Tuesday, June 23, 2015
The Advancement Problem
I did hear once (but don't recall the source) that the tenure process is designed to search for people who will succeed in this corporate "sidewalk" environment. Perhaps a strong self-driven motivation to succeed makes an explicit advancement ladder less necessary.
I brought up the topic when I saw DD because another PhD friend who works as permanent staff (runs labs, teach courses, no research) at yet another college had noted the day before that her position didn't have opportunities for advancement. She meant it as a negative comparison to tenure-track faculty, though I saw more parallels than differences from an advancement perspective.
I will first observe that not all faculty at R1 institutions maintain an active research program throughout their career. Might not even be a majority. One very perceptive Dean of past acquaintance (business, not science) developed a way to assign loads so young faculty had a high research load while young and creative (and until they learned to teach) -- and were evaluated on that -- while others who lost interest in research could transition to more teaching -- and be evaluated on that. The latter enabled the load shift for new faculty (and other active researchers) and was not viewed as punishment. You could advance on good teaching as a senior prof even more than another senior prof whose publications have become more boring than a new grad assistant armed only with PowerPoint.
One tactic I have seen used is a planned regular turnover in the lower admin ranks of dept chair and asst chair for undergrads, etc. Keep those people moving in and out of the classroom. Ditto for major policy and curriculum committees. That can be stimulating in the short run, but leave you happy to get back in a classroom. Using some sort of leadership program, like the Chair Academy, can improve functioning at that level and even when those people go back into the classroom.
For me, variety also comes in trying out new techniques in the classroom. We don't teach Pythagoras like he did (or maybe we do, rather than like they did in industrial classrooms of the 20th century). I have a blast learning from new faculty members as I mentor them on the things no one teaches you in college about the inner workings of our sausage factory.
I agree with CCPhysicist. Someone who is able to handle the important, inspiring, challenging job of teaching for many many years without looking for a way out should be looked highly upon, not seen as having fallen into a boring repetitive life situation.
Now, I'm all for evidence-based change, and in science education we've got a fair amount of evince on what works, and we're always testing and tweaking to improve. (Hey, it's what we do: make a hypothesis, gather data, evaluate, refine hypothesis, repeat.) But matching fads is just busywork.
As an example, imagine you have written a textbook. Every year you are forced to rewrite the book, not in a substantive way, but to meet fads in publishing. Change the aspect ration of the pages. Add sidebars, take out sidebars. Use coloured blocks for emphasis. Change the font. Include examples; don't overwhelm the reader with examples… Meanwhile, all the research you've gathered on the effects of font and text size on reading retention etc are cheerfully ignored because that's not what the big name magazines are doing this year. (And any comments that you are writing a textbook not a magazine are met with accusations that you are being deliberately obstructive.)