The debate over how to optimize the college system has been approached from countless angles. Is it best to aim for smaller class sizes, increase scholarship funding or explore new methods of learning? For my part, I believe the best way to improve a college education is to start at the most basic level — the professors. There are some great professors at the University of Wisconsin, but it’s primarily a research institution. The faculty members spend as much (or more) time doing their own research as they do teaching. This raises a few questions.
Students enrolled at most big universities are paying an exorbitant amount of money to hear what the professors have to say, so those professors should spend as much of their working time as possible teaching and improving their teaching.
If we accept this idea as true, however, a problem arises. It’s no secret most professors are hired based heavily on the research they are doing or the books they have published. A crucial part of the job of a faculty member is to publish research, and they are usually required to take a significant amount of paid time away (a sabbatical) to focus only on research.
The question is, how much is this research improving the education of undergraduates? An article published on the higher education website Faculty Focus by Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D., discusses “ … an impressive, ever-growing array of studies that consistently fail to show any linkage between teaching effectiveness and research productivity.” These studies are constantly trying to find a way to justify the fact college professors are getting paid to pursue their own intellectual interests and are evaluated as much on what they publish as they are on teaching effectiveness. In my experience as a student, professors rarely bring up the research they are currently involved in or the books they have written. When they do, it’s usually just a line or two on what we could accomplish someday if we keep studying their subject. Most of the research they are doing would be too advanced for the students to fully understand anyway, so the professors just focus on the material pertaining to the course.
Even though it may not be helping students, most professors spend a significant portion of their time on research. There’s no denying research is a fundamental part of being an academic, but it should not under any circumstances be allowed to overshadow the teaching of undergraduates. The average salary of a faculty member at a university is significantly higher that of a community college faculty member because community college teachers are usually not required to publish. The fact university professors get paid more suggests they should be better teachers. In reality, though, it is because they are required to spend time on pursuits that draw them away from teaching. If students go to a university to get a better education, shouldn’t professors be worrying more about teaching? Perhaps if professors spend less time on their own intellectual pursuits, students would feel a stronger connection with them and gain a richer education.
Julia Wagner (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in English literature.