Does Tom need research?

Once again, NIU faculty did an admirable job of pulling in outside contracts and grants. However, one also has to examine how this will affect the average Tom Textbook.

The answer isn’t as clear as it first seems. Faculty hauled in $16.9 million in outside grants and contracts last year, an increase of 4.4 percent over the previous year. NIU teachers have now pulled in more funding each year for nine consecutive years. That says something about the quality of the researchers we have in our NIU faculty. The statistics are truly impressive considering how tight money is everywhere in the country.

The money generated through grants is primarily used for research, public services, and instructional use.

In all honesty, in addition to providing needed research on a variety of topics, one of the most important aspects of grant money is that it helps to keep the faculty happy at NIU. Researchers need money to continue their work and these grants fill that financial need. As long as grant money continues to flow into NIU, faculty members interested in research will remain happy in DeKalb, even if their salaries lag behind their counterparts at other schools.

Whether the average student should be pleased with this fact, however, really depends on his or her point of view. It works like this: The more money brought in by research, the greater the possibility that Tom Textbook will be instructed by a professor more interested in her research than with Tom as a student.

Most students have had a research teacher at some point during their NIU education and realized how hard it is to learn from someone whose heart is simply not in it. Research teachers see teaching as a means to support themselves while they do their life’s work. This priority scheme is certainly skewed. While it is easy to see how this could happen, it certainly is not justified.

The primary job of a state public university is to provide a quality undergraduate education. Recent Illinois Board of Higher Education mandates have stressed the importance of educating undergraduates. With talk of IBHE program slashing running rampant, faculty members should certainly be aware of the image they convey to the general public. Indeed, only last week The Wall Street Journal ran a story on how college costs have skyrocketed while educational quality is sinking.

Obviously, this is not to say that every faculty member who concentrates on research is a poor teacher. All professors by their very nature are going to be engaged in some form of research and most can balance the two jobs very well. However, it is becoming apparent that NIU students and the public have two basic stereotypes of professors at NIU—those who are here to teach students, and those who are here to research.

NIU should be pleased with the research money clinking into its coffers. At the same time, it should be wary about pushing faculty members to constantly research, research, research.