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Schoenfeld, Clay (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 50, Number 10 (July 1949)

Branch, Charles
Academic question,   pp. 20-23


Page 20


JOHN GUY FOWLKES, dean of the
School of Education: "The problem of
classroom teaching should be attacked
by university staffs."
JAMES S. EARLEY, MA '34, professor of
economics: A vigorous young man
who takes his teaching and his Teach-
ers Union seriously.
KENNETH M. WATSON, '23, professor
of chemical engineering: His wartime
work on synthetic rubber manufacture
pays off in stimulating teaching.
20
  * Should students grade their profs? Ever since
  Mark Hopkins sat on one end of a log, that is a
  question which academicians have been kicking
  around. Faculty rating sheets have been used with
  notable success at some institutions, with painful
  results at others, not at all at Wisconsin. Certainly
  so long as it is the fruitful interplay of teacher and
  student which signifies the ultimate in higher edu-
  cation, the question deserves honest consideration.
  Here is a frank appraisal of the problem-and a
  direct answer-by a fresh Wisconsin graduate, the
  retiring assistant editor of the Wisconsin Alumnus,
  CHARLES BRANCH, '49.
  ACADEMIC QUESTION
  YOU CAN'T DIG very ,deelily into the educational sod at the
University of Wisconsin without turning up a tangled weed or
two of problems which have their tap roots in the sub-soil of
poor teaching.
  Last year the Alumnus editor probed sharply into this pesky
situation, opined that "on the Madison campus can be found
some of the best and some of the worst teaching in the history
of the institution. " That he didn't go on to name names was un-
doubtedly a source of great relief to many professors on the Hill.
That he had pulled the problem from the University's skeletal
closet in the first place was a source of deep gratification to
others.
  But it was nothing new.
  The skeleton's resurrection is a periodic phenomenon at Madison, occur-
ring almost like clockwork on a semi-annual time schedule. It is gingerly
plucked forth, dubiously pondered, and hastily put back again-with just
enough rattling to suggest an approaching remedy that has never quite
arrived.
  And why the delayed arrival?
  Because you can't burden a man with ball and chain and then send him
out to compete with Don Gehrmann. The teacher problem is shackled to
a host of others:
  1. The problem of finance. Does it make much sense to worry about poor
teachers when even the top-notchers are underpaid and overworked? Do
the people of Wisconsin deserve good teaching when they are apparently
unwilling to pay the tariff?
  2. The problem of size. Isn't the quality of teaching the common de-
nominator of the size question? The Alumnus conducted recently a year-
long forum on the question, "How Big Should the University Be?"
Con-
tributors unanimously agreed that mere bigness was not the issue, but that
quality was. In other words, if the University is so big that high standards
drop under the pressure of sheer student bulk, then it's too big. Otherwise
there's no real ceiling.
  3. The problem of academic freedom. Whenever a university is faced
  with the painful necessity of firing an obviously unfit faculty member,
it
  rides him out of town on the scapegoat of "poor teaching". It's
the handiest
  vehicle, because "poor teaching" is a hazy value judgment with
few meas-
  urable criteria. Inevitably a hue and cry about "academic freedom"
is raised,
  and quite justly so. Who is to judge where the ax falls between good teach-
  ing, mediocre teaching, and poor teaching? And how can the firing of a
  "poor teacher" be defended, when the exiting prof passes classrooms
where
  even poorer teachers still hold forth?
  4. The problem of faculty autonomy. At Wisconsin the faculty runs the
  show. That's good. But it doesn't make the educational picture a panorama
  of hearts and flowers. For all its virtues, faculty autonomy has one pain-
  fully obvious fault: it renders near-impossible the prying of unfit faculty
  members away from their tenure, salary, and position.
  5. The problem of curriculum. Curricular growth is a key to a university's
  greatness. Universities keep pace with a progressive world by expanding
  their curricula. But usually the first victim of a new curriculum is good
                                          WISCONSIN ALUMNUS


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