Faculty Defend Increase in Research
Critics say teaching suffers at research's expense /Research and teaching are integrated at SF State
March 15, 2004 10:49 AM
It is an exciting day for SF State professor James Orenberg when he finds a letter amid a stack of mail with the familiar name of a former student staring back at him -- a letter full of praise and thanks for a “well-rounded” education.
Orenberg, the chair of the SF State chemistry and biochemistry department, bursts with pride knowing that he is able to give his students a hands-on education that prepares them to enter their field or to move onto higher education. Conducting research allows him and many other professors to prepare students through participation in research projects, said Orenberg.
A recent article in The San Francisco Chronicle stated that the focus at CSUs is shifting from teaching toward research, and professors are spending less time with students and more time away from the classroom. SF State was at the center of the article, as it has quadrupled its research budget in the past ten years and received nearly $50 million in outside funding in 2002-03.
Many members of the SF State faculty agree that over the last ten years research has become more prominent on campus, but they feel this change is beneficial for the students, as well as for the university.
“We enjoy teaching; teaching is our life. Dealing with students is important and research comes secondary,” said Orenberg.
Dean Sheldon Axler, of the college of science and engineering, responded to The Chronicle article in a letter to the editor: “Your article misses the tight integration of teaching and research at universities that encourage excellence in both areas. To be a good teacher, one must be intellectually active. In many fields, the best way to be intellectually active is to have an active research program.”
Although the original 1960 CSU system Master Plan for Higher Education designated the UCs as the primary state-supported academic research institution, the plan was modified 20 years ago to give CSU professors the chance to seek outside funding for research projects. Today, many CSU professors spend time conducting research.
Quoted in The Chronicle, Carol Liu, a Democratic assemblywoman who heads the Assembly committee on higher education, feels that CSU professors should not stray from the mission of education and teaching. Others who oppose the increase of research feel the prestige that comes with recognized research is luring teachers out of the classroom.
A professor's teaching load will be reduced if he or she receives grants to do research, but not completely taken away.
“It is a difficult balancing act to do as much teaching as we do and research. It adds up to more than full time but if you are not involved in your subject, you get stale. If you are excited about your field, it enriches your teaching,” said Mary Luckey, a chemistry professor who has been at SF State since 1982.
Luckey was at UC Berkeley for ten years as a graduate student, postdoctoral fellow, and lecturer, but she decided to come to SF State because she wanted the chance to combine research and teaching. The main focus at UC Berkeley, she said, was on research.
On a campus where teaching and research are integrated, professors and students can work together. Students can act as “another set of hands,” said Orenberg.
Professor Cliff Berkman, who is currently doing research to develop new diagnostic therapeutics for prostate cancer, gets students involved in his projects. He is also teaching a medicinal chemistry course.
“I utilize the energy and enthusiasm of undergraduate students,” said Berkman.
Another example is Professor Sergio Aragon, who is currently researching macromolecules with the help of one undergraduate, two graduate students, and one post-doctoral student.
Graduate students in the science department are required to do research and undergraduates can earn credit by participating.
While researching professors continue to teach one or two upper division courses and lecturers teach lower division “service” classes. Sengupta has noticed an increase in class sizes since he came to SF State in 1996 in order to allow professors more time for research.
“We do not use lecturers as a substitute for faculty. We do not have the budget to have tenure teachers for all classes,” said Sengupta.
Lecturers are hired under “high scrutiny” and are evaluated by students and staff. Many SF State lecturers are a part of the permanent faculty.
When new professors are hired, tenure track staff look not only for the ability to be an excellent teacher but also someone with a vibrant research program that students can work on and that fits the general environment, said Aragon.
“For faculty, the real challenge is in research. We should let the faculty do what excites them. If we were only doing teaching, we would not attract the best staff,” said Sengupta.
“When the university gets more public, we get more donations. Just because we are public does not mean we are not a direct business industry,” said Aragon.
Luckey, on the other hand, feels that the administration should not over emphasize research.
“We cannot compete with Stanford or Berkeley. We want the glory, but we do not have the infrastructure,” said Luckey.
“I don’t see the CSU becoming a research institution, the primary mission is to teach, and I think that it is going to stay like that,” said Calabrese.
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