Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What does your academic rank have to do with how much you teach?

I've had this conversation a few times in my time as a clerkship director/ course director in medical school.  I have a spot that comes open for some one to do a lecture or teach a session, or I want to start a new educational activity.  I ask around to see who is available either from my department or other departments.  Often the name I am given is added with the caveat, "...because they need to get some more education activities on their CV for promotion purposes."  I'm not saying this is entirely bad.  What I am saying is that this statement has some underlying tones that I want to say overtly.

Part of what drives this phenomenon is the more junior faculty truly may not have done as much in education as they probably should, and as more active-learning techniques are being employed, there is a need for more facilitators.  Thus, there is a sense that recruitment needs help.  This is true.  On the other hand, as this incentive only works through the promotion cycle, it doesn't work for full professors.  Thus, the downstream (perhaps unintentional) consequence of this, is that full professors tend to step aside so that the junior faculty can carry the load.  This leaves the educational load on the younger faculty.  I don't think this is all bad.  Many young faculty are outstanding educators.  My concern is that once the promotion cycle has moved through its course, there is not the incentive to contribute.  And there are potentially good educators who are not educating any more.

I understand that this does not apply to all senior faculty.  I also understand that if a senior faculty member is not doing as much in education, it may be that they have taken on more administrative tasks or their research endeavors have become a more central focus.  I'm OK with that also.  How time is spent in an academic position is based on a whole host of factors, and many of them are external to the faculty member themselves.

I'm just asking if we should start rethinking some of the unintended consequences of how we currently do promotion.  Maybe a three to four step process (instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, full professor) doesn't fit as well in the 21st century.  Maybe the milestones project won't end with the end of residency for academic physicians.  Just a thought.  I'd appreciate to hear what you think.