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Committee Advocates For Culture of Teaching

June 1, 1997

Nick Marinello

To create a culture on the Tulane campus that values teaching, we must build support at multiple levels," reads a report generated by an ad hoc committee on teaching. The committee, composed of 12 members of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was formed by President Eamon Kelly in October to suggest ways to enhance and evaluate teaching on campus [see February 1997 issue of Inside Tulane].

The report, which has already been reviewed by Kelly and incoming provost Martha Gilliland, addresses strategies to improve the "ecosystem that both constrains and supports" teachers. "We tried to suggest ways to create a culture of teaching on campus," said Molly Travis, associate professor of English and chair of the committee.

"We culled ideas from colleagues and adapted models from other universities and colleges and managed to make suggestions that don't come into conflict with the fact that Tulane is a research university."

Citing a "lack of institutional commitment to teaching" the report outlines a six-point proposal that involves "commitment and cooperation at all levels of the university and seek[s] to integrate the development of teaching with the research mission."

Specifically, the report advocates for the inclusion of teaching as an important determinant of merit raises, promotion and tenure; the creation of a center for teaching; endowment of teaching chairs; improvement of the educational infrastructure; encouragement of interdisciplinary courses and team teaching; and funding for undergraduate research.

The suggestions address areas that the report identifies as troublesome: insufficient substantive reward for good teaching, poor educational infrastructure and lack of support for continuing education in pedagogy. "What we want," said Travis, "is a more sustained and institutionalized response."

In terms of rewarding good teaching, that response could be characterized, according to the report, in "substantial raises, not ephemeral teaching-award money or small increases." The report also calls for "systematic and consistent evaluation of faculty members" generated by departments, faculty members themselves or the trained staff of a teaching center.

Those assessments would not only be used to determine merit raises but also by the Promotion and Tenure Committee in its evaluations. Travis said the committee also wanted to build on the sustained support of the Lilly Endowment Teaching Fellow Program that awards $3,000 to junior faculty members. "This is where the suggestion for a teaching center came from. The Lilly program is fine but it has been limited," she said, noting that the report recommends tying five annually awarded teaching fellowships to the teaching center.

The center, according to the report, would also serve as "a valuable resource for departments to evaluate faculty teaching" and would become "a place of intellectual and creative activity and one of the bases of a teaching culture." One of the more difficult recommendations for the committee to arrive at, said Travis, was that of the endowment of five teaching chairs.

"Some of us felt these should not be modeled after research chairs in that the person occupying the chair should be teaching a course and giving workshops to colleagues on teaching," she said. "Others thought the chairs ought to be like research chairs and give the person time off to work on research. We finally decided that the holder of the chair should give symposia and workshops."

The holders of these chairs, said the report, should be experts in teaching and be able to "provide a valuable source of information for other faculty." Central to the other suggestions offered by the committee is improvement of Tulane's educational infrastructure.

"I didn't anticipate the catalog of ills from teachers across campus that we received," said Travis. "From chalkboards to computers, the infrastructure problems need to be dealt with immediately." The report recommends two staff positions, reporting to the provost, to manage basic infrastructure and technology infrastructure.

According to the report, the technology infrastructure supervisor would oversee a "plan of connected projects for using information technology to enhance teaching" and "coordinate one-week intensive summer workshops in which faculty members are paid to learn how to incorporate technology into their teaching." The report also observed that improved technology will create opportunities for team teaching and interdisciplinary education.

While Tulane has a variety of interdisciplinary programs that draw on existing departmental courses, said the report, there are "very few courses that actually cross disciplinary boundaries. Thus, few interdisciplinary courses are offered because anyone teaching such a course is not teaching in his or her department's program."

Noting that the same restriction holds true for team-taught courses, the section concludes by saying, "Tulane can offer its students the benefits of interdisciplinary and team-taught courses only if there is money available to compensate departments and schools whose faculty engage in such ventures."

The report ends with the recommendation to increase university commitment to undergraduate involvement in research activities at several levels: through small internal grants to defray the cost of research projects that involve undergraduates; by considering the effort of faculty working with undergraduates in research programs in promotion and tenure decisions; by promoting Tulane as an institution that offers a distinct undergraduate environment; and noting the vital role that graduate students play as direct mentors and role models for undergraduate students.

"The committee did a great job," said Kelly. "The report was comprehensive, analytical and thoughtful." Gilliland, who arrives as provost June 2, was reached at her home in Tucson. She lauded the report for its "strategic and systematic" approach.

"This committee did a stellar job in looking at all the facets in teaching," said Gilliland. "There is kind of a Rubik's Cube phenomenon within universities. You fix one thing and the other side gets out of whack. The committee looked at all things systematically so there is a whole picture here. To be effective we really need to do all these things so all the sides of the cube are in line."

"Faculty have three functions at Tulane," said Kelly, "and they are teaching, research and service. You have to have an appropriate balance of incentives for all three areas, and the committee is right that we need to put more emphasis on the teaching component than we have in the past." Said Travis, "We are hoping that all of these initiatives could be acted on in a couple of years. It will take longer, obviously, to actualize them, but we'd like to see them off the ground in two years."

She admits, however, that the committee was not "tied down by money questions" in its charge to provide suggestions. "Dr. Kelly would be the one to say immediately if this is realistic." "I think the goals are all achievable," said Kelly. "Perhaps everything can't be implemented at once, but I didn't see anything in the report that I thought was beyond the pale or couldn't be accomplished."

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