Letter to the editor: Value teaching and research

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Dear Brown and White Editors;

We’d like to comment on your recent editorial regarding research and teaching at Lehigh. This is an important topic of discussion as these two major elements of Lehigh can complement each other, and I strongly believe that faculty engaged in research greatly enhance the academic experience of our students.

I frequently tell new or prospective faculty considering joining Lehigh that we are an unusual place. We expect very high quality teaching and nationally competitive research. There are many colleges and universities that choose one of those two, and accept adequate performance in the other. In most cases, new faculty tell me this expectation of teaching and research excellence is exactly why they chose Lehigh—they wanted a place that would value their teaching and their research.

Lehigh is rated as a Carnegie R2 (R1 is Highest Research Activity, R2 is Higher Research Activity, R3 is Moderate Research Activity) based on overall activity and activity per faculty member. The 115 R1 institutions tend to be large public or private universities with very extensive research portfolios.

Research is fundamentally about asking meaningful questions about issues that matter—knowing that those questions do not currently have answers, and even with great effort, may not be answered. The creative inquiry needed to know what are the most important questions to ask and how to pursue them is a valuable skill in almost any area once you leave Lehigh. Most of the world’s issues are complex and interconnected and don’t have simple answers, if they have actual answers at all.

A major goal for Lehigh is to help students develop the skills and attitudes needed to contribute to solutions to these complex issues. That will require foundational knowledge and understanding, an ability to think critically, willingness to re-think assumptions, and some experience with diving into the unknown as you lead towards creative solutions. All of these are basic elements of research thinking, whether done in a formal class, in a lab, or in the field. A research mindset will be a huge asset to Lehigh graduates, and learning that mindset from experienced research and teaching faculty, is one of the attributes of a Lehigh education.

There are practical challenges to this approach—principally the number of hours in a day. Faculty time teaching, which can range from a formal lecture to class discussion to guiding undergraduate research to mentoring graduate students, does on occasion compete with research responsibilities. As much as possible, we hope the two can overlap, but time is a constraint that needs to be balanced.

The notion that we must choose teaching or research is not only one we do not have to make, but one I don’t think we should make. A Lehigh student’s’ undergraduate experience would be much poorer, if we did not have research active faculty teaching throughout the curriculum encouraging research thinking. I think the educational result for students is a better preparation to take on the challenges and issues they will face outside of Lehigh—many of which we can’t predict.

— Patrick Farrell, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Hugo Caram, professor chemical and biomolecular engineering and chair of the faculty steering committee

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