Put teaching before research
Inspired by the situation of Religious Studies Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer, in it’s Sept. 29, 2006 issue, Student Life considered the position of lecturers at Wash. U. and concluded that they were a valuable part of a student’s educational experience (“Lecture positions valuable to students”). Student Life has already made the argument, then, that on principle, firing a lecturer in order to upgrade his position to that of a research position should be done only when it is necessary for the department and never when a knowledgeable and well-respected lecturer will have his term cut short. But, even if we ignore previous arguments about the benefits of having lecturers instead of research professors, there are compelling reasons, specific to the case of Jerome Bauer, for the University to reconsider its decision to eliminate this lecturer’s position and save itself from making a mistake that will cost the student body and the University community at large.
The University administration, no doubt, believes that changing Bauer’s position to that of a research professor will improve its religious studies department and views this move as an improvement that ought to be celebrated. In some ways, the administration is correct. The benefits of having a researcher involve potential opportunities for students and align perfectly with the criteria for improving the school’s U.S. News & World Report college ranking. But, while increasing the school’s ranking may be beneficial, the best education for students and best decisions for the University do not always fit into the rigid requirements of a ranking equation. These decisions are unique to each situation and instead of just considering Bauer’s career as a position within the school, the administration needs to look specifically at Bauer and determine whether or not releasing him is more beneficial for the school than retaining him as a lecturer.
Bauer is a special asset to the Wash. U. community. His past course evaluations are incredibly high, particularly in the areas evaluating his interaction with students and students having taken his classes report learning a lot. Even more impressive evidence of his effect on student’s lives has been the fact that a generally apathetic student body, (only a small portion of students take the time to log onto WebSTAC to vote in school elections) has circulated a petition, signed by around 500 students, to keep Bauer at this school. Students at this school believe he makes a difference.
However, Bauer is not only concerned with his students. He has shown his commitment and dedication to the school by concerning himself with several campus issues ranging from the Student Worker Alliance to the co-op to the University’s silence on an alleged sexual assault by one of its faculty. In a climate where lots of the faculty are either afraid or unwilling to engage in discussing campus issues, particularly when it is appropriate to be critical of the administration, Bauer has called for the University to change its course of action and has asked written letters in which he creates plans for an ideal University. Essentially, he has taken leadership in quest to change the educational practices of this school in ways that are beneficial to students. Those who disagree with his opinions are benefited at the very least by the stimulus he has provided the University community to re-evaluate its opinions on education.
Through his concern for students and concern for the University as a whole, Bauer has proven himself a valuable asset to the community. The benefits of such a voice seem to be overlooked and underappreciated within the confines of the administration’s current decision-making practice. While there may be value to adding another research position to the religious studies department, the value Wash. U. would lose in its loss of a unique member of its community, a member who has been actively involved in pursuing the good of the community in a way few others have been, negates the hard benefits of a researcher. For the sake of the University community as a whole, Wash. U. needs to re-evaluate its decision to remove the position of Jerome Bauer.
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