Commandment #9. Incentivize professors to teach more and better, and do less obscure academic research that is largely unread.
As alluded to in Commandment #8, tenure is primarily granted to professors who have demonstrated proficiency in research and publication, with little emphasis on instruction. With the preponderance of faculty, particularly at 4-year research institutions, largely, if not primarily, motivated by tenure, it is no wonder that instruction has taken a back seat in the American higher education system. That’s not to say that instruction counts for nothing – a hated professor will have a more difficult time – but on the margin research is regarded with much higher esteem. CCAP has lamented this trend away from instruction, the ostensible goal of higher education, and towards research for somewhat philosophical reasons. The goal, one would think, of colleges and universities is to educate. So why wouldn’t these institutions align the goals of their faculty with their own, broader institutional goals? We at CCAP suspect rankings and prestige play an important role and are hard at work creating alternative ranking methodology which would ameliorate these incentives. Tenure procedures could easily be amended so that faculty are rewarded for teaching well and often, which would align the interests of the faculty with those of the students, namely the goal of a quality education through stimulating and thorough instruction.
Considering the suspicions surrounding the claims of “value added” that many colleges and universities tote, perhaps the benefit to higher education isn’t the education per se. If these schools do simply act as signals (and there is some evidence that they may) it could very well be true that the value of the higher ed industry comes from its research. While there are many breakthroughs and valuable insights coming out of universities these days, there is also a lot of obscure, inaccessible research being conducted that is of little or no value to society. Of course, without hard data these claims are largely unsubstantiated, but anecdotal evidence seems to fully support the notion that much of the research being conducted at colleges and universities is of marginal significance, particularly once we consider the price tag. Perhaps a greater emphasis on collaboration and long-term research could help alleviate some of these problems. Still, any way you slice it, the incentives are misaligned and the research is often out of touch.