Rewarding according to our traditional values

April 7, 2010 at 10:30 am 11 comments

My colleague, Beki Grinter, recently wrote a blog post about a journal article that studied male and female faculty time allocations, with a special focus on service.

Focusing specifically on untenured faculty, we find that male assistant professors work slightly less, on average, than female assistant professors, but these same males spend almost three more hours a week on research than their female counterparts. If this average difference is maintained for 50 weeks each year, after 6 years as an assistant professor, the average male will have spent 900 more hours on research than the average female. This difference may have an appreciable effect on the likelihood of receiving tenure…

I wonder, frankly, whether service loads is part of the problem. The paper goes on to show that the work gap described above is commonly filled by time spent on service activities.

via Service in the Academy: Broadening Participation by Reconfiguring Participation? « Beki’s Blog (there’s an original name).

Beki suggests that we in academia should explore re-balancing service loads, so that men and women have similar levels of service.  I’m less keen on that solution.  Assigning service to a tenured faculty member ducking service will most likely lead to the service not getting completed.  People who are good at service tend to take on a good bit of it.  That’s a form of servant leadership that leads to success for organizations and communities.

I would rather see the academy reward according to its traditional values (the values for which it was created), not its visible values.  Visibly, we are still Universities in the Age of Enlightenment, valuing discovery beyond all else.  As early as 1900, scholars called for a different role for universities:

“however essential the scientific and scholarly work of universities, they must never lose sight of the fact that they are also, and above all, educational institutions…This is also the best way to demonstrate clearly their utility to the mass of the population. For if the ordinary people have constant dealings with universities, they will not even dream of asking themselves what purpose they serve and whether they are not a sort of luxury with which, if necessary, it is possible to dispense.”

Universities, especially American Universities, were created to be populist institutions, serving a ‘wider social mission’ (continuing to quote from the Robert David Anderson book linked above). “Professors should use their freedom to spread knowledge and make it an everyday thing rather than a mystery for privileged initiates.”  The 1862 Land-Grant Act aimed “to encourage states to build universities that would be open and affordable to the general public, not just the privileged elite.” By the way, MIT was created as land-grant universities, with this goal in mind.  Georgia Tech was not a land grant university, but was created in order to emphasize “theory and practice,” in contrast to the MIT model which was perceived to be too theory-heavy.

If this is why American universities were created — to teach the general public (not just the elites) and to serve a wider social mission — then that’s what tenure and promotion should be based on.  Teaching and service are our “traditional” values. We should reward strong service and teaching records.  And if we did, maybe some of that service would get re-balanced by itself.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jim Huggins  |  April 7, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Hallelujah! Preach it, brother.

    It always bothers me that universities seem to operate under this myth that everyone should contribute to the missions of the university in the same way. In particular, we seem to believe that everyone ought to be an excellent teacher, an excellent researcher, and an excellent service worker … even though the skills required for all three aren’t tightly coupled.

    It’s one of the reasons I appreciate some of the explorations going on at other universities with teaching-track faculty, who are given substantially higher teaching responsibilities but lesser research expectations. I’d like to see more of this. Let the brilliant researcher who struggles in the classroom have more time in the lab because the brilliant teacher teaches more courses — as long as both are rewarded with titles (and cash) commensurate with their performance.

    Similarly … why not have a “service-track”? Let someone who’s good at doing the duties that help keep the institution moving forward do that work, sparing the brilliant researcher and the brilliant teacher from the drudgery of committee life — again, as long as all are rewarded equally.

  • 2. beki70  |  April 7, 2010 at 11:16 am

    The President of Ohio State also agrees

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  April 7, 2010 at 11:59 am

      Georgia Tech’s last president, Wayne Clough, had a really interesting take on these questions. In a scanned copy of his notes on his speech, he describes these forces and argues that Georgia Tech should be a research university, but does have a social responsibility to engage in more teaching and service.

  • 4. M. J. Fromberger  |  April 7, 2010 at 11:47 am

    I very much concur with your view, that education and service are the proper traditional values of a University. I think, however, that the unfortunate reality of modern academia is that the money to pay for it all comes primarily from research. Whether it’s from NSF and NIH, or from collaboration with partners in industry, our universities seem to receive a lot more direct funding for research-related activities than for educationally-related ones.

    In the end, whatever our views as educators, the people who administer our colleges and universities are beholden to a bottom line and respond to incentives just as any other business would. I’m entirely in favor of focusing our attentions on education and service, but I’m afraid I don’t really see a clear path for it to happen, as long as our funding model is so strongly oriented toward research. At the moment, I think we are deluding both ourselves and the wider public, whom we’ve led to believe that higher education is something more than a focus for research funding. We could do much better, and I agree that we should.

    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  April 7, 2010 at 12:02 pm

      It’s a great point. In reading about Morrill Land Grant acts, I learned that those acts actually built in funding for the Land Grant universities, e.g., from taxes on regional railroads. It was an explicit goal of those Acts to figure out funding models to support these universities in their broad social mission. Maybe we need some more of that thinking, to create new funding models for universities?

  • 6. Raymond Lister  |  April 7, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    In agreement with Mark …

    Universities are among the oldest continuously operating secular institutions in our societies; older than most democratic nations. The University of Bologna, Italy, has been granting degrees for over 900 years. Even a Johnny come lately like Harvard, the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, is over 350 years old.

    But the primacy of research in universities is much more recent, and only really got going after WWII. The graduate school did not exist until the last quarter of the nineteenth century (Clark, 1997) and the very word ‘research’ was only
    introduced to American higher education in 1906 by Daniel Coit Gilman (Boyer , 1990, Page 15).

    Prior to World War II, the funding of research in United States universities was not considered a responsibility of the federal government, and it was largely funded by private sources and charities. In 1941, to help with the war effort, universities were mobilized via the creation of the Office of Scientific Research and Development. The National Science Foundation, which today is a source of enormous research funding, did not come into existence until 1951. In 1958, as a direct result of the shock the United States felt from the launch of Sputnik, Congress passed the National Education Defence Act which funded 150,000 new PhDs over the subsequent ten years (Dickson, 2001, p. 227). University research had become big business.

    As the post-war research money flowed, a new academic culture grew in which research became the most highly regarded activity within universities ─ possibly the only activity that was highly regarded.


    Boyer, E. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990.

    Clark, B. (1997) The modern integration of research activities with teaching and learning. The Journal of Higher Education; 68, 3 (May/Jun).

    Dickson, P. (2001) Sputnik: The Shock of the Century. Walker Publishing Co, USA.

  • 7. Raymond Lister  |  April 7, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Here are a couple of other sources on this general topic …

    Clark, W. (2006) Academic charisma and the origins of the research university. Chicago : University of Chicago Press.

    Cuban, L. (1999) How Scholars Trumped Teachers: Constancy and Change in University Curriculum, Teaching, and Research, 1890-1990. Teachers College Press. … recommended to me by Mark Guzdial.

  • 8. Raymond Lister  |  April 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Sorry for a *third* post, but I’ve got to mention this book:

    Bowden and Marton (1998/2004) The University of Learning.
    Routledge (2004) ISBN-10: 0415334918

    The authors describe a way of transcending the old teaching v. research dialectic, where teaching involves researching how your students learn your discipline.

    As a dialectic, the old teaching v. research battle is over, and lost, for those who would like to see greater emphasis on teaching. Bowden and Marton outline a way forward.

  • 9. Erik Engbrecht  |  April 7, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    If you ask top students what’s more important to them in choosing a university, being known for quality of teaching or quality of research, which do they prefer? Is there a difference between potential undergraduate and potential graduate students?

    If you ask industry where they would prefer to recruit employees, from a university known for its quality of teaching or a university known for its quality of research, which would they pick?

    I think both sides tend to focus on reputation, and reputation tends to be driven far more by research than the quality of actual teaching in the undergraduate classroom.

    How do you make quality of teaching figure more into the aspects of reputation that drive decisions about where to attend and where to hire?

  • 10. Alfred Thompson  |  April 8, 2010 at 1:16 am

    Universities with little or no graduate programs do tend to focus a lot more on teaching than researching. They are much more tuition dependent than research institutions which causes its own set of problems. But for many students I wonder if there is enough added value of learning at a research institution to justify the costs. I wonder this even when the cost of a good public research university is close to or less than for a smaller, perhaps private, TEACHING institution. Heresy perhaps but I see great value in teaching focused institutions. If one wants to get a career outside of academic research one may be better in a program where the faculty regards teaching only as a distraction from their real interests in research.

    I may be a little biased as I attended one such smaller, teaching focused university and credit my time there with being critically important in my career. I benefited greatly from small classes, close and regular interaction with tenured (or tenure track) faculty in virtually all my courses. Not just in my major either! There is something to be said for that. But I digress.

    The old saying is that “you get the behavior you reward.” It seems pretty true in most cases. Oh you get the occasional altruist who does things for the greater good but that can be hard when you are worried about keeping your job. I suspect that it is easier for a tenured professor to base their time allotment on teaching over research or service over either than it is for a professor still to reach that goal.

  • […] show how to bring abstract research into concrete practice.  Providing that kind of connection is exactly what American universities were created to do originally, to connect research to practice and to provide service to a broad society.  Academic blogging is […]


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