Teaching supercedes research

by Alexander R. Edlich | 5/4/93 10:00pm

In a speech last night, former Stanford University President Donald Kennedy said that institutions of higher learning must balance research and teaching to live up to societal expectations of a university education.

He said the evolution away from teaching and toward research hurts academia and students because universities are not producing what the public expects.

"There are conflicting signals from society," he said. "We're listening to the wrong one. We're mistaking what society wants from us."

Kennedy said he has heard a "chorus of complaints from consumers and their parents about the quality of teaching."

To remedy the current educational system, schools should make teaching the primary purpose of the higher education system. He said changing the system would "rescue professors and students."

Kennedy said a "revival of personal institutional loyalty" and increased collaboration between administration and faculty would help slow the shift away from teaching.

Kennedy praised Dartmouth's balance between research and teaching, which he said has a "unique role to play and is more like a solution than a problem."

He said some universities place too much emphasis on the quantity of professors' published works rather than on the quality of their teaching.

Kennedy said administrators who make decisions on tenure "should pay more attention to teaching quality" than to research work and publication.

Colleges and universities need to focus more on teaching and reverse the trend toward research that began after World War II, Kennedy said. The American war effort relied on the research contributions from university professors.

The government's reliance on university research led to a greater emphasis on a professor's "utilitarianism" and innovations rather than undergraduate teaching.

Kennedy said that although recent government interventions into the university world infringe upon academic freedom, they are prompted by societal concerns.

He said recent incursions in the biomedical field, especially with intellectual property, are evidence of the delicate balance between "freedom and responsibility."

He cited the animal rights movement and recent decrees by the National Institutes of Health as examples of government meddling.

He berated government intervention in the most recent cases. "Poor calibration results in stringent early responses," he said

"These are surely curtailments of academic freedom by those outside the area," he said.

He called for greater accountability within the institution to remedy society's dissatisfaction. He said this would not only keep the government at bay, but would also repair institutions.

Kennedy said the decline in tenured positions has been detrimental to academic freedom. He said that during his time at Stanford there was a 50 percent decline in the number of professors receiving tenure.

"The ability to express revolutionary ideas is protected by tenure," he said.

But tenure, he said, is no longer affordable and that instead he expected "longer contracts with some protection."

Teaching can be improved if faculty are associated with specific institutions rather than with a disciplines, which would promote greater unity within the faculty.

For example, Kennedy said he would rather see a professor be a "Stanford professor" than a professor of civil engineering.

College President James Freedman introduced Kennedy's lecture.

Kennedy's lecture was the second annual Borison Lecture on Academic Freedom that explores "issues and problems facing academic research at the end of the 20th century."