Volume 26 Number 2
Not long ago, I noticed this quote taped outside a professors office door: Research is to teaching as sin is to confession. Without the one, there is nothing to talk about in the other.
No doubt the professor behind the door does respectable work, but it is true, academic research is not without some sin. Like the rest of us, academics are subject to pride, envy, vanity, even a little greed. Outrageous examples exist of prima donnas and superstars for whom research trumps teaching every time, leading legislators and others to decry the ruination of higher education, proclaiming students as the losers in the research vs. teaching fight.
At a campus such as IUB, with its 36,000+ students and some 1,800 faculty (an extensive research university, according to the Carnegie Foundation classification), professors do fightfor publication credentials, for tenure, for funding, for time. But nearly all those faculty teach, too. Research vs. teaching pits them against themselves. No wonder so many academics claim exhaustion.
In the last decade or so, some have been stepping out of the research vs. teaching ring, making the case loud and clear that the two activities are conjoined, not combative. It goes beyond complementarityteaching is research given voice,research in action, or confession. Without the one, you have nothing to say in the other.
Of course, confessing implies a relationship. Someone speaks; someone else listens and responds, on and on. But in our era of consumerism, many faculty say college students seem convinced theyre customers who are always right. Writing in Harpers a while ago, Mark Edmundson, a professor of English and contributing editor to Harpers, described the attitude of his students at University of Virginia as a hip, hyper-cool consumer weltanschaung. Students, meanwhile, say professors just go through the motions; theyre more like careful retailers, as Edmundson put it.
The coddled consumer-student, the disengaged professorlike all stereotypes, they are rooted in truth. Ive seen the examples. But looking past the types, heres what else I see: real learning, nourished by research and teaching. It happens through communal effort, through relationshipa professor, energized by research and creative work, awakens new interests in a student, whose curiosity inspires that teacher to do more and better work. This research-teaching alchemy takes place in labs and offices, carels and classrooms, in studios and in the field, and in many smaller, quieter ways, too.
Research as teaching. When the confession is truly heard, a new generation of sinners is born. L.B.