Is Research a Crucial Component of Learning, or Academic Self-Aggrandizement?

I agree with much of the opinion-page article "The Scandal of 'Knowledge'," Feb. 25. However, I disagree that knowledge can be scandalous - the lack of knowledge almost always is scandalous, and so I must defend the spirit of scholarly research. Solid research has direct payoffs; for many of us it is a way to keep our minds working. It gives us new ideas and suggests new ways to present material in the classroom. It keeps us in touch with what our students experience while they labor away at the term papers and research projects we assign. It helps prevent the "teacher burnout" that so many of our colleagues in public schools experience.

Even the most seemingly esoteric research (for me, it's Victorian women artists) has surprising classroom applications. Without my research, my students and I would find less to discover and become excited about together - and we would find each other less interesting.

At the liberal arts college where I now teach, tenure has been replaced by regular peer reviews and multiple-year contracts. Good teaching is valued above all, but productive research (including nonpublished research relating to course improvement and development) is recognized, encouraged, and rewarded. As we are not under pressure to publish, the quality of our teaching and of our research goes up accordingly.

Elree Harris Salt Lake City

Asst. Prof., Westminster College

This is a slight surface scratch in revealing the extent to which academics are contributing to the demise of students. Tuition for students is often increased for "building funds," most of which are used to construct additional research facilities. As we have learned with most groups ostensibly "professional," they cannot be trusted to monitor the ethics of their members or even to set criteria and standards for judging performance. Self-aggrandizement invariably overtakes judgment.

Gerald Gage Rickreall, Ore.

Please set the record straight on faculty salaries. The author lays blame for escalating college costs on the median salary for full professors. The median salary at Harvard is said to be $93,000. This figure is highly misleading. The average salary for full professors of arts and sciences at major research universities is less than $60,000. Inflated figures come from considering such things as medical school salaries, where chiefs of surgery may make $400,000 to $777,000 per year, according to a recent Chronicle of Higher Education survey.

Further, the majority of American professors are not full professors, the highest academic rank, but rather assistant and associate professors, whose average salaries range between $32,000 and $45,000. Nothing to sneeze at, but hardly comparable to lawyers and doctors, especially when attaining the PhD, the minimal starting point, requires seven to nine years of nonsalaried and often very expensive study beyond the bachelor's degree.

It's a great job, but one does not go into it for the money.

David Murray Waltham, Mass.

Asst. Prof., Brandeis University

Time spent by professors in preparing research papers is not taken away from students. About half of such papers are coauthored by graduate students, who carry out the research as part of their degree work. This apprenticeship of graduate students to their faculty is the best justification of research universities, and is why the best students are attracted to them. Douglas Lilly Norman, Okla.

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