Harvey and the SAA

After months of debating the merits of research and inquiry based learning, and struggling to define “quality,” the Students Academic Assembly invited the university president to the table.

At the Mon., Oct. 27 meeting of the SAA, University of Calgary President Dr. Harvey Weingarten addressed faculty representatives about ideas of quality and instruction at the U of C, and also the benefits of implementing a strong research focus. According to Dr. Weingarten, the two aren’t unrelated.

“I know there is a perceived tension between teaching and research, and I know when we received $30 million in research funding the students ask ‘what does that matter to me?'” he said during a 20-minute presentation. “There is an amazing crossover between the funds we get to support research, and the funds we get to teach.”

Weingarten explained the two were linked both by the ability of researchers obtaining grants to fund their salaries, and by giving students access to academics who are on the cutting edge of their fields.

Weingarten also addressed concerns professors’ research can take focus away from undergraduate teaching. He admitted this may happen, but said the priority of the U of C is to improve quality in classrooms, and teacher evaluations ensure that happens.

“Teacher evaluations are taken seriously, and I think they’re very important,” he explained, noting the career path of faculty–including consideration for tenure–is often linked, in part, to these results.

Weingarten stressed the largest way to ensure quality instruction is simply a matter of respect.

“Part of it is simply the university saying that when you teach, you treat students reasonably,” he said. “I think most people are willing to accept a dull professor, but what really pisses students off is professors not treating them with respect.”

Students’ Union Vice-President Academic Demetrios Nicolaides said afterwards he was pleased with the discussion. He added the best approach for the SU is to ensure any shift by the university is beneficial to undergraduate students.

Nicolaides added while he doesn’t see the current balance between research and teaching acceptable, it would be possible for the two to effectively coexist. He suggested the university hire faculty devoted solely to research, and others strictly for teaching, although in his presentation, Weingarten emphasized the need for faculty to engage in both activities.

“We know they’re going in this direction, so it’s fruitless to try and stop it,” Nicolaides said. “The main thing we have to do is make sure they involve us and involve students.”

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