18 May 2012

Why not adjuncts?

One other thing that Chronicle piece reminded me of:

I keep seeing statistics about how more and more college courses are being taught by non-tenure-track faculty. It always seems to be a given that this is a bad thing. But I don't remember ever seeing anyone actually try to demonstrate why this is so.

Yes, clearly being an itinerant, poorly-paid lecturer or adjunct is less preferable to being a tenure-track professor. But why is splitting the teaching and research loads among two different groups of people bad for the rest of us?

There's not a lot of overlap between the skills you need to be a good researcher and a good teacher. I just don't see the two roles as being particularly complementary, except when it comes to teaching very high level classes. (Grad school classes, and only some 400 level undergrad classes.)

If I could learn data structures from someone who had spent the last two decades digging into the esoterica of spatial representation on high dimensional manifolds or someone who had spent years learning how to teach the basics of balanced binary trees and hash tables, why would I chose the former? If my goal is to be around (relatively-)famous people, maybe I want the "expert," but if my goal is to actually learn things, don't I want the person who's good at teaching what I'll be learning?

Having to do a lot of research means you don't have time to get good at teaching, and having to teach means your research output suffers. What's so great about insisting on having one group of people who do both?

I think insisting on having your researchers do most of your teaching makes about as much sense as having automotive engineers fix most broken down cars. They would probably be pretty good at it (at least above average) and all the background knowledge you need to do the former you can probably put to use doing the latter. Once upon a time, cars were fixed by the people who designed and built them. But that's changed, and I don't see why, other than institutional lock-in and status quo inertia, we couldn't change that for college level teaching as well. What am I missing?

1 comment:

  1. Basically, degrees have been devalued. A long time ago, undergraduates were like PhD students are today: perfectly capable of publishing submitting original research to periodicals, and not uncommon for them to do so... It's only fairly recently that undergrad has become "High School Plus," and the schools are still catching up with that change.