Trouble With Titles

Recently we discussed an op-ed by Charlie Swayne on Why Tenure Is Bad For Wisconsin.  As we discussed, it was really about why research expectations for faculty were bad.  Now the empire has struck back with an editorial by the provost and the chair of the faculty senate.  It spends more time addressing some factual inaccuracies and explaining why there is tenure then meeting the research question head on.  An important paragraph from the school is:

All faculty are reviewed annually on their work (teaching, scholarship and service) and, in addition, tenured faculty have a more rigorous review every five years as part of post-tenure review. Student feedback on teaching is considered as one form of evidence, alongside examination by other faculty, assessment of student learning and teaching outcomes. When instructors are unable to provide evidence of quality teaching, they are not rehired or not tenured.

Yup, it is true there is post-tenure review but the “not rehired or not tenured” clearly refers to actions before tenure.  And there are merit reviews every year but when there is little or no money to allocate for merit, the article identifies how little, then merit isn’t a big deal for those with tenure.  So there is post-tenure review that might identify concerns but the risk of losing your job is astronomically small.  It is rare that a tenured faculty member doesn’t put any effort into teaching but when it happens it is a big problem for the students and difficult for anyone to take action.  None of the things in the response have a solution for that problem.  We agree that it is not common but it does happen.

Still, even though he was a bit unclear, we think the big issue from Swayne is about research and the response does not address that issue.  We still think research is critical to quality teaching.  Kevin Williamson has a nice article that touches on the importance of academic research for economic growth.  Here we are talking about teaching but, even at at state school with a hyphen, there can be significant findings.  Swayne is right that much research is rubbish but the process can often help the instructor and students.  Most research is rubbish because future research will show its flaws.  Time sorts out the rubbish from the quality work.  We are still a big fan of research for its findings and because it is one element of quality teaching.  The response does not carry much weight because it does not address the importance of research.

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