The Teaching And Research Balancing Act: Are Universities Teetering?

Universities are places of teaching and learning, but also of data creation and discovery. the majority view the excellence of faculty vs. university as teaching vs. research, undergraduate-only vs. undergraduate and graduate/professional, bailiwick vs. comprehensive, or perhaps small vs. large. And while there is also truth to a number of these distinctions, the only explanation is that a university typically stands alone, whereas a university comprises multiple colleges or schools, and includes both undergraduate and graduate programs. There are in fact exceptions to the current simple rule, particularly seen in older colleges that have added schools and/or graduate programs but have resisted changing their name from a university to a university within the interests of tradition, alumni affinity, or perhaps charter.

The distinction (and the balance) between teaching and research within the context of a better education institution often is misrepresented and misunderstood. Remember that knowledge creation, not just knowledge dissemination, is one in all the basic roles of universities. How is knowledge created? Through any one of variety of processes of exploration. Through research. Many inside and outdoors the academy view research as limited to the scientific fields (medicine, basic sciences, engineering). Such views are reinforced externally by funding agencies that make the foremost significant funds available for (the most costly) fields of a research project. The annual budgets for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and also the National Science Foundation (NSF) are about $42B and $8B, respectively. in contrast, the annual budgets for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEA) and also the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) are about $160M each. But such views are reinforced, and propagated, internally by university leaders who refer only to “research” instead of including the broader and more inclusive term of “scholarship.” Such messages diminish the work of students in other fields and leave them understandable feeling undervalued or marginalized. In fact, the university’s mission is knowledge creation, discovery, and dissemination of data all told fields represented at the institution. Many universities and their leadership have moved to say “research, scholarship, and creativity” when bearing on this important role of the institution and its faculty, thereby including the important work of students within the humanities, social sciences, and also the arts.

Universities that are comprehensive in nature (e.g., excluding bailiwick colleges, technical institutes, specialty colleges, graduate/professional-only colleges, etc.) have dual missions around teaching and research. These missions are often poorly understood by those outside the university (inclined to tally hours within the classroom or dollars raised for research). they're also often spoken of (reported, evaluated) separately by those inside the university, creating confusion, resentment, and resulting in an absence of clarity around university priorities. In fact, this distinction or separation makes no sense. it's artificial. And it's most certainly counter-productive.

Research and teaching (which includes scholarship and artistic works) are two sides of the identical coin: knowledge creation and dissemination. Proficiency in both is required for the university to meet its mission and obligations to students and to society. Universities having faculty engaged in state-of-the-art research, leading-edge discovery, and creation of the latest works, are ready to attract students seeking access to those opportunities as a part of their university experience. they're ready to attract philanthropic and competitive grant support for his or her impactful academic programs and research. they're ready to create partnerships with industry to reinforce their academic and research programs. they're ready to partner with healthcare institutions in providing clinical programs and patient care, similarly as learning opportunities for his or her students. The list goes on. Students take pleasure in learning from (and with) faculty engaged in research and scholarship, no matter their discipline.

Where this argument, well-framed and well-intended, breaks down is when a school member is more curious about their research than teaching or is more curious about supervising graduate students than teaching undergraduate students. While not widely reported, even some such instances write the unfavorable narrative that those in research don't seem to be effective in teaching. And in fact, the corollary (great teachers don't seem to be successful in research) was similarly inevitable. University leaders will assert, correctly, that both statements are false, offering up example after example of great faculty members that stand out both teaching and research. They reserve their highest university awards and recognitions for these exemplar faculty.


As universities have grown in mission, scope, budget, complexity, and services provided, expectations of school – and specifically those on the tenure-track working toward the rank promotion and being granted academic tenure – have increased. The expectation for excellent teaching has given thanks to great teaching and engagement in scholarship (again, broadly defined). This has given thanks to great teaching and great research (as measured by scholarly publications and graduate students supervised). This has given thanks to great teaching and great research and having the ability to draw in significant extramural funding. We then added new expectations around transferring that research to the broader public (tech transfer, outreach, professional practice, community engagement, so-called ‘broader impacts’). We then added expectations around student success, so student recruitment, so student retention, so student satisfaction, so student mental state and other support services.

This path isn't sustainable. Faculty burnout and turnover will still increase as demands and expectations collect. Ever-increasing expectations for research throughput has left many faculty without time or energy to devote to being the simplest teachers they will be. And current faculty classifications and workloads have created a “class system” that divides faculty, creates conflict, and reduces productivity. this is often neither efficient nor necessary.

Given that there's not going to be a rollback to fewer and more focused expectations around teaching, research (and scholarship and artistic works), and outreach (the third pillar of the many academic institutions’ missions, especially public and religiously-affiliated universities) for faculty within the current system of school classifications, perhaps it’s time for the system to alter.

Universities could create teaching-focused faculty, research-focused faculty, and even outreach-focused faculty. All could have expectations beyond their primary focus, but none would be expected to excel all told three. (Experience suggests universities will, in fact, see faculty excel all told three. But this can not be the expectation, removing pressures that result in ineffective use of your time, capacity, and expertise.) Faculty would be hired specifically into one in every one of these categories, would be evaluated against an appropriate and clearly articulated set of criteria, and would have the chance to alter categories if and when their interests or focus change. Advancement, promotion, other recognition opportunities must be equivalent across categories. the proportion of tenure-track vs. non-tenure-track appointments, however, could vary by category. Professional development opportunities and other benefits must be equally available and school all told categories must be eligible for participation in governance and committee work on the department, college, and university levels. This creates the parity needed to optimize both morale and effectiveness.

While some universities have moved to such a model (e.g., a teaching faculty track), few have maintained true parity/equity across tracks. In cases where universities employ (teaching-only) lecturers or instructors, there's evidence these faculty members don't enjoy the total benefits and privileges of their tenure-track colleagues. Such systems were responses to increased teaching loads resulting from decreasing state support, higher costs of instruction, and reduction in teaching loads for the foremost research-active faculty. They weren't built strategically, but started with the (assumed immutable) existence of a tenure-track faculty, often teaching fewer classes.

Academic tenure grew out of a movement to confirm protections for faculty who are also working in fields or taking positions that were out of favor with the govt. or maybe belief of the time. It became synonymous with freedom. Today it's administered through a process of peer-assessment, both at the school member’s institution and at peer and infrequently aspirant institutions. While expectations are typically conveyed for teaching excellence, research (scholarship) excellence, and “service” (a poorly defined catch-all category that has a department, college, and university-level service and even ‘citizenship’ likewise as professional society/community service), most universities will place emphasis on teaching and research when evaluating tenure-track faculty for promotion and/or tenure. And most research universities will place the best emphasis on research input (grant proposals awarded, total grant dollars, Ph.D. students and visiting scholars attracted) and output (publications, Ph.D. students advised, national awards, grant proposals submitted).

Creating parallel tracks for faculty, with clear and reasonable expectations, each having ladder-promotion possibilities and comparable reward and recognition mechanisms, would benefit the university and also the faculty members. it'd tap into expertise where it resides, without forcing all faculty to excel against the identical metrics all told areas, and would allow faculty to focus their energies into areas that they need the best passion/interest. this may result in greater success, more efficient use of talent, and improvement in morale likewise as productivity.

Research and scholarship are elements of any university’s mission, for the correct and enduring reasons. Dissemination of information and instilling in students a passion for learning and discovery must also remain as priorities. Teaching and research must go hand-in-hand, and there are good reasons for service/outreach to be a part of a university’s mission (serving the general public or greater good). But we must not still expect each educator to excel all told areas in the slightest degree times throughout their careers. this is often inefficient, ineffective, breeds resentment and frustration, and may disenfranchise the very people universities count upon to satisfy their mission.

Serving the greater good requires individuals and organizations to be the simplest they will be. Long-standing systems like faculty classifications, tenure, university structure, and even degrees and degree requirements can all have the benefit of periodic review and refresh. These must not hold universities back, but rather must be thoughtfully structured and optimized to enable the best success of people and also the institution. Times change monotonically. There are few samples of reverting to previous conditions, in an educational activity or the other space. Universities often are tagged as being slow to retort, immune to change, and having faculty loath to adapt or evolve. this is often not universally true. There are more and more samples of universities pursuing innovative initiatives and adapting their structure and processes to accommodate the change. Other universities must imitate it. this can require changing culture, reviewing and reaffirming mission, aligning expectations expertly, developing people and talent, and changing the systems of recognition and reward.