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When Mythbusting, It Helps if It’s a Myth

Posted on July 6th, 2011, by Leave a comment

Just about everyone who’s studied universities in the past half century has noticed the increased emphasis on research. Since the allocation of professor’s time is a zero sum game, the greater focus on research has to come at the expense of something else. A large part of the increased emphasis on research comes at the expense of teaching. Don’t believe me? Here is Department of Education data showing teaching loads in 1988 and 2004.

Source: DAS

This clearly shows that professors teach less in 2004 than they did back in 1988. Combined with the increased emphasis on research, the natural conclusion is that universities are prioritizing research over teaching, at least relative to what they did in the past. Yet this doesn’t stop some people from trying to deny these trends. For instance, a recent op-ed in Inside Higher Ed states:

Putting research over teaching? Sorry, wrong again… The reality is that good teaching is almost never “beside the point,” not even in the “publish or perish” culture of a research university. Professors who are not naturals at the podium are pushed into remediation — if they do not arrive as strong teachers, they receive assigned mentors, special training, and peer pressure from faculty who expect excellence in research and teaching alike…

So, if you are a bad teacher:

  • We’ll assign “mentors, special training, and peer pressure” until you’re good enough to get by.

Meanwhile, if you are a bad researcher:

  • You’re fired.

To me, the course load data and the different responses to ineffectiveness in teaching vs. research are pretty definitive in showing that universities are prioritizing research over teaching.