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Book Review – The Academic’s Handbook


This is a useful book for anyone in the academic world and more so for those in the early stages of a scholarly career. Now expanded and updated for its third edition, The Academic’s Handbook began as a colloquium at Duke University some 20 years ago.

The editors of the current edition are A. Leigh Deneef, a professor of English, and Craufurd D. Goodwin, a professor of economics. Both have long service as deans of the graduate school at Duke, among other administrative positions.

Divided into seven themes, this anthology contains 31 articles. The 34 contributors are a good representative mix of well-published scholars across the disciplines, award-winning postsecondary teachers, long-serving scholarly journal editors, experienced university administrators, and even an advice columnist (a.k.a. “Ms. Mentor”) from the Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington, D.C. Their scope is wide and covers the academic job market, teaching and advising, research funding, scholarly publication, and university administration.

Some of the individual articles are rewrites of pieces from the mid-1980s; these provide useful retrospectives on academic change. Eight others are new contributions attempting to assess the academy in the early years of the 21st century. All have an American focus that is a welcome comparison with the Canadian situation and most valuable to anyone headed into the U.S. academic environment.

The reader quickly realizes that American colleagues operate in a legal context specific to their national situation as seen in the articles on harassment and academic freedom. This is to be expected, as are mentions of more informal, peculiar intrusions (such as the “rush” season for Greek letter society recruitments ) on the life of at least some American academics.

Some issues are more generic and there are very good contributions on both female and minority-status faculty members, the small college environment, the role of the academic department, and responsible conduct in research. There is a solid concern throughout the book to show the diversity of the American system, which includes some 3,900 institutions of higher learning employing 900,000 faculty members. With respect to female faculty, several authors conclude that, while there have been significant improvements in the last two decades, problems remain.

Other contributions are clearly intended as practical advice for the novice: how to run a lecture course, how to be effective when advising students, what to do when interviewed for an academic post, how to find a job and get tenure, and how to publish in both science and humanities disciplines. My advice regarding the latter? Examine both chapters. Those in the humanitiesare constantly amazed by the explanations our science colleagues provide for attribution of authorship in some learned papers to persons who never set pen to paper or finger to the keyboard.

On academic book publishing there is a good chapter by two Duke University colleagues-one, an academic journal editor; the other, a university press director. In addition to pointing out the process of bringing a manuscript through to its final publication, they provide a primer on different types of publishers. The prospective author needs to know the difference between scholarly book publishers, trade presses, university presses, and commercial academic publishers. Each has a different approach to publishing and each category requires a different approach on the part of the scholar.

These chapters are generally useful but my impression is that young scholars need advice that is very discipline-specific when embarking on an academic career. This particularly applies to the sections of the book which deal with academic salaries and benefits as well as suggestions for acquiring research funding.

On a more general topic, two professors at the University of Michigan discuss the real world of the academic job market. What happens when your only job offer is from a small college with a heavy teaching load? What if you don’t get a tenure track position or can only find part-time university work? I find this chapter problematic, as my own experience indicates that the academic job market varies widely by discipline, with opportunities for, say, accountancy professors being ample, while those for medieval studies might be slim.

A recurring comment across several chapters concerns the predicament of the untenured faculty member or junior colleague with regard to administrative work. How does one do one’s fair share yet not be overwhelmed by such essential collegial tasks so as to neglect scholarship at the most crucial stage of a young career? The advice provided is set in a wider context of recommendations for appropriate collegial behaviour, a quality sometimes found to be lacking in the world of higher education.

Although the coverage is wide in this 394-page third edition of The Academic’s Handbook, I wonder whether some further topics now need to be addressed. There is a good piece on new technologies in the classroom but do we need further discussion on the possible negative aspects of an electronic collegial environment? Have we covered intra-student electronic harassment, innovative schemes to plagiarize assignments, and online slander of instructors? A more serious unaddressed issue is student use of electronic reference sites, such as Wikepedia, which are subject to politically motivated manipulation. Shall we ban their use and cast ourselves in the role of censors or make some accommodation with them?

What about international conference participation in the post-9/11 security environment? Is our academic freedom being marginalized because of concerns about security? More frighteningly, what about workplace security in the U .S., where access to firearms is widespread and where educational institutions have been the venue for random acts of multiple homicide?

This is a solid handbook which offers detailed information on the challenges of academic life. Its authors-successful professors who clearly love their work-should be commended for doing their part to pass their accumulated wisdom and encouragement to a new generation of scholars, teachers, and researchers in the academy.

The Academic’s Handbook

Leigh Deneef and Craufurd D. Goodwin (eds.)
[Duke University Press, 2007, 394 pp., 3rd edition revised and expanded]

Fred Donnelly teaches history at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John. He is a former departmental chair and former associate dean of graduate studies.

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