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New Mission for UC System

September 12, 1988

Your editorial proposing an overhaul of UC to improve its undergraduate education makes a valid point, but it also contains a major fallacy it seems to me.

Valid point: It's true that many undergraduates do not thrive at a mega-campus like Berkeley or UCLA, which does indeed argue that some or even most of the other UC campuses should stop growing when they reach 20,000 students or so. Given the apparent reality that enrollments will continue to increase, this implies in turn that a 10th campus may be needed.

On the other hand, judging from my own experience (almost 20 years as a professor in the UC system), there are a couple of serious flaws in your notion that the smaller campuses should change their "hiring and tenure decisions" so as to emphasize teaching at the expense of research.

First, the step you advocate is unnecessary, because research and teaching are not incompatible. Far from it: At an institution of the stature of a UC campus no professor can be an adequate undergraduate teacher unless he or she keeps abreast of his field, which is done by closely reading the current literature (mainly, journals). How can someone with an active mind read closely without reading critically, or read critically without seeing things he can mend?

But even if it were possible, who will do it? You seem to believe that the country contains a vast untapped pool of high-quality faculty eager to suppress their lust for research in order to focus on undergraduate teaching. Where are they? Almost without exception the best professors come from the best research institutions: trained in a research environment, how are they to be converted?

So the step you advocate, besides being unnecessary, is impossible.

But even if it were possible it would be undesirable. Suppose you found plenty of aspiring professors eager to put their research interests on the back burner as it were, and suppose this didn't ruin them as undergraduate instructors: Even so, what would happen to graduate instruction? How could faculty not active in research bring the next generation of scientific or humanistic researchers "on line?" Or train the next generation of faculty?

Conclusion: the "smaller campuses" should not de-emphasize research, any such move would be counterproductive. It isn't hard to find potential faculty skilled in both research and teaching, in fact comparatively few who are good at one are poor at the other.



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