Archive for February 10, 2010
I noticed this in the coverage of Sarah Palin’s rhetoric, too, and found it interesting — and disturbing. When did being a “Professor” become a bad thing? This piece does a nice job tracing the history of “Professor” as an insult.
Barack Obama has been called a lot of things since he hit the national stage: Celebrity, elitist and even one who “pals around with terrorists.” But as his poll numbers come back down to earth, and an emboldened conservative movement sharpens its attacks, the label that seems to be sticking to Obama as much as any lately is that of “professor.” Speaking to Tea Party activists in Nashville last week, Sarah Palin did her part to keep the “professor” dig in circulation. ”They know we’re at war, and to win that war we need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern,” the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee told a frenzied crowd.
Does tenure matter anymore? Do faculty really need protection and job security to do what they think is right? I’m not sure, but I definitely believe that tenure is a reward, an economic incentive. We need to think carefully about what we reward to get the behavior we want. In that sense, this article is spot-on.
An Associated Press article published on the Web site Cleveland.com states that “Mr. Gee says the traditional formula that rewards publishing in scholarly journals over excellence in teaching and other contributions is outdated and too often favors the quantity of a professor’s output over quality.”
We definitely want excellence in teaching. I don’t know how to measure it. I know that how we do it now doesn’t work. At Georgia Tech, having 10% of a class respond to an on-line survey guarantees that you are getting a non-random, self-selected sample giving self-reports on what they thought. I am in favor of peer-review of teaching as being better than that.
We also want research with impact, with real meaning. Counting numbers of papers doesn’t cut it, and I’m afraid that there’s too much of that. The growth of open source journals may just create more demand (from editors and publishers, not from the reading public) for more papers with less content. Exactly what impact do these papers have? Just how many people are reading journals in any media, and how does that differ on-line vs. paper?
There are other behaviors that we might want to consider rewarding. We typically think about research, teaching, and service, but those may no longer be what we want for the roles of today’s faculty at today’s higher-education. I really like Scholarship Reconsidered (cited in the article), but even that just focuses on scholarship. How about rewarding success at working across the campus, to support the integration of computing literacy in other disciplines? Mentoring students? Exploring new media for teaching that can reach to underserved populations?
I agree with tweaking tenure — maybe even wholesale reform, instead of just a tweak. Tenure, though, is a large granularity reward. You only give it once. We need to find more ways to provide incentives for the kinds of faculty activity that today’s world needs. Higher education costs a lot. Society should get value for that cost.