For Yale professors, it is often ‘publish or perish’

Humanities professor Norma Thompson, like many academics, knows that the path to authorship is never easy. Even after two successful published works, her third manuscript — a unique combination of scholarship and her personal experience serving on a jury — has received its fair share of “wonderfully positive rejection letters.”

Thompson’s struggle to get her third work published is an experience shared by many professors in their efforts to climb the ladder to tenure. In evaluating its faculty for promotion, Yale strongly considers a faculty member’s bibliography of published works. But many faculty members say the pressure from University departments to publish scholarly research, combined with an increasingly difficult publishing market, is currently threatening the future careers of junior faculty.

“At Yale, publishing a book is not a major event,” Thompson said. “It’s expected.”

Outside of lectures and seminars, Yale faculty members are expected to further intellectual dialogue within their specialty through the publication of academic research. At Yale, professors are allowed significant freedom to pursue individual projects, history and American Studies professor Steven Stoll said. Stoll has published two books on environmental history in America and said he enjoys contributing to the intellectual life of his department.

“Part of the responsibility that you take on and one of the most important roles you fulfill on the faculty is to do research and to write and to be engaged with other people in your field, ” Stoll said.

The decision of what to publish is entirely individual, but in order to be considered for promotion, Stoll said faculty members are expected to produce publications that are regarded as important by experts in their field.

Within the first few years of an assistant professorship, the pressure to get books published is especially intense. Though Yale does not make specific requirements as to the number and type of publications one must have in order to be promoted, there is an implicit understanding in all departments that you need to have published one book to be promoted to associate professor, and at least two books to be considered for tenure, Cyrus Hamlin, professor of Germanic studies and comparative literature, said.

“In a third-year review as an assistant professor, the chair will say that you must have a book published by the sixth year in order to become an associate professor,” said Pericles Lewis, professor of comparative literature and English. “It helps a lot at that point if you have articles and signs of a second book.”

These guidelines are considered rigid compared with other universities, said Hamlin, but Yale does offer opportunities for faculty to take paid leaves of absence in order to concentrate on their scholarship. Yale offers two years of paid leave within the first seven years as a senior faculty member. Junior faculty may apply to the Morse Fellowship, which grants a year of paid leave and is often used to revise dissertations for potential publication.

Lewis praised the University for this generosity. At Yale, Lewis said there is “immensely more time to work on our research than at other universities.” He said he considers Yale’s support as an investment.

“These are the people who will write important books and are the ones who do get rewarded,” Lewis said.

Despite the considerable amount of support offered to faculty, those pursuing their first publications often have a much harder time finding the time to work and an interested publisher. Younger faculty who attempt to publish their recently completed dissertations are frequently forced to revise and broaden the subject of their work by publishers who are reluctant to invest in such a specialized book, Hamlin said. The time between the submission of a manuscript and the publisher’s response is often close to 18 months. And if a contract is offered, faculty members are often still partially responsible for the cost of publication. While Yale faculty members are eligible to receive up to $5,000 to use toward publication through the Frederick W. Hilles Publication Fund, many still find themselves economically stressed by the joint pressures of teaching and publishing.

English and comparative literature professor Geoffrey Hartman recalled his own experience publishing his dissertation while he was a graduate student at Yale in 1955.

“It was exactly the same; the complaints were about the same as I think they are today,” said Hartman, discussing the pressures to publish. “But it was accepted that you made a vow of poverty and would have a huge amount of obstacles to overcome.”

Hamlin said he feels that there has been an increase in pressure put on beginning academics to get their work published in book form. This is further exasperated by the university presses, which are presently less interested in books of highly specialized scholarship, he said.

“Many of the new Ph.D.’s that have been trained as scholars suddenly find themselves with this absolute requirement to publish or perish and no easy option to getting their stuff in print, ” said Hamlin. “It is worse than it ever was.”

What is commonly referred to as a crisis in academic publishing has resulted from a number of economic factors that are forcing university presses to make changes in the types of books they accept.

Yale University Press Senior Editor John Kulka confirms this perception of crisis within the academic community. National trends such as lower sales, reduction of support from research libraries and the disappearance of independent bookstores have all influenced the scholarly publishing market, he said. As a result, university presses are more inclined to publish academic work that speaks to a general audience. Many university presses will no longer publish first books, Lewis said. He published his dissertation as a book through Cambridge University Press in 2000.

But Kulka said dissertations do not always translate well into book form. Kulka said the Yale University Press looks for scholarly works with “crossover potential” — the ability to reach a larger audience and make a profit.

“A dissertation is not the same thing as a book, which is a hard thing for a young scholar to learn,” he explained.

An increasing number of young scholars are caught in this paradox of publishing; they seek to publish a book in order to secure their positions at a university, but are rejected by the university presses.

Perhaps the most considerable repercussion is the threat this poses to scholarly treatises, Hamlin said. If junior faculty must resort to writing on a very broad and intriguing topic in order to publish, they undermine their own dedication to scholarly research. Hamlin fears that “in the next decade this crisis is going to affect the whole profession.”

“In an ideal world,” Hamlin said, “the Yale University Press would be entirely supported by Yale University, and they would be fostering and supporting the work of scholars.”

Hartman agrees that the current system’s pressure to publish fails the young scholar, but would prefer to see improvements in the conditions of publishing rather than a change in criteria for promotion.

More optimistic about the future of serious scholarship, Kulka said he remains confident in the Yale University Press’ dedication to those books that make a contribution to scholarship in a particular area. Kulka said he has personally published dissertations and remains committed to publishing important scholarly material.

“We still publish about 100 scholarly books a year, and that’s more than most university publishers all together,” Kulka said.

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