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It's all about affinity

Teaching, Research, and Alumni

July 7th, 2011

Today I am musing on the implications of the “scholarly orientation” of a university and if that orientation matters to students in ways that influence their affinity as they become alumni. This musing is sparked by a recent meeting with the Dean. At this meeting she asked a colleague and me if we would be willing to speak at the “Fall Faculty Meeting” on the continuing importance of “teaching” to our college and our culture. The College of Business has historically emphasized undergraduate and graduate (MBA) education, but in the last decade or so placed increased emphasis on scholarly research. It would seem as though the Dean is concerned that we maintain the cultural emphasis on teaching quality. The context of our university, is an important framing element, as OSU is a land, sea, space, and sun-grant institution (one of only two universities in the country with such designation) and has a research budget of $250 million. Clearly, research is a central part of the OSU Mission.

I need to share my bias: I don’t think scholarly research and quality teaching are incompatible. I do know, of course, that teaching assignments (number of courses, numbers of students, and number of teaching preparations) have a bearing on research productivity as teaching takes faculty time and “head space.” As a well-seasoned academic, I strongly believe that career vitality (tenure, mobility, intellectual stimulation, and salary) are driven by research, not teaching. So, research is important to me. But, I also understand that the taxpayers, employers, and legislators justifiably care deeply about the education we provide to our students. So, there is a bit of a conundrum at research –focused institutions, in that the academic career prioritizes research and the public prioritizes education. So back to my musings…

As a college student, I have experience at different universities, one that emphasized teaching and the other that emphasized research. They were both large institutions, with 20,000 or more students. The experiences were quite different. I enjoyed one much more than the other, and feel much more connected to the one that I enjoyed most. So, here’s my question:

Do Alumni from teaching-oriented universities feel a stronger or weaker affinity to their alma mater than do alumni from research-oriented universities?

I know that there are many other things that powerfully impact the student experience and alumni affinity. But if we hold all of those other things constant, does the “scholarly orientation” of the institution matter in this regard? I am pretty certain I have the data to test this question. But before I do that, I am curious: what do you think, Dear Reader?

James McAlexander, Ph.D.
Dean’s Professor of Excellence
College of Business
Oregon State University

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4 Responses to “Teaching, Research, and Alumni”

  1. Janet Wise says:

    Dear Prof. Alexander (Gosh, that feels so funny to call you that!):

    Ahem. Anyway…..I think the focus of the faculty and curriculum influence the students as they come into the institutional setting at the outset; how that meshes with the student’s focus might influence their “feelings” after, moreso than any one approach. However, your hypothesis is fairly well-stated, and would make a GREAT I&O Psych experiment. Put it to the test, and let those Sr. Psych students do the work!!!


  2. Sheila says:

    I think research is the only path for people to evolve. Great things and inventions always come from research – not from “teaching an old horse new tricks” – be it in science, business, life, or any ther area.

    After all, is your post intended to “teach” or to “research”? I feel the later is the case, and only after proper research you will end to be taught.


  3. Beth says:

    What happened when you analyzed the results? I’m very curious. Two of my daughters went to different teaching colleges–one large and one small, while my other children decided on large research institutions, as did I. Although the small college daughters love their colleges, they don’t wear anywhere near as much branded apparel as their sibs and I do. Using branded apparel as a marker of affinity, I wondered if our family data results play out in the general population.

  4. mcalexaj says:

    Beth and Janet, thank you for your comments. The analysis is done and, of course, now there are more questions to be answered! Gotta love research!

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