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Northwestern study asks, ‘Are great teachers poor scholars?’

President Morton Schapiro, Professor David Figlio conclude there is ‘no relationship’

EVANSTON - Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro and Professor David Figlio published research Thursday (January 26) asking the question that has challenged elite universities and liberal arts colleges alike in recent times: “Are Great Teachers Poor Scholars?”

Their answer, based on research using the full population of all first-year undergraduates enrolled at Northwestern between fall 2001 and fall 2008, more than 15,000 students in all, is that there is no relationship between the teaching quality and research quality of tenured Northwestern faculty.

“Colleges and universities must balance many goals, and research universities in particular aspire to excellence in both teaching and research,” they said in their research study published today by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

“University administrators and policymakers alike are interested in ensuring that publicly-supported private and public universities operate at high levels of instructional and scholarly quality, but to date we know little about whether scholarly excellence comes at a cost in terms of teaching quality, or vice versa,” the study said.

President Schapiro is professor of economics in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and holds appointments in the Kellogg School of Management and the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern. David Figlio is Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy and of Economics, and he is the director of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research.

“While Northwestern admittedly occupies a rarefied space in the hierarchy of American universities, our results suggest that excellent teaching and excellent research are not substitutes (though neither are they apparently complements),” Figlio and Schapiro concluded in their study.

“We hope that faculty and administrators at other institutions will be inspired by this study to carry out similar exercises to see whether their tenured faculty teaching entering undergraduates pay a price in terms of research productivity,” they wrote.

To read the full study, visit the Brookings Institution.

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