Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Check Your Cynical Level

Let's consider scenarios similar to those posed by Alex in a comment to yesterday's post:
  • Assistant Professor #1 at a major research university does pretty good but not outstanding research (however that is defined by the norms of AP#1's field/department/university), and is an excellent teacher and adviser.
  • Assistant Professor #2 at a major research university has met or exceeded the criteria for excellence in research, but is a mediocre teacher.
Note that AP#2 is not a horrifically awful teacher who mumbles incoherently while scribbling on the board and immediately erasing the scribbles, who then gives exams that are completely unrelated to anything presented in class or the textbook, and also, this professor likes to kick puppies.

No, AP#2 is a mediocre, somewhat uninspiring professor who maybe kind of bores students, but is able to convey some information.

As posed by Alex, the questions are whether these people should and will likely be awarded tenure. Depending on your answers to the should vs. will questions, you can assess your degree of cynicism about the system. If I made AP#2 an unintelligible puppy-kicker, then we could really see how cynical you all are.

But if you do that, you will be off-topic and that is the same as writing in the margins of your exam despite being told that you should not do this, and I know that you wouldn't want to do that.

Of course, not all MRUs are the same, and the answers to questions posed for these scenarios, if they occurred in real life, would vary from institution to institution and department to department. But ignoring that complication: How do you vote? It would be most helpful if you indicate in your opinion whether you are or have been a professor at a major research university and therefore are opining from direct experience, or whether you are making a slightly more remote guess as to what you think the results would be.

My opinions:

If AP#1 really did fall short of research expectations, it is likely that he/she would not get tenure. But: I have seen exceptions to this. I have seen faculty of the Teaching God/Research Failure species be initially denied tenure at an MRU, but have this opinion overturned on appeal.

Should AP#1 get tenure? Technically, no. If the criteria for tenure were not met, then AP#1 should not get tenure. In the real world, though, there is some wiggle room. In at least one example of a Teaching God/Research Failure tenure denial overturn, I didn't have a problem with the decision overturn and awarding of tenure because I think there is room at a big university for some Teaching Gods. In the case of this particular colleague, I have managed to co-author one paper with him in the past 15 years, but other research projects have died owing to his research lethargy. This has been frustrating, but I appreciate him nevertheless.

What about AP#2? I think AP#2 would and should get tenure. The key for me is the word "mediocre". It is unreasonable to expect that we are all excellent teachers. We can hope for better than mediocre, and there should be programs and mentoring and encouragement and such to help us become better teachers (no matter what our career stage), but mediocre is not and should not be a tenure-killer at a research university. Unintelligible, unfair irredeemable puppy-kickers should not get tenure no matter how great they are at research, but teachers who get a "C" for teaching should be allowed to pass.

Tenure means you probably get to keep your job, but, in my experience, it doesn't mean that you can do whatever you want, be as lousy at teaching or research as you want for the rest of your life, and never make another improvement in your skills ever again. If a mediocre teacher is awarded tenure, there are ways to provide incentives to improve; in my experience, these range from merit raises (when such things exist) to variation in teaching assignments/teaching load depending on teaching effort and ability. That's being a bit cynical, actually, to suggest that only self-interest would drive someone to improve their teaching; some of my colleagues work at becoming better teachers because they want to be better teachers, even after getting tenure.


ScientistMother said...

Hmm - as someone that has never been through the Tenure process and isn't even in a position to be accepted to a TT position, I'm declining to vote.

I would like to ask why you interpreted doing "pretty good research" as a research fail? Not everyone can a be the research rockstar publishing in the C/N/S. I know many pretty good researchers, who are plugging along doing pretty good research that has been critical to expanding our understanding of development.

Clarissa said...

I think that AP#2 should definitely be awarded tenure. If there was a choice between AP#1 and #2, I think #2 should win. However, in real life the person who will win in the end and will get tenure is the one who sucked up the best to senior faculty and/or administration. Even if they did no research worth mentioning and are hated by their students.

There ain't nothing like the Ivies to bring one's level of cynicism through the roof, I guess. :-)

Anonymous said...

For the most part I agree with you but I wanted to put out a point. Most 4-yr universities with an emphasis on teaching are small liberal arts colleges which are expensive, so many students go to public universities. Although many states have more than one public college or university, I think some states only have one or two public institutions. In this case, let's hypothesize that this is a state with only two public unis and they're both research universities to some extent. A SLAC-type student unlucky enough to live in this state is doomed to spend what little money he/she has to go to a university which grants APs tenure despite mediocre teaching. This can be disheartening.

I guess all I am saying is that it would be great if RO1 universities had secure jobs for reowned teachers as well as researchers. However, an AP hired to do research and fails should still be denied tenure even if he's a fabulous teacher, and vice versa. I'm not sure how economical this is, but it would be worth it for the students who spend the money.

Although my large public non-flagship undergrad university was 75% teaching, it just research oriented enough for me to get experience as an undergrad. Now that I'm a grad student at an RO1, I can see that I would have had trouble going to an RO1 as an undergrad, even if I'm doing great here as a grad student.

Anonymous said...

I think I interpretted Alex's examples yesterday a bit differently: I thought AP1 was an acceptable researcher/(very) good teacher while AP2 was a good researcher/acceptable teacher. It looks like you had a slightly lower impression of AP1's research success, which changes the decision I think.

If I were involved I would probably vote for tenure in both cases, although it would depend on the specifics of the case. In my view if the candidate reached an acceptable level in all areas, and was especially successful in one area, that would be sufficient.

On the other hand at my university (probably others as well?) tenure decisions don't actually come down to two scores (research/teaching): undergraduate teaching, graduate teaching, graduate advising, research publishing, receiving grants, department service, external service (e.g. journal editing), etc etc. are all separate categories. In fairness undergraduate teaching is not half the job; in my case it is 15% (both financially and time-wise).

For the record: I am a late tenure-track assistant professor in science at a large (non-US) research institution, and have twice been involved in tenure decisions.

MathTT said...

I want to think that AP#1 gets tenure, but I fear she doesn't, for I am she. I'll come back and let you know in a few years.

I do good research, but not outstanding and probably not enough. I overachieved on the job market largely because my department wanted someone with interest & experience in the education side of things (though I'm a research scientist... I don't have a different official role). I don't know how much that will "count" come tenure time, since it is not officially written anywhere that my research expectations are any different, despite my fairly serious overload on education and outreach activities.

AP#2 definitely gets tenure, but I wish he didn't. I think you are overly optimistic to suggest his teaching may improve. He's had time in grad school, presumably a postdoc or two where he might have taught a bit, and several years of TT work. He hasn't put in the time or effort to become better than mediocre in all those years? He doesn't care. He sees teaching as a necessary evil, but not a "real" part of his job.

If there were some evidence that he were a mediocre teacher but had been improving or at least trying to... getting mentorship or working with whatever campus center for teaching is at the MRU or whatever... I'd feel differently. But someone who is mediocre at what is (at my school) half their job and shows no desire to do any better is not someone who deserves tenure, not in my book.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, the ones who get 10 years in and haven't bothered to work on their teaching aren't ever going to do it. BTW, I think the pervasive notion that good teachers are born and not made... that the "teaching gods" among us don't work at it but that it just comes naturally somehow... contributes a lot to AP#2's attitude. That and the fact that he doesn't *need* to be any good at teaching to get tenure.

And I also think it's interesting that "good research" is a research fail, but "mediocre teaching" is acceptable.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to second ScientistMother's question.

To me, "pretty good but not outstanding," (research for A) sounds like marginally better performance than "mediocre" (teaching for B), so the arguments you applied in saying that B should get tenure would seem to apply at least as well to A.

But perhaps I'm just missing something?

PS: The word verification I had to type in to prove I'm not a spambot was "imentors." --Who knew there was an app for that?

FleaTamer said...

The financial framework of each department is based on income from three streams: teaching, research and "reachout" (stuff like consultancy, running short courses for industry etc). If a significant portion of a depts' income stream comes from teaching then in my opinion that dept should be making every effort at keeping and promoting excellent teachers.

But the whole idea of tenure (researchers only teaching to get some income - i.e. like the old, old model of Unis) in a modern setting needs an overhaul imho. Staff should be appointed as either teachers or researchers who also do admin in their relevant areas. HOWEVER in this case promotion, career progression opportunities, "tenure" (however you want to call it) should be EQUAL for both types of employees.

We don't have tenure as such in the UK, but our jobs are pretty safe unless we are completely incompetent. And in effect our jobs merge into either one of the two streams I described over the years. HOWEVER we yet have to reach the stage when excellent teachers/teaching-admin are promoted on this basis (alone, or with "mediocre" research - as with the AP in the post). This is even in depts such as mine, where half our department income comes from teaching, and when we are regularly in the top 10 teaching depts in the national league tables.

Kylara7 said...

I haven't been through the tenure process (yet) but I would say based on what I've observed at the two MRUs I've studied at that AP#1 would probably get denied tenure and AP#2 would get tenure...because most MRUs are secondarily about teaching and more concerned with bringing in grants and sexy publications. I wish it were NOT that unbalanced. Sadly, my own institution considers anything less than major pubs (in C/N/S) and multi-million dollar grants to be not quite up to their standards.

Simba said...

Maybe "pretty good research" is not good enough at a MRU, but how about at a mostly undergraduate university that has come to believe it can expect the impossible in terms of grants and pubs from its Tenure track profs? Where teaching loads are 18 sh per year. I am afraid we are about to lose the second person in a row next year, both being people who are exceptional teachers, and where just the research has been a little slow at the start (tenure decisions are made at the beginning of the 5th year, with no flexibility). The department would give this person tenure if only up to them, but the administration is likely to deny it.

Anonymous said...

I vote for: deny tenure for both, get rid of tenure for the rest of the profs at every school, review everyones CV, keep the productive people with 5 year contracts that can be renewed upon review, fire the unproductive profs.

While we are at it, I would reduce the salary of many senior faculty with inflated paychecks (anything over 125,000 for a prof is too much)

Anonymous said...

I agree with SciMother that doing "pretty good research" is not a research fail. Surely not every professor (even at a Major Research Univ) is a Superstar...? Unless maybe there are increments in between, like "pretty good," "good," "really good," "great," "excellent," "Rock Star," "Superstar." In that case, "pretty good" does seem a little low on the scale.

Anonymous said...

I've been a professor for 28 years (2 different MRUs). I have no idea what the tenure standards are for the first one I was at---who did and didn't get tenure there seemed to have nothing to do with either teaching or research. At my current university, one must have either excellent teaching or excellent research and be at least ok at the other. So both cases FSP describes should and likely would get tenure. (About 80% of those who go up for tenure get it, though there is some voluntary attrition at the badly-named "mid-career review", which happens half-way to tenure.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, to me 'pretty good' is not 'research failure' - but that's what makes tenure cases less than clear cut whenever you're not a 'Research God' at these places.

If 'pretty good' is publishes regularly in respectable if not super glamorous places, PhD students get out the door and get jobs, pulls in some money jointly or alone, I would say tenure them both. But I'm not tenured myself so I've only seen the system from one side so far.

Average Professor said...

I am an assoc prof at an MRU, and I think both would get tenure at my university. But I am not interpreting "pretty good" as "not meeting the standard."

My limited experience suggests that the standard for evaluating research at my institution is really, does the person seem like they are becoming an internationally recognized expert in their area, and do they have at least average stats for people at the rank their trying to achieve.

I think that, positioned strategically, someone like AP#1 could make a case for that even if their record is only "pretty good."

I was probably AP#1. My research area is kind of small, and thus so too are the funding opportunities. So, I was a co-PI on some really big grants, but all the stuff where I was the lead were relatively small. Still, I was able to generate an average # of publications per year for research-active faculty in my department. Because my research area is pretty small (but growing), it was not very hard for me to convince people that I am THE up-and-coming researcher of note in that area. A few invited talks or papers here and there, and a solid reputation among my community for being active and interested and doing some interesting stuff, was evidently sufficient.

That said, somebody like AP#2 doesn't have to work very hard in preparing their dossier, because their stats speak for themselves. Somebody like AP#1 will have to work a little harder to put their record in the right context.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, seconding ScientistMother -- why is "mediocre teaching" not a teaching fail, but "pretty good research" a research fail?

Plus, in Alex's original comment, he or she said Professor #1 did "high-quality" research, but not in the same QUANTITY typically required for tenure. Does this make a difference in your (or anyone's) assessment?

(keep in mind I am a lowly master's student in the physical sciences at an MRU and therefore with limited knowledge of/experience with the system)

chemdoc said...

Perhaps AP#1 is a poor fit for that institution and should seek tenure at a college or university in which research goals are not so stringent and teaching is considered vitally important.

Such institutions exist.

A good fit between the institution and the student as well as between the institution and the professor is critical.

Anonymous said...

It seems harsh that you classify "pretty good research" as below expectations and not worthy of tenure. Maybe your idea of pretty good is different than mine. If someone is publishing, turning out solid grad students with pubs, and bringing in the money to do the basics, that seems solid to me. Not everyone can write Nature papers and get million dollar grants.

I do have a problem with AP#2. Perhaps I have a worse problem with your description of "conveys information." What does this mean? I can convey information about my research to my non-academic friends but they have no idea what I'm talking about, don't remember it, and don't learn anything. That's just unacceptable. If AP#2 is simply untrained at teaching, overwhelmed with research as an AP, but would like to improve, that might be different than if AP considers his/her teaching to be acceptable.

My guess is AP#2 will get tenure (and would even if he/she was a horrifically awful teacher), and AP#1 will too, but only if he/she is well liked in the department. However, I don't think MRU would have hired AP#1 in the first place if AP#1 is so incapable of excellent research as you have described.

FYI - I am currently a postdoc at a MRU and did my PhD at one as well.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I agree with ScientistMother: "pretty good but not outstanding research" sounds like a good description of 90% of the tenured research faculty I know.

By definition, not everyone can be outstanding.

That said, I'm a post-doc in bio-medical research and I'd vote that both profs #1 and #2 should, and would get tenure.

Buttered Toast Master said...

As a postdoc/tenure observer I'd say you're leaving out the major factor, POLITICS. If either AP has stepped on too many people's toes, their respective teaching or research inadequacies will be justification for denying tenure.

FSP, I also appreciated your commentary about whether it is important to be a good teacher at a MRU. Your statements perfectly illustrate why so many graduate students come from small liberal arts colleges and other institutions that emphasize teaching. While it is possible to get a good education AND benefit from world class research at a MRU, most students slip through the cracks of mediocre teaching and end up with a mediocre education.

Anonymous said...

I am TT at an MRU. Prof #1 would definitely not get tenure, while Prof #2 definitely would, and I'm fine with that. We all know the deal when we accept the job and the requirements for tenure are clear when starting this position. Tenure in the sciences is awarded to allow faculty the flexibility to pursue their own scientific research interests, even if those interests are not currently in vogue or may have public policy/political implications. It is rare (although not negligible) at the university level that a science/engineering prof would need tenure protection to shelter him/her from criticism due to teaching a controversial class. Perhaps in the humanities where potentially controversial teaching is more common, providing tenure protection to profs would be a good idea.

PonderingFool said...

So being a B in research (which I would define as a pretty good but not outstanding grade) and an A in teaching doesn't get tenure but an A in research with a C in teaching gets tenure? At a major RESEARCH university, especially a top one, I can understand that. A major part of the education mission of the institution is the research. What percentage of C teachers though should a department carry?

What of those that are D quality teachers but As in research? D is still "passing". Seen those get tenure one whose research was probably more on the B+/A- level at a top place.

quasihumanist said...

I think both should be denied tenure but only the person #1 will actually be denied tenure.

I think that, as most MRUs run themselves, they commit low-level fraud (not any worse than what any run-of-the-mill corporation does) by admitting undergraduate students.

Anonymous said...

I am in a tenure-track position at a MRU and know that here, AP #1 would not get tenure. AP #2 probably would. The rhetoric here is that for research, service, and teaching you must be excellent in two areas and at least good in one, but research must be one of the areas in which you show excellence. It doesn't matter how outstanding you are as a teacher if the research is not up to snuff.

We have had a rash of tenure denials in the past couple of years and they've never been for teaching reasons. I've seen some pretty lousy teachers get tenure.

I'm not in a position to say whether either person should get tenure in your scenario. I feel like I don't understand enough about the process yet to talk about it. I have no objectivity, as I'm getting very close to going up.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

However, in real life the person who will win in the end and will get tenure is the one who sucked up the best to senior faculty and/or administration. Even if they did no research worth mentioning and are hated by their students.

This is not only cynical; it is flat-out fucking incorrect.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a mere graduate of two MRUs (someone who, obviously, should just keep his goddman mouth shut because he isn't a tenured professor at an MRU, err... someone who is "making a slightly more remote guess as to what you think the results would be"), I'd guess that the first professor won't get tenure while the second professor will. This is the reverse of what I would wish things to be, but given that the overwhelming majority of science professors with whom I interacted in nine years of undergrad and grad school fit the second cateogry, I'm not operating under any delusions.

Anonymous said...

@PhysioProf This from someone on the record (in the comment threads of the last post) as suggesting that students should gratefully accept whatever meager scraps of knowledge their professors deign to give them. I suspect your teaching may be significantly worse than the second professor under discussion; how did your tenure case work out?

Female Science Professor said...

For AP#1, I wouldn't focus on the words "pretty good" but rather on the further descriptions: "If AP#1 really did fall short of research expectations" and "did not meet the criteria for tenure". To me, this hypothetical situation could involve someone who published a few papers but didn't get grants, or someone who got a grant but didn't publish. The term "pretty good" implies some level of research activity but is not the same as equivalent to "very good", which might be OK in this case.

Alex said...

Teaching God/Research Failure

That seems to be more of a dichotomy than I was getting at. I was thinking more of a person who is hardly a failure at research (as measured by quality) but is a bit short on quantity. "Failure" seems to be a bit strong of a word for this person. As to AP #2, I was thinking more of a person whose teaching is at the minimally competent level: There are many negative points, but few of them are really serious ones, but there are also very few positive points. Maybe a person who has earned a C- for teaching, shall we say?

Also, it seems that in other aspects of the tenure process we would all recognize trade-offs and sliding scales. The person who publishes lots of Least Publishable Units and a few significant papers, vs. the person who publishes more significant papers but fewer papers overall. The person who produces great new insights but doesn't always get at all the details vs. the person who isn't always the first to tackle a question but tackles all of the subtleties. And so forth. In these examples, a deficit in one area can be made up for by strength in another area. We may all have our own view on exactly where the line should be drawn on those issues, but we all recognize that there are balances to be struck.

However, with teaching and research, it seems that teaching involves a low threshold while research has a higher threshold. It also seems to be rare that strong performance on teaching will compensate for research that is right on the edge of the requirements, while it seems to be more common that strong performance on research will compensate for teaching that is right on the edge of the requirements.

Anonymous said...


I'm still waiting for someone to explain how an excellent teacher is identified.

Doctor Pion said...

Pardon me while I write in the margins.

I agree that AP#2 should and would be given tenure because I have seen one deservedly get tenure who (apart from not kicking puppies) met the more extreme criteria as well. He was, however, self aware enough to share his student's opinion that he should never teach that level course (freshman physics) again. He was barely capable of teaching graduate students at that time.

However, that bit about being self aware was key. Gradually, over a decade or so, he learned to communicate with non-experts and eventually with undergrads and is now a fine teacher. Shockingly good, to anyone who saw version 1.0 at work.

The trickier question is whether AP#1 might break through and make a great contribution to the field (just as AP#2 could wither on the vine), or whether the university can afford to invest in a great teacher. For example, if they have a system where the assignment of duties can vary in its division between research and teaching (as I think it should so senior profs that no longer do research would have to teach a heavier load), it would pay to have a great teacher who could free up great researchers to generate funds for the university.

It also depends significantly on what is meant by mediocre research, as it did for the question of mediocre teaching. If "mediocre" means the same in both cases, then both should get tenure. But, in most cases, research and teaching-plus-service are not weighted as equally as assignments imply and only the researcher would get tenure.

Finally, IME, what Clarissa says is not true at universities that want to increase or maintain their national research ranking. (Is this why those rankings are still in limbo?)

Anonymous said...

Whoever says that being an excellent researcher and an excellent teacher are equally hard is deluded. A teacher who is a C can go to a B with extra hours in the day devoted to teaching/pret and some teaching classes.
A researcher who is a C cannot go to B with an extra few hours in the day devoted to research. You either have novel, transformational ideas or you don't.

Undergrads who need their hands held should go to PUI.

Stephanie said...

You are all still using the professor lens. I know, it is hard for many of you to look out of any other lenses, but try for a minute to imagine what it feels like for the AVERAGE undergraduate to pay >=$10k, possibly without many other options for state schools with better teaching emphasis, as mentioned by Anonymous 7/7 1:53AM. Sure, some of us were happy to go to public MRU's with good research because we are interested in research and took advantage of the research opportunities. But, considering that the majority of a student's time and $ for Uni are paid to take classes, is it too much to expect that the university consider teaching a priority as much as they consider research?

Next time you go teach a "mediocre" class or see one of your colleagues do it, think about the fact that, for each ~1hr lecture they are EACH paying the MRU somewhere between $25-$100, and that's just tuition and fees. I lucked out in my Undergrad education by going to an MRU with a dept that had mostly excellent teachers (of undergrad at least), but when I took classes from the bad or mediocre ones, I got pissed off. If the prof isn't going to be helpful, I just teach myself from the book, which I can do for FREE!

prodigal academic said...

I am on the TT at a MRU. They say that of teaching, research, and service, we need to be outstanding on 2 and average or better on the third, but research has to be one of the outstanding ones. There have been tenure denials over really bad teaching, but that is normally caught by the department well before tenure time and addressed.

Teaching is mostly evaluated via teaching evaluations, which makes said evaluations suspect at best. I've spoken with several students who have "hated" a prof in the moment, only to come to realize that the prof was a good teacher years later when drawing on the knowledge learned in the class.

I think that research is so heavily weighted because it is easier to quantify in some ways--we can count papers, citations, funded proposals, invitations, etc. There is no equivalent for teaching.

I would grant AP#2 tenure for sure. For AP#1, it would depend on whether there was really strong evidence that they were an excellent teacher (i.e. not just student evals) and how they fell short (was it lack of funding in a time of scarcity? problems graduating students? lack of publications?). I suspect they would be denied tenure at my University. There is a small chance that if their service was also outstanding and the research issue looked fixable, they might squeak by.

engineering girl said...

Most of the discussion here seems to focus on who "deserves" tenure more - the good researcher/teaching failure, or the research failure/good teacher. But what about outside factors like what the departments needs at the time? Maybe the department desperately needs an introductory teacher at the time, and is publishing so many C/N/S papers one more superstar wouldn't make a difference. Or, maybe there are already 4 professors who get super-high ratings, but the research record is really lagging.

I just got a masters so I'm nowhere near tenure, so I'm posing this as a question to the more experienced. I'm hoping to work at the intersection of intersection and academia in the future, so I'm trying to understand both worlds.

Anonymous said...

to engineering girl:
the situation you describe is easy, that person needs to be denied tenure and re-hired as a lecturer or other appropriate teaching-only position. If that person is that good, the position can be permanent, no problem. It does not make a lot of sense to grant tenure to somebody based on the teaching needs of a department.
I think many excellent teachers would prefer not to have any research responsibilities if a position with a reasonable reputation and stability existed. Many cling to their tenure track positions doing minimal research because there are no better options for them.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as someone who has achieved the level of full Professor with tenure and has sat on promotions committees . . .
Institutions differ significantly in the percentages of faculty who are granted tenure. In my current institution, probably neither would be tenured, but only AP#2 has a chance. It is likely that both would be promoted. There has been movement toward more reward for teaching, but still research is valued more highly and, as pointed out by others, teaching quality is difficult to measure. In my view, teaching is the major mission of the university and more effort should be made to identify and reward teaching excellence. Teaching may be viewed by the institution as a money losing activity. However, speaking as a alumnus of what would be classified as a small research university, I have over several decades donated significant money and time to my alma mater in large part because of the excellent teaching I received. At some point, attention to the education of the undergraduates does reap a benefit to the university.
On a side note - perhaps a subject for a later post - I am quite disappointed to learn of instances at a prestigious SLAC where tenure was denied to what appeared to be excellent teachers due to their lack of research accomplishment. I understand that having a faculty involved in research enriches the scholarly environment for the faculty and the students, but aren't SLAC's supposed to emphasize teaching above all else?

Ann said...

probably the department votes yes for AP#2 and no for AP#1, reasoning that its national ranking, which needs to be be high to attract those crucial excellent graduate students, rises or falls with its research reputation. Then the university tenure committee denies the promotion of AP#2, because it is supposed to uphold teaching standards across the university. Hopefully AP#2 then gets some remedial teaching instruction and gets tenure the following year.

quasihumanist said...

1) When someone pays tuition to a university, or when citizens vote (usually indirectly through their representatives) for funding for universities, it is usually mostly on the basis of the education they provide, not the research they do. It is not ethical for universities to sell themselves to the public primarily as educational institutions but behave as if education was a secondary priority. I can assure you that a private research university that clearly and explicitly told the truth about its priorities (rather than hiding it in code phrases) would have fewer students, and a public research university that told the truth would have a lot less public support.

2) A lot of the methods that universities use to assess teaching are terrible. However, I don't think that is because assessing teaching is hard. (Frankly, assessing research is a lot harder, especially in fields where everyone occupies their own narrow niche subsubfield.) I think it is because many universities simply don't care enough about teaching to think seriously about how to evaluate it well and put time and effort into good methods of evaluation.

3) If you think that someone can improve teaching from a C to a B just with some teaching classes and extra effort, then your grading scale for teaching is a bit inflated. I would say that might get someone from a D to a C.

Madscientistgirl said...

OK I just have to address Stephanie's comment. Undergraduates definitely pay a lot for their education - but if they're at large state schools, they're not paying nearly as much as it costs to provide. At my undergraduate institution - a large state school, R2 - I paid $2000/year in tuition and with room and board (I was a cheapskate) my expenses came to about $10,000/year. However, the actual cost to the university per undergraduate was about $20,000/student/year (no room & board). My school was actually pretty cheap. Even at public schools it can cost up to $40,000/student/year. So... yes, it's expensive to go to school. But it's also a bargain.

Research is one of the ways schools keep that cost down. In the sciences, research grants pay a significant fraction of faculty salaries. An outstanding research professor will cost the department less because (s)he will be able to pay more of his/her own salary over the years. This is a large part of the reason teaching universities are more expensive. (That and smaller classes, meaning more faculty.) If a department is trying to plan long-term, the department may have to pay all of #1's salary in the (near?) future - but #2 is probably at least free and perhaps brings in money.

While I am a staunch defender of students and I value teaching a lot, I also strongly disagree with the view of students as customers - both because it's a bad attitude for learning and because students (at public universities) don't actually pay enough to cover the cost of teaching them. Yes, faculty should be adequate teachers and we should value teaching more - but teaching alone isn't enough.

Anonymous said...

Quasihumanist, the state pays only ~30% of the operating expenses of a large public university; some like U Michigan have an even smaller percentage of state funding.

The rest is tuition and research money and donations.

Everyone wants high-quality teaching (it appears this implies a lot of hand holding of undergrads and throwing dog-and-pony shows to keep their interest despite them having the attention span of a firefly) and not to pay for it; tuition at public universities is very low and so is the state support. So where, pray tell, is the operating cost supposed to be covered from? And all the superfluous staff salaries? Yes, it's the bad guys, research active faculty who are the problem. Without them tuitions at public unis would not be $4-8 K, would be $20-40 K per year. Welcome to fuckin' Harvards everywhere.

Oh yeah, anyone complaining about the quality of teaching at Harvard or MIT or Stanford? Everyone is just peeing their pants with happiness they were ever admitted. And faculty at large public unis are supposed to wipe undergrads' overpriviledged spoilt butts and not be paid (no raises in years) and get flack for doing research to pay our own summer fuckin' salary? All you teaching Gods/research haters go to private SLACs and leave us "mediocre" teachers/active researchers to do our jobs unsupported by state and underpaid with snotnosed underpaying undergrads.

Fuckin' whiners. No one who does not do a great job at research should not get tenured at R1. Less than stellar teaching is fine.

And whoever said faculty are overpaid does not have a fuckin' clue; I need to collect 25% of my "ginormous" salary from grants. My PhD grads fresh out of grad school make as much as I do after tenure (provided I have 3 months of research summer support from grants).

Anonymous said...

Well now the question is,why do we have research oriented "university" then. Why don't people just join research institute that focus solely on research and evaluated and tenured by research performance only.

I think it is so misleading and inefficient to have this "academic" environment. I see no point why this research activities should take place at a university. So many undergraduates join research university with illusion that they will get decent education, but what they are getting is the "by-product" of research acitivities.

I really think there needs to be some refining done on educational experiences at research institute. What I see in research institute is unprofessional teaching compared to liberal arts and unprofessional management and research activities compared to institutes that are devoted to research only. Jack of all trades, master of none.

OK that's my level of cynicism here. I am completely unsatisfied with the system. I apologize if any expression was offensive to anyone.

quasihumanist said...

Anonymous at 10:38pm:

If grant money is being used to cover educational expenses, then a fraud investigation is in order. (I'm excluding educational grants, of course.) The granting agencies intend their money to support research and research administration only.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 1:00pm
"the question is,why do we have research oriented "university" then"

Simple, the R1 universities provide both research and teaching of higher quality and lower cost than the pure research institutes or the pure undergrad institutions.

R1 Postdoc said...

Universities profit from academic departments in two principal ways: student tuition and overhead on research grants.

If a given department brings in most income from research grants, tenure is weighted towards research effort, and students who don't like it should have chosen a university where most income comes from teaching.

There is no philosophical debate to be had. Universities are highly focused on the bottom line. Students should be aware of this bottom line calculation. And nearly all tenure track faculty are already.

And p.s. note that teaching has become largely commoditized. Depts can get great teaching from adjuncts at a fraction of the salary of a research professor. Unhappy adjuncts are let go. Many remain to take their place. Students that want good teaching have to fix this financial incentive structure first, or they will always be howling at the wind.

AnonEngineeringProf said...

It is rare (although not negligible) at the university level that a science/engineering prof would need tenure protection to shelter him/her from criticism due to teaching a controversial class.

I'm an engineering prof. I need tenure protection. Some of my research is in areas that are highly politically sensitive. Because of the political controversy surrounding these subjects, research has appeared in major newspapers quite a few times. Tenure lets me feel free to speak frankly to the press, the public, and policymakers, without fear that I'll make the administration unhappy by working on controversial subjects.

I don't need tenure protection in the classroom; I need it for the rest of my job. My research has had a major impact on society. I don't believe I would have been able to do the research without tenure.

Something I've noticed is that there is almost no one in industry (e.g., in the industry labs) who works in the particular research area where I am active -- because no major company wants to have its name associated with this politically sensitive area. I can name approximately one person at an industry research lab working in this area (which is extremely unusual for my field), and that person is under special orders from his employer about his research in that area. Almost everyone who does research in this area is an academic -- because they have the protection of tenure and do not fear for their job, and because they know their employer supports even politically sensitive research.