Great Expectations

Teaching versus Research: Does It Have To Be That Way?

Lucas Carpenter , Charles Howard Candler Professor of English, Oxford College


Emory's New President and the Idea of a University
Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching


Practical Matters
Rebecca Stone-Miller, Associate Professor of Art History and Faculty Curator


Economic Challenges and the Art of Education
Geoffrey Broocker, Walthour Delaperriere Professor of Ophthalmology

A Fresh Perspective for Perennial Problems
David Carr, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Philosophy

Becoming a Top-Tier Research University
Lawrence W. Barsalou, Winship Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology, and Elaine Walker, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Ethics, Diversity, and Teaching
David B. Gowler, Pierce Professor of Religion, Oxford College

A More Positive University
Corey L.M. Keyes, Associate Professor of Sociology

Advice from the Lighter Side
Vicki Powers, Asssociate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science

Return to Contents

One of the first things Emory's new president should do is read the report of the Commission on Teaching at Emory and compare it with the forthcoming report from the Commission on Research at Emory, especially their respective recommendations. The former is a matter of record, and the latter committee has released a close-to-final draft of its report for faculty response and suggestions, so that it's a fairly safe guess as to what the final report will look like.

What should be glaringly apparent to our new president--and to us--is that the two reports and their recommendations are, if one switches the words research and teaching, virtual mirror images of one another. For example, the Commission on Teaching concludes that research expectations detract from the quality of a faculty
member's teaching, while the Commission on Research asserts that teaching loads interfere with faculty research and scholarship. Both want more financial support and greater recognition for research/teaching. Both want research/teaching to weigh more heavily in the tenure and promotion process.

You get the idea.

Some of this similarity is to be expected, given the nature of these commissions' respective tasks, but it also reveals the fallacy of considering teaching and research in isolation from one another or, worse, in opposition. As far as Emory is concerned, it demonstrates a collective failure to establish clearly the roles played by teaching and research in achieving the oft-articulated goal of becoming a "world class" university.

A step in the right direction might be to recognize that no university ever became "world class" by virtue of the quality of its teaching. The perceived greatness of a university has always been a function of the number of luminaries on its faculty who are actively and successfully expanding the frontiers of human knowledge. In other words, the more Nobel Prize winners, the better.

This does not mean, however, that the quality of teaching invariably suffers as a consequence. One thing I learned during my three years of service on the Presidential Advisory Committee, where I was privy to the promotion files not only of Emory faculty but also of senior faculty recruited by Emory from other institutions, is how almost all of the successful and distinguished scholars and researchers are also excellent teachers. Indeed, on the basis of my experience, the figure of the stellar scholar who is hopelessly incompetent in the classroom is largely mythic.

Needless to say, no faculty is composed entirely of stellar scholars and researchers. Where the problems arise is with junior faculty, who at Emory are "officially" expected to excel both as researchers and teachers but who in reality receive mixed signals from their departments and senior colleagues. Is it even realistic to expect that everyone can succeed at both? There are also problems with regard to how teaching and research are evaluated at Emory. With regard to research, the benchmark is still juried publication of articles and books, with little inclination to consider alternatives. Teaching, too, is measured almost exclusively by student evaluations, which are problematic instruments at best, especially since students are now aware of how crucial their evaluations can be in cases of promotion and tenure and can use this awareness to intimidate junior faculty
and to promote grade inflation.

But where there are problems there are also opportunities. The issue is not teaching or research per se, but the relationship between the two. Even if we allow research and scholarship priority in our strategy to achieve "world class" status as a university, we must keep teaching--especially undergraduate teaching--close to research in our priorities. Ever since medieval academics charged their students fees for instruction, with the most popular professors getting the most money, university faculties have depended on tuition for the financial support of their individual research and scholarship. As long as American higher education is inextricably intermeshed with a consumer-driven, free market capitalist economy, Emory has no choice but to market itself as offering a product superior to those of "lesser" institutions, and the essence of that product is teaching.

In recent years, Emory has displayed a substantial commitment to improving the quality of its teaching, as evidenced by the Center for Teaching and Curriculum, the University Teaching Fund, the University Advisory Council on Teaching, the various mentor
programs for new faculty, and the work of the Commission on Teaching itself. Likewise, the forthcoming report of the Commission on Research will offer other positive possibilities for supporting and enhancing faculty research.

Another promising approach to overcoming the research versus teaching dichotomy, however, lies in exploring how a professor's research can be combined with or linked to her undergraduate teaching, the level of instruction where there are the most complaints of quality teaching being sacrificed for research. For example, Oxford College has just established its Oxford Research Scholars program, which pairs an undergraduate with a professor to assist in a specific research project. Oxford is also pursuing a scholarship of teaching initiative that involves faculty with research into teaching that can then be published and accepted as scholarship for purposes of tenure and promotion.

Finally, I believe that Emory University is probably approaching a crucial juncture in its ongoing efforts to define itself, and the new president will have to confront this crisis of identity as soon as possible. When that occurs, I hope that the issues I have outlined here are high on his or her agenda.