Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do Not Reply

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:

Dear FSP:

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.


Anonymous said...

I went to a top undergraduate institution in a foreign country where most of the professors are essentially full-time teachers, and do very little research. Mind you, the professors there are not bad, and many of them have gotten their PhDs in the US themselves. The students at this institution are top-notch, and the top students are routinely admitted to the top US schools for PhD.

Now I am an asst. professor at a top 25, but not top 15 school in the US. I can safely say that our undergrads are not half as good as my peers in college; however, the undergraduate education they get is way, way better! The main reason is that the professors here are way more up-to-date with the state of the art. So yes, I believe that being active in research does make a huge difference in teaching!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Are you sure you're not being trolled? That was a ridiculously pugnacious email.

Anonymous said...

I am an undergraduate (in the physical sciences) at a large research university and I feel that the professors I have had who do research are actually the ones who give more engaging lectures. Not to mention, every professor (at ANY career stage - I have had all of them) that I have had at my university has been very helpful and passionate about teaching. Maybe it is not so much the professors who are the problem, but the lack of motivation that most undergraduates have for higher learning. I have witnessed so much of that laziness firsthand; I can attest to the fact that most students (at renowned "party schools" especially) just do not care. I don't blame any teacher for that.

Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink said...

Yikes! It looks like they've made a classic undergraduate problem in their research - they've created a theory that cannot be falsified.
I'm interested in hearing how you respond to someone who, on principle for his research, does not listen to people.

EngineeringProf said...

Wow. What a totally unconvincing email from Andrew Hacker.

Andrew Hacker's argument is: I'm not persuaded the evidence that research makes you a better teacher, therefore research must not make you a better teacher.

This is a basic logic fallacy. It's like hearing someone give a mistaken explanation of why the moon causes the tides, and then responding: your argument that the moon cause tides is fallacious, therefore, the moon doesn't cause tides. That's an absurd response. The proper response is to say: your argument is fallacious, therefore it says nothing about whether the moon causes tides or not.

Back to Andrew Hacker. If he doesn't believe the evidence from interviews with professors, then the logical response is to say: we don't know whether research makes you a better teacher. Concluding, as Hacker seems to do in his letter that research definitely *doesn't* make you a better teacher would be absurd and ridiculous.

I haven't read his book. I hope the quality of the reasoning there is better than found in his letter.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, what an obnoxious git. Takes quite a lot to communicate 'I am a twat' in a short email, but he seems to have managed it with aplomb.

Anonymous said...

"Don't bother to reply. I don't open anonymous e-mails, for obvious reasons. Yours, Andrew Hacker."

I really would need to chop some wood (or sprint a few miles) before I would be ready to answer this kind of outrage.

Anonymous said...

No. You are totally making this up. There is now way this is possible. Come on.

I saw the student excuse letters, but this is unreal.

Anonymous said...

Dear FSP,

Obviously Andrew Hacker makes a living out of being bitter. Please pay no attention. Thank you for your wonderful, yet anonymous, blog.

An anonymous reader.

Anonymous said...

Well, I haven't read the book so perhaps it is dangerous to comment. But I'm an academic so I'm used to blathering about things I don't know about. No matter what you believe about undergraduate education, these discussions typically ignore the fact that a *significant* part of our mission at research universities is to train master's and Ph.D. students. How could we do that without a research program? And, before someone mentions something about not needing to train so many future academics, many of our graduates enter the job market. And they do, in fact, use their degree in their career.

GMP said...

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.

This is precious. I am looking fwd to your upcoming response.

I can attest that when teaching undergrads in the physical sciences, especially in fast-developing fields that fall under nanotechnology, anyone who is not actively engaged in research is unable to teach at the technologically relevant state-of-the-art level. Students want to hear about the latest developments, not those of however many years ago when the text was last updated. Textbooks never follow technical advances fast enough.

And if university professors are supposed to only teach, who exactly is supposed to do research? Just industry (proprietary issues anyone?) or just national labs (nowhere nearly as many as needed)? Now that would do wonders for the US science.
What about research in the humanities and social sciences? Without scholarly work at universities these fields are as good as dead.

I wonder if the US is the only country harboring so much disdain for its scholars. I certainly don't remember ever seeing anything like it anywhere in Europe or Asia. People wonder why American students are so poorly prepared for what lies ahead: because they are babied throughout their K-12 and undergraduate education and treated as consumers to be indulged, rather than challenged. Faculty doing research aren't the problem; the problem is that you can't teach or test students according to high standards and strict criteria without them whining and complaining and then poor evaluations coming back to bite you.

Anonymous said...

Well, that's very harsh response. However, I think he's right in one respect - neither side has evidence that researchers are better or worse teachers. As scientists we should respect that. Just as you have made the argument that research gives you ideas for teaching, you could say that it prevents you from studying research on effective methods of teaching and learning. There's an enormous body of literature out there and it would take a career to understand and implement it, just as it does for any scientific field. Again - anyone can make such a hypothesis, it would be nice to see some evidence one way or the other.

elizabeth said...

1.Without having thought this through very well, I am inclined to agree with him that one cannot just trust one's "subject"s words on the matter, but actually figure out if it improves their teaching.
2.OTOH , duh, I am sure you would agree with that yourself (that a real study includes some objective measures, not just interviews).
3. last in my comment, but first in my reaction to his letter: how extraordinarily rude he was! he wrote a letter to you, so why exactly can he not read your response? just lazy and rude, masquerading as upright.

Anonymous said...

At the online version of your article, Andrew Hacker also posted this comment:

"Dear Science Professor: Two comments:

(1) Since you have a guarantee of lifetime employment, this is supposed to give you the courage to express your views openly.
(Unlike intimidated assistant professors.) So why don't you write under your own name and institutional affiliation? Your apparent fear to do so, shows that tenure doesn't work.

(2) It was so nice to read your self-assessments. You give yourself the grade of A for both your teaching and research.
Since you have tenure, you should be secure enough to give us the full range of your student evaluations. And since your research is so groundshaking, are you being inundated with offers from higher-tier institutions?

Keep up your A work! Cordinally, Andrew Hacker."

Witty fellow!

Ianqui said...

What a tool. It's perfectly fine to have a differing opinion, but one thing I'm pretty sure I *have* learned as a result of writing up my research: I know how to be civil when refuting other people's opinions.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what he was trying to gain by writing you that email - it certainly didn't make him sound unbiased and professional! His bitterness about "sabbaticals" and "summers off" clearly demonstrates that he is intentionally spreading misinformation.

Anyway, I basically agree with you, with one big BUT. There are some faculty, like you, that really do their best at teaching and do incorporate new research into their teaching, etc. However, the majority of faculty at my big U don't care a whit about teaching, and it shows - big time. And there are no penalties for poor teaching. In fact, faculty that teach poorly usually are given fewer teaching duties, which is giving them what they want.

So... yeah I don't know. The system is certainly not great as is. But there should be some connection between real scientists and teaching, so I'm not sure what a better solution would be. I guess the best approach would be to impose harsher penalties on poor teaching. Or to have more "research only" institutions where those who hate teaching can go and leave the real academics alone.

Anonymous said...

"Don't bother to reply."

Wow, that was rude. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I was not aware of Hacker and Dreifus' book, but just from the title alone I am appalled. From my one semester as a TT prof and my past experience as a TA, I think a better thesis would be "Higher education? How to know when your kid is ready for the responsibility so they don't waste your money"

Anonymous said...

Although Hacker's rudeness and lack of class were unnecessary, the trouble is his words have a grain of truth to them. But so do yours, FSP. Both of you are right, which I think is the source of some of the conflict in these arguments about tenure and research vs. teaching. There are truly tenured professors who view teaching as a nuisance to research and getting grants--and even entire universities which truly lean in that direction and the education/treatment of the students (especially the undergraduates) really suffers. I obtained my PhD from such a place and saw both the faculty and the student side. On the other hand, there are also a great deal of tenured (and untenured) faculty who view teaching as an important part of their job in addition to their research, learn a great deal from working with students, and genuinely enjoy helping to inspire and create future scientific colleagues through exposure to research. There's a mix of these people in many academic departments, and the proportion of faculty who are entirely research-focused can have a significant effect on the atmosphere of a department. Hacker may simply have encountered more of the research-focused type, which in not unlikely as those faculty tend to be more visible to the popular media and journalists. Hacker probably needs to widen his exposure to professors at schools of various sizes (and maybe people in general, but that's another story).

It is worthwile, though, to think about what to do with the faculty who don't want to waste their time teaching, because they really are a detriment to student education while simultaneously being praised by their universities for the money they bring in. My husband (also a PhD in academia) and I have been wondering lately if it really may simply be better for higher education to create more genuine research institutions (like the Smithsonian or the Carnegie Institutions) for the faculty types who don't want to teach, and have those places supported by research grants. At the same time, we should better fund the universities teaching side so that they don't need to base their faculty hiring on finding the academics with the most potential for bringing in grant money and can hire more faculty who actually want to be there to educate AND do research. Everybody wins: if you don't want to teach, you can go to a research institution. If you do want to teach, you don't have to compete for positions with people who don't but maybe have more impressive research backgrounds.

a. b. said...

Well, bless his heart. I've seen that book in stores, and from the cover and title I can't take it seriously.

Anonymous said...

While undergrads may benefit from your up-to-date knowledge of the field, many undergrads would do just as well to leave school with a solid ability to think critically and analyze ideas and data so they can keep up-to-date on their own. So many undergrads graduate with a lot of state-of-the-art knowledge and not a lot of ability to either think about that information or stay up to date. There is primary literature to back up that statement if you care to read it.

That's just to say that being an active research doesn't necessarily make you a better teacher. It would be nice to see some research on this topic. Several replies on here by scientists offer anecdotes / opinions as evidence - scientists should know better. The first reply to your post states that the education students get at a research school is better - I wonder what the professor is going on - the most up-to-date knowledge students memorize? the entertaining nature of the lectures? or the ability of students to conduct independent research projects / analyses of primary literature. Also, to give my own anecdote, I have encountered many faculty who care about teaching but have no idea how to create a classroom where students learn thinking skills and knowledge that they retain long term. Caring and interest don't necessarily = a great teacher.

Female Science Professor said...

That's funny -- I saw that comment from "Andrew Hacker" on the CHE site last fall and assumed it was a joke, but now.. I'm not so sure.

In any case, I am not a superstar teacher but I get above average evaluations and have won some small teaching awards. I am not inundated with offers from high-tier schools, but there have been offers and expressions of interest from such schools in recent years. In this blog, I have mentioned that I rate myself as "moderately successful" or "reasonably successful" as a professor. I wouldn't give myself an A, but perhaps something in the B+/A- range. I guess that about covers it.. until tomorrow's post.

Anonymous said...

Some valid critique, but not a very polite person, as others have noted.

In my personal experience, I happen to agree with Anon at 9:07. If our evidence has to be personal experience, here's mine: My undergrad was at a small-to-medium-sized undergrad-focused university. I am currently a grad student at a big R-1. I've taken many classes at both.

All 32 of my classes at my undergraduate institution (including several graduate-level ones) were (with one exception) excellently taught. I was amazed later when I took poorly-taught courses at my current R-1 and commented on it to fellow classmates; those who'd been to R-1 universities as undergraduates shrugged their shoulders and said that it was pretty normal. I did have some excellent teaching at my R-1 (where I've taken both undergraduate and graduate classes), but the majority was mediocre, with some of it poor.

I fear that if you've never had a succession of excellent teachers, you don't know what you're missing. If you have, you feel cheated by even the mediocre teachers.

I happen to agree that teaching at R-1's is second-rate compared to teaching-focused universities and colleges. However, I also think that R-1's *should* be focused on research rather than teaching. The real problem is degree creep. It used to be that you only went to university if you were a serious intellectual. Now "everyone" goes because a college degree is necessary on one's resume to get a decent job. R-1's have the task now of being post-high-school high school to a large number of students who are just there to get a piece of paper. I think that necessarily dilutes the teaching; if each research professor had fewer classes and fewer students (who actually cared about learning), the teaching might improve.

Alex said...

First, I completely agree with those who say that you cannot have graduate education without an active research program. I even agree that (at least in the sciences) having research is beneficial to the undergrads to the extent that it provides them with projects outside of the classroom.

Second, I certainly feel the same way that everyone else here feels about research making me a better teacher. I feel synergy and excitement, I bring in lessons from my research, etc. Certainly I look at textbooks written by people who gave up research a long time ago and now just pontificate on why their way of teaching is The One Pure Route, and I think we need more researchers in undergrad classrooms. (Note that I distinguish between people who do actual education research, with data and everything, and people who just pontificate on teaching.)


When it comes to issues of people doing things that involve interaction with other people (e.g. teaching) you can't just trust self-reports. Hacker is right on this. We do need evidence that active researchers are better (on average, always on average) in the classroom than similar non-researchers. Self-reporting isn't enough.

Don't believe me? You think self-reporting is good enough? OK. I'm going to poll male science faculty and ask them whether they do anything that is detrimental to the professional advancement of women in science. 95% of them will probably report "Nope, everything good here!" So, clearly there's nothing that needs to be changed in how they do things. Well, other than those 5%. Right? I mean, we'll have self-reported data to show it! We'll even have self-reports from the hiring committees, so there's no need to compare the percentage of female postdocs with the percentage of female hires, right? We've got this self-reported data showing that people are doing things the right way.

You do need more than self-reporting to judge whether people are really doing things well and producing good results.

mathgirl said...

I agree that self-reporting is not enough. However, the only better way I can think of to know how research influences teaching at the individual level is to have people teach while they are active researchers and to have the same people teach while they are not active doing research. Have the authors done this?

Why does teaching by researchers have to be superior than teaching by others?
Why is it held to different standards?

What matters to me is that it is different, it provides different opportunities. Some students will prefer one and some students will prefer the other. And luckily, it seems to me that the choices are there. It's important to keep the choices...

Anonymous said...

Is this going to turn into a *cat* fight. I love cats too, fsp!

Janice said...

A little snark is fun. An entire short missive devoted to snark shows that Hacker makes his career off of that. Colour me unimpressed.

I didn't see anywhere in FSP's Chronicle article the outright assertion that research improves every teacher. I saw it as a counterpoint to the broadly publicized viewpoint (not rigorously proved, universally-applicable hypothesis) that active researchers are poor or uncaring teachers.

I look forward to tomorrow's blog post with interest. After all, I'm on sabbatical with nothing else to do but research, write, supervise my undergraduate and graduate research project students and attend to various service obligations that will support thousands of other students. You know, the useless self-indulgent work of the academic!

Anonymous said...

One thing to keep in mind is that people teaching at R1 schools are not the only researchers. I teach at a PUI and am also a researcher. I pride myself in getting good evaluations in both areas and am successfully publishing my work in well-respected journals. It's important to realize that there are also teachers who are good researchers, and not just researchers who are teachers (good or bad).

Anonymous said...

i think these responses are either:

1. a troll
2. a clever PR campaign.

I'll assume the former until proven otherwise.

Genomic Repairman said...

I would make a necklace out of the smug little fucker's teeth if I were you. Many pivotal works were written by anonymous or pseudoanonymous writers. I guess Andy is just grasping to whatever high ground he can get at.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous at 3:08, but I lean towards PR campaign.

It just seems suspicious that Andrew Hacker would reply to your article after such a long time . . .

unless interest in his book is drying up, and he wants to kick-start some fresh exposure :)

jouskaaftermeantime said...

After reading all the comments, most of the things I was going to say have already been said. But, I am struck by what is clearly a huge degree of variation in the teaching interest and ability of professors who do and don't have ongoing research. Even if objective research finds an average difference in teaching effectiveness between the two groups, the variation overlap might make it a moot point. If doing research or not only explains 2% of the variation in teaching effectiveness, clearly there are other and possibly more important issues to be addressed when it comes to educating undergraduates.

It may turn out that knowing whether or not a professor does research or not only slightly improves your chances of predicting their teaching ability above totally random guessing. This obsessive focus on research may simply be the wrong approach to the problem, and will generate other problems like, so who is going to do the actual research anyway?

Anonymous said...

"Back to Andrew Hacker. If he doesn't believe the evidence from interviews with professors,"

Oh, come on, he doesn't believe evidence in the form of anecdotes from anonymous professors. That's what the "anonymous" jabs are about.

I think Hacker is wrong when it comes to the sciences, mostly because doing research in the sciences I'm familiar with requires finding grant funding. Finding grant funding means that you have to be scrapping in there even if you have tenure. Scrapping means that you're working hard to stay on the cutting edge. Staying on the cutting edge could indeed have benefits to students (if you teach something where that matters, or if it keeps you fresh and engaging).

But, it doesn't contribute much data to have an anonymous person describe their anecdotes about themselves.

And, I'm fairly skeptical that teaching writing or Victorian literature is substantially affected by one's scholarship.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I see self-reports. I got my undergraduate degree at a super-prestigious R1 university. The teaching was occasionally mind-numbingly bad, occasionally mediocre, and occasionally excellent, and, I'd say largely uncorrelated with the quality of the scientists research programs, which ranged from very very good to excellent to super excellent.

At that university, people were chosen for their excellent research ability. I was going to add some lip service about teaching, but I realized that it was probably irrelevant. Before tenure they'd probably have to check some boxes saying that they had taught, and if they'd been caught in some terrible scandal it might have hurt, but otherwise it was irrelevant.

But, I would nevertheless go there again, because of the out-of-class opportunities, some of which I availed myself of, but some of which were even more important to other students, who contributed greatly to my experience.

EngineeringProf said...

In defense of Hacker's thesis, I think there is a little bit of truth to the fears about teaching at R1 professors.

In my experience, the problem is not that research makes you a poorer teacher. The problem is that, at some research-oriented schools, the incentives are set up to reward research but not to reward teaching.

For instance, at my R1 school, salaries for tenured professors are determined by (1) research excellence, and (2) years at rank. (I've had my department chair confirm this to me.) Teaching doesn't play a role in our salaries.

Moreover, at my school, the main way you get a big raise is by getting an external offer from some other school of similar prestige, but at a significantly higher salary. If your department chair and dean like you, then they typically match the offer. The school has a large budget devoted solely to retention cases; we have little budget for merit raises, but a significant budget for retention. So, this means that if you want a hefty pay raise, the way to get it is to do fantastic research that gets the attention of other schools. Doing great research can easily lead to increased visibility and an external offer -- but great teaching is very unlikely to raise your visibility outside your campus or to lead to external offers.

Therefore, our compensation system creates heavy incentives to focus all your time on research, and (once you are tenured) do the bare minimum for teaching. And that's what many professors do. Not all (some do great teaching despite the lack of any financial reward for it, out of professional pride or love of their subject or generosity to their students), but understandably, most professors respond to the incentives set up for them.

In other words, the problem is not with research per se. The problem arises if the incentive system values good research and does not value good teaching.

That said, Hacker is behaving like a twit. Even if there's an element of truth to what he says, that's not an excuse for behaving so rudely.

Psycgirl said...

There is some research (mainly in psychology) showing that most people are not that great at evaluating their own skills, so I can see his point. I might think I'm a good teacher but maybe my students don't. So good research wouldn't rely only on professor interview, but course evals and student interviews.

Of course, maybe that's what they do in the book I have no intention of reading...

All that being said, no researcher has the right to be so rude and condescending about their research findings and beliefs. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

My gosh... have you seen a picture of this guy? He was born when Herbert Hoover was president, please have some compassion ;-)

Anonymous said...

I went to a SLAC so faculty were were highly rewarded for good teaching, but it was a fancy-pants place and faculty were expected to have a research program too. So everyone did some research but their tenure and evals depended a lot on teaching performance. So there's a strong motivation for good teaching and a modest motivation for research. This seems like a good case to test whether research comes at the expense of teaching.

In my experience there was a strong positive correlation between research activity and teaching quality. Those profs who did a lot of research were also the best teachers. Why? They were current in their field, engaged passionate, etc. but also probably they were just better. There's a fallacy that there is an inherent trade-off that we can measure. If everyone works to their absolute limits AND those limits are the same yes there will be a trade-off but there is variation in both faculty drive and energy and in just their quality as thinkers. Those that are good at one thing are often good at other things - their limits are higher. Thinking about research enhances thinking about teaching.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 6:09 said "I'm fairly skeptical that teaching writing or Victorian literature is substantially affected by one's scholarship."

Anon at 6:09 clearly has no idea about scholarship in Victorian literature, and would be better served by talking about something s/he is familiar with.

Literature is not static any more than history is. How we understand Dickens is affected by what we know about Victorian society, about disease, about graveyards, and about popular fads in the mid-ninteenth century, to just give a few examples. Amazingly, these things are constantly being discovered or interpreted or further explained by active researchers.

literature said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
literature said...

This question has been studied before: "Does faculty research improve undergraduate teaching?"
Prince et al, RM Felder, R Brent, J. Engineering Education 96, 283-294 (2007).

Abstract: Academicians have been arguing for decades about whether or not faculty research supports undergraduate instruction. Those
who say it does—a group that includes most administrators and faculty members—cite many ways in which research can enrich teaching, while those on the other side cite numerous studies that
have consistently failed to show a measurable linkage between the two activities. This article proposes that the two sides are debating different propositions: whether research can support teaching in principle and whether it has been shown to do so in practice. The article reviews the literature on the current state of the research-teaching nexus and then examines three specific strategies for integrating teaching and scholarship: bringing research into the classroom, involving undergraduates in research projects, and broadening the definition of scholarship beyond frontier disciplinary research. Finally, ways are suggested to better realize the potential synergies between faculty research and undergraduate

literature said...

And, a key paragraph from the Prince article:

"...research and teaching have different goals and require different skills and personal attributes. The primary goal of research is to advance knowledge, while that of teaching is to develop and enhance abilities. Researchers are valued mainly for what they discover and for the problems they solve, and teachers for what they enable their students to discover and solve. Excellent researchers must be observant, objective, skilled at drawing inferences, and tolerant of ambiguity, and excellent teachers must be skilled communicators, familiar with the conditions that promote learning and expert at establishing them, and approachable and empathetic. Having both sets of traits is
clearly possible and desirable but not necessary to be successful in
one domain or the other. Moreover, first-class teaching and first-class research are each effectively full-time jobs, so that time spent on one activity is generally time taken away from the other. There should consequently be no surprise if studies reveal no significant correlation between faculty research and effective teaching. That is exactly what is revealed:"

Then the article cites Feldman, Research in Higher Education, Vol. 26, 1987, pp. 227–298; and Hattie and Marsh, Review of Educational Research, Vol. 66, 1996, pp. 507–542. Two studies which apparently show no correlation between research and teaching.

None of which excuses Hacker for being a jerk; but food for thought.

Anonymous said...

The Prince et al. paper points out that there is evidence that there is a conflict at the institutional level between a strong research orientation and quality of education as measured by a variety of outcomes:

"The claimed synergy between research and teaching is even harder to justify at the institutional level than at the individual faculty level. In his monumental longitudinal study of higher education in the United States, Astin found a significant negative correlation between a university’s research orientation and a number of educational outcomes. He concluded that:

Attending a college whose faculty is heavily research-oriented increases student dissatisfaction and impacts negatively on most measures of cognitive and affective development. Attending a college that is strongly oriented toward student development shows the opposite pattern of effects."

The study cited is:
Astin, A.W., What Matters in College? Four Critical Years Revisited, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1994.

Anonymous said...

First of all, research is what has been driven this country to success over the decades and therefore research is of paramount importance for the U.S. Professors who are active in research work more hours, on average, than many 9 to 5 employees. It is not easy to do research, manage a group, obtain funds to pay salaries, decide the course of the lab, keep current etc. It is, in a lot of ways, exactly like owning a small company, and that is a full time, stressful job. In addition to this tremenduous work, these professors also teach and educate students. People in general have an inclination more towards one or the other of the activities, and that is natural. But research is much more stressful than teaching, at least at the level required at R1 Universities.

Self-reporting here, if we just ignore the obvious reasons I choose this profession (passion, drive etc.) and just focus strictly on practical reasons, there is no way I stop working because of tenure. Not because I'm smart, or dedicated, or a hero, but because there are financial incentives. We have a 70yr old deadwood in the department, and he makes less than me when I started, six years ago. I am a single mom, I support my child on my own, and I cannot live without summer salary. We don't get paid summer salary from teaching. I have to bring at least 2 months of summer salary every year from research contracts, otherwise I'll go into debt, live on credit cards during summer. No, I don't want to move into a mobile home or apartment, I want to live in a nice house, send my child to a good school and pay for his extracurricular activities. That's a damn strong incentive to not stop doing research that would attract federal funding. With tenure almost here, and knowing my case passed, I am not one bit less stressed about bringing in money to pay myself, students, laboratory supplies. I still cannot sleep at night thinking of project ideas and how to better position them for funding. Because if funding stops, it becomes a vicious circle and you're dead. No money- no research-no graduate students-no publications-resuting in no research money, and the circle starts again. You'll never recover. Also, I really want to advance to full in a reasonable amount of time. And get salary raises. Not to mention, I wouldn't like to feel like everyone is not respecting me for not doing research. What's the point in having a job where you are not respected and despised, and are paid less than anyone else? While a few people may not care about the respect, a lot care about the money, and tenure doesn't help with that.

Having your child go to Harvard, you don't do it for the "teaching", but for the opportunities and extraordinary people they'll come in contact with, which comes from the cutting edge research and the money Harvard has. Guaranteed they'll have a succesful career based on their Harvard education, it doesn't matter that the professor did not pump knowledge in their brains whether the kid wanted to learn or not. I think this idea that teachers must pump knowledge in the kids brains is not very clever. Smart and ambitious students will study and will learn. Students who are not interested will not learn, because they don't want to learn. But they'll whine plenty. I personally do not like the "customer service" attitude of U.S. universities towards the students. One has to always treat the bad, slacking student in a way that they do not deserve, walking on eggshells, giving underserved good grades, because the "customer" paid. On the other hand, if you, as a parent, are interested in sending your child to teaching intensive universities, they are available. Research intensive universities come with a different set of opportunities and anyone can make their own choices.

I don't think in state tuition is that expensive, it's the same as daycare. Room and Board are what it's expensive. You don't have to go to Stanford.

Anonymous said...

"No money- no research-no graduate students-no publications-resuting in no research money, and the circle starts again. You'll never recover."

I hope that is not true. I've been out of funding for 2 years and will be taking a sabbatical next year to restart my lab (perhaps in a new, more fundable field).

"I don't think in state tuition is that expensive, it's the same as daycare. Room and Board are what it's expensive. You don't have to go to Stanford."

My son is in his first year of high school. It is looking likely that it will be cheaper to send him to Stanford than to the University of California in 3.5 years. (Financial aid is more generous at Stanford, and I'm not making so much that they would laugh at me for asking.)

Anonymous said...

I hope you'll be able revive your lab. I still think it is pretty hard to recover from a no funding/no lab situation. How does a sabbatical help with that?

Anonymous said...

"I hope you'll be able revive your lab. I still think it is pretty hard to recover from a no funding/no lab situation. How does a sabbatical help with that? "

The sabbatical will help me clear some of the backlog of unwritten papers and will allow me to start work in a new field without the burden of teaching 5 1/2 classes as I'm doing this year. It is hard to start a new field when teaching twice everyone else's teaching load.

Doctor Pion said...

Funny, I thought that - as a Professor Emeritus social scientist - he developed his thesis by extrapolating from his own personal experience with his social science colleagues.

For example, I take his reference to "pleasant sabbaticals" as an indication that social scientists treat their sabbaticals as a vacation, not as an opportunity to work even harder the way physical scientists do.

Anonymous said...

Here is my own personal experience with my co-PI taking sabbatical:

1. Co-PI gets diagnosed with cancer.
2. Takes sabbatical to get chemo, etc.
3. Comes into the lab whenever possible.
4. When not possible responds ASAP to email.
5. Maintains throughout a sincere interest in the day to day goings on in the lab.