I am one of the many faculty who offer a university education to thirteen thousand, and usually more, students who tries to infuse her teaching with vitality and purpose. I believe I succeed, at least some of the time.
Lately, we have confronted an incentive system with the unfortunate acronym, PSSI. It is intended to reward those who work the hardest and teach the best. Critics of the PSSI abound. Some dislike the shifting of judgment calls away from colleagues and into the dominion of deans, provost and president. Others dispute the basis on which judgments are derived.
In these early years of the PSSI, scarce rewards make judgment calls difficult. Nonetheless, there is a need for reappraisal. As I see it, our task, as faculty, is to present to students ideas and information central to the disciplines we represent, illustrate connections and overlap between ours and other compatible disciplines, spark intellectual curiosity, and, finally, raise students' learning curve. Among faculty, there is greater variety in the approaches that move students along the learning path than in perceptions of our overall objective.
An important difference among us is the inclination to invest primary energy in classroom instruction or to strike a balance between classroom and scholarly or creative effort. The distinction, however, should not be overstated. Most are somewhere on a spectrum. Most are not neither out pedagogues interested solely in conveying knowledge nor dedicated scholars who regard the classroom as an inconvenient diversion. Good teacher-scholars, however, do not work in a vacuum. Projects in progress often infiltrate the classroom as illustrations of the manner in which biochemists or geographers or artists embark on voyages of discovery.
On this campus, it seems to me (and I assume many others), scholarly and creative efforts receive less recognition than conveying knowledge does. Such works do not receive as warm a reception as experimenting with classroom strategies. Innovation in the classroom, when successful, should be rewarded. Likewise, those of us who choose to advance knowledge through our scholarship should also be rewarded and energized. The scholar whose freshly published book has received favorable reviews gains some acclaim, but the one striving to complete a work in progress faces frustrating hurdles.
The teaching load alone is a major obstacle, and preparing new courses or improving existing ones absorbs much of the finite time in the summer interval. CSU Research awards and sabbaticals help, but these are scarce, highly competitive, and sporadically awarded.
Those who struggle to teach well and advance knowledge, too, need encouragement. Incentives, PSSIs included, should reward classroom innovation and scholarly and creative effort.
Joanna Cowden, History
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