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Study shows that tenured professors generally impact learning less than non-tenure faculty

The National Bureau of Economic Research recently released a paper titled, “Are Tenure Track Professors Better Teachers?” The answer they found will likely surprise most readers.

The study by Northwestern University discovered that non-tenure-track faculty have a better impact on freshmen than their tenured or tenure-track colleagues.

The researchers looked at transcripts and determined whether students were more likely to take another class in the same subject when taught by a tenured professor. Next, they focused on the grades of those who did pursue the subject further, and whether they were better if the first professor had been tenured.

Tenure-track and tenured professors were outperformed in both categories, according to the paper, and the pattern held true across the board, testing students both more and less academically qualified.

The study is very thorough, but limited in some crucial ways. Perhaps the results yielded would have been different had it not been limited to only the freshmen of a single university.

That being said, the findings are striking. On one hand, professors must to be very gifted and experienced to become tenured, but they also have many responsibilities pertaining to research and grant work. This can lead to less time spent focused on their students as well as feeling less incentivized to make time for them.

There is also the potential issue of the job security that comes with tenure breeding complacency. According to the UH personnel policies manual, “Tenure is defined as the right to continuous employment.” Of course, the stipulation is subject to performance, but, realistically, it would take a lot for a tenured professor to lose his or her job.

It seems, then, perfectly natural that Northwestern’s unrecognized teachers would be working hard to inspire and prepare their students. They want what the tenured professors have – the ability to relax a bit, knowing their job is safe, and a chance to focus on their personal interests at work through their research.

This is not, by any means, to say that tenured professors have it easy. There is additional pressure put on them to secure funding for the university. However, they wouldn’t have obtained the position if they weren’t up to the task.

Colleges exist first and foremost to educate the students that attend them. If universities allow their faculty to lose sight of this fact, the pupils who keep these schools afloat will leave with a degree, but without the quality of education they’re entitled to.

Opinion columnist Katie Wian is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected].

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