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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Universities Need Three Tenure Tracks: Research, Teaching, Both

New York Times op-ed:  A Solution for Bad Teaching, by Adam Grant (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania):

It's no secret that tenured professors cause problems in universities. Some choose to rest on their laurels, allowing their productivity to dwindle. Others develop tunnel vision about research, inflicting misery on students who suffer through their classes.

Despite these costs, tenure may be a necessary evil: It offers job security and intellectual freedom in exchange for lower pay than other occupations that require advanced degrees.

Instead of abolishing tenure, what if we restructured it? The heart of the problem is that we’ve combined two separate skill sets into a single job. We ask researchers to teach, and teachers to do research, even though these two capabilities have surprisingly little to do with each other. In a comprehensive analysis of data on more than half a million professors, the education experts John Hattie and Herbert Marsh found that “the relationship between teaching and research is zero.” In all fields and all kinds of colleges, there was little connection between research productivity and teaching ratings by students and peers.

Currently, research universities base tenure decisions primarily on research productivity and quality. Teaching matters only after you have cleared the research bar: It is a bonus to teach well.

In my field of organizational psychology, there is a rich body of evidence on designing jobs to promote motivation and productivity. The design of the professor job violates one of the core principles: Tasks should be grouped together based on the skill sets of the individuals who hold them.

If we created three kinds of tenure rather than one, we might see net gains in both research and teaching.

A research-only tenure track would be for professors who have the passion and talent for discovering knowledge, but lack the motivation or ability to teach well. ...

A teaching-only tenure track would be for professors who excel in communicating knowledge. Granting tenure on the basis of exemplary teaching would be a radical step for research universities but it might improve student learning. In a recent landmark study at Northwestern, students learned more from professors who weren’t on the tenure track. When students took their first course in a subject with a professor who didn’t do research, they got significantly better grades in their next class in that subject. ...

The third tenure track would be for research and teaching. Professors who succeed in both could maintain this dual role, whereas those who struggle in research could eventually shift to the teaching track, and vice versa. ...

I have watched skilled researchers burn out after failing in the classroom and gifted teachers lose their positions because university policies limited the number of courses that adjunct professors could teach. Dividing tenure tracks may be what economists call a Pareto improvement: It benefits one group without hurting another. Let’s reserve teaching for professors with the relevant passion and skill — and reward it. Sharing knowledge with students should be a privilege of tenure, not an obligation.

From Professor Grant's Wharton faculty web page:

Adam Grant is an award-winning teacher, researcher, and tenured management professor at Wharton. He is the author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling book that is being translated into more than two dozen languages and has been named one of Amazon's best books of 2013, one of Fortune's five must-read business books, one of the Financial Times books of the year, one of Oprah's riveting reads, and one of the Washington Post's books every leader should read. Malcolm Gladwell recently identified Adam as one of his favorite social science writers, calling his work “brilliant.”

Adam received his Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of Michigan in organizational psychology and his B.A. from Harvard University, magna cum laude with highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa honors, and the John Harvard Scholarship for highest academic achievement.

Adam has been recognized as the single highest-rated professor in the Wharton MBA program, one of BusinessWeek's favorite professors, and one of the world's top 40 business professors under 40. His speaking and consulting clients include Google, the NFL, Merck, Pixar, Goldman Sachs, the World Economic Forum, the United Nations, the U.S. Department of State, Facebook, Estée Lauder, Apple, MTV, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, JP Morgan, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Nickelodeon, and the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy. At Wharton, he has been honored with the Excellence in Teaching Award for all of his classes and earned the Goes Above and Beyond the Call of Duty MBA Teaching Award. He has designed several experiential learning activities based on The Apprentice in which students have raised over $175,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation while developing leadership, influence, networking and collaboration skills.

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This was one of the silliest articles I've ever seen. The idea seems to be to have all the teaching done by people who do no research, presumably charging the same that universities charged before. That's a wonderful deal for the students!

Posted by: michael livingston | Feb 7, 2014 6:28:32 AM