The teaching and researching university head

The latest issue of the US Chronicle of Higher Education contains a piece by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick, Professor Nigel Thrift, in which he explains his continuing involvement in research, in the form of at least five annual seminars or conference presentations. His argument is that he needs to be seen to be doing what other academics are expected to do, and that by doing it he retains a sense of what universities do and avoids being sucked excessively into the  ‘paraphernalia of management and administration’. Similarly, one of my fellow university presidents in Ireland during my term of office continued to teach a course in his university.

I would have to admit that my own performance as President of DCU was rather more patchy. I did continue to do some sporadic research, giving two conference papers during my term of office and publishing two peer-reviewed articles, and giving occasional one-off presentations to students. But I cannot say that I did this with any real regularity. I toyed with the idea of teaching a module but abandoned it because I knew I would be an unreliable teacher, as my schedules were wholly unpredictable and often dependent on the demands of politicians and others. On the other hand Professor Thrift is right, in that the duties of a university head can be carried out in a fairly rarified atmosphere, and there is much to be said for being grounded from time to time in something more ‘real’.

In the end, though, it is probably a matter for each person to decide. As I prepare for a new phase in my life as a university head, I shall certainly be giving this some thought.

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3 Comments on “The teaching and researching university head”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    Look at any university web-site or mission statement and you see plenty of guff about “our committment to teaching” “value our undergraduates” etc etc. Action speakers louder than words.
    When an academic becomes “successful” and “important” whether as Dean, President or say as a Nobel Prize winner what’s the first thing that goes out the door? Usually teaching. Many academics are fairly unscrupulous about using their position to get out of teaching. It sends a very strong signal that teaching is really only for the “little people”. Any wonder that students, tax-payers and politicians are sceptical about us?
    I know of the president of one very prominent East Coast US university (far bigger and better than any Irish one) who continues to teach a course on the basis that he can’t ask his colleagues to do something he isn’t prepared to do himself. Now, thats what I call leadership.

  2. […] teaching quality at third level. Here we have someone, who hasn’t taught for at least ten years, advising others in his profession how to teach. He’s not basing this on any research, any […]

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