Inside Higher Education
Study: Teaching and
Research Not Tied
Two Northwestern University researchers found that skilled scholars do
not come at the expense of
quality instructors, or vice versa.
By Emily Tate
January 27, 2017
Skilled researchers and effective teachers are neither substitutes nor
complements for each other -- in fact, they have no relationship at
all, according to a study by two Northwestern University faculty
published by the Brookings Institution Thursday.
Their research adds another perspective to a conversation that has
troubled research universities for years: whether an emphasis on
scholarship comes at a cost to quality instruction.
“We are able to estimate with really quite impressive statistical
precision that they aren’t related,” said Morton Schapiro, president
and professor of economics at Northwestern and one of the authors of
Schapiro and his co-author David Figlio, who also teaches economics at
Northwestern, evaluated data from all first-year undergraduates
students at the university between 2001 and 2008.
They measured teaching quality of tenured faculty two ways. First, they
measured how “inspirational” a teacher is by the rate at which
non-majors became majors. For example, if a student with an undeclared
major took a biology class and subsequently became a biology major,
that student’s professor would be marked as inspirational. Second, they
measured “deep learning,” or a professor’s long-term value to students,
by how well students perform in more advanced classes in the same field.
The authors measured research excellence of tenured faculty through two
indicators as well. First, they counted which faculty members are
recognized for their research at Northwestern’s annual dinner. Second,
they computed each faculty member’s "h-index," which measures frequency
and influence of research publications.
At Northwestern, at least, these indicators had no relationship,
suggesting that tenured faculty can be both effective teachers and
skilled scholars at the same time. This also means that some faculty
can be both ineffective teachers and poor researchers -- or one or the
It’s unclear how much this study of Northwestern students and faculty
can apply to other colleges around the country, Schapiro said, but he
encouraged other faculty to compute the data for their own institutions
and find out how they compare.
The authors hope the results of this study will help guide the way
institutions allocate their limited resources, Schapiro said.
“At a research university, you want good teaching, but you demand
brilliant scholarship,” he said. “At a teaching place, it’s nice to
have good scholarship, but you demand brilliant teaching.” By knowing
that one is not intertwined with the other, colleges and universities
can play to their unique strengths when seeking out new instructors.