(Article published by the Santa Barbara News-Press, 14 February 1993. It is even more relevant today and applies to universities everywhere.)
Because of the fiscal crisis in California, our tax-supported institutions are facing budget cuts. The University of California is particularly vulnerable owing to criticism over the years that professors do not spend enough time teaching in the classroom. In time of funding crisis, therefore, many people think that one way to save money is for professors to teach more classroom hours.
This criticism, however, is simplistic. Teaching methods cannot be standardized nor is all teaching in research universities done in the classroom. The familiar figure of a teacher lecturing to students, requiring homework from a textbook, preparing and grading examinations, applies to undergraduate teaching levels within the University and in secondary schools as well, but it is only one teaching method at advanced levels in a research university.
Unless one has attended graduate school for an advanced degree such as the M.A. or Ph.D., it is difficult to imagine the great amount of teaching that constantly takes place outside the classroom, and the important role that faculty research plays in the teaching process. Teaching and research are inseparable, and the teaching that takes place outside the classroom is often more time-consuming than formal lectures in the classroom.
Long discussions of a student's creative activity may continue daily or weekly as professors guide him or her to completion of the degree and writing the dissertation. Discussions are often continued on walks across campus or wherever students and professors get together. In courses where week-long field research is essential, or on trips to symposia or other creative functions such as concerts, there are non-stop conversations about research or other creative activities. Such informal teaching commonly goes unrecorded. To those who see education in terms of dollar signs, it can be regarded as time donated freely by professors to taxpayers of our state. This occurs because teaching and research jointly are a professor's way of life -- a hobby, a profession, work and play. The job is a life style.
I taught and conducted research for nearly 40 years at the University of California. My teaching assignments each year included beginning courses to non-majors, undergraduate courses for students working toward a Bachelor of Arts degree, and graduate courses to advanced students. I also guided and supervised numerous students that earned the Master of Arts and Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) degrees who have successful careers in private industry and teaching. This diversity in teaching levels across the full spectrum of student learning is not unusual for professors at the University of California, therefore new knowledge and creative works and the excitement of discovery are introduced quickly across the board to beginning students as well as to the most advanced. Even if they are not conscious of it, undergraduate students greatly benefit from faculty research.
Basic research is the creation of new knowledge and cannot be acquired from reading books or articles. Active researchers in the University of California attract national and international experts from elsewhere in the world to give courses and seminars. The participation greatly benefits the research of graduate students and exposes undergraduate students to the latest technologies and creative discoveries. Such stimulus creates excitement not attainable by reading textbooks, and inspires young students to achieve intellectually in new and previously unknown fields. A prime benefit of the research-teaching function is the opportunity for learning and intellectual excitement that it provides for undergraduate students.
Although graduate education is a major expense for society, the long-term rewards more than compensate for the expense. Compare, for example, the cultural and economic differences between underdeveloped countries without research universities and developed countries that have them. And from a purely practical approach, also imagine our modern world if basic research in universities had been stopped in, say, 1960. The space program, computer and microelectronic technology, modern agriculture, and modern medicine to mention just a few, would not exist today. If research and creative works were to be reduced by increased classroom hours, progress in our state and country would be greatly diminished.
Our highly technical societies could not survive without men and women having the ability to perform research in government agencies and private companies outside the universities. Such people can only be trained in research-oriented universities engaged in teaching. Classroom lecturing alone or teaching out of textbooks cannot impart to a student the ability to accomplish research. It requires a hands-on approach and the emulation of the teachers who are involved in research.
Moreover, much of the information in textbooks used in secondary schools and undergraduate courses across the nation comes from creative activity done in universities. If research were stopped in the universities, who then would create the knowledge included in the textbooks?
While it is true that basic research with beneficial societal spin-offs is also conducted by government-sponsored and private organizations, it could not be done without university-trained personnel with advanced degrees. Also, these organizations have no organized teaching activities to impart new knowledge to students, and, most detrimental to free inquiry, is that such research often remains classified or secret due to national security considerations or in private companies to enhance profits. This non-university research is often a closed market, unlike university research.
To impose a heavier formalized teaching load on professors would impair teaching-research activity and disrupt the balance of teaching functions outside the classroom necessary for the training of high level professionals. This in turn would prohibit adequate time for research and for preparing research results -- the creation of new knowledge. Stifling research would stifle teaching excellence.
The purpose of the University of California is to preserve past knowledge and to create new knowledge, and to impart both to students. Emphasizing teaching at the expense of research might promote the preservation of past knowledge, but not the creation of new knowledge. For the University to discharge its purpose, it must promote research which in turn promotes teaching. Teaching and research in higher education are inseparable. They are symbiotic.
A balance of research and other creative activity with classroom and nonclassroom teaching is not a waste of taxpayer money. To the contrary, highly trained graduates of the University generate an enormous amount of revenue. Research universities are the underpinning of our modern society. Countries without strong research universities cannot long maintain their competitive edge, nor lead in other creative works.
Imposing heavy formal teaching loads on professors in the University might save money in the short run, but it would destroy the purpose of the University of California and decimate the creative collective genius that has made our state and our country great.
Copyright (C) 1997, by Richard V. Fisher. All rights reserved.