Thursday, June 18, 2009

Richard Felder on teaching and research

...The usual justification for trying to make all professors researchers is the argument that teaching and research are inextricably linked, to an extent that the first cannot be done well in the absence of the second. This argument is a strange one. Its proponents - usually academicians, trained in scientific method and the rules of logical inference - offer it with unbounded conviction, passion, and a total absence of evidence. They argue that only researchers are aware of recent developments in their field, so that courses taught by nonresearchers must be irrelevant or obsolete. They add that nonresearchers whom students rate as good teachers must be merely "entertainers," providing style without substance. When challenged to produce some evidence for the linkage between research and teaching, they name professors they know who have both admirable research records and teaching awards, which is like claiming that you can only be a world-class organist if you practice medicine in Africa and pointing to Albert Schweitzer to prove it.

In this essay I want to take a closer look at the purported linkage between teaching and academic research, to see how it stands up to the tests of common sense and educational research. I will argue that it stands up to neither. ...

That's from The Myth of the Superhuman Professor, an essay by Richard Felder.

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Hat tip: Guru, whose post has another interesting quote from Partha Dasgupta about "why university teachers are expected to be researchers." [Dasgupta's book is not available online, though].


  1. Anonymous said...

    Well even if you grant the fact that good teachers need not necessarily be good researchers, how many of the motivated students planning an academic career, enter it solely because of their passion in teaching ? Is there any system in place for nurturing and recognizing/awarding an excellent "teaching-only" career rather than it being a default/fallback option ? No doubt that the university system that places a premium on research perpetuates these preferences but both competing tracks can be present in an university. And in fact liberal-arts and sciences colleges are perfectly suited places for rewarding a teach-only career option.

  2. Yogesh K. Upadhyaya said...


    Nice article, which I shall also post in chronicle.

    During renaissance in 15-16th century Europe, a lot of pioneer discoveries were made. In contrast of today, at that time all researchers (including Newton) were first teachers in leading institutes, and then became researchers.

    They developed the aptitude for research as it was the only way to get promotion in teaching job; by publishing research in reputed journals and Royal Societies. The famous scientist Bernoulli contributed much to our understanding of fluid dynamics because of this reason only. The theoretical knoweldge acquired by while teaching at reputed institutes with bright students helped them achieve success in research.

    Yogesh Upadhyaya
    New Jersey

  3. L said...

    It makes me happy to see that SOMEONE believes that research is not essential for good teaching. This great faith in research (that it produces good teachers) is touching but misplaced. Research produces good researchers but teaching well requires insight into both the subject and into the students' minds. I have been taught by good researchers who could not make any of us understand what they were teachingas well as by some who did both well.
    But most importantly, those who want a teaching job now register for "maggi" PhD just to get that UGC scale of pay.