Great Expectations

A Fresh Perspective for Perennial Problems

David Carr, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Philosophy


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

Teaching versus Research: Does It Have to Be That Way?
Lucas Carpenter, Charles Howard Candler Professor of English, Oxford College

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

For the last two years, I've been co-chair of the Commission on Research at Emory, charged by President Bill Chace to take stock of Emory as a research university and to formulate guidelines for its future. My work on this commission has opened my eyes to the broad spectrum of research and scholarship across the university, from the humanities and the social and natural sciences to the health sciences, the professional schools, and the performing arts.

Of the many issues and problems that have emerged, two seem to me especially worthy of attention. They are perennial problems, but they need to be addressed with a fresh perspective by our new president.

Research and teaching. Emory is a research university, not a research institute or a collection of research institutes. To me this means that its research mission is intimately connected to its teaching mission. Universities have been criticized for favoring research at the expense of teaching, for forcing scholars to publish or perish and thus to neglect their students.

The response of university leaders, including Emory's, is to promise a better balance between teaching and research, giving more weight to teaching in the evaluation of professors for tenure and promotion, instructing graduate students in pedagogy, and so forth.

But these responses seem to concede the point that teaching
and research are at best parallel and unrelated, at worst conflicting and incompatible activities. This point needs to be challenged. University leaders who know what the university is really about need to communicate to the public a very different conception of the relation between teaching and research.

For one thing, good teaching depends on research. Academic disciplines are not fixed bodies of knowledge to be transmitted to students in the most accessible or entertaining way. They are complex and changing programs of inquiry, more questions than answers, more problems than solutions. This is as true of ancient history and philosophy as it is of physics and neuroscience. Students learn what these subjects are really about from people who are actively engaged in advancing inquiry and who are excited about their subjects--not as observers but as participants.

But research also depends on teaching. Research and scholarship need to be shared and communicated. Publications and professional meetings serve this function at one level, but most academics know
that teaching has a special role in research.

Many professors will affirm that they never really understood their discipline until they began to teach it. Advanced graduate students ask the most sophisticated questions, and here the professor is preparing the next generation of researchers, ensuring the continuation of the discipline and influencing its future direction. Teaching an introductory course to freshmen, by contrast, forces the scholar to rethink the fundamentals of his or her discipline. The naïve questions of the uninitiated can be the most difficult to answer.

Many professors may want to teach fewer courses and have more time for research. But few of us would wish to give up teaching, because we know its importance for our research.

The university and society. Whatever happened to the ivory tower? Universities used to be criticized for being remote from the real needs of society, but this reproach is rare today. The reason is that, especially in some fields, universities have become a service industry, filling stations for government and business. Universities measure their research by the millions of dollars in grants and contracts that flow into their coffers from outside. Legions of researchers live on "soft money" and spend large amounts of their time applying for grants. As a result, topics of research are determined by what government and industry are willing to pay for. Subjects are ignored for which there is no immediate cash demand.

University leaders must recognize and articulate what is at stake here. The independence of research and inquiry, indeed academic freedom itself, is getting lost. Ideas, the need and desire to know, not the availability of funds, should be the primary drivers of research activity. The scholar's responsibility is not merely to do research but to determine what inquiries are worthy of pursuit. Means must be found for regaining the independence of the academy.

Does this mean retreating to the ivory tower? Not at all. The university should not ignore the outside world, but part of its responsibility is to distinguish between what society wants and what it needs. The university may best serve society by maintaining its critical distance and its independence.