-by Thomas Mennella-
For a very long time now, institutions of higher education have been informally categorized into either being research-centered or education-centered. While it’s fair to say that universities typically fall into the former category and colleges into the latter, in no way is that a hard and fast rule. What is much more common is that institutions focused on teaching tend to de-emphasize the importance of research. Rather than expect their faculty to publish papers annually, receive large federal grants, serve as journal editors, publish anthologies, etc., institutions focused on education insist on quality teaching and learning in their classrooms and strive for student satisfaction. Of course, this cuts both ways. Research institutions often de-emphasize teaching quality, instead of measuring faculty success by research dollars earned and papers published. With only so many hours in each day, and with the clock towards tenure review always ticking, we cannot fault faculty members at research institutions for spending little time on their course preparation and students. Doing so is not how their institutions measure success.
But, this is unfair. It is unfair to the good, well-intentioned faculty member who wants to be a strong teacher at a research institution, but has no time to develop the required skills. But, much more so, it’s unfair to college students who ultimately must choose between world-class teaching or exposure to cutting-edge scholarly activities. This has been a long and ongoing problem in higher education, and for just as long it seemed to be a problem with no solution.
Recently, however, I learned about an amazing and innovative program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver that may be the solution we need. Described to me by Dr. Strang Burton, faculty member in UBC’s Linguistics Department, this program appears to provide the ingredients needed to bring world-class pedagogies and a focus on undergraduate student learning to large research universities.
UBC is the definition of a research institution. It is known to be one of the research leaders in western Canada, serving over 50,000 undergraduates and over 10,000 graduate students. Faculty success at UBC is typically measured by research: grants, publications, and recognition in the field. Dr. Burton is a member of the UBC faculty; he is tenure-track and institutionally indistinguishable from any other faculty member. However, his success does not depend on his research prowess. Instead, Dr. Burton is a member of UBC’s innovative new faculty track which they call the Educational Leadership stream. All faculty hired under this stream (or track) receive a slightly reduced teaching load (one course less per semester), and they are fully expected to contribute to the larger scholarly community. However, and this is the innovation, the community they must serve is the educational community. Faculty members in the Educational Leadership program must demonstrate excellence in their teaching. But, they must also take on educational leadership roles which yield high impact well beyond UBC. It is in this way that the Educational Leadership faculty are evaluated and considered for tenure. As Dr. Burton describes it, it is this program that best evidences UBC’s “real commitment to improving education.”
UBC has made the conscious decision to apply its world-renowned expertise in research to excellence in teaching and learning. The Educational Leadership program is attracting some of the most talented and innovative educators in western Canada to a research institution, where they are being rewarded for their talents and efforts in the classroom. Those faculty members win by thriving and excelling via their teaching excellence. UBC wins by distinguishing itself as a preeminent research institution that values and promotes exceptional undergraduate education. And, of course, the students at UBC are the biggest winners having the best of both the research and education worlds.
The Educational Leadership program at UBC stands as a model for how all research institutions can better all stakeholders by leveraging their strengths and pushing educational excellence to the next level. Perhaps it’s time for the U.S. higher education system to collaborate globally, and borrow some great ideas from our good friends up north.