Remaking Academia: 12 Ideas for 2012

January 2, 2012 | Blog

What follows is a summary of a Twitter thread I started a few days ago. Feedback suggested it might be useful to compile it here.

Here are 12 rough, off-the-cuff ideas about how we might collectively remake academia. Just to get the party started. Please throw yours in too!

1. Hey professor: Ask yourself “What new knowledge does this article contribute to the world? Does the method actually address the research question?” If the answer is no or it does not, for pete’s sake please don’t be so self-serving as to submit it for publication.

2. Publish for the sake of knowledge dissemination, not in the pursuit of tenure. There should be penalties for publishing bad work!

3. At least 1 out of every 5 publications should contribute a lesson for policy or practice at some level.

4. For every three articles placed in academic journals, write at least one executive summary for public dissemination. For those of you at UW, consider this part of the Wisconsin Idea. You could ask your department to host a site where you post these summaries collectively with your colleagues– no need for a special outlet. Or, consider this bit of info from Julia Savoy- “you might consider depositing your work or summaries of pubs in Minds@UW, an institutional repository that offers a number of benefits, such as long-term archiving and permanent URLs. The outlet is already set up and indexed by Google and other search engines.

5. Blogging and writing op-eds and letters to editor, based on evidence not anecdote, should count for tenure.

6. The full costs of research, and all funders, should be disclosed in a standard statement at the end of articles.

7. It isn’t “mixed methods” if you simply add anecdotes in the discussion section to “explain” your statistical findings.

8. Write about what you actually did not what you wished you’d done. Be honest, share tradeoffs and lessons learned.

9. The discussion section of a paper should be INTERESTING and worth reading, not a throwaway.

10. People with controversial opinions should be prized for bravery, not shunned for rocking the boat. Academic freedom & all.

11. Syllabi should include readings from competing perspectives, and varied political ones too.

12. There needs two be a “professor 101” course for all new faculty, helping socialize them to whatever “standards” are expected.


  1. Reply

    Allen Stairs

    January 2, 2012

    I'm very sympathetic. That said, re no. 2: I thoroughly sympathize with young people who have tenure in mind as part of the reason for publishing some of the things they publish. In talking to a younger colleague about tenure I would never discourage her/him from submitting something that might help in the process even if we agreed that in the grand scheme of things, it's not an important contribution. The system needs changing, but given that it's the system we have at the moment, I'm reluctant to ask my untenured to colleagues to sacrifice their employment prospects on the altar of principle.

    In fact, there *are* penalties for bad work, conceived in one way. The fact that something gets published somewhere doesn't mean it will meet the standards of tenure referees; these days tenure committees don't just count pages or numbers of articles. But what one's *discipline* considers important and what's genuinely important are not always the same thing. Someone with tenure can afford to ignore the former; someone trying to get their career underway can't.

  2. Reply


    January 3, 2012

    I would add that colleges and comprehensive universities shouldn't all be trying to mimic research universities by ratcheting up publication expectations for faculty. Much of the original teaching and service mission is being lost, and the race for institutional prestige and moving up the higher ed food chain has contributed to the flood of mediocre manuscripts to journals. Everyone is under the gun to publish even more or perish. I think there is a need in the field for institutions that focus on high quality professional training and more applied R&D (such as curriculum design, design and testing of intervention models) than basic research. We're losing important institutional diversity in the search for status.

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