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Weighing Teaching and Research: a Longstanding Dilemma

I’m grateful to Bruce Henderson for writing a terrific article in the Chronicle on June 11, “Just Because We’re Not Publishing Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Working.” The article concludes with a nod to Ernest Boyer, who more than twenty years ago argued that teaching should be redefined as scholarship, an argument only to be met with positive lip service and no policy changes that enacted his recommendations. Year after year, administrators have praised Boyer and excellence in teaching in general, but have rewarded scholarly publication because it’s tangible and quantifiable. I’ve always championed Boyer’s position, but have been at a loss to recommend to administrators a clear way to put it into place.

Henderson comes up with an ingenious idea: a professor of psychology at a non-research university (Western Carolina U.), he coins the term “consumatory scholarship.” He concisely explains why Boyer’s position never gained traction: “He and his followers quickly got caught up in classifying and measuring the broader view of faculty scholarship. Scholarship was soon equated once again with externally peer-reviewed products. The ubiquitous role of scholarly consumption in the everyday work of the faculty, a role Boyer originally wanted to acknowledge, was lost.”

What is “consumatory scholarship? It’s essentially the lit review that every conscientious teacher—professor, graduate student or adjunct—conducts in the course of preparation to teach every class. It involves familiarizing oneself with the critical history of the text one is teaching, getting a general sense of the most recent scholarship about that text (if one regularly teaches Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, as I do, that’s a load), and preparing oneself to give the class at least a general cultural and historical context for what they are about to read. As Henderson points out, at a non-research-intensive university or liberal-arts college, that’s a much tougher job, because the instructor is typically teaching more courses and more varied courses.

Again, it’s an issue at research universities too—certainly I do all these things as part of teaching prep on a 2/2 load; it’s a much bigger issue for someone teaching at an institution with a 4/4 load. How do we explain this work to administrators in a way that they could quantify? I’ve always thrown my hands up in exasperation. But here’s Henderson’s ingenious solution:

We can evaluate consumatory scholarship in a number of ways. For example, faculty members can provide narratives about how they have incorporated new ideas and information into their teaching, research, and service when we submit annual reviews and tenure-and-promotion applications. We can keep logs and blogs on the knowledge we are consuming.

As we inside the university get accustomed to using the concept of consumatory scholarship, we can begin to use it more externally. Recognition of its role should appear in annual reports, news releases, and speeches. Faculty members and administrators should make governing boards, legislatures, and potential financial contributors aware of the dependence of effective teaching, competent productive scholarship, and useful public service on consumatory scholarship.

All he’s saying—and why couldn’t anyone else have thought of this—just keep records.

Too many people outside the academy have no idea what class preparation, let alone grading entails: They still hone to Charles Sykes’ insidious notion that we professors (at least at research universities) work a seven-and-a-half-hour workweek. When confronted with that argument by a state legislator, one of my former colleagues (who had taken a leave of absence to work as a speech writer for then Ohio Governor Ted Celeste) asked him: “What if I counted only your time on the House floor as ‘work time,’ and took away your entire staff, since professors don’t have staffs?” He blanched and never broached the subject again. It’s sad that it’s come to this: that we professors, whether at research universities or at liberal-arts colleges, have to file time sheets, but I think we’re at that point. I’ve argued that professors have not been in charge of the institution of higher education for a long time. It’s time to protect ourselves.

And if we can make the difficult adjustment of keeping track of our time like attorneys do, why not take it a step farther. I received an interesting email from Greg Stepanich, an adjunct who argued that colleges and universities should identify their best teachers and subsidize their continuing education—through the M.A. and the Ph.D. The practice is routine in the private sector, and would be a great way of ensuring high-quality teaching. How do we identify the best teachers? I think Henderson’s idea of measuring “consumatory scholarship” is a brilliant start.

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