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When research and education clash

STANFORD --Universities seeking entry to the league of elite research institutions may find they pay "hidden costs," according to higher education researcher Patricia Gumport.

In a recent study of an institution that she refers to as "On the Move U," Gumport found that faculty conflict increased substantially as the university's central administration directed discretionary funds to recruit "star" science faculty rather than to sustain broad coverage of fields.

Many universities have embraced this goal of upward mobility in recent decades, she said. That might explain why almost two dozen educators who have heard Gumport present this research at conferences have asked afterward if the unnamed university was theirs. (To protect the privacy of her sources she doesn't reveal the names of the universities she studies.)

"Reorienting faculty hiring criteria to obtain 'star faculty' who exemplify the research imperative has profoundly changed the campus, most importantly replacing a single faculty with a two-tier system," she said. The differences between the "haves" and the "have-nots" included variations in office/laboratory space, research resources and teaching loads, as well as "varying senses of efficacy versus alienation with the campus community."

Graduate education also became more stratified at On the Move U, with inequities between sciences and humanities, as well as between research assistants and teaching assistants, Gumport said.

"The nature of doctoral education entailed more narrow skill training, especially in the sciences, where academic research and the finance of graduate education are heavily supported by external sponsors," she said. "There were signs that research assistants had become more like employees and less like scholars' apprentices, especially in the sciences."

Those who were trying to sustain the momentum for national research prominence consistently expressed an urgency to "keep up and to get ahead," Gumport said, creating a "campus climate that is common in this era where research university leaders know that to do nothing is to fall behind and to be perceived as excellent requires being forward-looking."

"As more institutions have embraced the research imperative, the result is a more stratified and sponsor-driven system of higher education that moves farther away from its broad educational mandates," she said.

Central administrators and entrepreneurial science faculty redirected the institutional mission of On the Move U.

By contrast, Gumport said she found in another study of five public research universities in a state of budget crisis that "the research ambitions of some were tempered by the overall university's need to justify itself to the state legislature on the basis of undergraduate teaching enrollments."



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