Mixed Messages
Ten years after the Emory Commission on Teaching

David G. Kleinbaum, Professor of Epidemiology, School of Public Health

Vol. 9 No. 1
September 2006

Return to Contents

Who's Afraid of the IRB?
How the Institutional Review Board stepped into the research culture gap

Bolstering the Infrastructure

"If you look at the exponential growth in the amount of research dollars at Emory in 1990 as compared to 2005–06, it’s clear that we hadn’t invested in the overall infrastructure to keep pace with the volume of research and research dollars flowing through the institution."

"The granting organizations aren’t stupid. They’re going to go where they think can get a trial done fastest. If we’re slow, they’ll know about it and go somewhere else. When people approach me about doing clinical trials, they ask me how fast our IRB is. It’s one of their first questions."

Biography Redux
New interest in an old standard

Keeping Cultural DNA Intact
The Italian Virtual Class Chiavi di lettura method

Mixed Messages
Ten years after the Emory Commission on Teaching

Encouraging Words
Suggestions from the Manuscript Development Program

Reading to help you write

Emory Indicators


Publish or perish” is the mantra of faculty members at most major universities nationwide. While research and its resulting publications are vital to Emory and other universities, teaching excellence must be, too. But unfortunately, that is not always the case—especially in professional schools that rely on “soft money,” salary funding that individual researchers raise for themselves through grants.

To illustrate how teaching is undervalued, take the experience of a former colleague who recently interviewed for department chair at an Ivy League professional graduate school. In his many hours of interviews, he was asked repeatedly about research. Nobody ever asked about teaching.

In 1996 Emory established a Commission on Teaching to “get beyond the notion that excellence in research must preclude excellence in teaching and that universities cannot support, evaluate, and reward teaching and research in equivalent ways.” The commission recognized that being a good teacher requires more than giving an entertaining classroom lecture. It involves numerous dimensions, including

classroom teaching,

• mentoring students, including serving on thesis and
dissertation committees,

mentoring other faculty,

• teaching outside the university, including continuing education programs, short courses, and programs for the general public,

• making teaching-related contributions to one’s field, such as writing textbooks and other teaching materials,

• writing articles about teaching methodology, and

• giving presentations about teaching methodology.

Despite the commission’s well-crafted report, it is disappointing that some of their key recommendations have not been implemented. These include the following.

Give equal recognition to accomplishments in teaching and research. Too often research takes precedence because it is tied to money and scientific publications, taking the focus away from teaching. To Emory’s credit, there are several awards for teaching excellence at the university level and within individual schools. Several years ago, however, when the School of Nursing faced some financial constraints, it “terminated” (by removing financial support and forcing an early retirement) a faculty member who previously had received the university’s highest teaching award. The administration did nothing to rectify this situation. Perhaps this is an isolated incident, but letting someone of this caliber leave gives a mixed message about Emory’s support of teaching.
Create teaching chairs. Just as Emory strives to attract the best students, it should be looking for ways to attract the best teachers. Outstanding researchers are not necessarily the best teachers. A university needs both. Finding someone outstanding at both, however, is difficult. Creating a teaching chair, as recommended by the Commission on Teaching, is an important activity that should be vigorously pursued by development staff, especially in schools depending on “soft” money for
faculty salaries.

Create a teaching center. The Commission on Teaching also
recommended establishing a central teaching and learning
center, with associate centers within individual schools. The center was never established because of resistance from the “general” faculty (not on the teaching commission) who felt
that the centers would be too costly and not well used. In the past year, however, the University Advisory Council on Teaching (UACT) took up the gauntlet with other interested faculty to reconsider creating a teaching center. No decision has yet been announced.

To be one of the world’s leading educational institutions, Emory must demonstrate it can provide faculty and students with appropriate educational development and technological support. Many leading universities, including Harvard, University of Michigan, and University of North Carolina, have successful teaching centers. Emory has several components that provide educational support, but they are fragmented. Not
all faculty in all schools can use any given resource. In contrast,
a central teaching center with associated centers would unify
the educational development needs of all faculty.

Establish criteria to recognize teaching excellence.
Solid criteria for promotion and tenure regarding teaching performance should be established and faculty rewarded accordingly. At least one school (the Rollins School of Public Health) has adopted such
criteria for several years. Criteria can include the extent to which a faculty member accomplishes the quantifiable teaching dimensions listed earlier as well as subjective criteria such as student and peer evaluations.

Publicize the accomplishments of outstanding teachers to the Emory community and the public
(this recommendation was not in the teaching commission report). Teaching accomplishments
including awards and development of training, textbooks, and other creative teaching materials should be publicized to the same degree as research grants, findings, and publications. Individual schools, particularly the professional schools, should have designated staff to publicize outstanding teachers and to collaborate with development staff in attracting donors for teaching chairs and awards.

To paraphrase an American hero of mine, I have a dream
that someday outstanding teachers will earn salaries on /par with outstanding researchers, that there will be as many awards
for outstanding teaching as there are for outstanding research, that such awards will be of equal size monetarily, that salaried chairs for outstanding teachers will be the norm rather than the exception, that someday there will be a National Academy for Outstanding Teachers, and last but not least, though least likely, a Nobel Prize for Teaching. I can dream, can’t I?

David Kleinbaum was a member of Emory’s Commission on Teaching. He has won numerous teaching awards. Most recently, he was the first recipient of the Association of Schools of Public Health/Pfizer Award for Career Teaching Excellence.