‘publish or perish’ in universities

It is well-known that university professors must publish in peer-reviewed journals in order to obtain tenure and retain their jobs. At the same time, good researchers are rarely the best teachers. Steve Payson, a certified economist who has an MSc from the London School of Economics and a PhD from Columbia University, has written a very personal and very strong critique of this system.

I found the book interesting, and would like to share two paragraphs with you.

The myth about economics professors that purveys the profession is that the more brilliant they are in theoretical economic modeling, and thus the more they are able to publish, the more important they are, and the “better” they are as economics professors. As I will discuss in greater detail in the chapters that follow, this research-based criterion for professors is precisely what hurts the profession the most. Moreover, it makes little sense, in that, if research is the criterion, then why are they “professors,” at all, instead of professionals who are simply being paid to do their research?

The “really good” professors are, of course, the ones who are good at being professors! They are good at caring about their students and at showing true leadership in the profession to help students learn how to become good scientists in the field of economics, whether those students decide to teach or not. Good economics professors help produce economists who believe in doing what is right, and valid, in economics. It is these professors who should carry the way forward for an improved profession.

Steve Payson, How Economics Professors Can Stop Failing Us: The Discipline at a Crossroads (Lexington Books, 2017), pp. 23-24.

Mr Payson’s professional career has been largely with agencies of the US federal government. His academic jobs have been limited to adjunct positions in universities located in the Washington, DC area. Since he never obtained a job as professor on a tenure track, it is easy to dismiss his writing as ‘sour grapes’. I think his critique has merit, though, and is worth reading – especially if you teach in university. I agree that universities reward publication more than teaching, and the system could be improved.

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