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