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Professors' research should not be prioritized over teaching

By Cody Shilling     9/28/11 7:00pm

Universities should focus first and foremost on educating their students. Ensuring that students receive the highest quality education possible should be the fundamental goal of the administration. Unfortunately, as things stand right now, this is not the case. Promotions are given out based on a faculty member's research and the number of times he has been published and referenced in journals without much consideration as to how effective an instructor he or she is.

The quality of the professor as an educator is secondary to his or her relative prestige and fame within his respective fields of research, and this needs to change.

I can certainly understand why the culture of the administration emphasizes research; it brings in money and prestige for the university, something everyone wants. Students want to attend a school that is considered elite, and faculty members want to work and stay at a school that is considered elite. Students who attend elite institutions tend to become highly successful and donate generously as alumni, something both the administration and students would want, since this lowers the amount each student needs to pay relative to total cost of attendance. The reasons go on and on, but a university that does not focus on what should be its primary concern is forsaking those whom the university should be focused on: the students who are there to learn, not to be a professor's minor consideration after worrying about and working on his or her next journal article.

There is no doubt that Rice does have better faculty than most other universities, especially public universities, using either criteria (research success or teaching ability). But the fact of the matter remains that we have much room for improvement. Obviously, professors do not have the time to sit down with students one or two at a time and teach them whole courses as if they were tutors, but expecting professors to do more than simply give a one-hour lecture that is taken straight out of the textbook is not an unreasonable expectation from those at the top of their fields. Three hours of class time and one or two hours of office hours is most certainly not enough.

Of course, this is likely to happen in large, underclassman lectures; there is no way to get around the need to have three or four hundred students in one common class. But hearing a story of a professor in a 300 or 400 level class of how the professor doesn't actually teach anything should be more than uncommon. It should be beyond the outlier, not something people shake their heads at and say "I feel for you. I had one of those last year."

The focus of the school should be on the students, not on the professors. The point of the university is not to give jobs to research professors, but instead to educate and teach the students. This is not some entitlement that the students have had taken away from them. Rather, this is a shift in the focus of the university that should be corrected in order to ensure that students are equipped and prepared to become more than academics.

Cody Shilling is a Will Rice College junior.

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