August 23, 2008

Balancing the Demands of Teaching, Scholarship, and Service

By: in Articles, Teaching Careers

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Faculty roles are defined by a combination of institutional culture and discipline standards, and achieving the right balance among teaching, scholarship, and service should be an important consideration for individual faculty members and their chairs and deans.

“It’s important to balance what would be acceptable within the discipline with what is encouraged by the college. In some cases these can be in conflict. I think the college should pay attention to what kinds of things would make sense for a particular discipline and then look at the best ways to help meet the local culture of the college,” says Dave Burrows, dean of Beloit College and psychology professor.

In some cases, the demands of the three traditional roles need not compete with each other but rather can be part of an integrated set of activities. For example, the natural sciences lend themselves to scholarly work that includes collaborative work with students. “This really joins teaching and scholarship in a very important way,” Burrows says. But, such collaborations do not come as easily in other types of disciplines.

“I think many faculty in the humanities feel that their scholarship is much more solitary. The nature of the creative act in the humanities is generating some ideas of one’s own and articulating them in writing, and it’s very difficult to collaborate with anyone on that,” Burrows says.

Defining scholarship

The criteria for scholarship varies among disciplines, and what might count as scholarship at a given institutions or within that department might not be as well regarded within the disciplines’ professional organizations. This is important for faculty — particularly those who have not yet achieved tenure — to consider as they develop their research programs and prioritize their activities.

Burrows, who defines scholarship as an original project that is carried out to completion that includes some kind of public presentation and is subject to peer review, has a broader view of what constitutes scholarship than some disciplines might embrace. For example, Burrows would consider doing collaborative work with students that is presented at a professional meeting scholarship, even if the students present the work at a student conference, “although I would get a lot of detractors on that.”

One example of scholarship Burrows provides combines scholarship, teaching, and service: “We have a faculty member who runs an entrepreneurial center and encourages students to create small businesses in the community. That work is scholarship. It’s also public service. It’s also teaching. He’s doing some new things; he’s seeing them through to completion; and they’re publicly available for scrutiny. But there would be some in economics [the faculty member's discipline] who would say, ‘No, that doesn’t count, but there are some who would say it would count.

“There are all sorts of problems with that. If we’re talking about a young faculty member who doesn’t yet have tenure, to protect him or herself might be well advised to make certain that the scholarly activity would be acceptable to peers in the profession. If you were to publish an article in a refereed journal in economics, that would give you a national reputation, which is transportable. If your work is entrepreneurship in the City of Beloit, that’s not as portable. That’s a real issue for us in higher education because you don’t want young faculty to damage their careers by following a model that makes sense for the college but that might not help them as individuals.”

One area of scholarship that is gaining acceptance within a variety of disciplines is the scholarship of teaching and learning. There is a growing tendency to regard the development and evaluation of new pedagogies as scholarship “so that if you develop a new way to help students who are less prepared than traditionally is the case and have some way of evaluating the effectiveness of that and particularly if you present the results of that, that could count as scholarship. It’s an interesting development because it’s both a benefit in the category of teaching but also is a category of scholarship,” Burrows says.

Burrows says that the scholarship of teaching and learning has taken on new significance because “every datum I’ve seen suggests that the variability in the student population in higher education is growing, and we need to develop techniques for meeting differences in individual needs. I would say, generally, that all of these developments, as innovative and creative as they are, take up more time, and faculty, almost universally, are feeling very stressed and are subject to burnout. In my view we’re not doing a great job in dealing with that.”

Protecting junior faculty

Burrows says that senior faculty should support junior faculty by relieving them of some of their services duties so they can concentrate on scholarship. “In the anxiety of being successful, younger faculty serve on too many committees,” Burrows says. “Those of us who are older should be lifting some of that burden for them by taking that on ourselves. And I think one good argument for that, is that younger people are more likely to do really creative scholarship.”

As faculty members move through their careers, there should be a shift in the roles they focus on, and the rewards system should be structured to encourage variations in emphasis, Burrows says.

Beloit College has developed a good culture of support for its junior faculty, Burrows says. One area in which this is evident is in the First-Year Initiatives Program. This program includes seminars that take an interdisciplinary approach to a single theme or question. In any given year, approximately half of these seminars are taught by senior faculty members because they recognize that teaching these seminars is more difficult than teaching other courses in the curriculum. “These are difficult seminars to teach for someone just out of graduate school,” Burrows says. “They tend to be interdisciplinary and not organized in ways that fit traditional categories so the fact that senior faculty are jumping in and doing these is very helpful to junior faculty.”

In addition to taking on the additional burden of teaching these seminars, many senior faculty members view these seminars as new and interesting ways to explore their disciplines. “It can really be a creative thing to do because you can build a course around any theme or question you want. When I taught in that program, I taught a course called ‘The Way We Are’ — a course about different ideas of what human nature is. I can’t imagine doing that as a young psychology faculty member, but now I have enough experience to do it and it’s fun. It’s attractive once you’ve been around for a while and can bring stuff from different disciplines.”

Contact Dave Burrows at burrowsd@beloit.edu.

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