[EAS]No Place to Learn?

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Oct 16 02:11:56 EDT 2002

Subject:   No Place to Learn?

Dear Colleagues -

This forwarding is a good reminder that Rick Reis's "Tomorrow's
Professor" list is a source of worthwhile stuff. (Subscription info
is at the very end.)

But this item also cannot but help make us think of the impending
ABET visit on the one hand, and on the other the typical research
university joke about tenure deliberations "If they start talking
about your teaching, you're in trouble."

Research can be a powerful resource for good teaching in a _small_
undergraduate program, if the individual attention that graduate
students get is the model for perceptive interactions with
undergraduates. Precedents exist. That takes the right kind of
caring, a communally aware and responsive kind. It can't be
legislated. But without it, teaching opportunities fall short. 

In the age of the Internet, it seems easier to follow a new research
wrinkle by a colleage in a workshop in New Zealand (or to actually
go there and leave a class to the teaching assistant) than to know
what goes on in the courses students take before and after a given
course, and how a department could weave a cohesive educational
"narrative" to prepare a student for serious independent research
in their senior year capstone project. 

Designing and refining such a "narrative" is an enjoyable
intellectual adventure, and would begin to rectify the orthogonality
between teaching and research discussed in what follows.


Date: 10/16/02 12:00 AM
From: Rick Reis

"This is a sacred belief [that good researchers make good teachers] 
in academe, but no one has ever demonstrated it; the only evidence 
for it is anecdotal, the kind that professors reject when it's 
offered by students."
	       "desk-top faculty development, one hundred times a year"


The posting below looks at the on-going debate about research and 
teaching emphasis. It reports on a new book No place to Learn: Why 
universities aren't working (University of British Columbia Press) by 
Tom Pocklington and Allan Tupper.  The article, by journalist Pobert 
Fulford first appeared in September 17, 2002 issue of the National 
Post. http://mirror.nationalpost.com/images/logo_np_news.gif The 
copyright is now held by the author and the article is reprinted with 
permission. (My thanks to Bernard Anderson for calling the article to 
my attention).


Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Conceptualizing Socialization in Graduate and Professional

				Tomorrow's Research

	         --------------------------------- 895 words 

Robert Fulford
National Post

A dangerous contradiction lies at the heart of the university system 
in North America. The citizens who pay for the great universities 
believe they exist mainly to teach the young and prepare them for the 
rest of their lives. People directing universities have other goals. 
They believe a university fulfills itself when it creates knowledge. 
Research makes a university legitimate. Administrators adore the term 
"research university." When you become a research university you 
enter the big leagues, like the best American schools.

Many professors consider teaching at best a secondary activity, at 
worst a nuisance. That's a big change. Two or three generations ago, 
great teachers had great reputations, and their students were much 
envied. Today we rarely hear of such a person. The age of the star 
teacher has died. I have actually heard one tenured professor say of 
another, with blithe condescension, "He's not done anything important 
in years -- the only reason he retains any stature at all is that 
he's apparently quite a terrific teacher."

University administrators will argue in public that they emphasize 
both teaching and research, more or less equally; but I have not 
heard anyone say this in private for at least 20 years. Certainly you 
won't find support for it in No place to learn: Why universities 
aren't working (University of British Columbia Press) a tough, 
eloquent book by two political scientists at the University of 
Alberta, Tom Pocklington and Allan Tupper.

How can we be sure that universities no longer take teaching 
seriously? Pocklington and Tupper answer in one memorable sentence: 
"To our knowledge, no Canadian university in recent memory has hired 
a senior professor from another university because of his or her 
demonstrated teaching skills." (Outraged deans and provosts wishing 
to dispute this statement will please submit names and dates rather 
than the usual empty rhetoric.) A national survey by Pocklington and 
Tupper reveals that professors at all career levels believe hiring, 
promotion, and salary almost always depend on published research, 
almost never on teaching.

Pocklington and Tupper go so far as to question the principle that 
research and teaching are interdependent and that good researchers 
make good teachers. This is a sacred belief in academe, but no one 
has ever demonstrated it; the only evidence for it is anecdotal, the 
kind that professors reject when it's offered by students. Anyway, 
say Pocklington and Tupper, if that idea is valid, why do 
universities reward good researchers by lightening their "teaching 
load?" They also argue that professors, driven to justify themselves, 
often do research of no value to anyone.

The conflict between the public's belief in teaching and the academic 
belief in research makes the central problem of the university 
unique; there's no other great social institution afflicted by such a 
radical division between public expectations and professional goals. 
Can anything be done about it? No Place to Learn says universities 
must re-establish undergraduate teaching as their first priority and 
recognize it as "a complex and important activity that demands broad 
reading, disciplined thought, and great effort."

The word "effort" clicks quietly into place in that sentence, but 
behind it we can glimpse the outline of an embarrassing question: Are 
established, tenured university professors, as a class, lazy? 
Pocklington and Tupper say most professors work hard. Yet they note 
that in the 1990s, when universities complained that reduced 
government grants were eroding education, "not one of them responded 
by increasing the teaching obligations of their permanent 
instructors. In fact, many managed to reduce even further the 
teaching activities of professors."

No Place to Learn has drawn a searching and thoughtful response from 
Reg Whitaker in the September issue of the Literary Review of Canada. 
A political science professor, much admired for his writing on 
subjects ranging from the RCMP to the financing of the Liberal Party, 
Whitaker mentions in passing that last year, at age 58, he retired 
from York University -- apparently because he couldn't stand the 
system any longer.

He endorses the conclusions of No Place to Learn and enlarges the 
debate by discussing a subject that Pocklington and Tupper don't 
emphasize, the poisoning of university life by rights-seeking groups 
who insist (Whitaker writes) that academic life is naturally "sexist 
and racist and can only by kept in check through intensive regulation 
and control ... Everything that goes on must be monitored and 
policed." Which, of course, is the opposite of how we expect 
universities to operate.

Whitaker, while favouring equality of treatment, has learned by 
bitter experience that codifying decency and fairness has created a 
nightmare. Consider the intense anxiety that afflicts hiring 
committees, whose members know that every tiny decision may come 
under the hostile microscope of an "equity officer" or some other 
licenced busybody. For Whitaker, one great benefit of retirement is 
that he'll never again have to take part in this charade.

Pocklington and Tupper write with clarity and vigour, aiming at a 
general public. They deserve wide readership, though it's doubtful 
that a university press can find it for them. They hope to create a 
debate about universities, which for too long have sailed "on seas of 
unwarranted deference." But the system may be beyond fixing. Tenure, 
entrenched labour unions, rampant careerism, uncomprehending 
politicians, narrow-minded university governors: the obstacles to 
reform are so intimidating that the possibilities of change appear to 
be, at this stage, no better than marginal.

robert.fulford at utoronto.ca
© Copyright 2002 National Post
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