Thursday, October 17, 2013

1972. "The Professor Occupies an Uneasy Position..." No Shit.

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  1. Given that research has dominated academia, or at least some parts of it, for some time now, can we rightly blame our profession's current ills on it? Perhaps we can if the influence of research over teaching has grown far beyond the level observed many years ago or if the inluence of research funding has extended beyond the best R1 schools into other schools that used to be more focused on teaching.

  2. Love the old clips. Love it when some of it is still true 40+ years later.

  3. If we trained physicians like we train college professors, you'd go to the physician's office with a sharp pain in your lower right abdomen. The physician would quickly verify that it is acute appendicitis and recommend operating immediately. You’d ask what experience in surgery the physician had. The physician would answer, “I’ve done a great deal of research and have published extensively on it, but you will be my very first surgery patient.”

    You’d then thank the physician and leave the office, as best you could under your own power. But physicians are not trained like this. They get a very practical education. After two years of classes after college, they start by watching operations. They then proceed to assisting, then doing operations under close supervision, and then progressing to less supervision. By the time they’re ready to do surgery on their own, they’ve been through what to do many times.

    Whenever my department gets to hire a new professor, nearly all the applications include extensive publication lists. Some of the papers listed even look worthwhile reading. We invite candidates for interviews, and when one gives a good talk about their research, this is interpreted to mean that the candidate will be a good teacher.

    Am I the only one who can see what’s wrong with this?

    1. If you can understand the candidate's English, you're doing better than my department.

  4. Actually, I think this pretty well describes at least some of the roots of our current problems. In addition to the need for more pedagogical training for all proffies, there's the problem of shifting the hardest teaching to underpaid, overworked contingent faculty who tend to be disconnected from curricular decision-making processes, but who, in fact (by dint of experience if nothing else) are actually the closest we have to true experts in the subject. We've created a de facto class of teaching-oriented professors, but also maintain the illusion that it is populated by those who weren't good (or fortunate; I'd put the emphasis on fortunate) enough to land more research-intensive jobs.


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