Debunking the Do-It-All University Professor Myth

What it means to become a research university.


June 9, 2013

Being cooped up at the Naval Postgrad School library in Monterey, CA for the past five days (where I am a visiting researcher) led me to some epiphanies about my job as a university professor back in the Philippines. It’s not that I relish irregular nourishment and coffee addiction, or that I envy their library collection (full-text journal access galore). Over the past few days, I have had serious, intelligent engagements with cohorts and graduate students about the stuff I do in Mindanao. They listen! They’re interested! From here, I understand the idea of an epistemic community: transnational, policy-relevant,  innately comparativist. It is never so myopic or as timid to think that the Philippines is a backwater of scholarship.

As my home university gets serious about transforming into a “research” university, I have a few ideas on pathway:

  1. Teaching is not equal to research is not equal to extension.

Research university professors are expected to excel in all three. Yet a fundamental fact remains that these tasks require different skill sets. I have colleagues who are very good teachers but research interests them very little; others like research more. The promotion instrument rewards teaching and research more than “extension” (some sort of public service). It penalizes those who unfortunately have that public service calling and encourages mediocrity in that area. It’s a system that produces “convergence towards the least common denominator”- for teaching, just make sure you don’t fall below a “Very Good” student evaluation score; publish one article in the least competitive journal; do some lectures outside-- viola! you’re all clear to go.

The solution: create three different recruitment, promotion, tenure and career paths among the faculty in line with these functions. There is no point in continually admonishing your faculty (or dangling incentives) to get them to do more of the other when they it is not their forte. Direct budding researchers into institutes or think tanks, and organic teachers to professional colleges, GE or high school education where the emphasis is on pedagogy and skills transfer. There is no point in forcing all your faculty to subscribe to discipline-specific graduate degrees when they are bound to different places of employment.

  1. Teaching plus enhanced research equals graduate programs.

Graduate programs, NOT undergraduate programs, are the anchors of scholarship.  I remember that in US schools, a clear divide exists between teaching institutions that invariably offer strong undergraduate programs; mid-tier ones that offer undergrad and Masters degrees; and those that offer the full range--undergrad, Masters and PhD. Let’s face it: until and unless you can run graduate programs, you are not taken seriously. It aggravates me to no end that I have colleagues with delusions of research grandeur when they only run an undergraduate program.   

  1. Separate teaching, research and extension calendar blocks instead of a reduced teaching load.

The academic calendar strongly privileges teaching over other tasks through the strategy of granting “reduced load credits.” Under the current scheme, one still needs to teach for 2 semesters, with the assumption that somehow some of that “free time” from teaching will be spent doing other university prescribed activities, as if you could turn on or turn off your teaching side all in one day. Wrong. In many academic calendars around the world, you teach for an entire semester and that’s all you do. Research and writing is a dedicated, protected time spent during an ENTIRE semester or summer.  

  1. Use competitive grant sourcing as performance criteria

A research university does not rely on internal/in-house sources for its research output. It’s dependency-inducing, not to mention subject to all sorts of political nuances. To those who are research-bound, they should be expected to generate proposals, tap collaborative partnerships and actively seek external grant funding from sources that will guarantee  a scholarly publication output. Something like a National Science Foundation or Department of Defense Minerva grant or a Fulbright research fellowship that puts your name in the map (or you die trying).

I have been asked by a colleague in UP Diliman to turn in a 2500-word essay about my research career to go into a research compendium that illustrates the road less travelled but on which UP would want everyone to be in. As I sit starved in my library carrel, I sincerely hope my musings will make a difference.

Iloilo, Philippines

Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus


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