Between Teaching & Research

by Stephanie Long | 5/24/01 5:00am

I came to Dartmouth in large part because of the Women in Science Project Internship program. I knew that Dartmouth was a small college dedicated to providing me with an unmatched undergraduate experience, and, as if that were not enough, I could also have the opportunity to participate in research in my first year. For a science devotee that prospect was irresistible. I am privileged enough to work with a tremendous sponsor who devotes his life to students, teaching and science. I was prompted to write a response to Megan Steven's and Amar Dhand's editorial (The Dartmouth, May 21st, "Research and the Academic Direction: A Response") because I worry that too few of my sponsor's kind are coming to Dartmouth and staying here. "The Soul of Dartmouth" is a report written by the Academic Affairs Committee of the Student Assembly. It is a project that had been underway since the fall. Part of that process included interviewing 30 professors who were all united by the fact that they felt that the quality of teaching was suffering under Dartmouth's focus on research. The report represents those students who care about the quality of education at Dartmouth in all disciplines and realize that research and teaching go hand in hand. If either one is sacrificed then it is Dartmouth, and we as Dartmouth students, that suffer. We cannot teach without research and vice versa.

The SA report articulates repeatedly that teaching and research are equally important for the continued health of this institution. The problem is that the focus on improving and maintaining research at Dartmouth is diverting attention away from teaching. How can we not lose sight of one goal if we are solely focused on the other? Research for me has been vital, but how many students participate in research projects? When a professor does not choose to be an academic advisor because of time constraints, all students suffer. These professors should feel free to advise students.

Dartmouth's commitment to teaching is its strength. The fact that Dartmouth is able to combine quality teaching and access to the research facilities of a university within a small college setting is incredible -- it is what makes Dartmouth unique.

It is true that professors need to be up-to-date with the current topics and questions of the day in their respective fields, but not at the expense of being able to educate students in their fields. Professors engage in research and necessarily so. Education and commitment to students is as vital as research. That belief on the part of students prompted the SA report.

The psychological and brain sciences (PBS) department was not condemned in the report; in fact, it is a model of what the Assembly urges for the College to emulate. It is mentioned because the new professors hired to teach in the education department are not education, but neuroscience specialists. I applaud and welcome the hiring of a specialist who wants to teach students and include them in the laboratory but not when it comes at the expense of other departments. The problem the SA sees is not within the PBS but with the maligning of the education department.

We must look outside of any one department and focus on the trend at the College. When tenure-track professors believe that interacting with students can hurt their careers and chance for tenure, then there is something wrong that we must take notice of. The SA report not only notices this possibility for problems -- it sings it from the top of Baker tower.

Those students who are fortunate enough to participate in research are at an advantage because they have learned how to present research material in their field. I am personally benefiting from that experience, but are these opportunities equally distributed through the College? Are the finances there? Are the incentives there? Is Dartmouth losing its edge because students do not regularly and institutionally participate in long-term research projects?

I urge all students who feel that this report does not explicitly represent them to look outside of the department of their major or intended major, as I had to, and look at what is happening on the whole at Dartmouth.

Dartmouth's soul lies at the intersection between research and teaching. The SA report is a reaffirmation on the part of students that we view research and teaching as equally important. Megan Steven mentioned that "excellence in faculty is not limited to excellence in teaching." Of course not, but this interplay must always include excellence in teaching. How can we justify sacrificing the quality of Dartmouth's teaching? And equally we cannot justify lowering the quality and quantity of research at Dartmouth. At a time when Dartmouth is trying to expand its research capabilities and become more and more like larger universities, larger universities are spending millions on improving undergraduate education and teaching. To educate the Dartmouth student-scholar population though, we must strike a balance between teaching and research. Dartmouth must find a way to maintain its position of excellence that comes from its commitment to teaching and premier research.