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People work in radically different work environments. In Europe universities are research institutions, and philosophers, like other researchers, are expected to be productive. That means publishing either articles or books. So if one does not publish an article (or more) each year, then one is not doing their job. This is not the model that characterizes the typical four-year college in the USA. There, one is principally a teacher. And most of one's time is taken up with that.

Marcus Arvan

Hey Euro: no doubt - but the question I meant to raise is a normative one regarding the standards that *should* be used to evaluate research productivity post-tenure. The question, broadly speaking, is about 'quality vs. quantity', and the implications of different measures of productivity for individuals and the profession more broadly. I'm just curious what people think about the normative question(s) here.


It's a bit hard to know how to interpret the question. Pre-tenure, questions about research "expectations" at this or that type of institution are naturally read as questions about what will be required for tenure.

Post-tenure, it's not so clear. Why are we evaluating somebody's research productivity? If it's for the question of raises, or promotion from from associate to full professor, or competitiveness for external offers, then it's the same kind of question, and the answers will probably be different depending on just how we specify it. But I think you mean to be asking a much more open-ended, broadly ethical question; how much should professors write after getting tenure? And in that case, it seems to me wrong to expect the sort of relatively precise (albeit institution-relative) answers we can give pre-tenure. There are all sorts of reasons one might do more or less research after tenure. (Perhaps it's easier to come up with reasons why one might do less--maybe you've become department chair, or have other new administrative and/or service responsibilities, or are doing one of those programs where professors go "back to school" aimed at supporting interdisciplinary research, or...)


It seems to me that pre- and post-tenure standards should be broadly the same, with the main (only?) difference being that before tenure there is more monitoring and evaluating (and the associated consequences) than after.

If what we want out of academics is a steady stream of journal articles, then we should expect that from post-tenure academics just as much as pre-tenure ones.

If, like Marcus, we want "deep, broad, slow, careful, and systematic" research, then we should expect that from pre-tenure academics just as much as post-tenure. After all, why should you expect that using a steady stream of journal articles as your pre-tenure selection mechanism would be a good way of selecting for people who are good at deep, slow, systematic research?


I’ve always been interested in the rationale of universities demanding their professors (tenured or not) and graduate students to publish so much work. It’s obvious that one aim and function of higher education is to publish (research) articles and books. Publishing is a requirement for most professors. That much is commonsensical and true.

However, rarely have I ever stumbled upon a satisfying answer as to *why* professors are required to publish 1-3 articles a year as opposed to every several years. What are the rationales for such a *quantitative* requirement?

Based on my observation, there are several I noticed:

1. Higher wages: Publishing more could increase wages as some commenters and posters have said.
2. The requirement for and maintenance of tenure.
3. Prestige status: Many universities want to maintain a reputation amongst other universities. Supposedly, a high level of research produced is often considered a sign of innovation and intellectual excellence of a university or department. At least, to laypeople, it is considered that way since many incoming freshmen and parents still believe an education at a large (research or liberal arts) university is still better than at a community college.
4. Funding from industries: I think this is more relevant in the practical sciences since industries need new or innovative researches for their own ends. For many departments to survive, they have to rely on funding from external sources. Many industries give money in exchange for certain kinds of researches produced by these departments or universities. For example, my friend who is a chemistry graduate student receives funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Organizations like these are constantly on the lookout for new and innovative researches and so they’re going to financially invest in departments that can produce lots of researches for them. I guess in terms of external funding, many departments have strings attached to certain industries and so professors in those departments are incentivized to publish a certain amount each year.

Number 1 rationale seems strange to me. If publishing X amount of papers a year is required for a professor to keep his or her job or make tenure, then it wouldn’t make sense to say that publishing X amount is required to *increase wages*. We should thus distinguish between what’s required to keep one’s job/achieve tenure and what’s optional in order to get a raise. After all, it’s possible for a professor to get a raise without getting tenure yet.

Number 2 is a mystery to me. Why do certain amounts of published papers a year determine whether or not somebody gets tenured? I haven’t found justification for that yet. Does anybody know? Or is it just arbitrary and randomly decided? Or is it the fear that professors will be lazy or something ifthey have lax requirements? Or is it to weed out unproductive professors? I would like to know.

Number 3 and 4 makes a lot of sense to me since reputation and funding from industries are things that universities are dependent on in order to survive. As such, these rationales make sense since attracting more students and industries by publishing a lot can make them lots of money via funding through grants from industries and enrollments.

However, my concern is that the humanities are following in the footsteps of the sciences in terms of publishing. It’s a concern because it may end up being wasteful of careful thought and well-being.

Humanities departments don’t get a lot of industry funding and so they don’t really have a lot of strings attached. At most, they have to rely on enrollments and students majoring in them. But this has little to do professors publishing X amount/year. Even if a humanities department managed to publish a lot to get a good reputation, publishing more papers is not a direct cause of getting more money since not everyone is interested in majoring in the humanities or take classes in them. Humanities enrollments are going down even if the departments manage to publish a lot of papers.

Therefore, reputation may benefit *popular* or in-demand majors and career paths since those are the ones that many or most students and parents are looking to enroll themselves or their children in.

In terms of industry funding, publishing so much in philosophy seems futile for getting funding from external sources since most industries don’t see the value in philosophy articles anyway. I don’t think certain tech or other industries are interested in metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, or even ethics in general.


I am a bit confused by some of your remarks. First, for an academic to NOT publish, would be much like a waiter not bringing food to the tables of customers. That is the job of an academic.
And raise issue is a bit confusing. Every university I have worked at valued publishing ... that is to say, they gave raises to people who published, and were less likely to give raises to those who do not.
Am I misunderstanding you?

Marcus Arvan

why: Evan didn't suggest that academics shouldn't publish. He asked (as did I) why academics are expected to publish so *much*. If you look at how much academics published a few decades ago (e.g. the days of Austin, Rawls, etc.), they appear to have published significantly less work: the focus (it seems) was more on quality (and impact) than quantity.

To use your restaurant example, when you go to cheap restaurants (at least in the US), the portion sizes are often enormous: they try to impress the diner with the sheer amount of food you get. However, when you go to excellent restaurants, the portion sizes are often tiny. The focus in good restaurants, in other words, tends to be more on quality rather than quantity.

That, I think, is what Evan is raising questions about, and what I mean to as well. Our current environment in higher ed seems to incentivize people to simply pump out paper after paper. How many of those papers make any real impact in the literature? Answer: not all that many. So, why incentivize quantity? Why not incentivize quality instead?


It is Why here again. I am a bit perplexed by the weighing in on what people should be publishing . Part of the problem is due to the fact that professional philosophers - people paid to do this - are a heterogenous lot. That is, we work in very different work environments, and we have markedly different jobs. There is a sense in which people at the highest level seem to just aim for quality - but, let us be honest with ourselves, part of Quine's appeal is due to the fact that he wrote quite a bit. So there is lots to work through. People at typical research universities have another sort of job. Many are expected to publish regularly, and their readership might be a quite small group of specialists. Then people at more teaching oriented colleges publish for quite a different reason. They are trying to connect with the profession, that is, the groups discussed above. And insofar as those who are in adjunct positions publish, it is in an attempt to get into the profession. Clearly, I haven't described every group. But the point is there are not a set of norms appropriate for all professional philosophers.

Nicolas Delon

Marcus, those excellent restaurants suck. There's something to be said in favor of quantity.

Also, let's not romanticize older generations. Of course there will be counterexamples, then but also today, who publish high quality but low quantity work. But it's not like collected works of philosophers of the past including the 20th century don't exist. If you were to look at the most influential philosophers of the past century, most of them probably have published quite a lot even by our standards. Wittgenstein or Rawls or Parfit (the latter two actually published quite a bit) should not be standards to guide us through the question.

Marcus Arvan

Nicolas: ha, fair enough - I like excellent restaurants myself, but recognize that at some such places the portions can be too small (in a really annoying way). I think, or at least hope, we can agree that quantity and quality can both be desirable. But I guess my concern, to go all the way back the OP, is that if departments require something like 1 journal article per year post tenure, then it incentivizes everyone to be in a near-constant dash to publish article after article, without ever giving people the opportunity or incentive to slow the heck down and pursue bigger projects that may take longer. But what I do I know? I just thought the 1 article per year standard after tenure sounded strange—like, what is tenure for if not for giving people who have established themselves time to explore rather than continue sprinting constantly?

Nicolas Delon

Marcus, I agree with all of that. I just don't think the analogy or the examples support the point you're making, which is very reasonable. I guess, without the perspective of (not getting) tenure the standard, if there is one, should be used as a rough heuristic for your production function. You'll have some productive years, others where you're maturing or exploring, and surely something like a Theory of Justice or Reasons and Persons can make up for a relatively scarce publication record (Rawls already had three papers in Phil Review and more by the time he must have applied for tenure, though).


I think a lot of universities assume that professors are already competent enough to publish fruitful and innovative research articles, which is why they’re required to publish so much each year.

However, again, this seems difficult to assess if we’re considering the humanities e.g. philosophy where the innovativeness or fruitfulness of an article or book is highly debatable at least as it relates to the real world outside of the literature.

In the practical sciences, researches tell us what’s effective and what’s not; what’s correlated with what and what’s not; what’s healthy and what’s not; what works and what doesn’t; what can cause what and what doesn’t; etc. These sorts of researches can be put into practical use *immediately*.

With philosophy, not so much mostly because accepting or rejecting certain values and arguments is not something most people or many industries are willing to do. Most people or organizations are willing to get behind and buy the latest technology, but are they willing to accept certain conclusions about their own political views? Not really.

Most people are willing to accept their doctor’s words about the latest evidence based research on their health conditions, but are they willing to accept or reject certain values that most moral philosophers agree are reasonable and ethical? Probably not.

I’m lucky that my own group of friends find inspiration and meaning from my own philosophical musings, but that’s because they know me personally and respect my opinions. Philosophy articles are not something that the public can easily put to use or accept immediately compared to science articles.

I think a lot of universities group the product of the science departments with the product of the humanities. The problem is that both are generally different products with one being more easily accepted and used by the public and the other isn’t so much.

I could totally understand why the sciences are incentivized to publish so much every year simply because there are also lots of demand for these researches from various industries such as tech, medicine, military, social work, policing, housing, education, therapy, etc.

Unless there are lots of external demands for philosophical or humanities knowledges, it seems such a waste of contemplative thought and well-being since many professors and referees are already stressed out. Most of these philosophy articles are not going to see the light of day anyways. Yes, some philosophical ideas have shaped and affected the world, but these works took a lot of time as well.


I don't know about expectations. But what I've observed about some of the most influential and productive scholars in my subfield is that by the time they're full profs, they're mostly publishing books (at a truly astonishing pace!) and chapters in volumes, collections, etc. They're still publishing in journals, but they're doing a lot more of the other stuff. And they're much less selective about the journals they publish in (and IMO that's a good thing, especially for scholars of their stature!).

And that seems intuitively right to me. It seems like a good fit for their career stage and reputation.

I have no idea about Associates, though. I don't have any kind of handle on what's expected there.

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