Books and articles that matter
By Dean Andy Boynton
In The University: An Owner’s Manual (W. W. Norton, 1991), Henry Rosovsky, former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, provides an insightful and humorous view of America’s colleges and universities. He asks a number of questions important to anyone with a stake in the university system, including: “Why would an undergraduate want a research-oriented teacher?”
Many in the system view teaching versus research as a zero sum game; if one gains, the other loses. They believe that when research is essential to professional advancement (publish or perish), teaching can get pushed aside. Even at research universities like Boston College, with a deep tradition and a heritage of committed teaching, this tension and zero sum game is often an implicit assumption.
I, for one, have always disagreed. As a student and faculty member at several excellent universities, I witnessed firsthand that the best teachers were often also the best research faculty. I attributed this to the fact that high-performance professionals take great pride in all they do, and have the energy and intellect to pull it off.
Rosovsky believes that the excitement of discovery fuels both research and teaching. In research one discovers new things, and in teaching one is a catalyst for students to discover new things. This manifests as curiosity, a hunger for knowledge, and a love of ideas—characteristics I have seen in great scholars and ones they impart to their students. Rosovsky also suggests that faculty who pursue research and teaching excellence seldom experience professional boredom and burnout.
I couldn’t agree more with Rosovsky’s argument that every faculty member and student benefits from a research atmosphere. At small colleges where teaching trumps research, faculty are often consumers of others’ research and outside commentators’ ideas. These are not bad things, but the critical mass of research at larger universities fuels idea flow. Ideas spill over into the classroom and students interact with faculty who are pushing the envelope of knowledge creation. Rosovsky argues that while, at times, the “research” faculty member’s teaching skills may be less polished than those of the “teaching” faculty member, the educational impact made by the researcher is stronger. Students who encounter great minds develop into knowledge professionals and become skilled at learning through experience. What better impact can a teacher have?