How to be a citizen of the university–Richard Levin on James Tobin

I photocopied some materials this morning to share with a colleague of mine who is teaching a class on teaching–something USC does for our students that my beloved alma did not do for us. When I mentioned teaching there, I got chewed out. It’s not about teaching, I was told. It’s about research.

Of course it is.

But then, when I went out and got my first teaching job, I was underwater trying to put together courses and syllabi–all things I could have been learning in graduate school.

What nobody tells you is that teaching and researching go together in terms of time management. It’s not enough to exhort young scholars not to “spend too much time on their teaching” because 1) teaching is a very hard job and researching is a very hard, and that means that scholars actually have two very hard jobs to do when classes are in session; 2) there are about million false time economies in teaching (if you take late work, you stretch the hours you spend grading; if you refuse to take late work, you spend hours listening to students rationalize, lie, and complain and/or enforcing your “no late work” rule); and 3) if you don’t manage your teaching well enough, the emotional energy and work it drains from you detracts from your research. The opposite can be true–teaching can support your research, quite easily, in fact–but it often doesn’t because of the willingness that senior faculty have to plug junior faculty into teaching roles that don’t draw on their existing areas of expertise.

Most universities are scrambling to cover courses, and it’s hard to match teachers with subjects exactly. Nonetheless, it is easier for scholars to teach in their areas of expertise than it is to teach outside them. And it helps to teach in your area because you can acquire knowledge of how teach the material instead of having to learn the material yourself as you teach the material.

Yale President Richard Levin eulogized James Tobin, one of my favorite economists, when Tobin passed away. I love this eulogy because it is fond without sentimentality. It is a very truthful appraisal of Tobin as a member of a university community, and to me it epitomizes what happens when a great scholar is allowed to teach the material he’s a master of:

He was so clear, so coherent, so perfect that one understood not only the particular models he explicated and their limitations, but also how one might ask and answer a large family of questions in the same conceptual neighborhood.

Two things: Levin doesn’t spend any time time discussion Tobin’s research contributions. Those will either stand out–or not–and withstand the test of time on their own, or they won’t. Chances are, you win a Nobel, you don’t have to fret too much about your legacy. Instead, Levin talks about the invisible work of a great scholar–the greatness that Tobin exemplified as the master of his field, and how the assurance he had in the mastery of the material made for clarity and presence in the classroom.

If my recent research on this is any indicator, young female faculty and very senior male faculty are *far* more likely to get shoved into the frontlines of teaching undergraduate general education course than young male faculty or senior female faculty. In the case of the universities I sampled, senior male faculty outnumbered senior female faculty 7 to 1; you are more likely if you are senior female faculty to be holding administrative responsibilities than if you are a male, which means these senior women are less available to teach in the froshie frontlines. Male junior faculty are much more likely to be teaching upper division and graduate classes in their fields.

So that thing about being a master of the material is differentially allocated between male and female scholars, and departmental housekeeping is allocated in an oddly gendered way, yet gendered nonetheless.

I’m thinking about calling this paper “Masters and Mommies” because of the way in which young female faculty are teaching 13th grade.

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