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Study Shows Professors With Tenure Are Worse Teachers 273

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-don't-need-no-education dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "We all know the stereotype about tenured college professors: great researchers, lazy teachers. Now Jordan Weissmann writes in the Atlantic that a new study confirms the conventional knowlege that faculty who aren't on the tenure-track appear to do a better job at teaching freshmen undergraduates in their introductory courses than their tenured/tenure-track peers. 'Our results provide evidence that the rise of full-time designated teachers at U.S. colleges and universities may be less of a cause for alarm than some people think, and indeed, may actually be educationally beneficial.' Using the transcripts of Northwestern freshmen from 2001 through 2008, the research team focused on two factors: inspiration and preparation. The team began by asking if taking a class from a tenure or tenure-track professor in their first term later made students more likely to pursue additional courses in that field. That's the inspiration part. Next the researchers wanted to know if students who took their first course in a field from a tenure or tenure-track professor got better grades when they pursued more advanced coursework. That's the preparation part. Controlling for certain student characteristics, freshmen were actually about 7 percentage points more likely to take a second course in a given field if their first class was taught by an adjunct or non-tenure professor and they also tended to get higher grades in those future courses. The pattern held 'for all subjects, regardless of grading standards or the qualifications of the students the subjects attracted' from English to Engineering. The defining trend among college faculties during the past 20 years or so (40, if you really want to stretch back) has been the rise of the adjuncts. 'That said, there is something appealingly intuitive in these results,' concludes Weissmann. 'Professionals who are paid entirely to teach, in fact, make for better teachers. Makes sense, right?'"
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Study Shows Professors With Tenure Are Worse Teachers

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  • Moo (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chacham (981) * on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:20AM (#44839425) Homepage Journal

    Is the difference really tenured or non-tenured? Or is it, younger or older.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Is the difference really tenured or non-tenured? Or is it, younger or older.

      Socrates was outraged at the accusation that he took money to teach because teaching the youth was everyone's job. It would be like accusing an honest person of embezzlement.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Way to miss the point. He meant younger or older professors. You see, chances are that the non-tenured professors are younger than the tenured professors. The fact that you require this explanation proves you were taught by a tenured professor.

        Could the youthful exuberance of a younger professor make a difference? Can the smaller age variance make them more approachable? Could it be that the tenured professors are too busy banging the best looking chicks in class? Could it be that the students get older and

        • Re:Moo (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Obfuscant (592200) on Friday September 13, 2013 @03:45PM (#44843361)

          Can the smaller age variance make them more approachable?

          I doubt the variance of the ages of "younger" professors has anything to do with it. Perhaps the smaller difference in age between student and teacher does.

          This is one of those "d'oh" kinds of articles. Tenure was never intended to reward teaching, only research. Professors are judged on research, not teaching. Of COURSE teaching faculty will do a better job, in general, at teaching because that's what they are hired to do and what they are judged on. Especially at the freshman level courses that are done over and over again. And teaching faculty aren't distracted by worrying about their research.

          That's not to say you cannot find excellent teachers in the ranks of the professors. You can find excellent teachers in any profession. They are excellent teachers not because of their position but despite it.

          So, d'oh.

    • Re:Moo (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Vanderhoth (1582661) on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:35AM (#44839537)
      I haven't had mod points in over a year, but if I had 'em, you'd get 'em.

      Not that I think older people make bad professors, but certainly I could see them becoming more jaded over time. It's like giving someone a fork, we just assume it's intuitive and everyone will know how to use it, but give a fork to a two year old and watch them try to use it. Hilarity ensues.

      I guess chopsticks would be a better analogy. The longer you've been using them the harder it is to understand why others just can't get it right. My dad always had that, "I'm hungry and have better things to do than explain the process, figure it out for yourself or starve." attitude. Which was kind of the same attitude I got from some of my profs in university.
      • Re:Moo (Score:5, Informative)

        by Roger W Moore (538166) on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:20AM (#44839849) Journal

        It's like giving someone a fork, we just assume it's intuitive and everyone will know how to use it, but give a fork to a two year old and watch them try to use it. Hilarity ensues.

        That might be a factor but I think (speaking as a prof) that I get better at realizing what is intuitive and what is not as I teach because if I assume something is "obvious" and it is not then I'll have 10 students outside my office asking about it. However, something I do find hard to adjust to is the ever decreasing standards of high school education. Tenured faculty rarely have time to run remedial sessions to help less academic students cope with the ever widening gap. However sessional lecturers do not have research programs and service work to worry about to the same extent and, at least where I am, several do run such sessions to help less able students. So I am not surprised to learn that less able students showed the largest performance increase.

      • Re:Moo (Score:5, Interesting)

        by OakDragon (885217) on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:22AM (#44839873) Journal
        How about tenured professors have less reason to give a damn about their jobs, since they cannot be (easily) fired?
        • Re:Moo (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Vanderhoth (1582661) on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:43AM (#44840033)
          I don't think I can agree wit that. Many tenured professors do research, it's their life and they do it because they enjoy it. I work at research institute and we have tons of researchers that get forced into retirement that beg to come back and continue research. Emeritus, they come back and work for free, why bother hiring, training and paying new researchers when you can have extremely skilled and knowledgeable ones practically pay you for the privileged of doing what they've been doing for 40+ years.

          I could see profs giving less of a damn about teaching since it's basically a necessary evil for them. They have to teach as part of their agreement in order to continue research, but time spent teaching is time spent away from doing what they want to be doing. Kind of like sitting in meetings is time away from coding and development for most of us. It's a pain in the arse and normally not beneficial to what we actually do, maybe even harmful (I can't count the number of times just sitting in a meeting ended up changing the direction of an unrelated project because someone not related to the project said, "wouldn't it be cool if...?", I'm sure we've all been there), but it has to be done to please the higher ups.
        • by lorenlal (164133)

          Maybe the tenured professors remember their pre-tenure days of being beaten down in reviews by freshmen who thought they should get an easy A in their class. Wouldn't surprise me if they look at the intro classes and just say to themselves, "F 'em, if they don't want to work, I don't want them advancing in my field."

        • Re:Moo (Score:5, Informative)

          by timeOday (582209) on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:33AM (#44840517)

          How about tenured professors have less reason to give a damn about their jobs, since they cannot be (easily) fired?

          No, because the findings also held for young professors on tenure track, whose positions are about as uncertain as you can get. This would seem to indicate that the issue is a focus on research vs teaching. You don't get tenure, or a Nobel Prize, for teaching.

          • by skids (119237)

            Even were it so, one has to ask how much quality teaching we get out of tenure versus adjunct over the entire career.

            If we made everyone adjunct professors they would simply be disposed of by the market when their effectiveness goes below some point as they eventually burn out, where a tenured professor enjoying a greater level of security and possibly lower stress levels as a result may linger on still doing effective work, just not with the same success rate, and probably with side-benefits not measured b

    • Re:Moo (Score:5, Informative)

      by arth1 (260657) on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:35AM (#44839539) Homepage Journal

      "faculty who aren't on the tenure-track appear to do a better job at teaching freshmen undergraduates in their introductory courses than their tenured/tenure-track peers"

      Emphasis mine.

      That should not be extrapolated into tenured professors being worse teachers overall. I'm pretty certain that for advanced studies, the opposite is true, if nothing else because the untenured teachers don't have the same chance to specialize.

      • Re:Moo (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ranton (36917) on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:21AM (#44839857)

        That should not be extrapolated into tenured professors being worse teachers overall. I'm pretty certain that for advanced studies, the opposite is true, if nothing else because the untenured teachers don't have the same chance to specialize.

        By advanced studies I assume you mean graduate classes correct? Because if you are implying that anything taught at the undergraduate level requires a level of specialization beyond what an adjunct can possess, I strongly disagree. I would venture to say that almost all graduate classes don't require that much specialization either. I went to a school at the bottom end of the top 50 nation-wide, and almost all of my graduate classes were a joke. The only real benefit was resume padding and the chance to become involved in research (where I learned a great deal).

        Tenured professors will still be useful for their research. This is both because of the results of the research and for the opportunity they give students who assist with the research. But if their research is important at all then they are probably wasting their time teaching, and apparently doing a worse job than those who would have focused on teaching full time. I know my research advisor could have got much more done if she didn't have to prepare lectures all the time.

        • Graduate classes or upper level undergrad courses. There's a few years between freshman survey courses and grad school.

          I'm guessing something is going to change with education and research. As you pointed out, it hasn't made much sense for our researchers to be wasting time teaching for a while now. Additionally, there's a flood of PhDs coming. Online classes are coming as well, reducing the need for overqualified lecturers, and the education bubble is going to have to pop before too long.

          Ideall
        • by floodo1 (246910)
          did you get an MBA?
      • Additionally, tenure-track faculty may consider being assigned a freshman intro course a punishment (and, sometimes, it is). Sometimes, an upper-level class which the faculty member has put a lot of effort into preparing doesn't make some minimum enrollment, and they are assigned to an intro course with no time to prepare.

        The study notes, but the media summaries rarely mention, that most of the gains were from lower-achieving students; the higher-achieving students saw no difference between the two classes

      • Re:Moo (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Larry_Dillon (20347) <dillon DOT larry AT gmail DOT com> on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:13AM (#44840327) Homepage

        I think you're onto something here. Senior faculty sometimes resent having to teach 101 classes. Tenure is important for academic freedom and to go against what the administration wants.

      • Re:Moo (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thoromyr (673646) on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:30AM (#44840479)

        When I had sociology 101 it was taught, due to unusual circumstances, by the department chair. This was at a reasonably large university and, being a required freshman course, had large classrooms. I was not, however, a freshman. By that time I had two years behind me and was picking up the required courses at the university I had transferred to.

        If you had surveyed the students they would have indicated the instruction was terrible. Not because it was, but because they were nearly all freshman. Straight from highschool with over rated opinions of their own intellectual capacity, no ethic for study or class participation, and no interest in the class. Although it was hampered by class size it was one of the better taught classes I've been in.

        Yes, I realize you are emphasizing "freshman undergraduates" and "introductory courses", but the problem isn't (necessarily) that tenure track professors are less effective at teaching them but (more likely) that they push and expect more (something) from the students.

        Students are an amazingly lazy lot*. At a third university (yeah, I moved around a bit) I took a medieval history course. It was flooded with students and it turns out that 1) there was either no class size limit or it was not enforced and 2) the prof had (deservedly or not) gained a reputation as being an "easy A". I had a genuine interest in the topic and, being new, had not heard of the rep until the first day of class. It was a "flash enrollment" situation -- apparently the class had been small up to that semester and he spent an undue amount of time trying to convince people to drop. When taking a survey of students concerning their professors the group bias needs to be taken into account.

        I've known tenured professors who taught at various levels (introductory courses on up) who were absolutely *loved* by students because you got an A simply by being enrolled. Top approval ratings, voted for teaching excellence, etc. Conversely, another tenured professor, on the first day of class for a required course, bragged that he (and one other) prof accounted for something like 90% of the students taking it semester after semester and that 60% of those students didn't pass. It was a point of pride with him. Without knowing more about the situation, student evaluation of professors is basically meaningless.

        What it boils down to is that some professors are gas bags who just like to hear themselves talk. Some are there for the pay check. Others are just there for the research and resent having any class load at all. In other words, they vary.

        About the one valid generalization that can be made of tenured vs non-tenure track vs non-tenured tenure track is that non-tenure track tend to try harder and care more about student approval; non-tenured tenure track tend to try to meet tenure requirements and care more about student approval. In other words, tenured faculty (as a generalization) tend to be less concerned with student approval. They've also been doing it long enough to have learned that students want contradictory things (e.g., there was too much classroom discussion vs there was not enough).

        * I'm using this as a generalization of undergraduates in general. Graduate students are, in my experience, more motivated than nearly any undergraduate. But the motivation levels of undergraduate students varies a lot ranging from the "I can't be bothered to show up for class" freshman to the rare "I will exceed the expectations for all assignments". Students suffer from a range of maladies, such as believing they can pass a class without doing any assigned work or reading.

    • Tenured is a bad plan in terms of Human Resources, and productivity.
      Every job has an aspect to it that isn't fun, and people would prefer not to do it if they don't want to. What keeps people doing these sucky parts of their jobs, is the fact that they could get promoted, or at least not fired for doing them.

      Now if you have Tenured where you would only get fired if you really try to, means your job is secured, not matter what. So if there is the sucky part of your job, you just don't do it, or do it well.

      • Re:Moo (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:42AM (#44840021)

        It is fashionable to blast the tenure process, but faculty that get fired are not going to go work at the local gas station (or even at some software company) and come back as great faculty ever again. And people generally get tenured about the time they are dealing with families, and are least-likely to tolerate long-distance moves, which is important considering how distant universities are from each other. So you start instituting the destruction of the tenure process, and you'll destroy universities ... in the US, that is the perhaps the only part of the educational process that is actually good.

      • Re:Moo (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:45AM (#44840057)

        Yes, but nobody in this thread is addressing the root reasons for tenure. Tenure exists to allow professors to have true academic freedom and freedom of speech. Otherwise major donors could influence the choice of who to fund and who to fire based on the political, religious (or other) views of individual professors.

        Here's Wikipedia;
        Without job security, the scholarly community as a whole might favor "safe" lines of inquiry. The intent of tenure is to allow original ideas to be more likely to arise, by giving scholars the intellectual autonomy to investigate the problems and solutions about which they are most passionate, and to report their honest conclusions.

        • Re:Moo (Score:5, Interesting)

          by WrongMonkey (1027334) on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:24AM (#44841017)
          That mechanism has already failed. Modern scientific research is so expensive that even tenured professors have to carter to the whims of funding agencies (NSF, NIH, etc.) in order to continue working. Intellectually autonomy doesn't keep the rat colony alive, pay the electric bill for servers or purchase chemical reagents.
          • That mechanism has already failed. Modern scientific research is so expensive that even tenured professors have to carter to the whims of funding agencies (NSF, NIH, etc.) in order to continue working. Intellectually autonomy doesn't keep the rat colony alive, pay the electric bill for servers or purchase chemical reagents.

            I'm glad somebody said this. Though I'm sure it's always served both roles, another thought about modern tenure (in my opinion as a young academic) is that it's much less about guaranteeing academic freedom, and much more about managing hiring in the face of an ever growing crowd of PhDs. A department might hire a few adjuncts to teach and put 4 or 5 good researchers on the the tenure track, with what seems like a full expectation of granting tenure to one (or zero, if they feel like rolling the dice again)

      • Re:Moo (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Cassini2 (956052) on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:29AM (#44841061)

        The university system was set up to preserve and expand knowledge. The tenure system works well in that regard. Most tenured professors keep doing research, and keep graduating PhDs. Witness the number of retired (Professor Emeritus) professors that are still active in their fields.

        Once you realize that universities were never meant to teach large numbers of undergraduate students, then the problems start becoming obvious. What does research and tenure have to do with undergraduate teaching? If you are lucky, in the fourth year you might start to get current knowledge in most engineering programs. Everything taught before that has been known since the 1950's (and often much earlier like the 1700's). As such, current research has almost nothing to do with the undergraduate program. Even current employment trends, on the whole, have nothing to do with the curriculum of the undergraduate program at most universities. (Witness the large number of liberal-arts majors and the correspondingly small number of associated liberal-arts jobs.)

        The explosion that is about to happen is that:
        a) students want to pay for something that gets them a job,
        b) universities were never originally structured for job training, and
        c) the universities have no funding formula to pay for the practical facilities for practical job training. This means that students graduate without practical skills, and this makes them unemployable.

        We are heading to a world where we have many highly-educated, unemployed, indebted and poor former university students.

        • Re:Moo (Score:4, Interesting)

          by jellomizer (103300) on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:37AM (#44841133)

          It would be better if Universities, get out of the Educating Kids for Jobs market, but strict educational research path.

          We need to get Organizations to recognize non-College degrees as valuable education for their work. And save your College education degree for career paths in research and education.

          The Undergrad classes, should be taught not in a University setting but in a Schooling setting outside of research. Not Dumb it down, but teach it with the expectation that people will use it to go to work in industry.

    • No, it is non-experienced vs experienced. Most people who go into teaching do so to garner satisfaction believing they will be helping and loving the selfless feeling. They start their career full of exuberance then begin to realize that it just isn't what they had thought it was. Disillusioned, they cling to the career resentful of the administration and red tape when they should be moving on to a different career.

  • No way! (Score:2, Insightful)

    I wonder why a person with in a unremovable job would put low effort on classes...

    Seriously this is news?

    • "tenure-track" means they don''t have tenure YET. The outcome is unexpected as you'd expect effort to get to the tenured position.

      • Re:No way! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:56AM (#44839659)

        To get tenure, you need to publish. You can be the best teacher in the world, but that won't get you tenure. So this is an expected result: Tenure-track professors are focusing on what they need to get tenure, i.e. research and publishing. Since they have less time and effort focused on teaching, the results there are less positive.

        • That's true to a degree, but teaching and research (and publications) are not as separate as you might see. If you're a lecturer, a lot of your publications are going to be things that you've coauthored with your PhD or MPhil students. And the easiest way to get PhD students is to encourage your undergraduates to apply to continue studying with you (or apply for postgraduate research assistant jobs). The undergrad teaching is how you get the PhD students, and they're how you get significant quantities of
  • Alternative Metrics (Score:5, Informative)

    by ohieaux (2860669) on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:28AM (#44839477)
    As a tenured faculty member, I can attest to the fact that tenure/tenure-track faculty at many research schools are evaluated (raise/promotion/tenure) on metrics different from adjuncts and instructors. Devoting sufficient time and effort to teaching can be counter productive for your career. For many disciplines, external funding and publications are the primary criteria for evaluation. Ultimately, energies in teaching are focused on graduate students - who support those activities. Add in service (committees, societies and the like) and it's often an issue of limited time.
    • by OakDragon (885217)
      Thanks for the informative post. Now I regret my half-cocked statement above! This sounds entirely reasonable.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As a tenured faculty member, I can attest to the fact that tenure/tenure-track faculty at many research schools are evaluated (raise/promotion/tenure) on metrics different from adjuncts and instructors. Devoting sufficient time and effort to teaching can be counter productive for your career. For many disciplines, external funding and publications are the primary criteria for evaluation. Ultimately, energies in teaching are focused on graduate students - who support those activities. Add in service (committees, societies and the like) and it's often an issue of limited time.

      This is true for most professions. I worked a helpdesk before I was promoted to a programmer. We used to complain that programmers never answered their pages (yes, I'm that old). Then when I became a programmer, I realized that the word, "support" was never used in my yearly reviews. Kind of explained the whole attitude programmers had.

    • by fermion (181285)
      In my experience as a freshmen in college, tenure or tenure track made no difference. Some of it, I think, had to do with class size. I had small honor classes with professors that I really was inspired to do well even if I did not. I basically bombed my major classes because they were large, and were taught by profs. I was in a small calculus class that was taught by a new young guy, basically was later told by a full prof at another university that we was lucky to have a job, and that was not so good.
    • by call -151 (230520) * on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:40AM (#44840593) Homepage

      Good summary, speaking as another tenured faculty member. There are a number of things which are not addressed in the study which complicate any analysis:

      1. Younger tenure-track faculty tend to rarely teach introductory courses as large lectures in institutions I have been at. Generally, young, untenured faculty are given teaching reductions during their probationary periods to focus on research and getting grants, which are the primary determinants of whether or not they get tenure.
      2. Tenured active researchers who are enthusiastic and productive about their research generally teach less overall and are less likely to teach intro courses. There are some active research faculty who relish the large-lecture environment and the "showmanship" aspects that it entails, but in my experience those are not typical and most researchers prefer to teach upper-division and graduate courses.
      3. From the study The freshmen who got the biggest boost tended to be less academically qualified students, judged by SAT scores and such, in the hardest subjects. To me, this indicated that the talents being measured are reflective of more basic level information, and perhaps related to improving student organization and study skills. Some adjuncts are excellent at giving the structure and feedback that weak students need (their livelihood may depend upon such skills) whereas other faculty may not have the patience to help get poorly-prepared students up to speed, and their livelihood depends upon other skills such as research, mentoring graduate students and postdocs, and so on.

      The first two points result in a biased sample- tenured faculty teaching intro classes may well be dominated by "dead wood" faculty who have to teach more because they are no longer as productive in research, and are more likely to teach intro courses. I have been in departments where one strategy to get unproductive faculty to retire is to assign them to large intro lectures for non-majors. That is not a recipe for learning success and may be sufficient to bias the results downward as seen in the study. It appears there is just one institution in the study (Northwestern, a private university in the American midwest) and if that is a common practice there, that makes the whole thing pretty moot.

      Another point is that it does take a while for junior faculty to find their teaching footing, particularly in the large lecture-theater classes. Often, small changes in administrative or organizational methods have a big impact on how happy the students are or how much time they put into the class. With greater instructional experience, particularly in large lectures, it is not surprising that a seasoned adjunct instructor may do better by these metrics that a hotshot excited untenured researcher, no matter how enthusiastic the latter is.

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:29AM (#44839481)

    Candidates at Universities get the opportunity to work with people who are pioneering their fields. They are often brilliant, will nurture talent when they see it, but can be a bit eccentric and will respond to something like "I can't remember how to do integration by parts" with a reference to a textbook or by passing them on to a more able student.

    This works well for the brightest, and reasonably well for the average - but it has long been known that those of less ability (who are still bright by average population standards) would do better in a technical college. Here they would be taught by dedicated teachers, who would do little or no research.

    Is the solution to make Universities more like technical colleges? Well, maybe now they are looking at taking closer to 50% of all kids instead of the 10% that hey did decades ago then it is. We should not forget that even if we need to add tuition staff then to turn out new scientific pioneers we still need the research professors, even though they may not be the best teachers for all students.

  • Yes, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by c (8461) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:30AM (#44839485)

    I hate to talk about correlation/causation, but there's typically some significant demographic differences between profs with and without tenure.

    My experience is that tenure-track profs were a heck of a lot younger, meshed well with the students, hadn't spent the last 20 years teaching the course, and were more likely to put in more time and effort on the material. Tenured profs also tend to have a lot of things sucking their time (obviously researchers, but department heads and/or deans are worse), so they dump a lot more on the TA's and are pretty tight for office hours.

    I'd be curious to see how things break down when they account for demographic differences. If that's even feasible.

    • Re:Yes, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by EdgePenguin (2646733) on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:50AM (#44839609) Homepage

      This seems fairly obvious. Younger faculty relate better to young students. But such a caveat doesn't fit well with a sensationalist press release/headline.

      Its a pretty shitty aspect of western culture (don't know if other cultures experience it or not) that there is mass resentment of other people having any kind of job security. There is the notion that "other people" are all feckless, lazy slobs who must be whipped to work harder by constantly being threatened with redundancy and poverty.

      The worse the economy gets, the stronger this feeling. Whip the Others harder, get the economy going. Leave me and people I know alone - we are hardworking families - kick those Others into working longer hours for lower wages; the fuckers are getting off too lightly. Problem is, this is just a feeling. Actual research into motivation finds that an environment of fear, or even promise of big rewards, does not generate productivity in anything other than menial tasks. Unsurprisingly, most people work better if they aren't constantly stressed.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        there is mass resentment of other people having any kind of job security.

        I think it is our acceptance of envy. You see it when people talk about unions and public servants, and you see it in the 99% crowd as well. It's a shame because there are legitimate gripes in there, but they get overshadowed by the blind hatred (which IMHO often starts with envy).

    • There are a lot of fields where the adjuncts are retired or semi-retired practitioners.

      When I was in civil engineering, my concrete professor was middle aged, but was still working part time. (I have no idea if he was scouting for talent for his company or not). The adjunct who taught environmental engineering (mostly water treatment) was younger, but actually working in the field. My dad taught law school after he retired 20+ years in the military, and he wasn't tenure track. (which is why he was okay

  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:39AM (#44839561)

    I kid you not. I had a teacher in college who would spend all his classes talking about his friends in the Senior Olympics (this was a Sociology of Religion class, but he did the same in all his classes). Then he would periodically give a test that had nothing to do with the book or anything he said in class (i.e., no Senior Olympics questions). Everyone would fail, and he would grade on a curve. I scored the highest raw test grade in the class for the semester with a 46 (only thanks to a pretty good general knowledge).

    Of course he had tenure, and of course everyone knew about his antics. A few years later he fell over dead while training for the Senior Olympics (again, I couldn't make this shit up if I tried). He would not be missed.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by EdgePenguin (2646733)

      Quick solution to that. Don't take "sociology of religion". I'm willing to bet your physics, maths and engineering professors don't dick around like that.

      • by TWiTfan (2887093)

        Are you kidding? That's where you got into the REAL autistics and nutballs! Only the psychology profs were worse than them.

      • I'm willing to bet your physics, maths and engineering professors don't dick around like that.

        Nope, the physics professor I had spent the first day talking Sikhism [wikipedia.org] and the Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) [wikipedia.org] and it would come up from time to time after that, although he did some more time actually talking about physics. Sadly, he had a very thick accent so you really had to pay attention to figure out what he was saying to determine if it was even relevant.

  • by parallel_prankster (1455313) on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:44AM (#44839585)
    I am not completely in agreement with this study. I only read the Atlantic article, I did not read the study so maybe I missed something. From what I have observed, the younger teachers who were on tenure track in universities were always more focused on getting research grants because that is what helped them get tenure. The older ones were more likely to win best teacher awards. From my just my personal experience of 8 years in grad school I feel like it is just the enthusiasm that some younger teachers show that is infectious and makes you feel like the teacher is good. The older teachers are actually better at drilling down concepts however they were less excited about the material and somehow that transferred to the students as well. Students were more likely to feel bored in their classes. I was a TA and that was a frequent complaint about my advisor but I used to go throw his material and it was fantastic. That said there was one tenured professor who was an okay teacher but left the teacher survey on the last day of classes, on our desks, on the way out muttering "Write whatever you want, nothing can happen to me."
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      From what I have observed, the younger teachers who were on tenure track in universities were always more focused on getting research grants because that is what helped them get tenure.

      That sounds like you agree with the premise; they're not focused on teaching, but on getting grants.

      That said there was one tenured professor who was an okay teacher but left the teacher survey on the last day of classes, on our desks, on the way out muttering "Write whatever you want, nothing can happen to me.

      And that is why it's shocking that anyone is shocked by this study.

  • That might have something to do with the fact that tenure selection is (almost) entirely based on publications, research, and grants and not on teaching.
    • At the university I went to there was a professor who was known to be excellent at research but a crappy teacher. He taught an advanced calculus course in the same way a hardcore uber-geek might teach "introduction to computers" to a bunch of barely-computer-literate old folks...he was trying to teach us the right way with a good understanding of all the principles behind the calculations, but it was going over most of our heads, as the course's pass rate showed.

      This went on until a rich guy's daughter took

  • by RyanFenton (230700) on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:52AM (#44839627)

    It would be nice if we could have careful training of each of our precious growing minds, for years and years, at the lowest possible cost, by people who did nothing but deeply care for the interests of who these people were going to be... but having teaching (and research) being one of the lowest quality-of-life jobs, with very low relative pay does mean something.

    The best way we end up compensating for that, historically, is offering other forms of quality of life - more time to prepare outside of teaching, more job security, and some other limited benefits. Take away these things, and you fully transform the role into a job for masochists.

    The cost dynamics never made sense to me - it really wouldn't cost that comparatively much to make teaching a desirably paid position, and the research positions that go along with them. Instead, what we get are colleges charging historically absurd cost increases every year to have, well, better sports teams, I can only guess.

    I guess if this trend continues, we'll just move to compensating them with coupons to Subway, then rail at how so many of them get 20% off for how 'little' they do.

    Ryan Fenton

    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:40AM (#44840009) Journal

      Actually, the cost is enormous.

      Do you know why NBA players get so much money? Because there are less than 500 players and there are no less than 20 million fans. Not only that, but by playing a single game, they can provide entertainment to all of them with no more effort than if there were just a single fan. With a ratio of 40,000:1 and the ability to connect with all of them simultaneously it's easy to get good pay.

      In any given classroom there are 20-40 students (more for cattle classes, fewer for jr/sr classses). Any more and the personal connection which makes teaching such an interactive endeavor is reduced. 30:1 isn't a great ratio for increasing compensation.

      If every NBA fan kicks in an extra $25, you can raise a player's salary by a million dollars a year. If every student kicks in an extra $25, you could raise a teachers salary by $750 - not quite the bump you're looking for to make it a highly desirable pay scale.

    • by PvtVoid (1252388)

      The cost dynamics never made sense to me - it really wouldn't cost that comparatively much to make teaching a desirably paid position, and the research positions that go along with them. Instead, what we get are colleges charging historically absurd cost increases every year to have, well, better sports teams, I can only guess.

      Most of the growth is in the number of administrators. Who don't teach at all.

  • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:54AM (#44839647) Journal
    Speaking as a tenured faculty member the conclusion that people employed entirely for their teaching with zero other consideration makes sense...but that does not make it correct and the evidence is rather circumstantial. For a start while having a sessional may cause more students to continue in a particular program is this because they are inspired or is it because they make the material seem simpler (perhaps partly because they may be better teachers but also because they will not complicate matters by introducing their own cutting edge research)? For many students, the perceived ease of a course is a large factor in their decision to take it.

    The other issue is that many tenured faculty have been around for a while and find it increasingly hard to deal with students whose education at high school is getting increasingly worse. It would be interesting to see if the effect is still there at higher level courses where the ever decreasing academic standards and discipline of schools is less of a factor. Non-tenured faculty tend to be younger and so the gap in academic standards between their high school years and now is less so they likely have a better picture of what the incoming students do, or rather, do not know.
    • Having been to both highschool and university. I find it ironic that anyone at university would be complaining about the educational value of highschool. If you ignore some of the horrendous data points, like large swaths of the US, Highschool is pretty good.

      Having attended the best university in my country, Waterloo, I can say with absolute certainty that university education is complete crap. They take your money, and need to give some small percentage who stick with it a diploma after 3 or 5 years. They

      • by PvtVoid (1252388)

        Having been to both highschool and university. I find it ironic that anyone at university would be complaining about the educational value of highschool.

        Try teaching a science class to students who don't understand proportionality, can't convert from feet to meters, and don't know what a logarithm is.

      • Having attended the best university in my country, Waterloo, I can say with absolute certainty that university education is complete crap.

        Part of the problem may be that you mistakenly believe that your institution is the best in the country. Waterloo rounds out the bottom of the top ten in most listings.

        I agree though that many, if not most undergraduate programs have become rather underwhelming.

  • by elashish14 (1302231) <profcalc4@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:07AM (#44839725)

    You can't rely on every instructor that you have in school to be the best. And to make things even more complicated, just because a bunch of other students consider an instructor to be good, does not mean that his/her teaching style will be good for you. For example, I learned the most when I had teachers that kept lectures to a minimum but designed very thoughtful and enlightening homework assignments, problem sets, etc. while other students preferred instructors who explained everything plainly while providing minimal assignments (this prevents you from thinking critically on your own).

    If you want to get the maximum mileage out of your college experience, learn how to use the resources around you, whether they be textbooks, the internet, other students, and junior instructors. If you walk in expecting all your instructors to do the majority of the work in teaching you, then you're doomed from the start.

    • by PPH (736903)

      One of the "best" instructors I had in college was a professor who was absolutely worthless. He'd spend the entire class scribbling equations on the blackboard, rarely turn around to address the class and never allow an interruption, either for a question or to point out where he'd fucked something up 10 minutes ago. So anyone that wanted to get anything out of the class (a 400 level requirement for my major) had to take the textbook home and figure it all out for themselves.

  • by sesshomaru (173381) on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:14AM (#44839791) Journal

    "After all, you don't get tenure by dazzling 18-year-olds with PowerPoints. "

    I don't know about the study, but the article is garbage.

    The professor's job is not to entertain students, it's to teach them. Sometimes, students don't like the teachers who force them to work hard and learn the material.

    That's why we have tenure.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by EvanED (569694)

      Sometimes, students don't like the teachers who force them to work hard and learn the material. That's why we have tenure.

      Um no, it's not.

      University faculty have tenure because donors to universities would sometimes force the university to fire faculty who took up controversial topics in the wrong direction.

  • by Cigarra (652458) on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:15AM (#44839803)
    Tenured professors are old and grumpy, non-tenured professors are young and eager. Guess which ones get along better with students?
  • by sandytaru (1158959) on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:18AM (#44839829) Journal
    My husband just turned in his tenure portfolio. While the usual "two publications, community service, blah blah" is all in there, his school weighs his student evaluations as a full third of the requirements for tenure. So any prof who neglects students at his school in order to focus on research is going to have a tougher time justifying the promotion.
  • Of an educational study last week (on /.), I am glad to see at least someone knows the rudiments of conducting a decent study.

  • I have no idea which of my profs were tenured, But I do know which were not professors and which simply graduate students, or business professionals.

    In my experience, almost universally, professors suck at teaching.

  • I've been both (Score:5, Informative)

    by supercrisp (936036) on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:33AM (#44839957)
    I've been both a non-tenure-track (NTT); I am now on a tenure-track (TT) professor; and I will soon be a tenured professor. I've been in the position of evaluating non-tenure-track instructors. (First off, a correct on the terms of art: very seldom is a NTT faculty member titled "professor.") In my experience, yes, NTT faculty are much better teachers. From working as an NTT faculty member, working with NTT faculty, and having them as close friends, I can say that there are three reasons that NTT faculty are better teachers. 1) They are younger and consequently fresher and have fewer family obligations. They are typically single. When coupled, they don't yet have or don't plan to have kids. 2) They are under constant threat of losing their jobs, so they work very, very hard--much harder than should be expected of people working for, often, about $35k/year, sometimes more, but generally not over $40k/yr. 3) NTT faculty are teachers only. They are not distracted by research obligations nor by substantial obligations to develop/run the program. ALL THAT SAID, I don't think hiring lots of NTT faculty is a good thing, at least as it is done now. Such faculty are treated as disposable, paid just enough to keep them around a few years, and worked hard enough that they will burn out pretty soon anyway. That may be good for the students (as long as that student is planning on pursuing graduate work that will lead to one of these dead-end jobs), but it's not ethical. Granted, to some, those salaries I listed sound pretty good, but keep in mind that level of pay is not enough to support a family and it is often further reduced by the need to repay the costs of graduate education. The answer may well be to admit fewer graduate students, produce fewer doctorates. But, a lot of the quality I saw in the instruction of NTT faculty was the result of very strong educations; many of those faculty were electing to pursue significant and demanding research projects on their own dime/time. So the undergraduates (and the employing institutions) are often effectively getting the benefits of a young professor without actually paying for a young professor. That may sound good, until you're the person in a similar situation.
    • Typing fast before I go teach, I made some mistakes; the worst was this omission: "As long as that student is NOT planning on pursuing graduate work...." One more item: there's tons of research out there on this already, a lot of it at the MLA and AAUP websites, as well as the New Faculty Majority website.
  • by acroyear (5882) <jws-slashdot@javaclientcookbook.net> on Friday September 13, 2013 @09:43AM (#44840039) Homepage Journal

    As if getting Tenure had anything to do with how good a teacher you were...

  • The study was conducted not merely *by* Northwestern University, but *at* Northwestern University. Its universal application is not obvious, given the variety of colleges and tenure requirements available.

    As has been mentioned already, such universities typically reward tenure on the basis of *research* emphasis, not teaching, so the results are hardly surprising.

    I submit that these results will fail to generalize when so-called "teaching colleges" -- those whose primary means of performance review for
  • Life is imperfect and unjust; quit your moaning, stay on your toes, and make the best of what you are given. If your tenured professor sucks (and for me, most of them did), pull your socks up and study by yourself or with friends. It all goes downhill from here so better get used to it.
  • Tenured or not, universities have plenty of ways to reward and punish faculty. Tenured faculty aren't rewarded for good teaching, they are rewarded for bringing in money, serving in visible positions outside the universities, and generating buzz and publications. So that's where they spend their time and effort.

  • by Goldsmith (561202) on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:14AM (#44840333)

    While teaching is used in evaluating some professors, the best universities and the best professors get the large majority of their funding and fame from research.

    If you're bringing in $1M+ a year in grants and contract research, no university is going to care a bit about your teaching prowess or lack thereof. If you're not able to do that, welcome to the non-tenure track world.

    Graduate education in science and engineering doesn't include pedagogy. If teaching mattered, it would.

  • Full disclosure: I did not pay to read the article. Based on the summary, there are some pretty outstanding flaws. Also, I have not received tenure yet (but will be up for tenure soon). I do spend quite a lot of time off-the-clock (i.e. anywhere not on campus) focusing on how to improve my teaching. I also feel that I am more enthused than some of my older, tenured counterparts. I teach both lower level courses as well as graduate courses. That said, 1. Non-tenure faculty tend to teach lower level courses.
  • So that they can't be fired for being unresponsive to students.

  • by Skapare (16644) on Friday September 13, 2013 @10:37AM (#44840563) Homepage

    Tenure evaluations focus on research that brings in money. The people who can do research well and are lousy at teaching are preferred over people who can do teaching well and are lousy at research. The latter group does not bring in the cash. The latter group rarely gets tenure. If you have a Ph.D you are expected to do more research than teaching.

  • Let me take a crack at decimating this "made to order results" "scientific" paper.

    First some notes:

    The actual paper is hiding safely away from the world behind a paywall . Where is Aaron Schwartz when you need him to help you take on the depredations of university administrators?... oh yeah, that's right.
    We can only read the abstract, so it's hard to critique because of course the most interesting - and indictable - parts of a paper are :

    1) the methods.. because if the methods are invalid, who *cares* wha

  • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Friday September 13, 2013 @11:48AM (#44841217) Homepage

    Tenured or tenure-track faculty: Paid reasonably well, have some job security, but had to fight seventeen other applicants to the death in a gladiatorial arena just to be considered for the position. Understand that tenure makes their job completely safe, but reality means that they're always one spilled martini away from being out on the street again.

    Untenured instructors: Generally sessionals, hired for a few months at a time, who need to beg for their own job back at the end of every semester. Rarely given the opportunity to teach the same class twice in a row, often prevented from working more than two or three years at the same school (to encourage them to apply for permanent positions which don't exist, naturally) and would make better money serving coffee to students than teaching them. Sometimes have difficulty refraining from asking "Would you like fries with that?" when handing out assignments or exams.

    Really, it's a wonder any of these people have time for teaching at all. We're not that far away from handing students a list of textbooks to buy at the beginning of the year and then sending them to an empty classroom and asking them to teach one another.

  • by SoftwareArtist (1472499) on Friday September 13, 2013 @01:08PM (#44841955)

    In college I had some wonderful teachers and some terrible teachers. The wonderful teachers covered the whole spectrum in position, from graduate students to tenured professors. But every single one of the terrible teachers was a tenured professor.

    The way academia works is just messed up, at least in large research universities. You become a professor because you want to do research. You get hired based mainly on your research skills. But once you get hired, you're expected to spend lots of time teaching, even if you don't like doing it and aren't good at it. This makes no sense. Hire researchers who like doing research and are good at it. Hire teachers who like teaching and are good at it. If someone happens to like doing both and be good at both, that's fine. But if they only want to do one, that should be fine too.

Philogyny recapitulates erogeny; erogeny recapitulates philogyny.

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