Teaching improvementfocus ofworkshops

David Hyland

After a six month wait, political science Professor Virginia Gray grabbed a seat this week for a popular teaching improvement workshop.
High enrollment in such University-sponsored workshops is indicative of a national trend at research schools, which are striving to improve teaching.
“There’s a lot more focus on the teaching mission than maybe there was before,” Gray said.
The divided loyalty of the county’s higher-education faculty and the persistent imbalance between teaching and research is under the microscope.
“I don’t think this is going away,” said Robert Diamond, a Syracuse University professor. “I think it’s going to be more pronounced over time. I think there’s a major climate shift happening nationally now.”
In the early 1990s, Diamond, the director for the Institute for Change in Higher Education, conducted a series of surveys of research universities to evaluate education quality.
The first survey involved 49 institutions and ran from 1989 until 1992. Based on responses from faculty, chairs, deans and administrators, Diamond found 73 percent believed research was given more weight than teaching.
“Everybody felt that the priorities were a little out of whack,” Diamond said. “It was the case, no question, that there was strong support that research universities had to get a better balance between teaching and research.”
Last year, Diamond followed up with 11 of the initial institutions to see what changes had occurred in five years. The second survey noted a shift toward balancing the two areas.
Both surveys included a number of Big Ten institutions, Diamond said. But he refused to disclose whether the University was among them to maintain confidentiality of the participants.
Diamond said the emphasis on teaching has been implemented through the allocation of resources, as well as in the granting of tenure and promotions.
But not everyone has noticed a change in the quality of teaching.
Valerie Maher, physics senior, said she and her classmates have been disappointed in the poor instruction they have received.
“Every year, everybody says, ‘Yes, education is important and we want to stress that,'” Maher said. “But I’m not sure if there is any more effort this year than there always has been.”
University Genetics and Cell Biology Professor Michael O’Connor said that today he sees few differences from years past.
O’Connor, who was a professor at the University of California at Irvine before coming to the University in September, said he was unaware of the emphasis at the University. His bosses in California told him his research was more important.
“The teaching had to be good, but if I had great teaching and my research wasn’t coming along, I wouldn’t get tenure,” O’Connor said. “But if it was the other way around, I probably would.”
At the University, creating a balance between the two is stressed, said Vice Provost for Graduate and Professional Studies Norma Allewell.
“I review all promotion and tenure files in the sciences and those files have about an equal amount of material devoted to teaching and to research,” she said.
Allewell credits programs launched under former University President Nils Hasselmo for increasing emphasis on education at the University.
Along with faculty development programs, which enhance teaching skills, Hasselmo initiated programs to award outstanding undergraduate teachers. The awards might be expanded to include teaching on the graduate level.
University President Mark Yudof also has plans to establish an academy to include outstanding teachers.
“There are some fantastic teachers out there that really like that aspect more than the research and I think they should be rewarded,” O’Connor said. “I don’t see it happening too frequently.”