Yesterday, when I wasn't reading the headlines in The Onion, I also read the New York Times' 57 millionth article on Harvard: "Harvard Task Force Calls for New Focus on Teaching and Not Just Research".
Items in the article that caught my eye included a quotation from an undergraduate: “You go to a liberal arts college for the teaching. You come to Harvard to be around some of the greatest minds on earth.” I wonder what that 'be around' part entails, if it isn't teaching. Does the greatness of those great minds diffuse somehow to the undergrads because the great minds are talking to people who talk to people who teach the students? I don't know how that works, but I am hoping that it means there are lots of chances for undergraduates to be involved in research or seminar series with the great minds, and it isn't all indirect.
I went to a liberal arts college as an undergrad (and taught briefly at one as a professor), but have mostly been at large research universities since then (grad student, postdoc, professor). There have been professors dedicated to teaching and research excellence at all of these places. I'm not sure why it is either/or at some universities; many professors at large universities value both, and I do not believe that research suffers. Of course, teaching loads have to be reasonable, but it is entirely possible to do research, supervise a research group, and teach classes (even a large introductory level class). Perhaps some great minds can't do both and that's fine, as long as administrators (like Harvard's Dean of the Arts & Sciences Grad School) recognize things like this:
"We can’t just mention excellent teachers occasionally. We have to notice and reward their efforts consistently.” Yes!
The article mentions Harvard, Amherst, Columbia, Princeton, and Yale. The latter two, along with small colleges like Amherst, "are known for their commitment to both" teaching and research. So it is possible.
I was talking recently with colleagues from various large research universities about the expected ratio of research : teaching : service in their departments/universities. In my small survey, most faculty have a ratio of 40 : 40 : 20 or 45 : 45 : 10. A few places allow for variation of +/- 10 to account for different career stages, paths, interests, abilities. I did not encounter anyone who had a major imbalance in the expected ratio of research to teaching. Of course, there may be differences in the actual accounting of research and teaching activities, but that's another issue.
9 months ago