More teaching…less research?
About a week ago I returned from our fall break and looked through the mail I had received while away from campus. In the mail was a clipping from the campus newspaper, the Exponent, of an editorial titled: Professors should teach more instead of doing research (http://www.purdueexponent.org/opinion/editorials/article_dd0041ff-c9c2-512a-9c68-6fc0af19c458.html).
I had read the article before leaving for fall break and found it interesting and liked the suggestion that older professors would be welcome in the classroom, especially those with special accomplishments and notable prestige. This idea partially aligns with an effort I have asked a faculty group, led by Dr. Matthew Stephens, to help me to recognize great teaching in the College of Technology. I was going to write a blog about it but the topic changed somewhat when I received the clipping in the mail.
The interesting part of getting the clipping in the mail is, when I asked my administrative assistant, Janet, who it came from, her reply was that it arrived in a plain white envelope addressed to the Dean. The article had some of the text highlighted in an effort to bring attention to the reader, which of course was me. The first highlighted passage relates to a study done at the University of Texas which found that tuition could be cut in half if professors with the lightest teaching loads taught more. I cannot speak to the teaching loads at UT but I can for Purdue, especially in the College of Technology. The College of Technology has, on average, the highest teaching loads by far of any college on campus.
Another highlighted passage related to a study by the Wall Street Journal that indicated that the additional teaching would correlate into less than 200 hours of extra work per year per faculty. The final passage highlighted refers to creating some unified policy demanding a certain number of hours in the classroom.
To put my additional comments in context you must understand the unique role research-intensive universities like Purdue serve in our society. These universities have an unwritten contract with our society that says we will lead the nation’s efforts to engage in research which can result in innovation. Innovation drives the nation’s economy and improves the lives of humanity in countless ways. In addition this research leads to improved courses and curriculum for the students as the discoveries and experiences of the professors engaged in research is brought into the classroom.
The College of Technology is working on guidelines for faculty loading that is similar across all our departments. Although increasing teaching loads might lower the cost of higher education, it has to be measured against what is given up in the process. I cannot speak for the faculty loads in other colleges but I do know that the faculty in Technology are in the classroom more than anywhere else on campus. Can we do better? Yes. Can we do better by making sure that our best teaching faculty are in the classroom? Yes. Should we increase teaching at the expense of research? No.
I believe the College of Technology can be a leader in better defining the mix between teaching and research. That is a topic I am constantly thinking about and we can do better. However, we have a research mission and obligation that we must fulfill. We will be working very hard to define the right combination of research and teaching so that students feel they are getting a good return on their investment in their education and our faculty can continue to engage in relevant, responsive research with results that have impact both in the classroom and for business and industry.