They may be the ones you call when an oversized marshmallow is attacking New York, but would they make it through the hoops needed to get tenure? I recently saw the new Ghostbusters movie and was struck by the role of tenure at the beginning of the movie. While some of the details weren’t very accurate, the specifics around tenure made me ask the question: Would the Ghostbusters get tenure?
Who you gonna call?
Kristen Wiig’s character Erin Gilbert is going up for tenure at Columbia University. She is worried when a book she wrote years earlier regarding the paranormal is suddenly available on Amazon. No self respecting physicist—and certainly not one receiving tenure at a top university—would write such a ridiculous book.
The Atlantic published an essay from Christine Gross-Loh entitled, “Should Colleges Really Eliminate the College Lecture?” This follows a similar op-ed published in the New York Times, “Lecture Me. Really.” Is there someone out there assaulting lecturers? Are there colleges out there eliminating the lecture? Is there even a college out there that could force an elimination if they tried? What is this really about? There is a growing and substantial body of research that suggests the importance of engagement and active learning. This scholarship has led to calls to reduce the frequency (more importantly, the length) of lectures in favor of engaging students in the classroom. Clearly, those who believe in the power and potential of lectures feel under threat. Yet, the research is clear that the inclusion of active learning helps students learn content better. The defense of the lecture in the Atlantic essay is long on anecdotal support for lecturing and wrong in numerous ways. In response, I want to respond to a few of the most inaccurate passages as a response to the Atlantic and underline my central argument: active learning doesn’t harm students.
14th Century Lecture in Bologna
We constantly warn faculty not to take on service opportunities before tenure. “Just say no” is the mantra from dissertation advisors to senior colleagues. However, I think this is poor advice. Yes, you should limit your service opportunities before tenure. Depending on your institution, some combination of research and teaching will be what gets you tenure. Most faculty can’t avoid all service opportunities prior to tenure and even if this was possible— I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, I believe we should be telling faculty when to say yes to service before tenure rather than just telling junior faculty to say no to everything.
Service is tricky for new faculty. It can be tremendously time consuming, but also a valuable way to feel part of the community.
As an old American history major, I love the history of the Revolutionary War. It has always fascinated me. While today it seems like our political system is struggling, I find it reaffirming to read the aspirations of the Founding Fathers. They weren’t perfect certainly, but the power of these words always gets me. If you haven’t read the Declaration in a while, take a few minutes before celebrating today to appreciate the aspirations of our founders.