Michael McPherson Spoke, Our Community Responded

Earlier this month, we published a Q&A with Michael McPherson about the value of quality instruction as a follow-up to the report The Future of Undergraduate Education, The Future of America. This conversation sparked such a great discussion among our community members that we wanted to shine some light on their thoughtful responses, which highlighted key concepts such as tenure, outcome data, and faculty and graduate student preparation.

Tenure

McPherson’s discussion of tenure and contract renewal provoked comments about evaluation and institutional culture. One reader advanced McPherson’s statement about the difference between evaluation for improvement and evaluation for promotion by recognizing the “self-preservation tendencies with tenure that end [up] taking priority over the mandate to actually cause learning.” Another reader voiced support for the tenure system while also noting the importance of debate around issues that upset the status quo.

The discussion also unveiled a larger systemic problem that often poses challenges for non-tenure-track faculty. One reader poignantly asserted that “unnecessary stress caused by the lack of job security and respect facing adjunct and part-time faculty is distracting to say the least. This is reflected in their ability to develop relationships with students and staff alike. Faculty and student contact is highly correlated with student success, and I would argue, teacher satisfaction too.” As McPherson shared, without better support and working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty, institutions will continue to fight a cultural battle around the recognition given to teaching faculty.

Outcome Data

Our readers also discussed the need for institutions to view outcome data within the larger context of education quality rather than simply looking at it quantitatively. One reader noted that “the academic system, as it currently stands, is mostly interested in quantifiable outcome data. This includes retention and graduation rates. There is little value placed on the teaching aspect.” With little emphasis placed on the active learning process, this reader noted, “the ability to retain the information is diminished, [and] test scores are not enough to foster innovative ideas.” Another reader highlighted the role of the learning process in creating “a competent labor force, higher retention rates, and education hegemony.”

Faculty and Graduate Student Preparation

McPherson stated that although many college and university instructors have teaching responsibilities, “they get very little training in most cases for that work,” and many readers supported his position. While a few commented on the need for more pedagogical support, one reader provided suggestions for better preparing graduate students for teaching, such as “[incorporating] an intensive teaching internship, involving mentorship, within graduate programs as opposed to the prevalent system of employing graduate students for low-level undergraduate courses.” Additionally, this reader offered graduate student unions as a potential tool for ensuring fair compensation and institutional support. And while many supported the premise that a PhD isn’t necessarily a degree in teaching, one reader reminded us that there are some PhD programs, such as those in curriculum development, for example, that do include preparation in pedagogy.

Thank you to our community for this vibrant discussion! We invite you to share additional thoughts and feedback by commenting on the Q&A post.

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