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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.



July 2010



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