Phi Beta Cons

WSJ Reviews The Faculty Lounges

Today’s Wall Street Journal includes a good review of Naomi Sschaefer Riley’s book The Faculty Lounges.

The book is largely about tenure, but includes learned discussion of the generally sad state of higher education. Reviewer Frank Gannon writes, “Tenure has enshrined research as the criterion for academic advancement. More important, the premium on ‘original’ research has caused the eclipse of teaching and resulted in the overproduction of jargon-heavy esoterica or trivial ‘scholarship’ intended merely to win preferment within the professors guild.”

Just so. But isn’t it important for professors to do research? Doesn’t that help them to be good teachers?

That issue came up at a Cato forum on Tuesday. (Link to video included here.) Professor Vance Fried — who argues for a good, no-frills liberal-arts college where the faculty is paid to do a lot of teaching in his book Better, Cheaper College – was asked if doing research wasn’t a component of quality teaching. He replied that it might be useful to read some research in your field, but actually producing it would add little or nothing to your teaching capability.

That’s a good point. Doing research, after all, soaks up an awful lot of time that might otherwise be devoted to filtering through the literature in your field — the journals, but also the usually more readable and pertinent non-academic writing. That’s why I suspect that the publish-or-perish rule does more to detract from good teaching than it does to enhance it.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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