Teaching-stream faculty positions – response to Globe & Mail article

Yesterday, an article was published by the Globe and Mail, “For a new kind of professor, teaching comes first“* by James Bradshaw. The story raised some positive points (e.g., qualified academics may prefer to focus on teaching; educational research is carried out by some teaching-focussed professors). Unfortunately, there were some inaccuracies about teaching-focussed faculty positions at York University,  and some disheartening statements from James Turk, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT/ACPPU). The CAUT/ACPPU is supposed to represent all sorts of university/college staff members, not only research faculty. (It may not be common knowledge that there are teaching-stream faculty positions at many Ontario universities already, although we are in the minority compared to research stream faculty.)

Several of my York University colleagues read the article, leading to a flurry of email discussions. (I’m a tenured Associate Lecturer at York University, on a leave of absence to work at the University of Windsor.) In response to the article, we prepared and sent a letter to the author and to the Globe and Mail editor, as well as to James Turk – I am including the text of that letter below. (Many thanks to Tamara Kelly and Andrew Donini for major crafting of the letter, though most of us contributed.)

I recognize that the idea of creating new teaching-stream faculty positions in Ontario universities could be problematic, particularly given the descriptions we have seen of what such positions might look like (i.e., extremely high teaching loads, little/no involvement in service). And there are some academics who flat-out don’t think that it’s appropriate for a faculty member to be “simply a teacher” (phrase used by an angry colleague in a YUFA general meeting in 2011). Nevertheless, I hope that decision-makers will take a measured look at existing teaching-focussed faculty positions in Canadian universities (and the individuals in those roles) to see our contributions as we work alongside our research stream colleagues, striving to provide high-quality education to our post-secondary students.

* The initial version of the story was entitled: “New breed of university faculty puts focus on teaching over research”.

Letter to the editor:

Sept. 6, 2013

Dear Mr. Bradshaw,

Your article titled “New breed of university faculty puts focus on teaching over research” is missing important facts. York’s ‘new initiative” is not new at all. In fact, York University already has teaching-focussed faculty included as a category under the YUFA (York University Faculty Association) collective bargaining agreement (CBA); these positions have existed for approximately 40 years. Under the CBA this faculty category is named “Alternate Stream”. These are tenure track faculty positions with titles “Assistant Lecturer”, “Associate Lecturer” and “Senior Lecturer”, analogous to the parallel research stream categories of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and Full Professor. In both cases tenure and promotion is based on performance and peer review. Alternate Stream faculty are integral members of the University, serving on important decision-making committees, holding important administrative positions, and are often involved in current educational research. Most of these individuals were hired not only on the basis of their research experience, but their commitment to and expertise in education. In the absence of major administrative duties, about 70% of their time is spent on teaching and the other 30% on research (usually pedagogical) and service (i.e., university committees).

We strongly support the expansion of this group at York (until now limited to relatively few departments), for many of the reasons pointed out in your article. However, we are concerned about proposed modifications that would impose an inordinate teaching load on new alternate stream hires; a teaching load that would in effect preclude contributions to pedagogical research or substantive administrative contributions.  This is a very important distinction when you consider that Alternate Stream faculty members bring their wealth of expertise in teaching and learning to committees that determine curriculum, teaching practices, and student petitions, to name a few. With the altered role, these individuals would likely have little input in decision making bodies, nor contribute to the ongoing service commitments that current research and alternate stream faculty carry out.  The teaching load must be conducive to keeping up with disciplinary research and advances in education. Otherwise teaching innovation and excellence will suffer.  Questions that need to be asked in your follow up article should address how universities will meet the challenges of teaching effectively when a new teaching-stream is primarily designed to meet budgetary and financial objectives.

What is the “something else” that the researcher brings to the classroom that Jim Turk holds so dear? We suggest the remark and subsequent comments about “balkanization” and “producers of knowledge” are off the mark. Keep in mind that teaching stream members hold graduate degrees and thus typically have already proven themselves as “researchers”.  Some continue to engage in research, and all certainly continue to integrate research into their classrooms because, as your article points out, that is what Universities do.  Finally, and most importantly, while research informs teaching, there is no correlation between level of achievement as a researcher and that of teaching; that is, there is no link between faculty research and effective teaching (Feldman, 1987; Feldman, 1994; Hattie and Marsh, 1996; Kinchin and Hay, 2007). Great teachers are great teachers, whether they are research- or teaching-focussed faculty, because they invest time and effort into teaching and are open to changing how they teach based on new evidence from cognitive psychology and educational research.

Sincerely,

Tamara Kelly, Associate Lecturer, Department of Biology, York University, Faculty of Science and Engineering Excellence in Teaching Award (2011)
Andrew Donini, Associate Professor, Department of Biology, York University
Mary-Helen Armour, Associate Lecturer, Natural Sciences, York University
Peter Cribb, Senior Lecturer and Associate Dean Students, Faculty of Science, York University
Paul Delaney, Senior Lecturer and Director of Natural Sciences, York University, Sanford Fleming Award and Citation (Royal Canadian Institute, for outstanding contributions to the public understanding of science) 2010; York University-Wide Teaching Award (2006); York University Faculty of Pure and Applied Science Teaching Award (1991)
Alex Mills, Assistant Lecturer, Department of Biology, York University
Tanya Noel, Associate Lecturer, Department of Biology, York University (on leave – currently Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor) York University-Wide Teaching Award (2008)
Paula Wilson, Senior Lecturer and Undergraduate Program Director, Department of Biology, York University

References
Feldman KA. 1987. Research productivity and scholarly accomplishment of college teachers as related to their instructional effectiveness: a review and exploration. Research in Higher Education. 26: 227-298.
Feldman R. 1994. The myth of the superhuman professor. Journal of Engineering Education. 82: 105-110.
Hattie J and Marsh HW. 1996. The relationship between research and teaching: a meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research. 66: 507-542.
Kinchin IM and Hay DB. 2007. The myth of the research-led teacher. Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice. 13:43-61.

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