September 8, 1997
Volume 50, No. 3
Excellence in teaching is the responsibility of faculty. It is the obligation of administrators and staff to provide faculty with the best available conditions and the resources they need to fulfill this responsibility. Administrators should ensure that faculty meet goals set by the university for teaching excellence.
The university does its job best by making sure that all faculty can carry out their responsibilities to be excellent teachers in the best ways possible. This principle, implicit throughout the report, underscores the obvious and essential role of the faculty in teaching.
The commission affirms Emory's commitment to the participation of tenured faculty as teachers, and also recognizes that attention to the university's teaching environment entails considering the various realities of teaching at Emory. For example, non-tenure-track faculty constitute a substantial part of the teaching professoriate and therefore deserve the support of the university. Similar forms of support also should be available to graduate students who teach. The faculty are not the sum total of the university, though; a teacher cannot be said to teach well if students are not learning. The commission believes that further work is needed on student learning at Emory-indeed, on students and faculty learning together. Moreover, in the present institutional context, many activities-health care delivery, endowment and development efforts, relations with other major institutions-constitute Emory as a university and affect the ways decisions are made about teaching.
While we recognize the multivalent nature of teaching at Emory, we wish to emphasize that teaching, which provides the university with its raison d'être, is first and foremost the responsibility of the faculty. Faculty members need to take this responsibility seriously-all the more so in light of the opportunities and the changes that face teaching in particular and higher education in general. The future of Emory depends upon leadership from the faculty, within the various divisions and schools as well as in the university at large. All faculty, not just members of the commission, need to participate in the dialogue about teaching and advocate structures of support for teaching.
The faculty at Emory express considerable skepticism about the gap between a rhetoric of commitment to teaching and the reality of a lack of structured support for teaching. There is no great confidence that the work of the Commission on Teaching, culminating in this report, will close this gap. Commission members heard many expressions of distrust and disbelief that administrators would take teaching more seriously, suggesting in turn that faculty would not be inclined to make deeper commitments of their own. It is perceived, regardless of the truth of the matter, that only excellence in research is rewarded in tenure, promotion, and remuneration. Some faculty tell stories of chairs and deans advising them not to worry about teaching, to pay attention only to their research in order to get tenure. Other faculty expressed a longing for a culture in which teaching is valued more highly and colleagues discuss the teaching of their disciplines as much as they do the administration of their departments. There is widespread doubt here, as there is at many other research universities, that teaching can be valued equally with research. Yet there is an equally widespread desire, we have found, that this status quo change.
Faculty, students, and administrators are not interested in reducing the quality of research at Emory. Furthermore, most believe that dual strengths in teaching and research can become a signature of Emory. Jonathan Cole, a distinguished speaker at the Emory Symposium of April 1994, noted the following in an essay on the challenges facing universities today:
The real challenge, then, for research universities is not to lower
research standards in appointment, promotion, and tenure decisions in order
to accommodate "better teaching," but to recognize and facilitate
demonstrated quality in teaching performance among brilliant researchers.
The message sent by academic leaders to the faculty must be unambiguous;
the actions that follow must demonstrate that the words in the message are
not empty. . . . The research university should become the place where it
is once and for all demonstrated that it is a myth that excellence in research
and teaching performance are fundamentally incompatible.
The administration needs to send the unambiguous message that Cole mentions: measures that make clear that teaching excellence is a priority of the university and that faculty must be given the support and resources they need to achieve a standard of excellence. At the same time, the administration has to be accountable to the university community in making sure that faculty members meet standards of excellence: the administration needs to be involved in translating these standards into initiatives for excellence in teaching. Only in this way can the university fulfill its mission: "through teaching, to help men and women fully develop their intellectual, aesthetic, and moral capacities." The commission offers the following recommendations as means toward this end.
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