This topic may not be as exciting as the topic of full body scanners, but it is a hot topic in academia and among critics of higher education in the U. S. The criticism runs something like this: “College and University professors spend so much time in research that they teach very few classes. In large universities, teaching assistants teach most of the introductory classes. Just because a professor is good at research does not mean he is good at teaching. Higher education should focus more on teaching than research.”
There is some truth to that criticism. After the influx of federal money into the university system, especially in reaction to the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, science programs emphasized research, and eventually the humanities followed the model of the sciences. There was competition for research grants, and at some research-oriented universities, a tenure-track assistant professor without enough grants will not receive tenure. Besides getting grants, there is an expectation of publication in one’s field, the extent of which varies from university to university. In science, that expectation usually focuses on articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In philosophy, my field, articles in peer-reviewed journals are good, but some places require a book (not a textbook, but a scholarly monograph). Some departments only count publications in specific philosophical journals, such as the Journal of Philosophy or The Monist. Other departments are not as picky. At my school, which is considered a teaching school, scholarly work is expected, but it is up to the individual departments to determine the amount of expected work. When I was department chair, I told new faculty that I expected, by the sixth year when application for tenure usually takes place, at least two peer-reviewed articles and a few conference presentations. A monograph, of course, would suffice. That is a very modest publication requirement, but given a 4-4 load with frequent overloads required, it is a fair one.
In my opinion, research is a good thing–and some researchers ought to confine themselves to that aspect of scholarly endeavor. Excellent researchers are sometimes given research positions, which I think is fine. But for most college and university professors in the major schools, it would be good for them to balance teaching and research. Both, I believe, are needed–I have found research to be of great value in my own teaching. Teaching and research should be in a symbiotic relationship, with teaching fueling ideas for research and research contributing to a teacher’s knowledge of his field and to his teaching. I refer to my own research when it is relevant, and if I believe one of my articles is relevant to a class, I will sometimes require students to read it. Professors who do not write in their fields ought to at least read key journals to keep up with what is going on in their fields. When they can, they should apply their research to the content of their teaching. And teaching assistants, while necessary, should not teach all introductory courses; even full professors can learn something by teaching freshman courses. My school does not have TAs, so I teach introductory as well as upper-division courses, and I learn something new from my students almost every day (both positive and negative!). Now my preference is research–I love the process of research and writing–but teaching forces me to deal with real people in the real world with their own struggles and take on the issues of philosophy. That is a good thing–and more professors ought to be learning in a similar way by focusing more on their teaching.
What is an ideal situation? Probably a 3-3 or 3-2 load with funds for research and travel–and a more modest publication requirement than many large universities have. This provides a good balance between teaching and research so that the professor has time for both.