Research and or versus Teaching?

researchingHave you been following higher ed issues in the UK? Apart from debates over the role of public vs. private education and over the cost of education, the most recent is a debate over the portion of time a professor spends doing research vs. teaching, with the presumption of some being that research takes time away from teaching. The assumption seems to be that universities are all about teaching and that research can sometimes (always?) get in the way.

So you may be interested in this piece, which is in response to The Guardian‘s columnist Simon Jenkins (who has jumped on board the “give students what they want for their money” position [as he phrases it in his closing lines — the old “the customer is always right” viewpoint]). In reply to Jenkins, this author (a political science prof at the University of Nottingham) writes:

Picture 2So what do you think of students being classified as customers (a move that happened long ago, of course)? How are research and teaching related (or not?) in your experience? And just what is a university education all about?

For those who think teaching = delivering the content from a learning management system or presenting what’s in a textbook (that comes along with the publisher’s website and standardized tests, all intended to meet needs dictated by a professional or credentialing association’s standards), I can see how teaching and research might seem unrelated.

But are they?

I once taught at a university that invented the role of “teaching specialist,” which was intended to emphasize teaching as a specialty comparable to research (all to correct the imbalance, as that school’s senior admin saw it, between research and teaching). But the funny thing was that anyone designated a teaching specialist didn’t teach anymore than the other profs, didn’t teach more new courses or more different courses than people who also carried out research — instead, the only difference that I could see was that they seemed to do a lot less research and occasionally published something in a periodical devoted to teaching or went to a conference that had the word pedagogy in the title. Seriously. But the scholars I know who have an active research and publishing agenda teach as much as anyone else and serve on just as many committees, but their classes benefit from their time in the archive or the archeology dig or out in the field — most often explicitly, always implicitly.

After all, someone’s got to come up with the information and the arguments and the conclusions that make it into the classroom — facts and data don’t pack a lunch and come to school on their own.