Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I'm doing a task now that I think needs to be done, reading a colleague's materials and writing an evaluation letter for our committee.

We split the work on letters, so that one person works on the teaching end, one on the research and creative work end, and so forth. The two people are then supposed to put the letter together and forward it to the committee, which reviews all the materials and revises the letter before submitting it to the whole, and then to the powers that be.

I've only done the research and creative work part once before. When it was done on me or for me, no one ever bothered to respond to my work or talk to me about it. It felt like I was putting all this stuff into a sort of departmental vacuum.

I decided when I did my first response to the research and creative part that I would actually read the person's work (you KNOW it doesn't always get read, right? For my own letters, people often basically paraphrased what I'd said in my statements about my work.) and would try to respond in some helpful or useful way to what I'd read.

And I did that the first time, and I think it made a difference. But right now, doing this work in the midst of much other busyness, I wish I could just be reassured that what I'm doing actually matters, that it makes a difference. Too often, the paperwork for the bureaucracy feels like empty paperwork. I know that it does matter, of course, in keeping the bureaucracy happy, and that keeping the bureaucracy happy helps keep individuals employed. But I want it to actually mean something to other human beings.

(Just to be clear, it's not like reading someone's research helps me with my own work necessarily. When am I likely to teach a 19th century slave narrative that's not anthologized? Or a Victorian triple-decker? I keep busy enough teaching and learning about the things I work on and the things I already teach, Shakespeare, poetry, drama, theory. I'm spread thin enough that knowing more than a sort of top forty hits of 20th century drama or poetry doesn't happen. On more than a vague level, I don't want to know what high school English teachers need to know, or how best to teach grammar school kids to read. Nor does a theory person get a lot out of reading my work, nor my education colleagues.)

1 comment:

  1. Do you mean you want to know that reading your colleagues' work will have relevance to you & your interests, or do you want to know that the peer review process in general is meaningful outside of documentation purposes?