While research plays an important role in adding prestige and status to a university, a professor's responsibilities are divided among the demands of their fieldÂ--and of their students.
A delicate balance is necessary when students' academia is in question. Instructors and universities alike benefit from research, but institutions like the University of Calgary have an overwhelming undergraduate population that isn't to be forgotten.
Students' Union vice-president external Mike Selnes expressed concern over the government's recent attempt to classify the U of C as a comprehensive research institute in their Roles and Mandates document that stratified the different post-secondary institutions.
"There was a lot of fear from us as undergrads that at the University of Calgary," said Selnes, noting they changed the title to comprehensive research and academic institution. "They were saying our universities were comprehensive research institutions and it meant the primary focus would be conducting research. For us, the hope is now that the government will actually come through on the statement and say that the universities will be just as much about academics in the classroom as they are about research."
Professors are generally graded on three components: research, teaching quality and service to the community and university. An emphasis is put on research quality and newly published works when these evaluations are put forward for promotion or tenure.
Canadian Centre for the Study of Higher Education director Dr. Peggy Patterson supported the current merit system.
"I do research and my responsibility is to advance knowledge in that field so that students will have more information to study," said Patterson. "[With] pressures to both meet the demands of the teaching loads that you have--in our faculty [of education], the average teaching load is five courses--and the supervisory load of graduate students. To then provide research and service is really challenging."
SU vice-president academic Brittany Sargent argued that while the U of C places importance on research, they have been making changes to accommodate undergraduate students in academic ways.
"If you wanted to go to a school where you would get good teachers, you might go to the University of Lethbridge," said Sargent. "But we don't associate that university with the same kind of prestige as the G-13 universities that have graduate programs. When students make a choice to come to the University of Calgary, they are aware that there are benefits and there are negatives about coming to a university that has a major focus on research."
A major concern for both Sargent and Patterson was the approaching retirement of up to 50 per cent of the professoriate.
"The majority of universities in Canada were established in the '60s and they were established to accommodate the large influx of the baby boomers," said Patterson. "We have to ensure that there are enough graduate students graduating to be able to fill the teaching positions that are going to become available."
Patterson explained the influx of new professors will result in an increase of research, as new professors attempt to gain tenure. She noted she hopes the remaining senior instructors could serve as a balance during the transition.
"I'd say the majority of professors are here because they care about teaching and research," she said. "They care that the students have a good learning experience."