Excellent article over at the NY Times on the drawbacks of having researchers in teaching positions. There’s a lot of research showing that the relationship between research ability and teaching ability is very close to 0. So why are we making researchers teach? Shouldn’t teachers teach and researchers research?
The result, then, is that more plentiful and better-quality goods are more easily produced if each person does one thing for which he is naturally suited, does it at the right time, and is released from having to do any of the others. – Plato, The Republic, Book II
Surely there must be a better way. Adam Grant discusses a proposition in which 3 different kinds of tenure are available: one for teaching, one for research, and one for both. I think this doesn’t go far enough: one for research and one for teaching would work plenty. In practice, universities have started to implement this system unofficially with teaching assistants and lecturers doing the teaching and researchers having to do only a nominal amount of teaching.
Yet, lecturers have little job security or status, and undergraduate students are being short-changed. They pay a premium to attend universities whose prestige is built on research, yet they are not necessarily being taught by people who have better teaching skills than at more affordable, teaching-oriented universities. That doesn’t seem fair to the vast majority of undergraduates who will never engage professionally in research – only about 1% of people ever get a PhD, and less than half of these will stay in academia.