December 1, 1997
Volume 50, No. 14
All-faculty meeting kicks off discussion of teaching report
Now that the University has had some time to digest the report of the Commission on Teaching, work has begun to discuss the report's recommendations and outline concrete courses of action.
In order to provide as wide a base of discussion as possible, President Bill Chace and Interim Provost Rebecca Chopp, along with Emory's deans, held an all-faculty meeting Nov. 11 to address Teaching at Emory, the commission's report. About 150 people packed into Cox Ballroom, after seeing displayed in the reception area several posters by grant recipients of the University's teaching fund, to hear four faculty panelists and offer their own suggestions.
In her introductory comments, Chopp described the 18 months of work undertaken by 30 commission members that resulted in four subcommittee reports describing the Emory culture of teaching and making 10 recommendations for the improvement of teaching at Emory.
Chopp asked Tom Lancaster from political science, Polly Price from law, Thee Smith from theology and Ken Walker from medicine to talk about their impressions of Teaching at Emory.
The four panelists' comments varied widely. Walker stressed that Emory must adopt a "bottom up, top down" commitment to teaching, with deans and professors working together to improve teaching, and he said teaching faculty and research faculty must replace the "whining and pouting" between them with mutual support.
Price emphasized the need for a University teaching center of some kind and the need to make structural changes, such as adjusting teaching loads and allowing for release time to allow faculty to devote more time to teaching.
The polarization of teaching and research is a false polarization, Smith said, and the real crisis is that of the University's responsibility in the formation of students. He said Emory, like many other research universities, has become a corporation, and undergraduates "wither" under corporate formations. "Are we primarily about competing with our peer institutions," Smith asked, "or are we really a resource to the community for what they need?"
Lancaster reintroduced the importance of research among all discussions of teaching, reminding everyone that research drives Emory's rank and reputation. "If we emphasize teaching, are we taking away from research?" he said. "In theory, they do overlap quite a bit but, in terms of day-to-day implementation, we do have to make choices sometimes."
More than a dozen faculty stood and voiced various concerns or hopes for the report, from methods of teaching evaluation, to the mistake of trying to do too much too soon, to the concept of the teaching center and whether it should be Universitywide or school-specific, to the issue of "soft money" in certain fields, to the question of what Emory's consituencies are when it comes to teaching.
Chace addressed the latter issue, saying that to constituencies like students' parents and the general public, "The American university is less sacred than it used to be." He listed several more groups with a stake in Emory, including alumni, funding sources (government, foundations, etc.) and the academy of universities itself. "We don't have to satisfy all these constituencies, per se, but we cannot evade our need to meet with them."
Susan Frost, vice provost for Institutional Planning and Research, said discussions like these are vital to the implementation of Teaching at Emory. The Provost's Office will continue to hold faculty luncheons-already more than 250 faculty have participated this year-to seek faculty guidance. For the first time, Frost said, there is a waiting list of faculty who want to participate in the luncheons.
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