There is only one track, and that is as it should be.

Douglas Lee Eckberg

Douglas Lee Eckberg

Jessica has a nice post over at Scatter expressing some wisdom and concern about the perennial red herring of a teaching track versus a research track in academe. I totally agree. It is really unfortunate that students often develop networks where they fantasize about something other than the grind of a research focused job geared towards tenure. As if that is something horrible. If that is your idea of hell, quit. I’ve been a full professor for over a decade and I frequently wake up in the middle of the night with an idea about research. Teaching is not easy, and teaching four or five courses a semester must be ungodly. And people who do that do it for way less than half of what I make. Money matters just a tad, not too much, or I’d be a retired lawyer now, but there is a big difference between what you make at a 4-4 fake liberal arts college or minor state university versus what you pull down at an honest to gods research school or serious liberal arts college.

But, the difference is really in the margins. And I fear that many students just don’t get the point. What about some nice 3-3 state university? Why should they have to learn all of that nasty research methods and theory and publish stuff once in a while in order to get a job at Southwestern State? Because you don’t deserve it, you entitled pricks.

Jessica and I have something in common. His picture is up there. Dougie. Douglas Lee Eckberg, author of a Intelligence and Race: Origins and Dimensions of the IQ Controversy on UT press, articles in ASR, Social Forces, Ann Rev. Soc, SSQ, JSSR….He was one of my key undergraduate mentors, and Jessica’s as well, I believe. I had Dougie for several classes at Tulsa, which is a liberal arts university with small classes and strong students. Doug couldn’t have done his job at all if he didn’t do research at Tulsa, because a substantial fraction of us went on to graduate school in the social sciences. Dougie got fucked. Despite having a record that would be tenurable at any top university, he was denied tenure at Tulsa and moved to Winthrop—a small commuterish college on the South Carolina side of the Charlotte fringe. There, he taught a bit more (but his research record gave him courses off), and did a lot of administrating. But, because he was the legitimate article, when students looking to go to the next level were in his courses or plopped themselves in his office, he KNEW what to do. Because he had done the research, and understood the research, and understands the discipline.

Our system of education must amplify the potential for students at lower tier universities. If second and third and fourth tier schools do not have faculty who at least understand the cutting edge of the discipline, then all of the students are cut out of the potential to contribute to scholarship. Talented people will be lost. Jessica could have instead been living in a trailer park in South Carolina….

There is no shame in not being at the top tier. There is no reduction in the work load, either. Nor should there be. The work is different, sometimes, and you certainly can’t crank out the research the way you can teaching 1-1 at a real university, but it still matters. If you want more “balance” than that, maybe you should take Ken Land’s old advice “the Post Office is always hiring.” Only, I guess now it’s Wal Mart….


6 Responses to “There is only one track, and that is as it should be.”

  1. jessica Says:

    Imagine my surprise to open up this trackback and see Dougie’s picture at the top. I’m sure you know that Amy Burdette, a co-author of yours, is also a Winthrop grad from the same era. What you might not know is that you were the first sociologist who I met who wasn’t one of my professors, in the lobby of some Nashville hotel, all thanks to Dougie who loaded us up in his minivan and carted us to Tennessee to present at the Southerns in ’99.

    I appreciate your message in this post, as it has sometimes been difficult for me to rectify telling students how much work there is at schools like Winthrop after being the product of such a department and so grateful that such a school – and such a faculty – exists. There were no office hours, just an open door policy (that I too often took advantage of). People who wrote my letters knew me well because they had had me as a student in class after class (that I now understand to be prep after prep). I could be involved in the life of the department year round, because faculty teaching summer school was a given (because of the low pay and/or to balance courses taught during the year). As much as the faculty loved their jobs or students, the work was taxing and tedious.

    But, as you write, to have people there who understood and appreciated the research track (and what graduate departments were looking for) was absolutely key in students’ success. I am only glad they kept the rigor in the core classes (e.g., stats, methods, proseminar, theory) up year after year, even though most students stayed local and had no plans for graduate training. Those experiences, combined with interactions with faculty, made a huge difference for those of us who did go on. Undergrads at those schools benefit from strong faculty, but it is important for grad students thinking about such positions to understand what they entail.

  2. sherkat Says:

    Ha! Yes, I vaguely remember that, I think I tried to talk you out of going to Arizona…..

    Grad students need to prepare for any eventuality. Dougie is a great example that life isn’t fair. If he were only interested in research, he may have become despondent and left the field when he didn’t get the top research job he deserved coming out of grad school—his first book was nearly finished and he had an ASR and an Ann Rev coming out of Texas. Research oriented people who can’t bring themselves to embrace teaching will never get jobs at liberal arts colleges or teaching oriented state schools, and I know several people who left academe because they only wanted to be on top. Not Dougie, he gladly came to Tulsa, was a fantastic professor and researcher—and then he got screwed by a Dean who wanted to shitcan sociology (that was all the rage back in the 1980s….). You think the job market is bad now? Back in the mid 1980s it really sucked, as many a Dean and Provost saw sociology as a good place to make cuts necessitated by the Ronnie Raygun war on education. Doug was lucky to get the job at Winthrop, and he never skipped a beat. He’s retired now, but we’re trying to get a paper together for the SSS next year.

    • jessica Says:

      “I think I tried to talk you out of going to Arizona…..”
      You did, in what I’ve come to understand is typical Sherkat style, but I have never regretted my decision.

  3. Jake Says:

    The first day of my graduate career, you told us that if all we wanted to do was teach, we should teach high school.

  4. When Research is too much and too little: Forging a research agenda for real jobs | Iranianredneck's Weblog Says:

    […] Graduate students always have angst about what they should be investing their scarce time in, and many dream of a day or place where they aren’t stressing to finish research projects. That day will never come. There is only one track, and that is how it should be. […]

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