Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, get tenure.
A growing trend across Canadian universities is the “teaching class”, university instructors who are hired on short contracts to teach classes on an hourly basis and for lower pay than more ‘elite’ professors who spend their days researching.
By valuing teaching-track faculty below their research-oriented professors, universities cripple their ability to administer quality education.
A new Collective Agreement between Queen’s and its faculty association (QUFA) earlier this year touched on this problem.
In an attempt to have student voices included in the bargaining process, the AMS released a report that included a number of issues related to student’s well-being. This included the high ratio between current teaching-focused faculty and incoming class sizes, professors’ ability to take a salary cut in return for fewer teaching hours and the exclusion of students from the bargaining process.
It makes sense why universities hire candidates who wish to teach, and who prove skillful at it, to fill the gap left by professors who are research-oriented.
What doesn’t make sense is that they lack job security, are paid less, have fewer benefits and are somehow viewed as inferior to their research-oriented colleagues.
The root of the problem is that there are extremely high incentives for academic research. Discovering new knowledge brings in awards, funding and recognition, both for the professor and the university.
There are few lining up to fund or celebrate a good educator.
Part of this may be because without taking student feedback into consideration, there’s no real way to quantify good teaching.
However, without anyone keeping tabs on what’s happening in the classroom, students can be saddled with a professor who clearly doesn’t want to be there and demonstrates little concern for students’ education.
Queen’s has a remarkable faculty of teachers and researchers. It can’t be that difficult to reward each faculty member equally for doing what they do best.
Another consequence of high incentives for academic research is research misconduct.
In the face of such pressure to produce new research, professors are more likely to violate their academic integrity, and universities are less likely to investigate it.
Meanwhile, PhDs are groomed to produce research and thrown into a classroom with little knowledge of how to work a projector, let alone teach a class.
Some professors are simply better suited to a laboratory than a classroom, but that doesn’t mean those who thrive in a teaching role aren’t a vital part of a university’s objective.
Nor does it matter to the student body if our professors are conducting award-winning research if we don’t see hide or hair of it.
Queen’s is a university, not a think tank, or a R&D department. It is a pedagogical institution, but its current priorities don’t reflect that definition.
This will change if the administration shifts the university’s mission to value its students learning experience as much as its reputation.
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