TITLE: Empathy for Teachers Doing Research AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 17, 2014 3:34 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I appreciate that there are different kinds of university, with different foci. Still, I couldn't help but laugh while reading Doug McKee's Balancing Research and Teaching at an Elite University. After acknowledging that he would "like to see the bar for teaching raised at least a little bit", McKee reminds us why they can't raise it too far: Faculty who spend too much time on their teaching will produce lower-quality research, and this will cause the prestige of the university to suffer. But students should know what's going on:
I'd also like to see more honesty about the primacy of research in the promotion process. This would make the expectations of the undergraduates more reasonable and give them more empathy for the faculty (especially the junior faculty).
Reading this, I laughed out loud, as my first thought was, "You're kidding, right?" I'm all for more empathy for professors; teaching is a tough job. But I doubt "My teaching isn't very good because I spend all my time on research, and the university is happy with that." is going to elicit much sympathy. Then again, I may be seeing the world from the perspective of a different sort of university. Many students are at elite universities in large part for the prestige of the school. Faculty research is what maintains the university's prestige. So maybe those students view subpar classroom teaching simply as part of the cost of doing business. Then there was this:
Undergraduates may not always get a great teacher in the classroom, but they are always learning from someone at the cutting edge of their discipline, and there is no substitute for that.
Actually, there is. It's called good teaching. Being talked at by an all-research, no-teaching Nobel laureate for fifty minutes a day, three days a week, may score high on the prestige meter, but it won't teach you how to think. Then again, with high enough admission standards, perhaps the students can take care of themselves. I don't mean to sound harsh. Many research professors are also excellent teachers, and in some courses, being at the forefront of the discipline's knowledge is a great advantage. And I do feel empathy for faculty who find themselves in a position where the reward structure effectively forces them to devote little or no time to their teaching. Teaching well takes time. But let's also keep in mind that those same faculty members chose to work at an elite university and, unlike many of their their students, the faculty know what that means for the balance between research and teaching in their careers. Over the last decade or two, funding for public universities in most states has fallen dramatically compared to the cost of instruction. I hope state legislatures eventually remember that great teaching takes time, and take that into account when they are allocating resources among the institutions that focus on research and those that focus on students. -----