In no way should college teachers be judged by what research they produce, if any. Lists of papers and books should be forbidden to appear on CVs used for promotion. Those who now spend most of their time teaching are forced to emit “scholarly” output, just like researchers. Most of this output is of little use, is redundant, or is of poor quality. The number of journals created just to publish this material continues to grow, which is a needlessly expensive situation for libraries. These facts are well known.
A high-ranking professor at a prestigious university once told me, in reference to what counts for promotion, that “I add up the number of papers a person has and then subtract two for every one that appears in Journal X.” We all know Journal X is where bad papers go to die a lonely death. Every field has multiple Journal Xs.
Requiring teachers to write papers is asking them to do what they are not good at. If they were good at it (and had the desire), they would be researchers and not teachers. Teachers are wasting time publishing an article in the South-by-Southwest Far East Asia Journal of Research: C when they could have been polishing a lecture, holding extra office hours, or in just plain reading. It is a waste because the paper will never be read by anybody except the one or two referees attached to the journal, and it fools the teacher into thinking he has been productive. It also fools the promotion committee (which obsessively counts papers) into thinking they are measuring the ability of the teacher to do his job.
Counting papers is like eating opium: it is an addiction everybody knows its wrong, but nobody can resist. It’s only a wonder academics don’t receive spam promising a “Proven method to grow your paper numbers. 7++ new citations! Make Deans scream in delight!!!”
Teacher evaluations should disappear forthwith. In their current form, they are useless or even harmful. The kid who has just completed (I do not say “passed” or “understood”) “Introduction to Sociology” is in no position to judge whether what he has been taught is useful, or even to tell us he has learned what he should have. His ignorance is why he is at college.
College students are not customers1 and should not be asked to fill out customer complaint forms, which are, as all know, mere reflections of the grade each student receives in the course: higher grades, better evaluations. These evaluations are thus nothing but indicators of how entertained students were in their twelve- to sixteen-week sojourn. This being both true and well known, teachers change their material to ensure better evaluations2. Where this has led us is obvious.
The lust for purely quantitative measures of performance should not be sated. It leads to over-certainty and blindness to non-quantitative aspects of ability. Unsolicited student commentary, peer evaluation, and other obvious indicators are sufficient to judge teacher quality.
It is easy to judge the mettle of researchers: money and quality of result. But even here, the rush towards quantitative measures should be resisted. It is difficult to bring in the bucks for projects that aren’t considered sexy or are foundational (where the payoff is miles away; compared to hot topics where a paper per month could be pumped out). However, these provisos being read, universities, on average, rate quality of research reasonably well.
The research institute arms of universities evolved this ability by not doing more than paying lip service to teaching quality. If they paid more, they would never let a graduate student within a mile of a classroom of freshmen. Nor would departments hire adjuncts to handle “overflow” based merely on the adjunct having the credential of “M.A./M.S.” or “PhD,” but having no particular expertise in the subject. And just what is “overflow”?
Incidentally, by “lip service” I mean the annual pantomime where an administrator slathers on bright red lipstick and tells the most outrageous lies about how important teaching is to the “mission” of the university. Nobody believes this because, of course, it is not true.
1But see Part III.
2I am reminded of The Onion headline, “Teacher forced to sleep with student for better evaluation.”
If you are a professor or researcher, please email this article to a colleague or administrator.