‘Publish or perish ‘ has long been an accept truism among academics; those University staff hoping for promotion will only achieve it if they are judged to have published a sufficient amount of published research to justify it. After all, university teachers are expected to researchas well as teach.
There must be many examples of University teachers failing to progress along the road towards a professorship, but your Jotter can think of two glaring cases. At my own University a certain expert in textual criticism, who was taken on by the department of English on the strength of a degree and a B. Litt in English , from Oxford University and who proved to be a popular teacher among his students ( his classes on bibliography and his lectures on Bob Dylan as a poet were highly appreciated) , failed to climb the greasy pole of academic promotion mainly because he published little or anything throughout his forty or so years in the department. He began as a Lecturer and retired (I believe) as one.
Another better known example was Monica Jones, the lover of Philip Larkin, who while a Lecturer in English at the University Of Leicester, failed to publish a single research paper or book, although she was regarded as a well-respected teacher with a particular interest in Sir Walter Scott. While her colleagues were promoted she remained firmly ensconced in the position as Lecturer, and retired holding that post. In her case, it wasn’t a lack of energy or intellectual capabilities that held her back. Like Larkin she left Oxford with a first class degree in English, but like Larkin, who in .’Vers de Societe’ resented having to ask an ‘ ass about his fool research ‘, didn’t see any point in publishing learned papers or books within her field. She preferred teaching, and according to those who attended her lectures and classes, was a gifted communicator.
It would seem that J.P. Donaldson, was a similar sort of individual. Like many an aspiring academic who, not holding the requisite postgraduate degree, was obliged to seek employment at a less discerning university abroad, accepted the post of Lecturer in English at the University of Khartoum in 1960. After seven years he was appointed an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba, Canada. He held this probationary post until around 1972, when for some reason, despite his twelve years experience as a University teacher, he was refused tenure.
All these details were recorded by Donaldson in a report entitled ‘ The Way We Live Now ‘, which was found among his papers at Jot HQ. Presumably it was presented to the Tenure Board as evidence of his dissatisfaction at their refusal to grant him tenure. In his statement he candidly admits that his academic qualifications were ‘ few’.
‘…I have what is known as a good honours degree in English Language and Literature, a certificate in education and a diploma in education. I have also spent a year engaged in full-time research towards an M.A., which I had to put aside when I went to Africa, and I published a short article in 1960.
Reading these words most with any knowledge of the University system—not just in North America, but any where in the world—would be astonished to learn that anyone holding such inadequate academic qualifications was given the post of assistant professor. Donaldson’s qualifications seems better suited to a post in a secondary school than to one educating undergraduates. In his report he gives no reasons why he did not continue his research in Africa or Canada towards the M.A. he had to abandon in 1960; nor does he explain why in all the time he served as an assistant professor in an English speaking country with, presumably a decent library, he hadn’t published papers or completed the book on Othello that he had begun. On this latter issue all he has to offer is that his Professor liked what he had written so far on Othello. As for his qualification in ‘education‘, he was given to believe that they were equivalent to an M.A. On the topic of the Ph D as a prerequisite qualification for tenure, Donaldson quotes a passage from an essay published by the English Department advising prospective recruits on what is expected of them:
‘In the English Department, it has become established that normally only a staff member with a Ph D or a M. Phil, or their reasonable equivalent, might expect to stay on after the two-year terminal date, unless of course he is working actively towards a degree beyond the M.A. or engaged in such equivalent activities as preparing works for publicationor taking part in University administrative affairs. Publication is amiably encouraged, not hysterically exacted, although certainly at the University of Manitoba, to publish is to flourish. Good teaching is a fundamental consideration in this context.’
Donaldson’s argument was that his book on Othello was evidence that he was indeed ‘actively preparing work for publication’; he also contended that he would not have left his ‘ secure position in Khartoum ‘ if he thought that ‘ a Ph.D., obtained or being worked for ‘ would be required of him for tenure.
So there you have it. Here was another Monica Jones who believed that a B.A. in English and a reputation as a good teacher of undergraduates were quite sufficient qualifications for continuing to teach. The difference is that Jones was teaching in the UK, where it would seem that the formal tenure system as understood in North America, did not operate at the time. Jones could get away with not publishing research as long as she was prepared to accept that she would not progress further ( ‘ flourish’) . Donaldson, though teaching at the same time as Jones, was not so fortunate in Canada.
We do not know what happened to Donaldson following his departure from the University of Manitoba. If he imagined that with his slender qualifications he could find another University post in North America, he would be sadly mistaken. If he wanted to continue University teaching he may have found a welcome at some obscure agricultural college in the Ivory Coast, but that’s problematical. What we do know is that he doesn’t appear to have embraced the role as an academic researcher at any level. There is no evidence that he published a book on Othello or indeed that he published any book on any subject… Perhaps he achieved celebrity by becoming a character in a Tom Sharpe novel. He certainly resembled one.