IBHE says education needs improvement

By Lelsey Rogers

The Illinois Board of Higher Education recently reported that faculty at state universities are spending more time on research and undergraduate education is paying the price.

The study focused on the distribution of faculty effort in the areas of instruction, research and public service activities.

“The IBHE has been suggesting for the past six or seven years that undergraduate education needs improvement,” said Ann Bragg, assistant director of academic affairs at the IBHE.

At comprehensive universities in the state, the estimated number of faculty undergraduate instructional hours per week has declined from 9.6 to 9.8 hours per week in 1975 to about 8.4 hours per week in 1989.

In 1969, 86 percent of the full-time faculty surveyed reported that their interest leaned toward teaching. In 1989, the current survey used by the IBHE, 78 percent of the faculty reported their interest leaned toward teaching.

“This is true of all institutions. They have all put more emphasis on research in the past 10 years. It’s a cumulative event,” Bragg said.

In the same report, the IBHE reported in 1969 that 19 percent of the faculty surveyed in comprehensive colleges reported it was difficult for a person to receive tenure if he/she does not have material published. In 1989, 65 percent of the faculty felt that research was essential to being tenured.

NIU Provost J. Carroll Moody noted that NIU has developed from its days as a strictly teaching school.

“We have developed graduate and professional programs and that means that the faculty and the students will be engaged in research,” Moody said. “Without research, it would not be legitimate to have graduate programs.”

“Has the shift been from teaching to research? It depends on what base you start from. The point is that faculty time, teaching and efforts at NIU are still heavily involved in undergraduate teaching,” Moody said.

Tenured status brings up another conflict for the faculty. The IBHE is developing a five percent faculty raise based on merit. The conflict that has arisen is if merit will be based on effectiveness in classroom teaching or research?

“Some institutions put heavier weight on research, it’s easier to count the number of publications a professor has and weigh that than it is to count how good class ‘x’ was,” Bragg said.

Each individual college at NIU will decide the criteria by which to base the merit raises on, Moody said. Each school will weigh teaching, research and public service differently.

Moody said only 70 percent of the funds of the five percent raise has been allocated for faculty this semester.

“Hopefully, sufficient funding for the other 30 percent will increase during the spring semester,” Moody said.

The IBHE also reported on each of the state universities’ focus statements.

NIU has a focus statement developed by the IBHE that states, ” … The university’s highest priority is the provision of high quality undergraduate education … . The expansion of doctoral programs is less central to the university’s role than is the support of excellence in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs.”

Moody said NIU operates under two separate mission statements, one developed by NIU and the focus statement given to NIU by the IBHE.

“Every institution in the state, well public institutions, has an undergraduate mission,” Bragg said.

Bragg said she feels undergraduate education needs to be improved at all state universities.

“There is always room for improvement in undergraduate education,” Moody said.