Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


December 3, 2001

A postscript on Teaching at Emory

Susan Frost is vice president for strategic development.


On Oct. 23, Lee Shulman, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education and Psychology at Stanford University and president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, gave a lecture at Emory titled, “Inventing the Future: A Conversation About Teaching in the Research University.”

Shulman addressed the future role of teaching in research universities, particularly the well-understood tension between teaching and research that becomes all too clear when making high-stakes tenure decisions. When Shulman was called upon at Stanford to evaluate for one committee the importance of teaching, and simultaneously to serve as a tenure reviewer for assistant professors, he began examining what it would take to reinforce a teaching culture at research universities. These dueling roles, he stressed, emphasized for him a significant tension for many leaders and scholars in academia.

As a result of this crisis, Shulman began to understand that one of the major differences between teaching and research is that the products of good teaching invariably become victims to “intentional amnesia,” while research is “enshrined and perceived in relentless memory.”

As Shulman noted, “Teaching is hard—in part because students resist what we have to teach them. The act of scholarship in and of teaching can help overcome pedagogical amnesia and help young teachers with this difficult work from generation to generation. This documentation—the scholarship of teaching—is an example of what could go on, might go on, should go on, in the university.”

According to Shulman, we must understand that scholarship and teaching are inextricable, and we therefore must distinguish between scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching; the scholarship of teaching constructs a foundation for others to build upon. And while the distinct categories of “scholarship” and “teaching” must be honored, we need to create an interdisciplinary space where research and teaching become so intertwined that it is impossible to separate them inpromotion and tenure reviews.

Shulman urges that we diagnose the problem of teaching “versus” research, understanding that what we value in the university is not research over teaching, but rather scholarship as “acts of mind, soul and spirit that we make public for the scrutiny of our peers as [a body of community property] to build upon in the future.”

“Footnotes,” after all, “are the thank-you notes of the academy,” he says.

When we teach, Shulman believes, there’s no one to thank, unless we implement a scholarship of teaching. The scholarship of teaching ought to make it possible for faculty-scholars to build upon each other’s work—a signature activity of the next century’s research universities. Shulman concluded his remarks on this increasingly important signature by declaring that, “If the research university is truly worthy of its status, it must understand itself as an ongoing experiment.” The research university, in other words, must invent itself in a new tradition of self-teaching and self-scrutiny, and also learn from what is found there.

After reflecting on these ideas by one of academia’s respected thinkers, I thought that we at Emory might revisit some of our own “scholarship of teaching”—our own researched documents on teaching beginning with Emory’s current phase of teaching emphasis. In 1996, President Bill Chace formed the Universitywide Commission on Teaching. In its subsequent report, Teaching at Emory, the commission articulated seven principles and put forward 10 recommendations for action.

Following the report, commission members held a series of conversations with faculty to consider these recommendations in light of the teaching improvements we intended to accomplish. Of the University’s 1,722 faculty members in 1997, 485 were invited into these conversations and 254 participated.

To help the commission make sense of the conversations, the Office of Institution-al Planning and Research made a record of the conversations and analyzed the results. Those findings contributed to a study that appeared in the Review of Higher Education last year.

Using qualitative analysis, we organized the conversations into 11 themes ranging from improving the physical infrastructure to clarifying Emory’s educational mission and goals. Then we used theory about organizational behavior to cluster the themes as they relate to behavioral, cultural and structural change in the university.

I would like to emphasize two specific aspects of the study here—findings that have some bearing on the scholarship of teaching Shulman has proposed. First, five recurring themes in Emory’s study relate directly to cultural change. These themes are: clarifying institutional mission; making teaching a priority; supporting intellectual community; recognizing that teaching is multifaceted; and understanding the responsibility of students.

Further, these themes represent values we at Emory consistently support, not simply the improvements we can construct and measure. To me they indicate both the stability of Emory’s allegiance to teaching and the constant nurturing such values require.

Shulman eloquently discusses such values in an interview that appeared in Educational Leadership earlier this year. In this interview (about how we might evaluate teachers), Shulman noted that one problem with faculty evaluation is the tendency for university leaders to prize high standards, on the one hand, and the tendency to focus too closely on high-stakes assessments of these standards, on the other. He recommends that we disentangle these priorities by developing constantly evolving standards without linking them to accountability. He cites the Ten Commandments as an example of vivid, widely known standards. Their strength comes from broad dissemination and discussion—not from high-stakes tests associated with them.

Rather than attempting to use our five themes to measure change, then, I would place them in the enduring Ten Commandments category. As Shulman has recognized, and as our five cultural themes suggest, the most important values of teaching are substantial and profound. As teachers at this university, we feel them deeply and consistently allow them to guide us. While we should not hope to reduce these values to a set of numbers, when we increase our attention to them—and when we make them public property for others to build upon—we strengthen the improvements they can support. As a result, our work as teachers, our University and our community gain strength.

My second observation about the study concerns a more tangible aspect of Emory—our structure. One concrete recommendation of the commission concerned the proposal that Emory establish a Universitywide teaching center, with a physical location and a professional staff, to serve all of the schools. But in the teaching commission’s follow-up conversations, we learned that faculty did not favor such a center. This was an important discovery, not only because it helped implement the advice of faculty in this specific instance, but also because it advanced a new way of thinking about teaching in general at Emory.

In our follow-up conversations, we discovered that faculty wanted teaching resources closer to the ground—that is, resources organized informally and used locally. Rather than establish a center, we formed the University Advisory Council for Teaching (UACT), the origin of many important initiatives for interdisciplinary teaching support.

I believe that the council is the appropriate form of teaching support for Emory. Rather than requiring the schools and departments to adjust to a center, the council is flexible, which is a critical characteristic for support aimed primarily at the needs of the faculty where they work: in the schools and departments. In addition to being flexible, the council is organized to advance the cultural stability we need, and therefore it is effective on the several levels we seem to require.

Our teaching council is less visible than a center, and its work is perhaps harder to see, yet the changes this group has advanced are grounded deeply. UACT’s work, we might say, is carefully and deliberately inscribed—both in our culture and in our literature—for the future of our self-scrutiny as a research university for the 21st century.

If you would like a copy of Teaching at Emory, please contact Kirsten Rambo at For a copy of “Teaching Excellence: How Faculty Guided Change at a Research University,” published in The Review of Higher Education in summer 2001, contact Susan Frost at


Back to Emory Report December 3, 2001