and that's the way it is.
I know about the time, and really am ok with that. That it, it's not ideal, but I accept it. But I'm wondering if other factors come into play. I know that my research has been tied to my teaching, which has been a blessing, and I wonder how my choice of research projects has been in some way dictated by my teaching. I know that the last article I wrote (forthcoming 2010) was done largely because I was teaching a course where I could think about this; were I not teaching this course, I would not have worked on what became a very fruitful research project.
It's interesting, but I still wonder why the author chose to write 'a book' in non-ideal circumstances - given that he claims it wasn't necessary for his job or cv and so on. 'Because I thought I had something to say' doesn't make more sense of a book than a couple of high impact articles, or a workshop and special edition, or whatever.

I don't know; I have obv. become prematurely jaded by talking to (and being repeatedly rejected by) publishers, who all seem to want us as academics to write fewer and fewer books if we can possibly manage it, as they don't sell, they don't make money, and they're a pain in the arse.[1] I know that two articles in a top journal will disseminate my work more widely than any book, unless I'm incredibly lucky and it makes it onto a couple of reading lists here and there. So why would I, if my career didn't depend on it, actively choose to write a book?

[1] Caveat: I haven't nestled in with these lovely independent publishers, and have only been talking to the grumbling mosters of university and commercial presses. This may be the root of my publishing dilemma.
The impression I get is that publishers don't want fewer books; they want more marketable books. They want books that appeal to wider audiences, as opposed to specialized ones. At least from the younger, newer academics whose name doesn't carry any weight in sales yet.
I've been definitely told 'fewer books', but that's with the implication that fewer implies more marketable without actually having to worry too much about the quality. Library budgets do not increase in proportion with the number of new academics who *have* to turn a thesis into a book to get tenure, and arguments like that, etc.
A friend of mine had a press tell him that they were very interested in a collection of essays he put together on Hot New Topic, and that they would publish his revised dissertation so that they could get the collection. Sadly, he wasn't able to get his shit together, and the the press pulled the contract after he kept asking for extensions.
They want people who have already done that and are on to something new.

I really, really wish there wasn't this pressure to get a book out of your thesis. I knew mine would make a slightly lousy book, and turned it into three non-lousy articles precisely because that was a better way of disseminating my work. But I'm still hearing from publishers that their intrays are flooded with 'first books' which they knee-jerk assume are thesis conversions. So I kinda think perhaps I should dust the thesis off, buff it up and hack it out of a vanity press just to get the damn 'first book' tag out of the way.
I couldn't be more explicit about the book. But I know at least one publisher didn't actually read the cover letter at all; they read my CV, saw no previous book, and said that they weren't doing thesis conversions because of the credit crunch.

It is going to get published, so I should quit whining, but it has made me a) a publisherphobe and b) annoyed by the way funding and tenure bodies seem to be ignoring a supply/demand issue w.r.t. thesis books and people who want to read thesis books/library budgets to buy thesis books, etc.
Well, yes, that's how it's getting published. It's just that when I started, I rather naively believed that writing decent proposals and following the publishers' guidelines might get them to consider the book, or, you know, actually *read* the documentation other than my CV.
I know, I know. I actually turned down an offer to publish from an ex-phd supervisor doing an edited series, because I wanted to prove I could 'do it on my own' and not rely on an old-boy-network. AHAHA. I am a moron.
I still wonder why the author chose to write 'a book' in non-ideal circumstances

He also mentions that he wouldn't have time to work in original languages. I'm not sure why he brings that up, as his topic appears to deal with contemporary issues in the U.S. If he really thought original languages were relevant to his topic, and he didn't have time to work in them, then he would have had no business pursuing any such project.

So I'm wondering whether, in his case, those limitations also affected what he chose to write about.
I have definitely been doubling up on research and teaching. Fortunately my program has been moved into a new division where I am encouraged to publish in the same area where I am encouraged to teach (the application of philosophical analysis to issues in contemporary culture), so the prep work I do for the occasional upper-level class (we usually get one "plum" class a year) can extend into research for publication.

But that's not where I started out. What I would really like to do is apply for a faculty research grant, study classical Arabic, and go back to writing about the reception of the Liber de Causis in the Latin West. (My dissertation was a translation and analysis of Aquinas' commentary thereon, of which there was at the time no published translation.) But there's NO TIME. Theoretically I could apply for a sabbatical, but our program's too small; we can't do without the philosophy core classes I teach, and there's only one other prof who could cover my Latin classes, and he's too busy teaching his own classes.

I don't find the teaching load to be all that much of a burden; my problem is service. This semester I'm director of classical studies, which involves the transition of that program into the interdisciplinary studies office, I'm on the committee to write the new tenure-merit-promotion documents for our new program, I'm on a search committee, I'm on a focus commitee for the research center associated with the new division, I'm the core assessment coordinator for seven courses, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something. These are not things I volunteered for; they were mostly compulsory. It's been like this as long as we've been here. Service will Eat Your Life.
Service can be a bitch, but I've been finding ways to to very visible, but very time-light, service commitments. I'm becoming popular among department majors, and I've managed to pick up quite a bit of student-focused service projects. Though my dean would like me to do more university-wide committee work, he's really happy that I've thrown myself into the department student organization as an advisor, sit on the student liaison committee in my department, and work with the honors society and the awards committee. The way things shake out, I am rather busy in the last few weeks of the spring semester (choosing awards, going to ceremonies). But other than that, there's very little work during the school year. And because the president, provost, and dean attend all the ceremonies, I am very visible at the events attended by administration.

July 2010



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