Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Teaching counts for nothing"

Brian Leiter reports the following from a correspondent of his:
“Teaching counts for nothing.”  It was a shock to me how dishonest research schools are about teaching: on the brochures, to parents, in official pronouncements the line is that we care about teaching deeply.  But in private all my colleagues, even at the official orientation, have said teaching counts for virtually nothing for tenure purposes, for merit raises, etc.  (Exception: if your student evaluations are truly awful that might hurt a bit.)  In other words, there is hardly any institutional concern for teaching, i.e. concern that manifests itself in aligning incentive structures with good teaching.  It’s not 50-50 research/teaching, it’s 100-0 or maybe 90-10.  Experiment: try explaining to your non-academic friends, neighbors, legislators that our top universities basically ignore teaching in their evaluation of teachers.  I often wonder whether our actual policies could survive publicity.

The comments that follow contest the correspondent's claim, but also manifest some ambiguity about how exactly 'teaching counts' for tenure and promotion purposes about various institutions.

Just for the sake of data gathering then: How — and how significantly — does teaching count in the tenure and promotion process at the institution with which you are affiliated?


  1. SLAC (of the not very selective sort)--strong teaching is a necessary condition for tenure--it is almost a sufficient condition. A poor teacher will probably not make it through the mid-review process, and really the only reason for junior faculty being let go earlier than mid-review is serious problems with their teaching. Strong teaching and significant service would balance a weak scholarly record. But, we're atypical I'm sure.

  2. I'm at a 4yr liberal arts college with reasonably high admission standards. Similarly to what anon 4:05 says, teaching ranks very highly at my college. It would be unusual to be granted tenure if you were a bad teacher. There are likely exceptions to this general rule (say, if you bring in massive grant money on a regular basis), but 95% of the time teaching will be a necessary condition for tenure (not sufficient, but certainly necessary).

  3. My current uni gives the following breakdown: 40-60% teaching, 10-30% research, 10-30% research. It's my first year here, so I can't say how the process actually reflects these percentages. But, as with earlier comments, perceived solid teaching is a necessary condition for tenure.

    At my previous university, they said to be on the "teacher-scholar model", but still held teaching to be of primary importance for tenure. The uni had changed pretty drastically in the past 20 years, from a 4-4 teaching load and no expectation of publishing to a 3-3 (and very often, 3-2) load and a very real need for research. All of the junior faculty in my department had either books are at least 4 peer-reviewed articles. The push for higher research was coming largely from the junior faculty, though the views on this varied drastically accross disciplines.

  4. Thanks for all these responses.

    My large teaching-oriented state university allows departments to set the precise weights assigned to teaching, research, and service, but requires evidence of teaching proficiency for tenure. In effect, this makes teaching at least 51% of the weight. So teaching functions as a necessary but not sufficient condition for tenure. My general sense is that poor teachers won't get tenure no matter how exemplary their performance regarding research and service. However, I'd say expectations in the area of research are rising, and it would now be possible for a solid teacher to be denied tenure on the grounds of insufficient research (which I don't think was true in the past).

  5. Hi Michael. Hope you're well.

    I'm at a large, research-oriented, non-flagship state university (University of South Florida). Our department has a PhD program. What the original poster on Leiter's blog claims about his/her research university sounds very plausible to me. I have absolutely no doubt that at some upper-tier research schools, teaching is given no weight in tenure, promotion, or raises.

    At USF, teaching is a necessary condition for tenure, though I would guess that the bar one has to jump over is pretty low. It can also be the case that an unusually good teaching record can help make up for a lackluster research profile (though I wouldn't feel very comfortable going up for tenure in those circumstances).

    With the partial exception of tenure, though, I see very few ways in which the university encourages faculty to dedicate time to teaching beyond what is required to teach adequately. Any efforts made to achieve excellence in teaching are completely supererogatory. No raises attach to great teaching and in my five years at the university, no one has ever come to observe one of my classes. After tenure, anything short of gross negligence in teaching would go unpunished by the university. If I ever feel that I have to make a decision between doing research and putting in additional class preparation time, I know which way the incentives of the university push me.

  6. Teaching is a necessary but insufficient condition at my liberal arts college. We have a teacher/scholar model where research counts fairly heavily as well. But you might get promoted even if you weren't a strong researcher whereas you would not get promoted if you were not a strong teacher.

    However - and this is especially troubling - our teaching is measured by a single thing: teaching evaluations. Nothing else is considered in the teaching category for promotion.


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