Day: April 13, 2017

Who Teaches?

I have a junior colleague (JC) who’s just phoning it in when it comes to teaching. JC’s been very successful in raising funds, writing grants, and advising students. JC travels a lot and is making themselves known. JC’s teaching evaluations are below average, but JC doesn’t really care. JC considers teaching a tax to be paid for the privilege of having a faculty position.

The thing is, JC is not stupid. JC knows that there’s no way they will be denied tenure with anemic teaching as long as they bring in the money and publish. I have been involved in tenure review at several levels at my school, and that’s the bottom line — unless you are routinely not showing up for class or otherwise completely shirking your duties, nobody will deny tenure to a research-active faculty member. You can be boring as all hell in the lecture, you can have 2 hrs of office hours a week during a time when no one can show up, you can be late grading exams or posting problem solutions, you can be inaccessible via email, you can get poor evaluations, and you will still likely get tenure.

What’s really infuriating is that this is still a university and people pay good money to come here and attend classes. When did it become okay to focus on raising grants over everything else? It’s as if people don’t consider it important to even pay lip service to teaching any more. When did it become okay to forget that we at public schools exist for the students — we are here to educate! It’s the teaching mission that makes a college or a university, not shining buildings and overhead. Remove grants? Still an academic institution. Remove students? Not so much.

I spoke with my chair recently, and basically he said that we simply had to make peace with the fact that some people will never teach well and that others who do will have to put in more than their share of effort. The problem is that the people who don’t teach well or much end up with more time for research and are thus given more respect by the upper administration and generally better career prospects (because research is portable, teaching not too much). So my chair basically says it’s inevitable that there will be Tier 1 faculty who focus on research, and Tier 2 faculty will pick up the slack after Tier 1 faculty simply because they happen to teach well, care about teaching, and are not completely selfish. Nobody asked Tier 2s if they want to be the maid for Tier 1s, doing the “dirty” unwanted work; people who teach well at research schools certainly want to do research and have not signed up to be second-class department citizens.

We should collectively be ashamed of ourselves that it’s okay to not want to do well a core, truly CORE part of the job, as long as you bring in the grants. It’s all about the grants, it’s all about the money, it’s not even about writing papers based on the work done with that money; it really is just about the money. That admins are allowed to insist, with a straight face and unchallenged by anyone, that the value of a faculty member lies in bringing in grants is completely perverted.

Why and how did we allow this to become the norm?