Thursday, August 03, 2006

Teacher or Scholar? Brannon Denning subbing at Instapundit has a couple of links up to a discussion about the following paper:

Is There a Correlation between Scholarly Productivity, Scholarly Influence and Teaching Effectiveness in American Law Schools? An Empirical Study
This empirical study attempts to answer an age-old debate in legal academia: whether scholarly productivity helps or hurts teaching. The study is of an unprecedented size and scope. It covers every tenured or tenure-track faculty member at 19 American law schools, a total of 623 professors. The study gathers four years of teaching evaluation data (calendar years 2000-03) and creates an index for teaching effectiveness.

This index was then correlated against five different measures of research productivity. The first three measure each professor's productivity for the years 2000-03. These productivity measures include a raw count of publications and two weighted counts. The scholarly productivity measure weights scholarly books and top-20 or peer reviewed law review articles above casebooks, treatises or other publications. By comparison, the practice-oriented productivity measure weights casebooks, treatises and practitioner articles at the top of the scale. There are also two measures of scholarly influence. One is a lifetime citation count, and the other is a count of citations per year.

These five measures of research productivity cover virtually any definition of research productivity. Combined with four years of teaching evaluation data the study provides a powerful measure of both sides of the teaching versus scholarship debate.

The study correlates each of these five different research measures against the teaching evaluation index for all 623 professors, and each individual law school. The results are counter-intuitive: there is no correlation between teaching effectiveness and any of the five measures of research productivity. Given the breadth of the study, this finding is quite robust. The study should prove invaluable to anyone interested in the priorities of American law schools, and anyone interested in the interaction between scholarship and teaching in higher education.

Which basically provides numbers for what most university students have known for ages: That being a great and productive scholar doesn't necessarily translate well into the classroom. I suspect that this carries over from the law schools into virtually every other discipline at the academy. I suspect most people assume there is a negative correlation: that good instructors are probably not as productive in terms of publications as their. . .instructively challenged peers. I can think of 3 reasons why people think this:

1) Time: Being a good instructor takes a decent amoutn of work, both in planning lessons and in honing one's delivery. Some people are naturally very good at lecturing, but most of us have to work at how we present material. That can often take time away from researching and writing.

2) The popularizer effect: Most people within a discipline have an automatic suspicion for colleagues who are good at conveying material to non-experts. Some of it may be envy at the guy splashed all over television and making more money than they are, but it's also a function of having to dumb down the issues for a lay audience. One automatically assumes that they must not know what they're talking about if they aren't using all the jargon, the cautions, the subtlties, etc.

3) The really smart ones just don't think like the rest of us: We tend to think that the more brilliant a person is, the more they just can't relate to us mortals. The classic absent-minded professor schtick. A corrolary might be that they also must be incredibly arrogant (cf., Professor Kingsfield of The Paper Chase).

But besides the impressions, a probably undeniable fact is that teaching is generally considered a chore and doesn't count as much in tenure decisions (thought this is changing). The main metrics for tenure are publications and citations. Consequently, natural selection acts to promote and retain people who publish a lot and teaching ability is just a hanger-on without any fitness value. Some professors are indeed excellent and prolific researchers and outstanding lecturers to boot. But since teaching ability isn't usually rewarded as highly, this is a rare combination.

We were having this discussion at the office yesterday regarding tenured positions at certain pretigious business schools going to highly published researchers, while a slew of adjuncts will teach for years and never get tenure. Perhaps this is the way many departments are moving, segregating teaching from research. Personally, I don't believe this is a good direction to be headed since I think it is vitally important that it is really the duty of researchers to communicate their findings to the public. And not just because many of them operate on the public dime either; supposedly we're all doing this to further some common goals of humanity. We owe it to the rest of humanity to explain what we're doing and why we think it's important. Not to preach, but to explain; preachiness just breeds resentment. We;re all fond of saying communication is the key to good relationships, but we need to practice that in our professional lives as well.

Hey, maybe more academics should take up, say, BLOGGING.