Promoting Research while Advancing Instruction, Part 1

It’s an issue many colleges and universities are facing today: How do you expand research capacity while still preserving an institution’s traditional emphasis on effective teaching? How is it possible to improve your reputation in one of these areas without abandoning your reputation in the other? How can you expand your mission in an environment of increasingly strained budgets, greater competition among institutions (including public, private, for-profit, and virtual universities), and rigorous accountability? And how do you balance the expectation of so many legislatures and governing boards that you demonstrate student success with their simultaneous expectation that you obtain more and more external funding from sponsored research and the frequent pursuit of grants?

At many schools, the answers to these questions have consisted of little more than modest adjustments in existing practices—for instance, modifying the formulas used in setting faculty loads, rewriting tenure and promotion procedures so that they include a “teaching track” and a “research track” (each with different criteria), or sponsoring workshops on the scholarship of teaching—when in most cases a more revolutionary approach is required. Colleges and universities have changed significantly over the past few decades, and the time has come to redesign entirely the now outdated “academic triad,” rethink the whole concept of how merit pay is allocated, and reexamine the very mission of higher education. Only through such a radical strategy can institutions hope to promote research while still advancing instruction.

Redesign the three-legged stool
The standard division of faculty labor into three categories of activity—teaching, research, and service—is so common that most academics regard it as fundamental to the very way in which higher education works. To be sure, Ernest Boyer broadened the definition of what scholarship is with the publication of Scholarship Reconsidered, ideas that were then developed by Charles Glassick and others in Scholarship Assessed. See Boyer (1990) and Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff (1997). In much the same way, the notion of what teaching means at a college or university and where at the institution it occurs was explored by several student affairs associations in the two volumes of Learning Reconsidered. See Keeling (2004) and Keeling (2006). But, as helpful as these discussions were, it now seems time for Scholarship Reconsidered and Learning Reconsidered to be, well, reconsidered.

The fact is that broadening the definition of scholarship and recognizing that important learning takes place all throughout the university, while important first steps, simply don’t go far enough in helping institutions address what faculty members actually do in their work today.

Accreditation agencies have long abandoned self-studies that merely catalogue “inputs” and activities—the number of volumes in the library, the amount of research funding allocated per faculty member, student-faculty ratios, and so on—in favor of assessing “outcomes” and results—post-program competency versus pre-program competency, placement rates in careers or graduate programs, the impact factor of publications, and the like.

So, the question is: If it makes sense to shift from inputs and activities to outcomes and results when we consider what students do, why are we still using such an ineffective approach when we examine what faculty members do? If we replace the old academic triad of teaching, research, and service, with a new triad based on the effects of those activities—learning, innovation, and academic citizenship—our false dichotomy between instruction and scholarship vanishes. Here’s why.

  • Learning at the postsecondary level includes not only the knowledge and skills that students gain from their formal course work but also the discoveries they make through their independent research, the personal development that occurs through their service learning and other forms of civic engagement, the growth in their leadership and teamwork skills that results from extracurricular activities, the expanded perspectives from activities such as internships and study-abroad opportunities, and a host of other benefits. In a parallel manner, faculty members continue their own learning in a lifelong process that includes expansion of their pedagogical expertise, new discoveries in their disciplines, the pursuit of new certifications, and the like. In other words, the revolution begun by Robert Barr and John Tagg (1995) has changed the way we look at what students do at a college or university, so why do we still insist on looking at teaching, research, and service as separate activities, rather than evaluating the learning that results from all three?
  • Innovation may be observed when faculty members discover and apply new knowledge, develop or perform creative works, and engage in entrepreneurial activities either in their discipline or in service to the institution. In addition, innovation may be regarded as including educational improvements that lead to enhanced student learning, original ways of serving their community or profession, and programmatic advances that make a college or university more distinctive. In this way, innovation, like learning, is not itself an activity that faculty members engage in, but is instead a desirable result of such activities as teaching, research, creative pursuits, and service.
  • Academic citizenship is demonstrated through the service that faculty members perform on various types of committees, in their professional organizations, through their uncompensated civic engagement, and through other professional efforts that benefit the community. But it also is reflected in the degree of collegiality and professionalism with which they interact with one another and all constituents of their institution. Furthermore, it is manifested in excellent teaching when faculty members go above and beyond their contractual obligations to act as mentors to their students, and in superior research when they participate in collaborative efforts, scholarship networks, and multi-institutional academic partnerships. See Buller (2010) 289-298.

In other words, once we shift our focus from looking at faculty responsibilities in terms of what people contribute and consider instead the benefits that result, the seemingly antagonistic relationship between teaching and research in reduced. The next steps are then to make this new framework operational in our evaluation and merit pay systems and to use it to guide our institutional approaches to mission, vision, and strategic planning. Those approaches will be explored [Thursday] in Part 2.

Barr, R. B. & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change. 27(6), 12-55.

Boyer E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Buller, J. L. (2010). The essential college professor: A practical guide to an academic career. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Glassick, C. E., Huber, M. T., & Maeroff, G. I. (1997). Scholarship assessed: Evaluation of the professoriate. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Keeling, R.P. (ed.) 2004. Learning reconsidered 1: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and American College Personnel Association.

Keeling, R.P. (ed.) 2006. Learning reconsidered 2: A practical guide to implementing a campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, DC: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and American College Personnel Association.

Jeffrey L. Buller is dean of the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University. He is the author of Academic Leadership Day by Day: Small Steps That Lead to Great Success (2011) and other books on higher education administration, all of which are published by Jossey-Bass.

Reprinted from Academic Leader, 27.1 (2011): 3,7.