Contra Mozilla

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What Are Universities For

There seems to be some disagreement about what a university is primarily "for." I say this, having now survived my first year as a visiting professor at a small(ish) teaching-oriented university, and having just inked a contract to start as a tenure-track professor here.

The students and legislators mostly seem to think that the point of a university is to provide an education, or the opportunity for an education, and a degree at the end. Much of the faculty, in particular senior faculty, is willing to go along with this in the form of keeping a full load of teaching classes for each faculty member, barring of course those who have some exemptions (mostly senior, tenured faculty).

But, in talking to quite a few higher-ups (department chairs, deans, tenure and promotion committee members, etc), it would seem that the purpose of a university is also to do publishable research. To the extent that a university offers graduate degrees, these two things are largely intertwined, but to the extent that the bulk of the teaching is often geared to undergraduate non-majors, the two are largely separate.

Problem: the people who pay for the university are largely the students, and to a lesser extent the legislature (via taxpayers), and many of them don't care a bit about research. However, the people who get to decide whether individual faculty members well remain employed at the university care more and more about the research. One tenure and promotion committee member took me aside and told me that the teaching side of things is virtually irrelevant--as is the service to the department, college, and university--unless the requisite number of papers published is met. Since the tenure-and-promotion members are generally elected by the college and by the university, it may be safe to assume that their views are at least somewhat representative of the faculty opinions in general. Therefore, there is some disagreement between the university's patrons and clients, on one hand, and its faculty and especially decision-making faculty, on the other hand, as to what the university's purpose is.

I do not see this ending well for said university. Oh, and one more thing--I've had similar conversations with faculty at a number of other smaller, tier-2 and tier-3 universities.

No comments:

Post a Comment