Future of the University: Teaching or Research?

Ever since my first day in College, I’ve heard a rumor that “good teachers can’t do research and good researchers can’t teach”, which is true based on my experience. The best teachers I’ve had during my higher education are usually not as proficient at research as those “bad” teachers. However, while I admire those good researchers, I really suffer from their teaching. Most of the times they sit on the podium and read slides. Students do all kinds of things in the classroom but listening to the lecture. Then in the last few days of class we download the slides and cram for exams. I learnt nothing.

Ever since my first day of preparing to be a future professor in higher education, I’ve heard two completely different voices. Most of my Ph.D. friends and some professors say “The only thing that determines whether you are a good professor or not, whether you get promotion or not, and whether you can really have a place in higher education or not is publication”. “Publication publication publication.” They stressed, “That’s the only important thing. Do not waste time on teaching; it’s just an obligation that needs to be done.” Well, to some extent I know that they are right. But then my advisor, my classmates and instructors in the Preparing Future Professoriate program say “teaching is as well important! We need to be good teachers in higher education for the future generation”. I know they are correct, too.

Therefore, ever since my first day of writing blogs about higher education, I’ve been thinking about this question: What will I put more emphasis on once I become a university professor? Teaching or research? Can I do both well? If not, if I choose research, will I become one of the professors that I hated during my own higher education? No that’s not what I want to do! How can I solve this dilemma?

Well, In my very first blog post for this class, I wrote about university’s mission statements. And I can see that while some universities put more emphasis on research, others put more on teaching. So that’s a good thing and possibly a solution to my problem. If I like teaching more, I can go to a teaching university and vice versa. But, most of the good universities in the States (and in many other countries, too) emphasize research, which means that a lot of good students in these top universities may actually not receive a top higher education because that’s not where the universities put emphasis on!

We can’t blame the professors too much on this because everyone has limited energy and it’s hard to achieve high results in both teaching and research. Virginia Tech is trying to solve this by hiring collegiate professors, who are only in charge of teaching and don’t need to do research. I really like this idea. But then another problem comes out: how can we relate the cutting-edge scientific results from good research to our higher education teaching?

How to achieve both good teaching and research: this is a problem that needs an urgent solution for higher education and we really need to put equal emphasis on both. Higher education is where our future generation is educated and inspired, and they deserve a good teaching environment. If we keep neglecting the importance of a good balance between teaching and research, we will make higher education less and less efficient helpful.

2 thoughts on “Future of the University: Teaching or Research?”

  1. I agree there is a pull between teaching and research at a place like Tech. When I think about the poor quality of teaching I’ve seen here, and the disregard with which it is held by faculty, my heart sinks. To me universities are still places whose first priority is the education of students. That those students pay huge amounts of money per year and then get poor uninspired teaching by people who are just dialing it in, I find exploitative and shameful. Collegiate faculty is a good first step, but there needs to be rewards for researchers who want to teach as well.

  2. let me disagree with you about your point about top universities. I was at Harvard for a year and I had a chance to audit classes both in MIT and Harvard. Prominent economists both at Harvard and MIT are awesome teachers at the same time too. Yes there are good researchers who are not good in teaching as well as their research and vice versa, but it is not true that in universities with high emphasis on research, students will deprive from having good teachers as well. At least my experience is contradict with that.

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