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Skilled researchers and effective teachers are neither substitutes nor complements for each other -- in fact, they have no relationship at all, according to a study by two Northwestern University faculty published by the Brookings Institution Thursday.  

Their research adds another perspective to a conversation that has troubled research universities for years: whether an emphasis on scholarship comes at a cost to quality instruction.

“We are able to estimate with really quite impressive statistical precision that they aren’t related,” said Morton Schapiro, president and professor of economics at Northwestern and one of the authors of the study.

Schapiro and his co-author David Figlio, who also teaches economics at Northwestern, evaluated data from all first-year undergraduates students at the university between 2001 and 2008.

They measured teaching quality of tenured faculty two ways. First, they measured how “inspirational” a teacher is by the rate at which non-majors became majors. For example, if a student with an undeclared major took a biology class and subsequently became a biology major, that student’s professor would be marked as inspirational. Second, they measured “deep learning,” or a professor’s long-term value to students, by how well students perform in more advanced classes in the same field.

The authors measured research excellence of tenured faculty through two indicators as well. First, they counted which faculty members are recognized for their research at Northwestern’s annual dinner. Second, they computed each faculty member’s "h-index," which measures frequency and influence of research publications.

At Northwestern, at least, these indicators had no relationship, suggesting that tenured faculty can be both effective teachers and skilled scholars at the same time. This also means that some faculty can be both ineffective teachers and poor researchers -- or one or the other.

It’s unclear how much this study of Northwestern students and faculty can apply to other colleges around the country, Schapiro said, but he encouraged other faculty to compute the data for their own institutions and find out how they compare.

The authors hope the results of this study will help guide the way institutions allocate their limited resources, Schapiro said.

“At a research university, you want good teaching, but you demand brilliant scholarship,” he said. “At a teaching place, it’s nice to have good scholarship, but you demand brilliant teaching.” By knowing that one is not intertwined with the other, colleges and universities can play to their unique strengths when seeking out new instructors. 

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