Professors from all disciplines are urging senior administrators and the School of Engineering and Applied Science to put teaching first, after the University announced it is offering buyouts to 39 professors in SEAS.
In an interview in December, SEAS Dean David Dolling said the school is gearing up to hire new faculty to replace those who may accept the buyout. Dolling said SEAS would be hiring 14 new “top-tier” professors who are research active in the coming year.
Some professors interviewed said they are worried the buyout will make SEAS too research-oriented, and that teaching will fall by the wayside.
“Education and research are not the same things at all. What makes me a good professor is that first I am a good teacher,” engineering professor Peter Boch said. “I know how to get up in front of the classroom, engage students and make a point.”
He added, “What we need now is good teaching profs, not good research profs.”
Boch – who was not offered the buyout because he is not a tenured faculty member – came to GW 40 years ago but declined to be put on tenure-track because he feels the practice of tenure is not “ethically sound,” he said.
Other professors in SEAS and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences echoed Boch’s sentiments about needing good teachers for undergraduates.
“The trouble with buyout plans of this kind is that is appeals more to the really good teachers who take the buyout and then go to a really good job elsewhere,” professor Rhys Price Jones said.
Price Jones said he is not against research – he himself is a researcher working with vaccines in genomic data, among other projects – but said he wants professors who can teach and research.
“One thing I would like to see more of at GW is the involvement of undergraduates in research,” Price Jones said. “So if you can bring in some very good researchers who can inspire their students, it can make for a very lively academic environment.”
Many professors who were offered the buyout told The Hatchet they had yet to make a decision, saying they had personal, career and financial considerations to weigh before the Jan. 29 deadline.
In an interview on Friday, Lehman said it has not been decided if the University will offer buyout packages to other faculty in the sciences, as administrators are waiting to see the response from this buyout.
Professors in other sciences, who may be offered buyouts but are being encouraged to research more, said they are not against a buyout but want it to be done in a way that benefits GW, students and the faculty.
“I wouldn’t want to see it done in a big sweeping way, the way it is being done in SEAS. It would have to be done in a careful way,” said James Clark, a biology professor. “They are doing this because it is getting them where they want to go in terms of research. If you want to be a big research university then you bring in a bunch of young people to do research.”
According to professors who received the buyout letter, the University’s increasing focus on research was named as a reason for the buyout program.
“This program is being instituted in anticipation of the ongoing academic evolution of The George Washington University as a major research university, in which the faculty will be expected to have significantly enhanced, externally funded research activity,” Dolling said.
Professor Nicholas Kyriakopoulos said he does not believe research is the real reason behind the buyout.
“They are trying to get rid of the senior faculty to bring in newer faculty who get paid less,” Kyriakopoulos said.
He added that research is just “the marketing line from the administration.”
Students in the school have varied reactions to the buyout, with many saying it is high time for some new blood in the school, while others are worried about losing longstanding professors.
“I feel as though it also opens an opportunity for the SEAS school to diversify, as every person is different, the new professors I’m sure will have other ways of teaching or viewing things in comparison to the ones which leave for research,” sophomore Noel Behailu said. “It will be a benefit for both professors and students since students get to learn from new professors with new goals, as teachers which are leaving go out into the world with their own goals.”
The 39 faculty members offered the package comprise about half of the 83 full-time faculty in the school, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research’s Web site.