HEY CSU TRUSTEES!

WE’RE ALREADY DOING RESEARCH WITH/FOR STUDENTS! IT’S TIME TO PAY FOR IT!

The CSU has its origins in 19th century teacher’s schools, and incrementally adopted its current incarnation during a prolonged period of post-war growth, and funding. Wherever it came from, though, for most of its life the CSU has been a place run by teachers. Even through the 80’s, I think, these traditional teaching faculty were not expected to be, did not expect to be, researchers.

In the 90’s the State of California added a budget line for CSUPERB, the CSU Program for Education and Research In Biotechnology. It’s a great institution, providing dozens of peer-reviewed grants to CSU faculty and students year after year. I myself have received 2 CSUPERB grants, and can attest that those funds can and do lead directly to large-scale federal research funding.

I have to celebrate the fact that, back then, the State took time to listen to faculty and students, and responded by beginning to fund research via CSUPERB. And though the change was a long time coming, by the time I arrived on the scene in 2003, the culture of the CSU – at least in STEM – had undergone a fundamental change; there was the expectation that new faculty would develop active research programs that involved undergraduates. Today, this expectation most definitely drives the way we shape my little Chemistry department, and I can’t think of a single campus that’s not charting the same course.

But what’s that really look like, compared to a ‘real’ research environment? First of all, let’s remember that we’re talking about working with undergraduates, who are usually taking 4 classes along with the their research project, and their bartending job, and their families. At CSU Channel Islands, there are no Ph.D. students doing research… the labor force of the UCs. There are certainly no postdocs. There are no technicians doing lab maintenance. In fact, there’s not even a mechanism for the state to build the research labs we’re expected to work in! So research means me doing all the purchasing, me training all the students (for their 5-10 hour per week project), me making sure the data get collected and analyzed, me making sure the grants and papers and presentation abstracts get written, all in whatever cast-off space the local admin is willing to repurpose.* None of these things have a corollary in the UC.

As well, let’s remember that it’s also me going to 3 committee meetings each week. Aaaaand it’s me teaching 3-4 classes a week.** Both semesters. Usually in the summer, too. The scale of these tasks, too, has no corollary in the UC.

And while we’re on the subject of classes, there is a growing awareness among the Powers of the value of non-traditional teaching practices (*bows*, *says, “you’re welcome”*), and thus a growing expectation of something more than simple lecture/exam class organization. That something comes with enormous amounts of time, time, time. Again, there’s no corollary for this time/intellectual capital investment in the UC, where teaching expectations are minimal, notwithstanding all the TED-talking, research-university super professors with million-student MOOCs out there. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s easier to innovate when you’re only doing it for that one section a year you teach, and even that only happens with teaching assistants and support staff.

THIS IS NOT ME COMPLAINING. As I’ve said before, I love my job, the one that’s the best job in the world. No, I’m hoping to make clear that, along with the massive teaching-administrative workload outlined above, there’s still the expectation (internal and external) I mentioned at the beginning: that we modern-era CSU faculty must be active researchers as well, just without the physical and financial infrastructure provided to the real research schools.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. Well, yes I would, of course. But I love teaching, I love being a scientist, and I love spending a great deal of energy blurring the distinction between teaching and research. It’s hard, hard work, but that’s why they pay me the big bucks. Well, actually, UC salaries are 10% higher, too.

In the coming years, though, you’re going to hear more and more administrators talk about faculty research like some student outcome wonder drug they’ve never heard tell of before (despite the fact that faculty were already peddling it sub rosa, alternately tolerated and ignored). They’ll be looking to provide more students with the sort of learning experiences my colleagues and I have been providing for years and years. And while it’s personally grating to not be recognized for already doing what they say they want, there’s no arguing that more authentic research and research-based-teaching will be a good thing for students, and society. What they’re probably not going to talk about (unless we make them), is how to reconcile this valuable set of student experiences with the challenges I outlined above.

Thing is, bringing authentic research experiences to the classroom and laboratory takes a shit-ton of money. I think it’s worth exploring what the funding system in American Science is really like, why that works for big research schools, and what it means for the CSU; I’ll do that next time, since I guess I had a lot to get off my chest today. In the end, I assert that the traditional model of funding research doesn’t really makes sense in the CSU’s new educational context. I suggest the administration find new ways of putting its money where its mouth is, and figure out how to pay for what it wants, instead of squeezing us turnips for blood.

*Thanks, admin, for all that repurposing!

**And even I have it relatively easy; most full-time adjunct faculty teach way more than I do. Which opens a whole other can of worms, since those faculty perforce see more students than me. How can we expect the faculty shouldering most of the load, for the least pay, to develop into scientific teachers using research to reach students at all levels?

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2 responses to “HEY CSU TRUSTEES!

  1. Pingback: Research Funding and the CSU | Acadammit!·

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