Both of the following occurred at the same time in the same Science department at a research university:
1. A senior professor tells a candidate for a faculty position that "teaching doesn't matter" for tenure, only research, so there is no point in even talking about teaching during an interview.
2. The department Chair won't permit online teaching evaluations because of concern that not enough students will fill out the forms and the tenure files of assistant professors will then be lacking critical data on their teaching, thereby jeopardizing their tenure cases. Similarly, some assistant professors are worried that their teaching portfolio isn't impressive enough and that this might tip the tenure decision against them.
Which is reality (such as it is)?
Case #2 is closer to reality (in my opinion, and since this is my blog, I am the Decider). The assistant professors need not panic so much about having an awesome teaching file, but their anxiety reflects the importance of research and teaching.
Case #1 describes the actions of an insecure person trying to impress a young faculty candidate by emphasizing how rigorous the department is when it comes to research. Strangely enough, aforementioned senior professor is also deadwood (in my opinion, and since this is my blog, blah blah blah).
I think it is becoming uncommon for anyone to be promoted at this and many other research universities unless they are at least good at teaching (i.e., not awful). You don't have to be a superstar teacher, but you have to demonstrate that you are a reasonably effective teacher by the time you come up for tenure review. [I am of course excluding from this discussion those faculty who are on 100% research appointments, and discussing only those from whom both research and teaching are expected].
In the last few years, I have not seen a situation in which a research-star-but-lousy-teacher came up for tenure, although I know of such cases from a while ago. This may be because people who seem like they will be bad or uncaring teachers are seldom hired in the first place anymore -- at least not into jobs involving significant amounts of teaching. Of course it is possible for a hiring committee/department to be wrong about whether someone will be a good teacher and/or fail to predict that someone will have an incapacitating crisis that negatively impacts their teaching, but there is at least a sincere effort to gauge teaching ability.
I could be very wrong, as happens from time to time, but despite the increasing emphasis on research and teaching at research-oriented schools, I don't think that brilliant researchers (who can't/don't want to teach) are being driven away from Science, thereby depriving the United States of creative scientists who will lead the way to solutions to major problems facing our nation. Ideally there will be enough research faculty positions at universities, as well as jobs in national labs and in industry.
The "we're so serious about research, we don't care about teaching" posturing of the senior professor in Case #1 might have gone over better in days of yore, but these days it is a deeply disturbing (and inaccurate) thing for someone to say to a faculty candidate.
About 10-12 years ago, I once saw the reverse situation, in which it was the candidate who was doing the posturing regarding teaching vs. research. When faculty compared notes, we realized that the candidate had told me (the assistant professor) that he only cared about research, was not interested in teaching, and would rather hire postdocs than deal with students; he told the tenured professors that he was interested in teaching but only at the graduate level; and he told the Chair and the Dean that he would teach anything they wanted him to teach, as he was deeply interested in undergraduate education. He was not offered the job.
More problematic are situations in which a tenure candidate is an amazing teacher but a mediocre/unproductive researcher. Being an excellent teacher can tip the scale to a favorable tenure decision, but I have also seen cases where tenure was denied anyway, although some of those cases led to lawsuits that resulted in tenure in the end (especially if students mobilize to protest the eviction of a beloved teacher).
Some of these situations are complicated, but the fact remains that professors hired to do both research and teaching at R1 universities these days are expected to be good at both.
9 months ago