Ken Womack is Associate Professor of English and Head of the Division of Arts and Humanities at Penn State University's Altoona College.His
book on the tragicomic nature of university life, Postwar Academic Fiction: Satire, Ethics, Community, was recently published by Palgrave Press
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Is there any truth to the maxim 'Publish or Perish?'Ken Womack
: Without question.Publication is a key ingredient for evaluation in nearly every research institution and the most visible means via which tenure-track faculty can demonstrate their ultimate, external acceptance by the academy.Yet the act of publication takes place almost entirely beyond the strictures of one's home institution; hence, it becomes a nearly unassailable measure of a tenure candidate's value, ironic as that kind of assessment device may seem.Not surprisingly, academics are famous for swapping stories about failed tenure cases.And nearly every story that ends with the denial of tenure inevitably involves publication - or the lack thereof.
Chris Federico: For the most part, I think Ken
: I once delivered a paper while sitting on the edge of a bed with a not-so-firm mattress.
: One year right before commencement I went to a seminar dressed in my cap and gown, complete with the doctoral hood and everything.
: I would pay good money to see that.
: I genuinely wanted to see if I had what it took to capture the class's attention.
: I had a student in a freshman composition course who was, to be blunt, an utter failure at nearly every assignment, and I was sure that he
blamed me for his
very significant shortcomings as a writer.A year later he
came by my office and was a completely different person, more mature and with more focus.He wanted me to know he was enlisting in the marines and that my course helped him see he wasn't ready for college.
I was surprised to learn I'd been communicating with him after all; he
may not have gleaned the rudiments about how to write a paper, yet he'd learned something after all - only about himself.
: No. Many of my freshman are under-prepared in terms of study skills.They often don't know how to think critically, and many of them can't begin to spell - despite the ubiquity of spell-check.More importantly, though, they reveal a remarkable dearth of cultural knowledge at nearly every turn, and this frightens me.But it also buoys my spirits because it means that whatever far corners of culture we find ourselves traversing in my class, we are essentially exploring new intellectual terrain.And that, to me, has value.
John: I agree with Ken
about the complete absence of critical thinking or analytical skills among the vast majority of students.
: Go to a small college.
: If you're able to negotiate the hurdles of publication or collegial acceptance - and an amenable personality genuinely helps in both regards - you probably have what it takes to get along with your peers and succeed on the tenure track.
: You're absolutely correct that 'publishing continuously' makes a difference, but as Chris observed, some publications really are worth more than others.
...Ken: I worked in the corporate world for several months.
: Yes, and it was an unmitigated disaster.I enrolled in one class with a professor of international renown in the hope he might eventually agree to be on my dissertation committee.
To my great dismay, I learned that he
often skipped class and eschewed grading seminar papers because his
academic stardom allowed him to get away with such behavior.