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From the PublisherOne of the most important books for higher education for many years is the late Ernest Boyer's Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities for the Professoriate (1990). Here, Boyer argued sensibly that the priority placed on faculty research, at the expense of teaching and service, was disproportionate. He cited data from a major survey showing that even at private liberal arts colleges faculty members believed that published scholarship was by far the most important factor in retention, tenure, and promotion decisions. At the same time, of course, administrators and faculty regularly proclaimed that undergraduate learning was their most important product.
Boyer's argument for a new understanding of what was important in faculty work&emdash;for an enlarged understanding of "scholarship" to include much more than the discovery and publication of new knowledge&emdash;was supported by his 1994 followup, Scholarship Assessed.
All this was most gratifying, and so was the frequency with which leading figures in higher education stepped up to podia at national meetings to declare that things were going to change.
But unfortunately they didn't, for the most part. The reason is that lip service and stirring speeches don't change faculty activity. Faculty members apportion their time and energy according to what they believe will benefit their careers, and the reward system in American higher education has not changed sufficiently to redress the imbalance between teaching and scholarship at most colleges and universities (to say nothing of service, which is even more overlooked in most reward systems).
Robert Diamond of Syracuse University has now written Aligning Faculty Rewards with Institutional Mission, an effort to help bridge the gap between what institutions say they want faculty to do and what they reward faculty for doing. It has a certain amount of exhortation, many more practical, real-world examples of promising developments. Filled with model mission statements, vision statements, institutional, school, college, and department guidelines, it will be an invaluable resource for the college or university which has the will to do something and needs shareable ideas.
At Syracuse, Diamond's home university, a college-wide statement on improving faculty effectiveness calls for departmental policy statements on how teaching is used in reward systems; student evaluations of all courses; syllabi on record and in use in all classes; annual peer review, mentoring, and teaching portfolios. Even here, though, the plan to "implement a policy of greater teaching and advising responsibilities (and recognition of same in the various rewards systems) for less active scholars" makes priorities clear: those who cannot do scholarship will have to teach more.
The connection between institutional reward systems and effective teaching is clear. A few years ago I reviewed a book called Rhythms of Academic Life: Personal Accounts of Careers in Academia in which a professor of management, writing an account of "Becoming a Teacher at a Research University," declared straightforwardly about her teaching "I don't feel I can commit the time and resources to do that well consistently." She has made a rational decision on how to succeed under the reward structure existing at her university. She learned from her seniors how to "make it in academia": "publish, plain and simple, and be competent at teaching so they don't have to get rid of you." Her students must be very grateful.
Perhaps the "reward structure" in American higher education really is going to change; perhaps scholarship really is going to be reconsidered. I hope so. If this happens, Robert Diamond's book will not be the cause, but it will certainly help guide us in the proper direction. (UNC's Effective Teaching web site, June 1999)