Phi Beta Cons

Is There a Better Option than “Publish or Perish”?

Over the years, the Pope Center has often attacked the worthlessness of much academic research — the stuff that is cranked out merely because a professor needs publications to have a shot at tenure. It’s pretty wasteful and probably leads to tenure for more than a few people who are only good at pushing out journal articles that virtually no one reads (and some of which are bogus).

Emeritus political science professor Paul Gottfried knows that case against the “publish or perish” rule, but in today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, argues that the alternatives are worse. “My own view,” he writes, “is that for all its occasional abuses, the old ‘publish or perish’ position had a great deal going for it, and especially when measured against the alternatives.”

Gottfried agues that the publishing requirements were “good professional discipline.” Moreover, if we jettison publication (which has been happening at some institutions) and decide instead to grant tenure to those who are “effective” in the classroom, the result is “a slippery slope leading nowhere but to a bigger popularity contest among instructors.”

Just as Winston Churchill thought that democracy was the worst system of government, except for all the others that have been tried, so Paul Gottfried looks at the publish or perish regimen — the worst way of promoting professors, except for all the others.


George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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