September 8, 1997
Volume 50, No. 3
Education in general, and higher education in particular, faces widespread criticism at the end of the twentieth century. Among the most contested issues in education are the perceptions of an overemphasis on research, the so-called neglect of teaching, and the isolation of the university from the public and its problems. In response to the criticism, many people have come to believe that education should be restructured in its basic aims, expectations, and funding. Growing public concern-in part fueled by disturbing social problems-pressures the university to demonstrate commitment to and quality in teaching, especially undergraduate teaching. However, in the midst of this current crisis in education, faculty surveyed across the nation routinely express their enthusiasm for, and even joy in, teaching. Students likewise affirm the importance not only of teaching but also of the faculty who interact with them in various learning environments.
In this context, Emory has made a self-conscious attempt to address its future. We have become increasingly aware of our distinctive role as a relative newcomer to the ranks of the major research universities, with a tradition of strong teaching on the one hand and remarkable resources at our command on the other. The report Choices & Responsibility, produced under the leadership of Provost Billy Frye, has identified a proper understanding of the balance between teaching and research at Emory as one of the foremost issues facing us as a university. Provost Frye and President William Chace created the Commission on Teaching in January 1996 to "examine the most critical issues that pertain to the quality of teaching at Emory and . . . to make specific recommendations concerning what can be done, consistent with our total mission, to assure our continued commitment to and success in achieving teaching of the highest possible quality in the years to come." From January 1996 through May 1997, the commission acted on this charge. We present this report not as the end of the matter, but as the beginning of a more specific and more inclusive conversation at Emory about teaching in its many forms and functions.
The commission began its work by recognizing the critical problems and crucial opportunities facing teaching both at Emory and at other research universities. We recognized the difficulties of speaking about teaching in general at a university in which teaching occurs in such diverse settings as an undergraduate lecture course, a graduate seminar, a medical school clinical round, a public health laboratory research project, or a law school mock trial.
In discussion groups, faculty drawn from across Emory affirmed that teaching is finally discipline-specific: training a student-nurse how to perform a procedure is different from teaching an undergraduate how to interpret a poem. Nonetheless, the faculty recognized that, regardless of discipline, certain common values and practices characterize teaching: the concern for engaging students, the excitement and anxiety surrounding digital learning, the limitations and importance of the classroom lecture, and the thrill and exhilaration of a seminar that not only transfers knowledge but also creates it. The members of the commission heard testimony concerning the pressures and inducements at Emory toward emphasizing research and publication at the expense of teaching. We nevertheless found that faculty from all parts of the university deeply value teaching. As one colleague put it, "Simply speaking, Emory faculty care about the craft of teaching."
The greatest impediments to valuing teaching appropriately, we learned, lie not with the intentions of individual faculty but with institutional structures and cultural forms that frustrate, prohibit, render invisible, or even penalize teaching excellence and effectiveness. Our report suggests a number of new structures for the support of teaching, yet it also advocates a change in our collective thinking. We want to get beyond the tired and erroneous notions of the lecture as the typical form of teaching, of the faculty member who is forced to stint on his classes in order to achieve excellence in research, of department faculties who frankly do not care about their students.
We want 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 myth that great researchers cannot be great teachers needs to be put aside, as does the notion that research universities-by their very nature-belittle teaching. The commission strongly urges that teaching and research should be dual commitments that are expressed through deeds and structures as well as through words and symbols. We aspire to an Emory in which there is a balance between teaching and research. An equivalent commitment to research and teaching does not mean a quantifiable measure from every program nor an equal portion of each for each faculty member at all points in his or her career. It means that we want the culture and structures necessary to ensure an institution in which both teaching and research flourish.
The work of the commission combined a series of meetings with extended research and discussion on the part of several subcommittees. As members of the subcommittees, we read transcripts of interviews with hundreds of faculty based on areas outlined by the provost in his charge. We conducted our own interviews and focus-group discussions regarding specific topics. We obtained statements on the tenure and promotion procedures in each school at Emory and read carefully previous reports on teaching from Emory College and the Rollins School of Public Health. We researched current literature and websites, gathering information on both teaching in general and specific topics such as student evaluations, peer review, and instructional development.
As a body, the commission paid particular attention to the way teaching differs from school to school as well as the way teachers share certain values and practices across the university. We visited with consultants from outside Emory and looked at what other research universities-for example, Harvard, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Duke-are doing to support teaching. As a group composed largely of faculty drawn from different schools, we had wide-ranging and sometimes contentious conversations as we sought to develop a common language and general consensus about the framework of principles necessary for meaningful recommendations.
Since the faculty had identified the balance between teaching and research as a critical issue at Emory, significant new initiatives in support of teaching were implemented by the university alongside some early recommendations of the commission. In February 1996 the provost, in consultation with the commission, established a new University Teaching Fund parallel to the University Research Fund of many years' standing. The new Center for Teaching and Curriculum in Emory College began a series of programs in spring 1996 such as lunch discussions on pedagogy, summer stipends for course development, and new awards for teaching excellence. By summer, a website linking the Commission on Teaching with the rest of the university was established. And in the fall, the commission launched a column entitled "Conversations about Teaching" in Emory Report.
By December 1996, drafts of the major subcommittee reports had been submitted. The full commission began to discuss, revise, and shape them into a vision of teaching at Emory. Given that these subcommittee reports are so thorough on their own topics and so perceptive about other issues identified in Choices & Responsibility from which teaching could not be easily separated, we will present them to the administration and the university community as part of the commission's final report (Appendices AD in Teaching at Emory). In this issue of Emory Report (as in Teaching at Emory), we present two more general discussions from the Commission on Teaching as a whole: first, a general statement of principles and vision, followed by a set of specific recommendations for action. The repetition of items from one section to another is therefore deliberate. We want to say a number of important things about teaching at Emory from somewhat different perspectives, hoping by this means to make the deepest impression and reach the widest audience.
A final word about audience and the status of this report: this is a
report from a representative group of faculty at Emory to our faculty colleagues,
the administrators of the university, the staff, and-last but not least-the
students. It is not simply the minutes of a meeting that already has occurred,
but rather the agenda for a series of discussions that now must take place
if Emory is to become the distinctive university among its peer institutions
that we all want it to be.
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