An e-mail was sent to me in response to one of my essays in The Chronicle of Higher Education last fall. Before I show the letter, some background:
For the essay in question, the CHE editors chose the unfortunate title of "I Did Not Slow Down Once I Got Tenure", nixing my preferred title, "Myth of the Tenure Slacker". In any case, the main point of the essay was that recent books and media accounts presented academia, and in particular tenure, in a way that is unrecognizable to me. I proposed the following explanations for this disparity:
- news accounts are intentionally inflammatory; who wants to read about happy tenured professors, even furloughed ones, in a time of economic crisis?;
- the effect of tenure on professorial productivity is misunderstood and misrepresented; and
- there is a misconception that teaching and research are exclusive.
For those of you who have read the CHE piece, you may want to skip ahead, but for those without access to the CHE piece, with respect to the last point, I wrote about my own experience:
The question of whether being a researcher makes someone a better teacher has been much debated. I am sure that the answer varies from person to person, but I know that being a researcher makes me a better teacher because doing research gives me new ideas and insights for teaching, even for courses I have taught many times before. I know many talented teachers who are intellectually engaged without being active researchers, but what works for me is to rejuvenate my courses via my research. Furthermore, being an effective researcher requires some of the same skills that we need to be effective teachers: To get grants and publish our results, we need to be able to communicate what we did in a clear and compelling way, and explain to nonspecialists why our work is important. So, too, do we need to do that with the concepts, facts, and ideas we want to teach our students.
I then mentioned that I typically advise some undergraduates in research, providing them with experiences that help them make decisions about their post-graduation lives. I also wrote:
Research is valuable to a university in some ways that can be quantified, and in many ways that can't, such as the creation of a stimulating intellectual environment (presumably a good thing at a university) and the involvement of students (undergraduate and graduate) in research. We are training the next generation of researchers who are going to invent things, cure diseases, and/or provide new insights about the world (past, present, future). Despite the claims made by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus in their book, Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids, and What We Can Do About It, research activities are not responsible for the inadequate emphasis on undergraduate education at some universities.
Last week, I received this e-mail from Andrew Hacker:
Claudia and I want to thank you for citing our book. That you didn't agree with us isn't surprising. Still, we appreciate your spelling our names correctly.
In writing Higher Education? we visited dozens of campuses and spoke with scores of faculty members. Every single professor attested, as you do, that being able to do research enhanced their undergraduate teaching. So you have the profession on your side.
But as a social scientist and a journalist, we know better than to take what people say about themselves at face value. We need evidence that teaching by researchers is superior to that of others. Of course, we understand that academics have to justify their research, or at least try to, if only to explain their pleasant sabbaticals.
Don't bother to reply. I don't open anonymous e-mails, for obvious reasons. Yours, Andrew Hacker.
I did not bother to reply by e-mail, for obvious reasons, but I will reply here in the blog tomorrow.
6 years ago