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The Academic Bipod


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To the editors:

Forgive this belated response, but I am intrigued by the perceptive and thought- provoking article of Ben Joravsky in a recent issue of the Reader [Neighborhood News, November 21] regarding the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois and the brouhaha that followed the probably well-intentioned but perhaps not too well-thought-out white paper of its former vicechancellor of 'research, James Stukel. In brief, he recommended a two-tier faculty with one tier devoted to prestigious research scholars to enhance the image of the university in the scholarly world "out there." I would submit that a similar row may very well have been initiated not too long after the establishment of the University of Padua in 12thcentury Italy.

Academia has always been precariously balanced on a bipod of teaching and research, and even in the medical arena, addition of a third leg (patient care) has not been particularly productive of better balance. At the risk of being simplistic, it is the exceptional university which has been able to define its role in the society that created it, for more reasons than a letter can postulate. First, a faculty comprises people of various skills, both inborn and acquired. An excellent teacher does not necessarily imply an equally excellent investigator, nor does it imply that one equally facile in both, has that empathy or skill in interpersonal relations so necessary for a successful career in a service profession. One or more of these skills may never be acquired for innumerable psychosociologic reasons that cannot be clearly defined. Second, Mr. Simpson's critique of the Stukel report is indeed appropriate if there is money- money- money. It is more than that-money means promotion, it means tenure, it means security, and it means peer recognition in one's field. The aphorism "Publish or perish" is as true today as ever. Unhappily, if the bipod or tripod is ill balanced, the least rewarding- teaching- topples, because that onerous chore usually falls to the TA-- the teaching assistant--usually a graduate student -the low person on the totem pole. How many of us remember the great teachers of yesterday, and how many the tedium of a prepared lecture delivered in a monotone to a bored class?

As the cost of academia has risen as precipitously as the economy, it can only be met by government aid, tuition, and research grants. The first two can only be squeezed so much, leaving the last to be most competitively sought after, requiring hours spent in the library, the laboratory, and the preparation of grant applications. There is not, and never has been, a ready solution to the function of a university in its society, but UIC has indeed played a major role in making education available to a large number of men and women who would be lost without it. Our community would be ill served by implementation of Stukel's white paper.

Alex S. Tulsky, M.D.

N. Wabash

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