Jeffrey Simpson raises an important and controversial issue this morning. At Canadian universities, he writes, undergraduates are at the bottom of the totem pole:
They arrive at many campuses – this doesn’t apply at smaller schools – and spend the first two years in monster classes of hundreds and hundreds of fellow students. They might actually interact with a teaching assistant in a seminar, but face-to-face time with a professor would be rare. It’s a poor way to learn.
As the father of three sons -- two who have graduated, and another -- God between us and all harm -- who will be heading to university in September, I know that the picture Simpson paints is accurate. Our two older sons have received funding by serving as teaching assistants. I am grateful that door has been open to them.
Simpson surely does not begrudge graduate students their ability to pay for their education. Nonetheless, his contention that
In most schools, and across the academic world, the professorial Holy Grail is research. Tenure and promotion, by and large, depend more on research and publications than teaching. (Again, there are scattered exceptions.) There are few sticks and carrots – or not enough of them – to get professors back in the classroom more frequently, which is the single best thing that might improve the quality of undergraduate education
is absolutely true. The people who generate a major portion of university funding "get the shaft."
The prime purpose of university is not the prime purpose of the faculty. That is not to say that there are not superb teachers on university faculties. Any of us who have been lucky enough to spend time in that world have encountered them. The problem is that the incentive system on campuses does not prioritize teaching. Governments should readjust funding formulae to focus efforts on undergraduate education.
Not only in education, writes Simpson, but.in other areas of public policy, it's time to re-conceptualize the delivery of public services:
The biggest problem of public management today, and not just in higher education, is that public agencies lack systematic incentives to improve quality. Performance toward certain objectives that society has every right to demand for its tax dollars – a better undergraduate experience, better health-care delivery, better education results – is not adequately measured. Measurements are not compared and the financial results do not follow from those results.
I rarely agree with Mr. Simpson. But, as New Democrats and Liberals meet this weekend, restructuring the incentives which drive public policy should be at the top of their agendas.