Chapter Twelve. Research and Tenure
Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, most full-time faculty in Chapel Hill were actively engaged in scholarship and research and in publication or performance. A few quick definitions are needed. By “scholarship” I mean those activities by which faculty became aware of research and new discoveries in their particular fields. These included: reading journals and books, listening to papers delivered by other scholars (either on the UNC campus or at professional meetings elsewhere), and corresponding or conversing with other scholars. I use “research” to indicate activities that lead, whether directly or indirectly, to new knowledge. Such activities are of the most varied sort. Most obvious are the experiments carried out in the hard sciences such as chemistry and physics. In the social sciences, surveys and polls often provide the necessary data. In classics, advances in our knowledge are made in many different ways, including the close analysis of texts, the development of new techniques or methods of analysis, and the discovery of previously unknown texts or material objects. The analysis might involve, for example, solving an historical problem, studying an author’s writing style, assessing a poet’s use of metaphors, or a myriad other such inquiries. In the classics department at Chapel Hill, the archaeologists both excavated ancient sites and studied previously known objects. Effective research required continuous scholarship, because it was through wide and deep reading of earlier and contemporary scholarly work that one learned about appropriate methodologies, new techniques, and the work of other scholars that was related to one’s own investigations.
Publication in classics took various forms. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the most prestigious publications were monographs, by which I mean self-contained books (sometimes in two or more volumes) written usually by one, but sometimes by two or more scholars, and published in hard-copy form. Also important were articles that were published in peer-reviewed journals, because these would generally have been evaluated by at least two other scholars who had been asked by the journal to read the article, assess its quality, and recommend publication, publication after revision, or rejection. Some journals did not have such rigorous standards; publication in them could be useful, not least because it put one’s ideas out in public, but it did not carry the same level of prestige. Similarly, delivering papers at professional meetings made one’s ideas or discoveries available to other scholars and the public. There were two common types of meetings. One was the annual meeting of one of the professional associations, for example the meeting of the American Philological Association, which was traditionally held December 28-30 of each year. Papers delivered at such meetings would be published in paper form only if the author prepared the paper for publication and submitted it for review in some professional journal. A different type of meeting was the conference on a given subject–perhaps a new discovery or a trendy topic–to which a limited number of speakers would be invited. The papers delivered orally at the conference would subsequently be revised and published together as the proceedings of the conference.
For the faculty in general, research leading to publication was important for a number of reasons. First, classroom teaching and publication are essentially the same process: in both, you are presenting new information to an audience. The audience changes, to be sure, from students to scholars, and so does the format, from oral to written presentation. Classroom teaching, moreover, is relatively informal, publication highly formal. But in both cases the teacher or scholar is presenting materials and ideas that he or she believes are significant and at least in part unknown to the audience. The instructor/scholar tries to help the audience understand and internalize the new materials and expects that the audience will profit from the new discoveries and build upon them. Moreover, classroom teaching would be dull indeed if it were not informed by the excitement of new insights, while on the other hand research is useless if others do not learn about it. Questions asked by students in class may prompt an instructor to embark upon a new direction in research, both to answer the students’ questions and to satisfy his own curiosity. The whole idea of research is to move the field–our understanding of a subject–forward, and then to let others build on the new knowledge. This cannot be done if you do not first teach others, through publication, about what you have discovered.
Research is often hard work, and it can be discouraging, but it is highly rewarding intellectually, and faculty in the department of classics in the second half of the twentieth century were generally happy to devote time and effort to it. Publication was encouraged by both the department and the university in general. Important books and influential articles brought prestige to the department and university; their importance could be measured by reviews or by the number of times other scholars cited them in subsequent publications. Prestige in turn attracted bright students (primarily graduate students, but occasionally an undergraduate) to Chapel Hill, and the reputation of the university might be a factor in the success of applications for grants or funding in any number of fields. Finally, research was one of the reasons for the very existence of the university, as articulated by the Board of Trustees in April of 1986: “The University exists to expand the body of knowledge; to teach students at all levels in an environment of research, free inquiry, and personal responsibility; to improve the condition of human life through service and publication; and to enrich our culture.”
Of the various ways in which research and publication affected the life of the faculty and students in Murphey Hall, the institution of tenure was probably the most visible. Dating from about 1940, tenure was a characteristic feature of American university life from that year on through the rest of the century, and it will be useful to consider it, and the process by which a given faculty member obtained it, in some detail.
We can start at the point in a young person’s career at which he or she has received the PhD and is looking for a job. For the sake of clarity in the narrative, we will imagine a young woman named Livia who has just completed her PhD at Michigan; the time is the 1980s. The Department of Classics at UNC-Chapel Hill hires Livia for an initial term of four years at the rank of assistant professor. As an assistant professor, she teaches two or three courses each semester, and she is expected to produce publishable work and to serve on various committees. Over the next six years, Livia will go through a series of evaluations, as follows.
- Late in the second year of her initial term, the chairman appoints a committee of three faculty members to review Livia’s work and asks Livia to submit a number of items: her CV; a statement on teaching; a statement on research; and copies of all of her published works or drafts of articles that have been submitted for publication.
- In the fall semester of the next academic year (Livia’s third year in Chapel Hill), the committee considers Livia’s publications and other written materials and reviews her teaching, as reflected in the reports of faculty who have visited her classes. If she has been productive as a scholar and effective as a teacher, her appointment can and probably will be renewed for three additional years, for a total probationary period of seven years. If at the time of this third-year review she has no publications and is not making progress toward publication, or if her teaching record is poor, her appointment may be terminated. We will assume that Livia has been productive as a scholar and effective as a teacher and that she has accordingly been reappointed.
- In the sixth year of her appointment, there will be an exhaustive review of Livia’s work. A departmental committee of three will assess all of her research, both published and in progress, visit her classes, read the syllabi she has prepared and her own statement on teaching (prepared by her specifically for this review), and consider her work on committees and other service positions. In addition, at least four scholars from outside the university will be asked to read all of Livia’s publications and inform the review committee of their opinion of Livia’s work. If she has not published anything, or if her work is lacking in substance or quantity, her appointment will almost certainly not be renewed. But if her work is satisfactory, and it appears likely that she will continue to be productive, she will be given a promotion, to the rank of associate professor with tenure. In the 1950s and 1960s, the publication of a few good articles, if combined with solid teaching and service, was generally enough to warrant promotion and tenure, but later in the century it became increasingly common for the department (and other departments, both in Chapel Hill and at other research universities) to require the publication of a book before it would recommend tenure.
Even this brief sketch (the official documents that described the process ran to many pages) will indicate how much time was devoted to publishable research, both doing it and evaluating it. Livia, of course, was expected to carry out research and publish her work. The three faculty members on the review committee in her third year had to read her work in enough detail to know if it was both original and of high quality. In Livia’s sixth year, the three members of the committee–usually not exactly the same three as in the third-year review–again read and assessed her work, especially what she had produced since her reappointment, and four faculty members from other universities also read her work and wrote detailed reports on it. Thus, over the course of about four years, between seven and ten senior faculty members, some in Chapel Hill and some elsewhere, will read and evaluate Livia’s work. Our faculty, of course, might be, and often were, asked by other universities to serve as outside reviewers for their young faculty who were coming up for reappointment. Such a review could take many days of careful reading. It was not paid work. Faculty members did the reviews gratis, as a service to the profession.
There is also work to be done as Livia submits her work for publication. She may send an article to a journal. The better journals will send her draft to at least two experts in the field and ask them for their judgment: should the work be published as is? Or after revision? Or not at all? Similarly, book manuscripts will be sent to at least two referees for their assessments. The referees will almost always have criticisms, corrections, and recommendations for revisions, so Livia, if she submits a book, may find herself working for additional weeks or months in response to the criticisms of one or more of the reviewers. The reviewers then must read her revised text and make a recommendation for or against publication. In Livia’s case (we may well imagine; she is our hero, after all), all goes well: her book is published and well received; she also publishes articles and is invited to give papers at conferences here and there. The department is glad to have her, and she is promoted to associate professor with tenure.
 My definitions of scholarship and research are simply for convenience in discussing the activities of faculty members within the context of this book. Other scholars might define them differently.
 The American Philological Association was the national organization for classicists. It was renamed the Society for Classical Studies in 2013.
 The mission statement was regularly printed in the university’s record of courses. The 1986 text is available in, for example, The Record of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Undergraduate Bulletin, 1988-1990 issue (Chapel Hill, NC), p. 21.
 The standard teaching load at research universities from about 1975 or 1980 on was two or sometimes three courses in a given semester, but it varied from school to school, and junior faculty sometimes taught more courses than senior faculty. (Senior faculty had other responsibilities, including the direction of dissertations.) At non-research institutions, the teaching load was always greater, often four courses per semester.