On the Importance of an Intellectual Project

Now that I have reached the doyen stage of my career, I find myself frequently called upon to serve as an external reviewer for junior faculty who are being considered for promotion and tenure. The process begins with a letter from a departmental chair asking if I am willing to give my candid assessment of the candidate’s scholarship. Since my own research and writing are centered on race and ethnicity in American society, I am usually asked to evaluate the work a young scholar whose research is more or less within my domain of expertise. I am mindful of the unspoken fact that I have been thrust into the role of gatekeeper, and also mindful of the sinister role that gatekeepers have played historically in marginalizing minority and radical viewpoints. So I take on this otherwise mundane obligation with a sense of intellectual and moral responsibility. “It goes with the territory,” as my friend Hylan Lewis once told me, when he was the age that I am today.

Some colleges stipulate a mathematical benchmark of how much productivity one needs for tenure. We are told, for example, that one needs one book and four articles, with the caveat that the articles must be in peer-reviewed journals. I find this last stricture to be totally wrongheaded. To paraphrase C. Wright Mills, the peer review system is an instrument for intellectual conformity, since it is so often antagonistic to dissenting viewpoints. Besides, by what twisted logic is the lottery of a peer-reviewed journal more reliable than, say, being invited to contribute to an edited volume that will reach a relevant audience? Why is it better to have your work subjected to the whim or judgment of anonymous reviewers, and promulgated to disinterested readers of journals that, as is commonly acknowledged, “nobody reads”? This is where pious observance of the false god of objectivity leads us. Indeed, a cottage industry of journals has sprung up, often attached to sections within professional societies, which go through the motions of being “peer reviewed,” in order to meet this specious requirement. Sadly, the pursuit of knowledge has been reduced to gaming the system.

Before long, a package arrives in the mail, whose bulk is the first indicator of the productivity of the scholar, as well as the onus that awaits the external reviewer. Already, the shibboleth of one book and four articles is exposed. If that was the fulcrum for tenure decisions, it would hardly require the intervention of an external reviewer.

My modus operandi in reviewing “the tenure package” stems from my interest in the sociology of knowledge and the history of ideas. I attempt to discern the applicant’s intellectual genealogy based on what I can glean from the cv, publications, conference papers, and other professional activities, including contributions in the realm of public intellectualism. I try to get a sense of the germination and direction of the applicant’s scholarship, and how these disparate elements gel into an original intellectual amalgam, culminating with the dissertation. As we know at FFPP, often these young scholars are making the challenging transition from dissertation to book. Clearly, the dissertation and first book is a pivotal stage of intellectual development, where the neophyte consolidates what I am calling “an intellectual project.” And is a neophyte no longer!

As we all find out, one line of inquiry invariably engenders more questions than it answers, leading to other unanticipated lines of inquiry. Here the intellectual project reaches the next step. Our neophyte gradually develops an expertise and reputation as a scholar with depth and purpose. Hopefully, this intellectual project is predicated on a critical perspective that challenges stale orthodoxy and hegemony within the realm of ideas. This critical spirit is the sine qua non that will infuse your research and writing with energy and conviction, lest promotion and tenure lapse into professionalism.

 

–Stephen Steinberg, FFPP Mentor and Distinguished Professor (Queens College and the Graduate Center)

On Writing a Book Proposal

On Writing a Book Proposal

After our recent Professional Development sessions, we thought it would be great to follow up with some additional advice on writing a book proposal.  This interview with University of Illinois Press’ Dawn Durante on her best practices for book proposals and the scholarly publishing process, is another excellent resource.

As you know, Ilene Kalish (NYU Press) and Kimbery Guinta (Rutgers UP) shared some useful advice that you can use,  and former FFPP Fellow Keridian Chez generously shared her successful book proposal in this year’s Tool Kit.

We learned that its crucial to remember that your book project is different from your dissertation; that its important to showcase your clear articulation of project’s argument as it organizes the chapters in your book.  Your proposal should also include a discussion of your anticipated audience, recent and groundbreaking books that it engages, a table of contents (sometimes with BRIEF descriptions of each chapter’s argument), your estimation of the book’s length (80-100K words), and sample chapters.

Kim Guinta from Rutgers reminded us that sometimes a proposal gets rejected because the project is not a good fit for a particular press.  She advised that if you are unsure which presses might be a good fit for your manuscript, you should peruse the titles on your book shelf–whose is publishing the books you engage in your research?

One obvious and important point the editors reminded us is that you should take care to personalize your proposal and your query:  Be sure to include specifics from the press you correspond with.  If you are writing NYU Press, for instance, include references to titles published by NYU.  Explain for instance, why is NYU a good fit for your project.  And, if you chose to send multiple queries at the same time, it is ethical to disclose this detail in all of your correspondences.

Welcome to FFPP!

Welcome to FFPP!

The Faculty Fellowship Publication Program (FFPP) is the only university-wide initiative of its kind.  Sponsored by CUNY’s Office of Recruitment and Diversity, FFPP supports CUNY’s institutional goal of a diverse, high achieving professoriate, the cornerstone of CUNY’s scholarly excellence.    The FFPP initiative assists full-time untenured faculty in the design and execution of writing projects essential to their progress toward tenure. Discipline-based writing groups of peers from across the University, facilitated by senior faculty members, provide fellows with feedback on their work, which may include scholarly articles for peer-reviewed journals, books for academic presses, or, in some instances, creative writing.

University Dean Arlene Torres
University Dean Arlene Torres

University Dean Arlene Torres leads the Office of Recruitment and Diversity, and Maryann McKenzie is her Deputy.  Shelly Eversley (Baruch College) serves as Academic Director.  FFPP Mentors and working group leaders for 2016-17 are:  Moustafa Bayoumi (Brooklyn College), Matt Brim (College of Staten Island), Katherine Chen (City College), Bridgett Davis (Baruch College), Carrie Hintz (Queens College), Lina Newton (Hunter College), Debbie Sonu (Hunter College), Stephen Steinberg (Queens College), Anahi Viladrich (Queens College).

Online Bibliography and Citation Tools

Online Bibliography and Citation Tools

There are some really great digital tools that can help you organize sources and assemble bibliography and works cited lists in the most common research formats.  These tools are easy to use, (mostly) free, and they save so much time:

Zotero is your personal research assistant.  It is a free browser based plug-in that allows you to collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources.  And it stores anything–PDFs, images, audio, articles, and websites–all in your personal “library.”  Don’t let the term “plug-in” scare you.  Once you download the tool, it lives in your browser, freeing up valuable time to focus on writing.  Zotero allows you to create footnotes, end notes, in-text citations, and bibliographies in every academic format.

Docear is a open source reference manager that offers PDF metadata retrieval, free online back up, and a monitoring function for new files (images, PDFs, etc.).  It also has an MS word add-0n.  You have full control over your data, and there is no registration requirement.

Bib Me is a fully automatic bibliography maker that auto-fills.  It provides an easy way to build a works cited page in MLA, APA, and Chicago formats.  A professional account allows you to save every bibliography.

Cite This For Me allow you to automatically create website citations in APA, MLA, Chicago, or Harvard formats.  It also comes with a Google Chrome extension.

 

Arab American Book Award

Arab American Book Award

Congratulations to FFPP Mentor Moustafa Bayoumi (Brooklyn College)won the 2016 Arab American Book Award for his This Muslim American Life:  Dispatches from the War on Terror (NYU 2015)!

51utfcluoyl-_ux250_His book argues “To be a Muslim American today often means to exist in a space between exotic and dangerous, victim and villain, simply because of the assumptions people carry about you. In the gripping essays in This Muslim American Life, Bayoumi exposes how contemporary politics, movies, novels, media experts and more have together produced a culture of fear and suspicion that not only willfully forgets the Muslim-American past, but also threatens all of our civil liberties in the present.”

His first book, How Does it Feel to Be a Problem:  Being Young and Arab in America (Penguin 2009), also won the Arab American Book Award as well as the American Book Award in 2010.