Do consumatory scholars need tenure?

By Razib Khan | June 28, 2012 12:27 am

John Hawks pointed me to this really strange article, Just Because We’re Not Publishing Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Working:

We have no concise term to describe what we spend much of our time doing. Our colleges are focused on scholarly products that can be peer-reviewed and published, but the reality is that many of us spend much of our time on being scholarly, not on producing scholarship. We are, and should be, consuming the scholarship of others. Consuming scholarship includes preparatory time for teaching but is much broader. We need a name for this ubiquitous activity. I offer “consumatory scholarship.”

I suppose the arguments is that by consuming the production of others you become a better teacher and communicator. But is this good bang-for-the-buck? One could argue that argue that I’m a “consumatory scholar,” but at least I have 10 years of a huge amount of text production of commentary which is widely circulated (e.g., I’ve been cited in a few books, just query “Razib Khan”).

Obviously there is some truth to the charge that publish-or-perish leads to a surfeit of crap. Quantity over quality. But this seems to take it to the extreme level. Publications do end up being a way to maintain careers, but the reason publishing is important is that you become part of the record of scholarship. Consumatory scholarship has much more individualized and evanescent outcomes.

MORE ABOUT: Academia
  • Bee

    Well, you can’t produce knowledge without first consuming what’s known already. They’re two sides of the same coin, really, I don’t see the point trying to take them apart.

  • bob sykes

    The current publish or perish system has only been in existence since WW II. Prior to that almost all college faculty were consummatory scholars. Even the Ivies were hot beds of nonintellectualism, closer to Animal House than to their present elite status.

    Of course, prior to WW II college faculty were very poorly paid. The present day salaries, which are quite generous (I used to have one.), exist only because of externally funded research. This is true even in the humanities because colleges siphon money from the income-producing sciences and engineering to them.

  • Kaviani

    Sounds like academia is catching up with other industries: Fat is being cut, perhaps indiscriminately and poorly, but it’s happening. I can understand their fear and empathize to an extent but whining articles are a dubious countermeasure.

    Everything now is about demonstrating how good you are (whether you are or not) and so you’re effectively required to be a salesperson on top of whatever your profession may be. I suspect a certain age bracket is having a hard time adapting, or just now realizing that they have to change up 30+yrs of style to satisfy budget watchdogs/bureaucrats. I bet they wish they minored in marketing or communications now.

  • Anthony

    The article says badly what it wants to say. The main points, as I see them, of the authors thesis are:

    1) Most college professors aren’t producing worthwhile research.
    2) Not producing research is acceptable for most college professors, especially at institutions which aren’t explicitly research universities.
    3) Even in explicitly teaching-only institutions, professors have to spend some time *consuming* research – keeping up on their field – their workday can’t be just lecturing, supervising labs/discussions, and grading papers.
    4) Administrators overvalue research and undervalue teaching.
    5) Administrators/trustees/taxpayers don’t realize how much time consuming research to teach effectively really takes.
    6) Some combination of 3, 4, and 5 leads to to unwarranted pressure on professors to spend more time on measurable things to the detriment of teaching (and possibly actual research).


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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