Teaching focussed staff in research intensive universities?

Many universities, including those which see themselves as research intensive, have been struggling with the place of ‘research only’ and ‘teaching only’ staff in recent years. Some are keen to establish ‘teaching only’ or ‘teaching focussed’ positions, while others are concerned that this will lead to a second class of citizens, the teaching hacks who carry the greatest burden in educating students, but have no prospects for real career progression and get none of the spoils of researchers. Some say that casual or sessional staff are already employed as ‘teaching only’ and hence we don’t need continuing ‘teaching focussed’ academic staff.

I note that while UNSW’s new Vice Chancellor seems keen on the idea of ‘teaching focussed’ appointments, the proposed new Enterprise Agreement does not introduce true teaching focussed positions, but continues the arrangement of prior Agreements:

“All teaching and research academic staff will be provided with the opportunity to undertake the full range of academic duties commensurate with the classification level to which they have been appointed. It is recognised that at a given point in an academic career, an employee may agree with their supervisor to perform a predominantly teaching or research role for a defined period due to the performance strengths or preferences of the employee.”

Should we have teaching focussed appointments? Should we have research focussed appointments? Should everyone do everything? Should roles be amenable to change over time? I’d love to hear your views.

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One thought on “Teaching focussed staff in research intensive universities?

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  1. I think that even a research focused appointment should include some teaching. After all, teaching is the core mission of a university, for without teaching a university is just a research institution. Without students, and their need to be taught, there is no university.

    As such it should be the duty of all academics (including those engaged as administrators) to teach. Furthermore, teaching in the field of research forces the researcher to reappraise her work and approaches, leading to better research. It also forces her to share that research with students, and provides an example to students of the value of research. It also keeps the researcher (and administrator) in touch with the soul of the university – the education of the next generation of thinkers and leaders.

    By the same token, any teaching focused appointment should also include some level of research. After all, a university without research is intellectually impoverished. It would merely be passing on the findings and understandings of researchers from elsewhere, while not itself contributing to the growth of knowledge and understanding.

    As such it should be the duty of all academics (and academic administrators) in a university to engage in research. Furthermore, academic teachers that engage in research are able to pass on to their students the latest information and approaches in their field, as well as teaching the important lesson that there is always more to discover in that subject. Doing so will make them better teachers.

    This is not to say all should do the same amount of teaching or research at the same level, but that “not researching” or “not teaching” should not be an option as part of an academic’s portfolio. Thus, research only appointments or using grants to completely buy of of teaching should not be an option. Similarly, academics should not be permitted to be research inactive nor should there be a regular academic with a teaching only appointment.

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