Teaching & Research: A Vital Mix for Higher Education

Article excerpt

Teaching & Research: A Vital Mix For Higher Education.

The past few years have provided abundant evidence that the public in general and our public leaders in particular believe that higher education's emphasis on research has worked to the detriment of our students -- that a commitment to research is necessarily in direct competition with a commitment to quality teaching.

A recent study on the academic profession conducted by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching suggests, perhaps surprisingly, that many faculty members themselves feel the same way. Such thinking, which suggests a rigid dichotomy between teaching and research, drastically oversimplifies and distorts the relationship between these two and may well lead us in directions that will adversely affect our colleges and universities for years to come.

It is true that some institutions have lost sight of the paramount importance of teaching, and that a focus on research has contributed to this imbalance. Moreover, undue emphasis on publication as the criterion for tenure can have a dire impact on young faculty members at the very time when they need to focus on learning to teach (and when they may be flooding our journals with articles not yet ready to be published). It is also true that research has been conceived too narrowly and that we need to broaden our definition to include, in the words of Ernest Boyer in Scholarship Reconsidered, "the scholarship of integration, the scholarship of teaching, and the scholarship of application." But despite the problems, research can and must play a central role in education; anything less will diminish the quality of teaching and short-change students and faculty alike.

At Skidmore College, we constantly stress the centrality of teaching but also describe research as "an essential complement to teaching." We have no illusion that being a good researcher will automatically render someone a good teacher, but we do seriously question whether someone who does no research can be and remain a good teacher.

Our thinking rests on some common assumptions -- that research, broadly conceived, is essential if one is to keep up with one's discipline; that the products of research, including unpublished work as well as published books and articles, are useful indices to quality of mind and degree of engagement; and that at its best research is valuable in itself and contributes to society.

Most important, however, is the conviction that doing research keeps a teacher open, flexible, intellectually alive -- that as Neal Lane, director of the National Science Foundation, put it at the Council on Undergraduate Research's Fifth National Conference, "Education flourishes in an atmosphere of inquiry."

How can teachers inspire students to come up with and express their own new ideas if they themselves are not involved in the same activity?

Not only does ongoing research enliven teaching; it also inspires learning. This productive interaction is especially evident in the growing number of institutions and programs that actively involve undergraduates in research. These programs can take many forms -- major student papers or theses; upper-level seminars in which the focus is on discussion of student-generated talks and papers; collaborative student-faculty research, in which a small group of undergraduates work closely with a faculty member on original research. …