In Do student reviews of teachers matter?, there are a couple of comments which suggest that being labeled a "good teacher" is a bad thing at a research intensive university. I have heard this in the past, but have always thought it was based on the fact that you wanted to be known for your research as opposed to your teaching. In other words that you want to be known as a "good researcher" as opposed to a good teacher. The way the comments are used in that question it sounds like you should in fact strive to be known as a "bad teacher".

Is it bad to be known as a good teacher? Is it good to be known as a bad teacher?

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    You might read that comment more in terms of the speaker finding it hard to come up with a complement. In other words, if a social situation arises when praise for the faculty member is in order and the best the speaker can come up with is "a good teacher" when the local focus is on research it might be taken to imply that their research was not praiseworthy. Aug 9, 2014 at 19:06
  • @dmckee that is how interpreted it until I read the comments and answers on the question I linked to.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 9, 2014 at 19:32

2 Answers 2



I work at a university that focuses almost exclusively on research (we have only graduate students, most of whom are Ph.D. students, and the number of postdocs, research staff, etc. is approximately equal to the number of students). A few faculty members are well known as excellent teachers, and a few are commonly known to be poor teachers. In general, I don't think the distinction has very much influence on the respect accorded to each within the university (and even less in the larger academic community). But I think the good teachers are better liked, both by their peers and the administration. I certainly appreciate it when I find that students are well prepared thanks to having taken a course with a "good" teacher. And bad teachers are occasionally so bad that they cause administrative problems, which makes everyone unhappy.

Part of each faculty member's annual review is an evaluation of his/her teaching (by the dean). A positive review is definitely a good thing.


I made that comment so here's my answer:

Yes and no.

There are many great senior researchers at my r1 university that are renowned teachers as well. That is, they can easily hold four hundred undergraduates enthralled for hours on end. They are no doubt Great Teachers in the truest sense.

But there are also a great many junior faculty who did not get tenure at my university (our tenure rate was less than 1:4 for past several decades, although it has gone up recently).

The common reason given for their negative tenure decisions is that they spent too much time on students and not enough time on their research. That is where the faint praise, "at least they are good teachers," comes in.

Tl;dr: for senior faculty, good teacher is high praise as it presumes excellent research scholarship. For junior faculty, it is dangerous faint praise as it assumes misplaced energies.

Note: You should post a separate question about the "Curse of the Teaching Award"

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    Your mileage may vary. I have never heard "spending too much time with students" used as a reason to deny someone tenure. The only argument I've ever heard is much more direct: "Their research hasn't had enough impact."
    – JeffE
    Aug 11, 2014 at 6:47
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    I think "spending too much time with students" should not be taken seriously independently of "and not enough time on their research". For one thing, one can tell whether someone has not spent enough time on their research (or not enough time for it to have the desired impact). How does a tenure committee even know how much time a candidate has spent on the students? (Just because evaluations are good and students say "He was always there for us" does not imply more hours spent.) Aug 11, 2014 at 6:55
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    I think that some departments convey the lack of research impact this way, partially as a euphemism ("damning with faint praise") and partly as a kind of paternalistic I-told-you-so, to try to create the retrospective illusion that the candidate could have gotten tenure if only he had listened to the advice he was given. Two comments: (i) I find this obnoxious. (ii) I have not experienced it myself, although I have seen that when it comes to tenure and promotion decisions, grudgingly adequate teaching serves as well as excellent teaching at most research universities. Aug 11, 2014 at 6:55
  • +1 to Pete for the paternalistic "I-told-you-so" comment. This is certainly the case where I work. We have an entirely lousy record of mentoring.
    – RoboKaren
    Aug 12, 2014 at 17:12

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