The University Is for Both Students and Faculty: The Growing Focus on Faculty Research Has Little to Do with Dedication to Students, Says This Month's Contributor

By Perry, Robert | University Business, October 2003 | Go to article overview

The University Is for Both Students and Faculty: The Growing Focus on Faculty Research Has Little to Do with Dedication to Students, Says This Month's Contributor


Perry, Robert, University Business


THE ISSUE OF WHETHER A UNIVERSITY EXISTS FOR STUDENTS OR faculty ["A Question of Balance," August Editor's Note] is both extremely important and extremely divisive. In the end, the only answer is that it exists for both, because the essential complexities of the relationship between students and teachers are not recognized in the analogy between business and customer. I would bet that this analogy is typically in the back of a university president's mind when he or she worries that an imbalance exists, and feels powerless to correct it. Faculty's "selfish" pursuit of knowledge and their hunger for discovery is what makes them great teachers. Many of the best teachers I have seen at Ohio State appear at first glance to spend an inordinate I amount of their time and energy on research. But you need to see them interacting with exceptional students--especially one-on-one--to appreciate the absolute necessity of their investment of time in knowledge creation to be able to impart knowledge at the highest level.

Knowledge is not a static product that can be poured into a student's brain. The most important thing we do is to teach our students how to learn on their own and how to create knowledge; to motivate them to do this and to impart the confidence that knowledge creation requires. This is not accomplished in lectures, although I still believe that good lecturers can be an important part of education. In my discipline, this is best done one-on-one and in small classes. If there is a problem, it is not that our faculty places too much value on research; it is that they get too little satisfaction out of large lectures because they sense how difficult it is to go beyond entertainment in this setting--and not all faculty who love teaching also love to entertain. Some of our very best teachers are poor entertainers, and to evaluate their teaching you must see them interact with the students who are really hungry for the knowledge and wisdom that they can impart. This hunger is never realty satisfied in a lecture.

During my 16 years at Ohio State, I have often been concerned with the possibility that a real imbalance exists in my own department. When I accepted some administrative responsibility in the department and felt a need to do something, I discovered that even when I focused only on my own department and then on particular faculty it was incredibly difficult to pass judgment. I am not saying that there is no faculty member in my department who appears to care too little about his or her teaching; but I am saying that I repeatedly found that my initial impressions were almost always wrong when I felt that someone was paying too much attention to research and not enough to teaching. …

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