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July 20, 2009

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Matt

I worry that the desire to have fewer tenured professors and the shift to presses publishing fewer books will work together in a vicious circle, especially in those fields where books are expected for tenure. (My understanding is that in some fields two books in 6 years is now the de facto standard.) If presses publish less, but the standards stay in the same place, this will allow university administrators to deny tenure and then refuse to allow departments to re-fill tenure lines. Of course, publishing standards for tenure in most fields are now much higher than they were in the past, and there's no good reason that other standards could not be crafted or returned to, but I'd be surprised if this wasn't looked on as a happy development by administrators who would like fewer tenured and tenure-track professors.

Alfred

You're exactly right, Matt -- I think these are all working together. Universities have economic pressure to tenure fewer people; libraries are buying fewer books; presses are publishing fewer books; faculty are teaching larger classes (and probably more classes, too -- or will be soon). Things are really bad and unlikely to turn around anytime soon. I think a lot of these trends ante-date the current crisis. The consumer culture (and the focus on profit centers in schools) have been growing for quiet some time. However, the crisis is making them worse:
http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2008/02/trend-spotting.html

Frank Pasquale

Wow--I have easily bought over a hundred books from that damaged books alcove over 13 years of shopping trips. I loved that store--the quirky staff, the jazz, so near and yet so far from the madding crowd of Harvard Square. Randomly found books like The Drama of Everyday Life, or Kronman's The Lost Lawyer, or Vendler's poetry criticism, really spoke to me. It's a shame that Harvard U couldn't find some space for it. Acres for gyms, but not patch of pavement for their own press's books. I estimate the winter heating bill for Shad Hall is less than a year's operation for the HUP shop.

I wonder if the book sales at Widener and Hilles still go on. I think the used bookstores at Cambridge were key to my own educational experience there. For example, the philosophy section of the used books section of the Harvard Bookstore gave you the sense that there was much more to the topic than the dry-as-dust research agendas of the people then (and perhaps now) dominating the department. The bookstores gave you a sense of what had interested students and professors in the past. I recall finding May Brodbeck's Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science in the crazy old warrens of MacIntyre & Moore, before it was exiled to Somerville--a wonderful volume that led me to look critically at every work of social science I've seen ever since.

I'm beginning to think that people of our age were uniquely privileged by the time we came of age as academics--still able to aggressively use digitized resources, but also offered the quirky smorgasbord of serendipitous finds that is being vaporized by the likes of Amazon and a "University in Ruins" (to refer to another amazing title I found at the HUP remainder store).

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