Indiana University Research & Creative Activity

Undergraduate Issue

Volume 26 Number 2
Spring 2004

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Editor's Notes

Not long ago, I noticed this quote taped outside a professor’s 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 fight—for 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 complementarity—teaching 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 they’re customers who are always right. Writing in Harper’s a while ago, Mark Edmundson, a professor of English and contributing editor to Harper’s, 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; they’re “more like careful retailers,” as Edmundson put it.

The coddled consumer-student, the disengaged professor—like all stereotypes, they are rooted in truth. I’ve seen the examples. But looking past the types, here’s what else I see: real learning, nourished by research and teaching. It happens through communal effort, through relationship—a 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.