In many respects Dartmouth is a very unique institution of higher learning. Across much of the undergraduate college, the place is simultaneously a major research university and a small teaching college. Many of us here think it has the best of both.
One measure of this is the standards to which the faculty are held when they come up for tenure. Dartmouth faculty must meet the standards of both a major research university and a small teaching college. The process holds each person to those simultaneous standards.
To gauge research and scholarly accomplishments of a tenure candidate against the person’s peers at other universities, letters of review are solicited by the Dean from 10 international leaders in the person’s discipline. Based on the critiques of these external reviewers and the candidate’s demonstrated record of research and scholarly productivity (e.g., papers and books published, external grants received, published reviews of their work), the research and scholarly productivity of the tenure candidate is evaluated.
To gauge the teaching accomplishments of a tenure candidate, the Dean also solicits letters of review from ~60 students who have had the candidate in class. Students are selected in a stratified random sampling of those who took classes from the candidate. Students are stratified by the grade they received (e.g., some number of students are asked who got A’s, B’s and C’s), and they are stratified across the various classes that the tenure candidate taught. From these solicitations, about 20 students typically respond with letters of review. In general, these student critiques are very thoughtful reflections on a faculty members effectiveness. A few bad student letters can also sink someone’s tenure case.
Successful tenure candidates at Dartmouth must, therefore, be successful in both areas. A world class researcher who is a poor classroom teacher will not be granted tenure. Likewise, an outstanding classroom teacher who is also not an accomplished scholar or researcher will not be granted tenure. I have seen examples of both of these outcomes while I’ve been here.
In my experience, this simultaneous emphasis on research and teaching is unique. Faculty at major research universities are expected to produce lots of papers, secure lots of grant money, and be well respected among their scientific or scholastic peers. Teaching evaluations at most are an afterthought. Conversely, at smaller undergraduate institutions, a faculty’s teaching performance is paramount. If the faculty member can secure a research grant and get some papers out, that’s great, but not critical. I know of no other university where a candidate is held to the world class standards for both research productivity and teaching effectiveness.
Many of the alumni critics of Dartmouth’s emphasis on faculty research-in addition to teaching-simply have no idea about the workings of today’s Dartmouth. Faculty research and teaching are not a zero-sum proposition; research and teaching are synergistic. The disgruntled alumni, instead of simply screaming about what they imagine to be wrong with the place, should come back and see how the place works now. The faculty would love to reintroduce them to Dartmouth. I think they’d all be very surprised.