Professor of Teaching, Emeritus, in Planning, Policy and Design
Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley
Social Ecology Bldg I, room 205
Planning, Policy and Design
Historical and Applied Population Studies, Demographic Foundations of Community and Public Health
What Does a “Professor of Teaching”
Do at a Research University?
This job description is for my successor—if not also for her prospective colleagues. I write this having just retired, which may seem like the proverbial reversal of horse and cart. But as it sometimes happens, only after finishing do I wholly grasp what I’ve been doing.
I’ll start with background: the distinction between “research universities” and “teaching institutions.” At teaching institutions, including the vast majority of American institutions of higher education, the job profile of a professor is:
- Main course: teaching.
- Side dish: service.
- Condiment: professional activity.
By contrast, at research universities like UCI and its peers, the profile is:
- Main course: research.
- Side dish: teaching.
- Condiment: service.
The profile of a teaching professor is plainly aligned with that of a teaching institution. How then does a teaching professor fit at UCI, where faculty advancement flows, first and foremost, from research achievement?
This position comprises three interrelated roles.
- Rugby Hooker
- Curriculum Steward
- Advocate for Teaching
Rugby hooker. In rugby, the hooker starts the offense by “hooking” free balls into team possession. With the ball in possession, the team’s fleet-footed backs take over, running for glory. Much like the lowly but indispensable rugby hooker, the main role of a teaching professor is to provide a launching pad for team mates in the glamor positions. By shouldering the most punishing portion of a department’s instructional overhead, a teaching professor creates additional time for colleagues to excel at publication.
Yet wouldn’t a corps of temporary players—adjuncts, term-to-term lecturers, or deputized doctoral candidates—serve equally well? No. A ladder-ranked instructor enjoys two decisive advantages: first, a long-term base of operations, and second, a full voice in her faculty’s decision-making processes. These advantages, in turn, are the keys that unlock the teaching professor’s additional roles.
Steward of the curriculum. A teaching professor, inevitably, becomes better acquainted with the department’s curricula than any other member of the faculty. She knows better how the parts mesh, and what’s working or not. As an especially authoritative contributor in the creation, implementation, or modification of degree programs, she is in a strong position to assume responsibility for their stewardship.
Advocate for teaching. Teaching professors must become—if only as a matter of survival—advocates for better teaching and, especially, for better teaching assessment. For the “publish or perish” colleagues who review teaching professor performance, teaching assessment is customarily an afterthought. Thus for their own welfare as well as the common good, teaching professors must nurture a teaching culture: one not only that elevates teaching practice, but strives for an equitable division of resources between research and instruction, including full recognition of teaching accomplishment in tenure and advancement.
In short, the value of a teaching professor is premised on her assumption of the most challenging (and least rewarded) classroom chores. The value of this work is amplified exponentially by tenure or potential tenure, which enables authoritative stewardship of programs and curricula, and effective advocacy on behalf of teaching culture.
Other Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q1. What skills or attributes are most needed to succeed in this position—as distinct from that of an ordinary research professor?
A1. The ideal candidate needs scholarly versatility (count on being assigned courses that are remote from your areas) combined with good management skills (for wrangling people and resources both in mega-enrollment courses and in degree programs) and a flair for theatrics (again, for those mega-courses, but also as an adjunct to academic politics).
Q2. What was your path to becoming a teaching professor at UCI?
A1. My path was a little unorthodox. I earned tenure as an ordinary research professor before experiencing a mid-career epiphany: three mornings in a row I woke up thinking about teaching rather than research.
Q3. What are the emerging challenges for this position?
A1. In 2016, the University of California central administration announced unilaterally that the criteria for tenure and promotion would be changed from “teaching, service, and professional activity” (to quote from the UC-wide Academic Personnel Manual, or APM) to “teaching, service, and research.” The problem is that no one yet knows how these new criteria will differ in practice from those currently used to evaluate research professors (who are evaluated on their “research, teaching, and service”-APM). Thus the perennial challenge remains: educating one’s colleagues and institutional leaders about the value of what we do—and the most appropriate ways to assess that value.
Web Links of Interest
- America’s Smartest Neighborhood? A Demographer Explores the Nation’s Largest On-Campus Faculty Housing Complex [Link to Video]