Principles and Vision

Excellence in teaching is a widely held value among Emory's faculty, students, and administrators. The principles listed below address different dimensions of teaching as it has been and continues to be affirmed at Emory. They are abstracted from hundreds of conversations and thousands of daily encounters, and should be the subject of further conversation and debate. We hope that reflection on and further articulation of these fundamental ideals will help to transform the institutional structures and cultural forms that still would resist or deny their importance.


Frequent were the comments that underscored the complexity and multidimensional character of teaching. If we are to affirm and improve teaching-- let alone measure and reward it-- we must begin by constantly keeping in view the many different settings in which teaching occurs and the many different forms instruction may take. When we think of teaching, we need to recall circumstances as varied as these:

An instructor looks up from her notes to scan the faces before her. She notices the slumped postures of the baseball-capped figures in the back row and decides to give special emphasis to the points she makes in the last five minutes of her oral presentation.

An assistant professor looks away from his computer, searching for the phrase that will convey to medical school admissions officers the particular quality of intelligence and imagination that a former student has demonstrated in two biology courses the professor taught.

Over the hiss and clanking of the defective heating system, an associate professor strains to hear a shy student in her seminar who is-- for the first time since the course began three weeks ago-- volunteering a response to the reading.

As the incidents above and those described throughout this report suggest, the forms of teaching are many. The conventional image of teaching, however, suggests a classroom where one person holds forth before a group of listeners. The listeners try to capture the essential points of the oral presentation in the form of written notes. They are tested periodically on their grasp of the presentations and of material assigned to be read outside class. The speaker's teaching only takes place at the time of the presentation, and the success or failure of the enterprise is adequately measured by a standardized evaluation form filled out by students at the end of the course.

According to this conventional image, the teacher typically practices his or her craft three hours per course per week. The rest of the time the teacher is doing something else: doing research for written presentation to an audience of other scholars or participating in the daily round of committee meetings and reports without which the wheels of the institution would grind to a halt. These other activities are perceived to have little to do with teaching-- indeed, to be in unfriendly competition with it. Depending on the discipline, the teacher in this model works at teaching anywhere from three to nine hours a week.

In a recent reflection on the reality of teaching, Emory faculty member Marshall Duke writes to the contrary:

One good way to determine when I am teaching would be to examine all the things that I do and decide which of these things "count." A glance at any professor's calendar will, of course, always include classes. But it also includes planned and unplanned meetings with students, library work in preparation for class, reviewing and updating notes, serving as faculty adviser to various campus groups [and] Freshman Seminar meetings. . . . Of these hours, I estimate that between twenty-five and thirty hours [a week] are spent in some form of direct student contact. . . .

It is in fact not possible to differentiate between time spent teaching and time spent not teaching; [it is not] as if one activity [were] separable from another by some observable, sensible, or conceptual boundary. . . . I now think that I am teaching every minute of every day, whether actively involved with students or not, whether they are still undergraduates or have already completed their degrees and physically left the campus.2

We urge the Emory community to accept Duke's view as a challenge. We need to think of teaching as something that takes place in offices, in hallways, in laboratories, over phone lines and via e-mail-- in many, if not all, the interactions between teachers and students.


The diverse forms of teaching point toward the ideal of the university as a classroom without walls, an intellectual community in which teaching and learning occur in a variety of spaces and times. The intellectual community has an important impact upon teaching at Emory, as the following illustrations suggest.

A professor listens as a young man expresses his shock at the conditions in the Fulton County Juvenile Detention Center. The student has been visiting this facility regularly as part of the professor's sociology course in Juvenile Delinquency; she waits for the right moment to pose an analytic question.

At the reception following a performance of a new undergraduate play put on by Theater Emory, three students talk with their chemistry teacher. Prompted by the play, they get into a lively discussion of the role of violence in contemporary films.

"I'm trying to get [students] to take the conversation out of my classroom and into Cox Hall, the residence hall, the frat house. If there were one thing I could do to enhance the quality of teaching at Emory, it would be to find ways to have conversations [with students] about recent political and controversial issues and even to have their coursework take place outside of the classroom. That's a community of learning."3

An intellectual community establishes the values on which all teaching endeavors must rest: trust, honesty, free inquiry, open debate, tolerance of difference, and respect for others' convictions. Furthermore, the very act of teaching fosters in students the virtues and characteristics we value in community: intelligence, curiosity, discipline, creativity, integrity, clear expression, and the desire to learn from others. As many of the examples throughout this report suggest, teaching provides the fundamental link between individuals and the intellectual community that is the university. In turn, the intellectual community provides an environment of stimulation and discovery that allows teaching to take place not simply in the classroom but also at discussions over coffee at Cappuccino Joe's, musical performances in Symphony Hall, open forums in Seney Hall, evening lectures in Winship Ballroom. Thus, teaching at Emory can achieve sustained excellence only if the intellectual community that nourishes it is strong.

Nevertheless, faculty and students alike complain that Emory lacks the structures and practices to cultivate such a community. The commission recognizes these concerns, embodied in the common but erroneous perceptions that "academic life" is limited to the classroom and that "campus life" consists of activities that run counter to the goals of an intellectual community. Like other committees, we found that we were unable to address these concerns adequately. (See the Report of the Subcommittee on Support, Rewards, and Incentives for Teaching, Appendix B.) We are able only to affirm the value of the intellectual community and to recommend actions designed to buttress this ideal. Strengthening the intellectual community requires attention to both broad themes and small details: it means, for example, being attentive to the adequacy of the infrastructure so that classrooms and meeting rooms are in good condition; improving the ways faculty and students can participate in interdisciplinary classes by developing a master calendar; establishing a better university-wide communications system.

Strengthening the intellectual community as the setting for excellence in teaching also means recruiting students with high intellectual expectations and a willingness to concentrate on learning as a goal worthy to be pursued for its own sake. Faculty, too, must be encouraged to participate in areas of the intellectual community outside their specialties, beyond the classrooms, labs, and offices.

All the recommendations within this report as well as within the subcommittee reports are attempts to strengthen Emory's teaching by strengthening its intellectual community, and cultivating its intellectual community by supporting and developing excellence in teaching. In large and small ways, whenever and wherever Emory is represented, the commitment to high-quality teaching and constant learning must be vigorously expressed and pursued.


Methods of teaching are changing rapidly, as are the contours of the intellectual community that is the university. We need consider only briefly descriptions of the ways teaching and learning occur to recognize the possibilities and challenges presented by these changes. For instance:

A student finishes writing her "devil's advocate" response to a classmate's comments on the reading assigned for their Evolutionary Biology seminar the next afternoon. As she sends her response to the LearnLink conference her teacher has established for the course, she notes that it is 2:00 a.m. and that most of her classmates will probably join the on-line conversation in the morning.

Two young colleagues from different departments meet over dinner with a visiting professor from another university. They discuss the new anthology of essays and project designs they have agreed to develop for the increasingly popular interdisciplinary field of Human and Natural Ecology.

With students communicating with one another on the electronic bulletin board LearnLink and with faculty writing-- nearly as fast as they teach-- manuals for use in interdisciplinary classes, there can be little doubt that the nature of teaching is changing. The changes are many; they are subtle as well as profound and must be addressed across disciplines. We call attention to three areas of change in particular: the student population, the structure of knowledge, and the nature of faculty work.

Until the 1950s, Emory's student population was all male; until the 1960s, it was all white. Today the university has a diverse student body. In fall 1996, 55 percent of Emory students were women; 22 percent were members of ethnic and racial minorities.4 Religious diversity in our undergraduate program is much greater than it was even ten years ago. Beyond the mere fact of such diversity, moreover, its impact upon the intellectual community continues to be a topic of debate in many disciplines.

The structure of knowledge is changing; many faculty find their disciplines and professions being rapidly and radically transformed. As Choices & Responsibility notes, academic disciplines are being redefined in their own right, and the rise of interdisciplinary programs in research and in teaching creates critical questions about the allocation of resources. The ability to communicate knowledge in a digital environment now allows us to conduct courses simultaneously at Emory and Oxford Colleges and to engage in scholarly exchange beyond classrooms, office hours, and discussion groups. On any given day, we can consult with colleagues around the world and extend the limits of our research well beyond our local libraries. Yet some faculty express the concern that students are more comfortable with images, media, and technology than they are with traditional texts. The import of the digital and disciplinary revolutions thus remains unclear.

The nature of faculty work is changing; as many authors recently have pointed out, the work that faculty do and are paid for has changed throughout history.5 While teaching and research remain constant activities, the structures, forms, and styles of these activities have been transformed, and the more nebulous activity of "service" sometimes seems to hold an uncertain but demanding place within faculty responsibilities. In Making a Place for the New American Scholar, Eugene Rice argues that the many institutional and intellectual changes of the last twenty years require the formation of "fresh conceptions of faculty work, ones that reunite institutional and personal endeavor and bring wholeness to scholarly lives." Rice's corresponding vision of "the new American scholar" is one that brings to the foreground "the scholarly work of faculty, whether they are engaged in the advancing of knowledge in a field, integrating knowledge through the structuring of a curriculum, transforming knowledge through the challenging intellectual work involved in teaching and facilitating learning, or applying knowledge to a compelling problem in the community."6

One element of this fresh conception of the American scholar is a more nuanced, situationally responsive understanding of a faculty career. In Rice's vision, which we affirm, the career of a scholar is seen as "complete" and "connected." The complete scholar is one whose broad understanding of scholarship encourages him or her to concentrate on different facets of scholarship as personal and institutional situations warrant over the course of a career. The "connected scholar would be cognizant not only of the rights of a professor but of the responsibilities as well."7 Rather than focusing on the autonomous element of scholarly work, the connected scholar focuses on, and is rewarded for, the ways in which her work is connected to her community, institution, family, and colleagues.

This vision holds the potential for (although not the inevitability of) a more collaborative faculty: senior faculty encouraged to mentor junior faculty; junior faculty given the individualized support they need to develop as scholar-teachers; tenured faculty given special responsibility for maintenance of the intellectual culture and community; and an abatement of hierarchical differences between full- and part-time, tenure-track and non-tenure-track, teaching and non-teaching faculty. In the new university, faculty would be encouraged to move among roles, trading autonomy and rank for greater flexibility and connectedness within the intellectual community as a whole.

Teaching is changing, yet it is difficult to anticipate fully, let alone adequately prepare for, inevitable changes. Innovations in the digital environment may well result in radical changes in the production of knowledge, the processing of information, and the nature of pedagogy. Nonetheless, responsible choices will have to be made about how Emory makes use of technological innovations. The digital environment is not the only area in which changes will occur. Teaching will continue to change with the increased diversity of the student and faculty populations and the evolving demands of the various professions. Institutional life in the university may look increasingly like an intellectual city rather than an intellectual village. We must endeavor to avoid an academic version of suburban sprawl, in which a lack of planning and foresight leads to compartmentalization and redundancy. Emory's greatest opportunity lies in its ability to preserve and transform its structures and culture. Responsible choices must be made, and the future must be shaped by clearly defined aspirations.


Although teaching takes talent, it also requires skills that can and should be honed throughout one's career as a teacher. Before a teaching career begins, the individual can be encouraged to think about the skills and characteristics that distinguish excellent teaching from poor teaching. Consider the following illustration of teaching being taught:

A teacher who is both a professional actor and a professor in the Theater Studies Department coaches a graduate student preparing to become a teaching assistant. "Ok, go through that line again," he says. "Only this time, do it in the persona of the Worst Teacher You've Ever Known. We're going to break the delivery down into small steps: first the face, then the gestures, then the stance, then movement; then we'll add the tone of voice. Go ahead-- start with the facial expression."

In 1991 the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences established the Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunities (TATTO) program and required it of all students pursuing the Ph.D. It consists of supervised teaching in four stages. The first stage, the TATTO summer course, features Emory's best teachers. More than 100 faculty from thirty disciplines have participated, presenting talks on practical topics and offering critiques of students' presentations during microteaching sessions. In the second stage, graduate students address pedagogical concerns specific to their disciplines through courses taught by master teachers. The third stage brings graduate students into the classroom as teaching assistants, giving them the responsibility of grading papers and leading discussions. The fourth stage establishes a partnership between a faculty member and a graduate student teaching associate. This collaboration extends from syllabus design through final grading.

This nationally recognized program, which addresses both the basic tools and practices common to all teaching and the discipline- and profession-specific elements of teaching, embodies the principle that teaching can and should be taught. Learning to teach, however, should not be confined to graduate study.

As a faculty career continues, the individual faculty member should continue to think critically about his or her own pedagogy as well as teaching strengths and weaknesses. One way to do so is in conversation with colleagues, as in the following example:

Five faculty members-- an assistant professor, a lecturer, two associate professors, and a full professor-- gather to discuss Teaching to Transgress, by bell hooks. It is the third book on pedagogy that this group, meeting voluntarily and informally, has discussed this year.

Teaching requires a continual self-conscious reflection on one's own changing needs as well as the changing needs of one's students, one's discipline, and the larger community. During the typical career of a faculty member-- with its shifting balance of responsibilities, demands, and opportunities-- the need arises for renewed attention to teaching during different phases of professional development. Faculty who have taught at other institutions sometimes find Emory students presenting them with a whole new set of expectations. A faculty member who has been teaching at Emory for a while may want to learn new pedagogical approaches to keep his teaching from going stale. Research on teaching, as well as the experience of faculty, indicates that problems in teaching often can be corrected through such means as mentoring, consulting, developing and obtaining new resources, videotaping, and participating in workshops. At all stages of their careers, faculty dealing with the complexities of the classroom and its surroundings need safe spaces to explore the distinctive features of their own teaching styles.


Too often, the evaluation of teaching is understood in narrow terms as an exercise in which students assess the performance of their professors. Teaching evaluation needs to be understood more broadly, both to encourage the development of excellence in teaching and to enable teaching to be fairly and fully included in decisions regarding tenure, promotion, and salary. For instance, a teaching mentor can evaluate and guide the teaching of a less experienced colleague:

A faculty member listens as a junior colleague describes a new psychology course that he is developing, writing down some suggestions she has for him. As his teaching mentor, she will help him become more aware of his assumptions and needs as a teacher and will write an evaluative statement for him at the end of the semester.

Teaching evaluation can and should also occur among peers. Teaching peers can and should participate in activities that include a series of discussions and classroom visits, for example:

Two teachers exchange views-- initially polite, then more candid-- of their estimations of one another's classroom presence and interaction with students in small lecture courses. They have been visiting each other's classes throughout the semester, taking advantage of a "teaching pairs" program developed by a professor who holds one of the distinguished teaching chairs in Emory College.

Like most other activities, teaching can be evaluated both in order to improve the practice itself and to make assessments for hiring, tenure, promotion, and salary increases. Too often, however, evaluation is seen as a problem rather than a reliable way to demonstrate the occurrence of good teaching or the possibilities for improvement. Although many faculty view current practices in teaching evaluation as overly subjective, unreliable, and too dependent upon student input, the commission urges faculty and administrators to understand evaluation in light of these goals of development or formation and of assessment. Understood in this light, evaluation will of necessity make effective use of many different types of assessment: self-evaluation through journals, peer evaluation through observation of classes, oral reports, and properly normed course and instructor evaluation by students.

We believe that teaching should be evaluated. We believe that faculty should conduct some form of self-evaluation and that they should solicit evaluation by their peers. We regard student evaluations as sources of important data, but believe these data need to be interpreted adequately and responded to by faculty and department chairs. All evaluations should be based on explicit criteria and should be executed within a culture in which teaching is valued and training in evaluative methods is readily available. If criteria are not clearly stated and the culture does not value teaching, evaluations become one more bit of busywork-- empty procedures that waste the time both of faculty and students. If training in evaluation is not required and evaluations are not appropriately normed and interpreted, they inevitably will reflect opinion and impression rather than provide objective data.

There are four main goals of teaching evaluation: to improve the teaching of individual faculty; to assess the teaching effectiveness of faculty for purposes of appointment, raises, promotion, and tenure; to assess the success of a teaching program in a department or school; and to provide a basis of information for awarding teaching excellence. The goals are united through the intent to improve teaching.

The best way to achieve these goals is for the faculty to play a major role in defining their own processes of evaluation. The commission recommends that faculty members use two related but distinct forms of evaluation: the teaching dossier and the teaching portfolio. In order to help faculty evaluate and develop their own teaching skills, a teaching dossier can provide valuable documentation of one's teaching performance through the years. It may consist of statements of self-evaluation, comments from students, written evaluations by one's peers, syllabi, course-development proposals, and a written philosophy of teaching. These instruments encourage a faculty member to reflect upon his or her pedagogy and the relationship of his or her research to teaching. Used within this formative framework, and not as a basis for such measures as tenure or promotion, these elements also give faculty members a safe and supportive environment in which they can identify teaching strengths and weakness for their own continued improvement in teaching.

In addition to the formative or developmental teaching dossier-- the content of which is largely self-determined-- faculty should develop a teaching portfolio as the best means of evaluation for hiring, tenure, promotion, and remuneration. A teaching portfolio contains those elements from the dossier that a faculty member submits for evaluation by peers and administrators. (See Recommendation #5 and Appendix A: The Report of the Subcommittee on Evaluation of Teaching for further discussion of the complexities of these two evaluative tools and the distinct purposes they serve.)

This report advocates multiple methods of evaluation. No single form of evaluation can capture all the vital elements of teaching; teaching as a practice consists of multiple performances, relationships, and information. Nevertheless, to ignore the use of various means to evaluate teaching is to devalue the importance of teaching within the institution and to tempt faculty to neglect their craft.


This report makes a number of recommendations for the concrete support and evaluation of teaching as well as recommendations urging the commitment of individuals and the institution to this vital activity. Such recommendations, however, exist only to create an environment in which faculty may practice and perfect the art of teaching-- an art that has its own intrinsic rewards. For many faculty, teaching is a vocation, a calling aimed at developing whole human beings and, in the process, addressing the problems and possibilities of humanity.

Teaching involves responsibility to our students on the one hand and responsibility to our subject matter on the other. The first responsibility depends heavily on the local character and circumstances of Emory at the present time: the kinds of students we attract; their intelligence, preparation, and motivation; their aspirations for life after Emory. The second responsibility depends on more cosmopolitan considerations of the nature of our disciplines, the history of their development and our situation within that history, the debt we recognize to scholars and teachers who have come before us and the debt we feel to those who will follow us. We are concerned not just with those who are students for a season but with others who are called to a lifetime of service, inside or outside the university setting, to the larger world.

The concept of vocation-- in spite of the old-fashioned, religious connotations of the word-- is necessary even today to hold together these potentially divergent senses of responsibility. It is a historical fact that universities in the Western world and colleges in America have evolved from institutions established in the service of religious communities. Emory, born out of the Methodist commitment to higher education, is part of this honorable heritage. More so than terms such as profession, career, or in more corporate parlance, job description, the word vocation is appropriate to the generosity of spirit and concern with the student as whole person that teaching requires.

Using the word vocation as a way to describe the teaching life also may allow us to become sensitive, personally and institutionally, to changing rhythms in any academic career. Certainly across a lifetime of scholarly work, many faculty will have alternating periods of intensive focus on teaching and on research. Or, at different stages in his or her career, a faculty member may need to learn new ways of teaching or new areas of his or her discipline. Various disciplines appear to have somewhat different career rhythms. Career flexibility, as a correlative to vocation, must be accepted and supported. We urge that new attention be paid to the vocation of teaching and that the idea of vocation include flexibility and creativity in the shaping of a career.

In affirming the vocation of teaching in all its different forms and manifestations, we believe that faculty are motivated ultimately by the simple pleasure of teaching. Helping a student improve his or her writing, communicating to students a new way of understanding, enabling a student to select a profession or a program of study, enjoying discussions within a small seminar of ten or twelve students, perfecting the methods and shaping the character of a profession: all these are sources of satisfaction in having done a task gracefully and of joy in seeing the life of an individual and the life of the community changed for the better.


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'Ítre, 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.8

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 recommendations in the following section of Teaching at Emory as means toward this end.

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