Teaching, research and (academic) publishing are three different pursuits. Our society and its institutions, particularly most universities, enforce links between these in various ways.

People who have great teaching skills can not get teaching positions (at universities) because they aren't good in doing research, and some potentially great researchers experience setbacks in their academic career because they are horrible at teaching, and both can be penalized by failing to or poorly publishing their results.

How did this happen? Who does is benefit? How does intertwining these three requirements benefit the general knowledge and the academic community?

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    Research and publishing look awfully intertwined to me. Research which isn't disseminated isn't very useful, and without research, there isn't anything to publish.
    – Henry
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 18:47
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    Whether research and publishing go together depends on whether you are talking about popularization (writing to a mass audience) or technical reports (academic papers). For technical reports even in industry those are written by the people responsible for the research. Which type of publication are you asking about? Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 21:12
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    Until recently, my home institution insisted on their lecturers being research-active. The reason for this - as I understood it - was that all teaching at university level is to be informed by current research. The landscape has changed since then. Researchers are still expected to teach as part of their duties. However, there is now a new position available which the holder is not expected to do research, only teaching. Whether this is a good idea is a matter for debate.
    – Nicholas
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 21:50
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    @Sparr: what other industries are you talking about? Isn't the person who writes computer code usually the same person who writes the comments explaining what is going on? Maybe the person who writes the user manual is different, but that's not always the case. And patents are written by lawyers, but in my experience it's always with considerable help from the inventors. Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 21:59
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    BTW, it's not completely true that "postsecondary education [is] tied up with research..." For example, California has 122 community colleges, none of which have research as a primary mission. The US has highly selective colleges with exclusive or nearly exclusive focuses on undergraduate education, including Swarthmore, Oberlin, and Grinnell.
    – user1482
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 5:42

3 Answers 3


Ca. the 17th century, typically research, teaching, and religion were the functions of a European university. For example, when Isaac Newton wanted to become a professor at Cambridge, he asked the king for a special dispensation to be excused from taking holy orders. He was expected to teach as well as doing research, but was apparently such a bad teacher that he often lectured to an empty room.

During this period publication was not as emphasized as it is today. There were no academic journals in the modern sense. People communicated their results directly to their students, by letters to their peers, and sometimes by writing books. In some fields, such as alchemy, secrecy was the norm.

Presumably the reason that research, teaching, and religion were all linked was that the system evolved from medieval institutions, in which the literate class consisted mostly of monks. Part of their job was to preserve knowledge.

I think the more modern, liberal, and secular model is what's known as the German university model. It dates to the 19th century and was influenced by personalities like Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm von Humboldt. I think this was also the era when modern academic journals began to appear, and this was an important, positive development.

Some more modern phenomena in the US are research supported by grants from the central government; land-grant colleges; the delegation of a large amount of undergraduate teaching to part-time faculty; and the creation of community colleges, which have only teaching as their mission, not research.

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    For a very good account of how and why the German model came about, I highly recommend "The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century" by Peter Watson, which has a chapter or two dedicated to this very topic.
    – ThomasH
    Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 19:18

There are advantages to having the same people do teaching and research. One is that students are being taught by an active researcher in the field, someone who is presumably up to date on the state of the art. They can provide students with meaningful examples that relate to current real-world research problems. Interested students may even get opportunities to do some research, either through a course project or as an extra-curricular activity.

There are also advantages to researchers. In my experience, one of the best ways to really get to understand something is to teach it; it quickly becomes apparent what you know really well and what you don't know so well. Students can also push teachers to look at things a different way, and can help fuel the creativity of researchers. Of course, the researcher has to be careful not to steal a student's brilliant idea for themselves, but rather to include the student in the research process.

That said, I think your comments are valid, and there are some drawbacks to having teaching and research coupled so tightly. As you observed, some people are better at doing research, and some are better at teaching. Universities have found ways to deal with this, such as letting more research-focused professors not have to teach much, and letting good teaching professors teach more. Even so, I had some professors in my undergrad who weren't very good teachers, and I think the reason the university keeps them around is because they are good researchers.

Some universities are moving more toward the model you describe, hiring full-time lecturers to teach some (especially first- and second-year) courses. This is a contentious issue in academics, and you're certainly not the only person who thinks research and teaching should be decoupled.

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    Nice explanation of pros and cons. Let me just add that when I was giving (private, 1-to-1) lectures, I couldn't ever make myself take up a subject about which I didn't know at least slightly more than I was required to teach. And I always appreciated more the lecturers that could back up their class material with real-life and current examples. That said, I agree that forcing equal amounts of teaching and research on everybody is bad: people should be allowed to focus on their strong skills. But I still think at least a bit of each should be done.
    – penelope
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 10:08
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    Let me add another, very practical advantage for someone doing reasearch to be involved in teaching as well: it allows you to identify the really good students (those that you want to join your group) early. Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 15:47

We miss out on people who would make great teachers because they aren't good at doing research, and some potentially great researchers are left out of academic research because they are horrible at teaching

Dubious. The labour market is so flooded that institutions above the barrier can for "on-going" positions select who they like within the wage's established differentials. For bulk teaching, most Universities are reliant on casual staff who they sweat with the hope of an on-going position. So this statement is, outside of markets with limited labour supply, junk.

As far as the oversupply of labour, the Employers have a very good reason to offer more candidatures for PhD than the required number of future jobs plus a friction load for losses to industry practice. They're "deskilling."

They're also changing the nature of the commodity on offer (check word limits, class sizes, expectations of self-activity over a 30 year scale for undergraduates); and, of course, attempting mechanisation. From what I've seen mechanisation isn't increasing worker productivity, but, rather is more important in breaking down work cultures.

How did this happen?

Proletarianisation, commodification, and capitalism. Ford & Taylor, my friends, Ford & Taylor.

You could suggest that it happened in countries without strong Academic industrial organisation (The United States, for example) due to particularism. But actually we can see the broad effects of this universally across "varieties of captialism" to greater or lesser extents. That it happens in undergraduate teaching and in research, with their different world markets, is indicative that it isn't just particular systems.

Who does it benefit?

It directly benefits the bourgeoisie, as capital flight into newly commodified areas results in a period of primary accumulation, and as secondary accumulation takes off it often has a higher rate of profit. Basically, there's superprofits in Tertiary Education.

It also benefits consumers. Tertiary education is largely a required commodity to consume, see for example Australia's rate of tertiary education uptake. The more important question is why consumption is over biased (given the knowable workforce demands from employers) towards Higher rather than Further or Vocational tertiary education? Here I'd suggest that many, if not most, jobs don't require tertiary education to perform, and instead employers are getting labour discipline benefits. Consumers still gain some measure of benefit from the enjoyment of education, and the possibility of subversively exercising education in their employment anyway. Also, with the massification of higher education many more consumers get to enjoy this commodity in its dissipated "University" form rather than through Workers Educational Associations, Trade Union newspapers, or Party Education. (Personally, comparing the level of discourse in 1940s TU newspapers to contemporary bits of the internet where equivalent age bands try to discuss serious matters, I'll go with the "non-traditional" education system here for superiority.)

Research culture is a side effect of the commodification of undergraduate teaching. In 1987 when Australia commodified undergraduate education (HECS), it also began the audit of research (The "Publications" return portion of the current HERDC report). It has taken 25 years, and changes in the control over production in departments, but effectively HERDC points act as a method of realising research activity, in a similar way that the "Effective Full Time Student Unit" realises as a commodity teaching.

As far as the teaching / research nexus: using publicly available data I'm pretty sure that even in research intensive universities, all research outside of grant funded substantive positions is done as "overtime." Going back to the labour supply and generation of PhDs: the employer inculcates in apprentices the idea that 60 hour weeks are normal, and that the employer should have exclusive use of the employee for teaching and service for the "normal" working week. The natural form of resistance and sabotage to this would be to not publish. The results of not publishing is the guaranteed absence of an on-going position.

Sources: Vestes/AUR; Trade Unionism; long term wage/price series; managerialism & audit culture; Braverman on deskilling & proletarianisation

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    This answer has very little to do with the question. The answer refers to events of the last 30 years, but research and teaching have been coupled for much longer than that.
    – user1482
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 0:29
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    The body of the question asks, "How did this happen? Who does is benefit? How does intertwining these three requirements benefit the general knowledge and the academic community?" about contemporary hiring practices. Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 22:21

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