Field of Science

Deans, provosts, and presidents, oh my!

How does that song go? If you want to be happy for you academic life, never make a pretty woman your wife; no, that’s not right! For a happy academic life, never make a non-scholar your dean, provost, or president. It’s very simple, if not a scholar, they just don’t seem to get it, and in this case, the “it” they don’t get is that scholarship is both necessary and important to quality university teaching. Provost Plodder is an “educator” and seems to subscribe to the old, often criticized, characterization of universities as places where faculty research comes at the expense of teaching. This of course is often the case at big research universities, but at such institutions, no one is confused about the role of teaching and research, and prospective students would be well advised to figure out what faculty at such institutions do. However those of us who embrace the concept of an undergraduate research university would beg to differ with that characterization of research and teaching, and whenever we uppity faculty beg to differ with the provost, well, life can be difficult. At this stage of his career the Phactor has seen them come and seen them go; some just don’t go soon enough. Quality does not count with our provost, just those enrollment beans. Programs that have grabbed every warm body they can find are being rewarded with resources, and programs that have been selective and offered those students quality educational opportunities are being dunned. The cheap drives out the dear. No matter that the highest form of teaching is original investigation, and those who do not investigate themselves are in no position to teach students this skill. Do you disagree? Well, substitute “swimming” for investigate in the previous sentence to see how ridiculous your position is. It’s hard to maintain a research endeavor, it takes time and resources; it’s even harder to keep it funded, especially at smaller universities, but time spent on research just doesn’t count with our provost, although they always accept the indirect costs from research grants. The fact that our students are regularly exposed to and engage in not just little tiddles or keep-em busy projects, but participate in scientific scholarship of the highest caliber, makes little impression upon our provost. This doesn’t mean the provost is an evil person, but somewhere along the line they just lost sight, assuming they ever had it, of the fact that the highest calling of university faculty is to investigate so that they can teach not just what we know, but how we know it. So by all means, do find out what those job candidates think about the role of research in science teaching. Years ago, one dean hopeful said, “Research is encouraged, but not completely necessary at this type of university.” We all got up and headed for the door. The candidate asked, “Don’t you have any more question?” “No,” was the answer, “you got the first one wrong, so the rest don’t matter.”

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