teaching: the secondary primary

The following paragraph, from right around the middle of today’s First Person column over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed, strikes me as almost Palin-like in its illogic. (Though it is, admittedly, thankfully, handled far better syntactically than the erstwhile governor can generally manage.)

Typically, research earns promotion and tenure. Teaching is secondary, and often for good reason: You took a job as an educator. You’re expected to be competent in the classroom. If you are not, you’re gone on that basis alone unless your research involves grantsmanship or recognition of such high caliber so as to exempt you.

Teaching is secondary because it’s primary? One’s professorship depends on one’s ability to teach – except when it doesn’t? I’m sorry, but we can’t assume that classroom competence is automatic, especially when the entire reward structure devalues it – as this article only reiterates.

Also worth noting is this touching penultimate paragraph, discouraging junior faculty from participating in departmental governance:

Finally, you’ll note that I failed to focus on the importance of committee service in promotion and tenure decisions. A good department chair or governance document should shield you from too much service.

I know, I know: there *is* such a thing as too much, and it’s important not to let serving others (departments or students, whom – one can only hope – the departments in turn will serve) overwhelm your ability to advance your own career. It’s not egoism to take steps toward retaining your position, if you wanted that position in the first place to help others. But overall, I find the assumptions of these two paragraphs disheartening. God forbid we should reward an impulse toward service in those to whom it comes more naturally than life in the dusty archive. How many trees do we have to kill printing uninspired books written just to satisfy tenure requirements, before the tenure requirements notice the waste, and change?

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