Friday, February 26, 2010

So teaching really isn't important anymore?

In my search for answers, I ran across an editorial written by a Student Union president at the University of Alberta ( that really resonated.

"The student experience suggests that our institutions have suffered desperately when it comes to the core mission of teaching undergrads. . . .It's not only that the number of students [and tuition] has increased . . . but a good portion of this troubling trend is attributable to the fact that there are actually less faculty now here than before the cuts. . . .as faculty are expected to devote more energy to building this 'world class' research university, they are almost certainly spending less time interacting and engaging with undergraduate students. . . .This is not to say that research is not an important part of a university, but these days research is becoming the university's main function, and teaching is an afterthought. . . .as a professor is forced to do more research, he or she cannot devote as much time to teaching students, because there is just no money to be made by the university from teaching. . . .All told, the deep and still-unremedied cuts to public funding have left the system, including its leading institutes, unable to fulfill its teaching mandate. . . .And despite the best intentions of institutional administrators and many motivated professors struggling to do more with less, we still have a system where students are not getting the support they need to really flourish.
The simple fact is that students were asked to pay more and are getting less in return.
This is the Klein legacy. Government certainly won't admit it's a raw deal, and neither will the university.

The question is: will you?"

Couldn't have said it better myself. The concerns expressed for students trapped in a system which has grown and continues to grow harsher and rougher with every funding cut certainly mirror those of students at many universities, including the one I've called "home" for several years. But what is even more distressing, to me anyway--because I really despise hypocrisy--is the perpetual insistence among those whose decisions have been most detrimental to the academic teaching mission that teaching does matter.

I came into this profession as a starry-eyed idealist, because I wanted to teach. It might even be said that I came into it by accident. My first teaching experience happened as soon as I had those 18 hours beyond the MA. My most inspirational professor and mentor from grad school suggested I might try adjuncting at a local junior college until I found full-time work doing something else; but he was very careful to caution that I shouldn't even think of making a career out of "professing." I didn't listen, of course. Because from the moment I walked into my first classroom, it felt more like home than any career I'd tried before, and there were a number of them. I came late into this profession and despite my age at the time (34) and my life experiences, I'm sure I was more idealistic (or naive, if you wish) than many younger PhD's coming into the field now. In fact, sadly, a number of grad students whom I've met in recent years already consider teaching "an afterthought." How well the system perpetuates itself.

Clouds have obscured the stars of my initial idealism, of course, but it's taken over 20 years for me to entertain the idea that the weather really may not change.

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