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Teaching and the Relationship Between Research

Alternative Perspectives, Research Findings, Conclusion

Faculty members' work accomplishes the core teaching, research, and service goals of colleges and universities. Teaching enhances the development of students, research advances the development of new knowledge, and service contributes to the growth of nonacademic, professional, or college and university communities. Observers have debated since the late 1800s whether faculty work roles enhance each other or conflict. The debate focuses in particular on teaching and research, and concerns the best way to organize individual faculty work, departments, institutions, and the entire loosely coupled United States higher education system for maximum research productivity and teaching effectiveness.

Alternative Perspectives

Analysts who perceive that teaching and research enhance each other argue that active researchers are informed and engaging teachers and that teaching stimulates faculty creativity and enthusiasm for research. Economic theory suggests that teaching and research are complementary. Because they use many of the same resources, facilities, and personnel, producing teaching and research together is more efficient than producing each separately. Similarly, individual faculty may improve their efficiency and productivity if they sometimes engage in activities that accomplish both teaching and research goals at the same time. Arguments for integrating teaching and research are consistent with a view that colleges and universities should respond to increasing environmental and technical complexity by considering faculty as professionals–highly qualified, flexible, and complex workers who are able to relate associated tasks in creative ways and to handle unpredictable problems independently.

Analysts, such as Ronald Barnett, who perceive that teaching and research are separate and incompatible argue that faculty members' preoccupation with research interferes with teaching, or that teaching limits precious time available for research. System and organization level arguments suggest that different people in different locations should conduct teaching and research. To some extent, such organizational fragmentation already exists in the United States. For example, most faculty at community colleges focus exclusively on teaching, while many faculty at four-year institutions engage in some combination of teaching and research. Similarly, some university faculty working within institutes or centers focus primarily on research, while many tenure-track faculty in departments engage in both teaching and research. Some analysts suggest that even in institutions that produce both teaching and research, responsibilities for the two roles should be assigned to different faculty according to their varying interests and strengths. Many departments already partially subdivide labor in this way. Adjunct or part-time faculty focus primarily on either teaching or research, while tenure-track faculty are usually expected to do both. At the individual level, teaching and research may be separated by time. In the short-term, some faculty teach during the academic year and save summers for doing research. In the long-term, some faculty may be more effective if they focus primarily on research at one stage in their careers and on teaching at another career stage. Arguments for formalizing de facto fragmentation of faculty work roles are consistent with a view that colleges and universities should respond to increasing environmental and technical complexity by subdividing work, thereby increasing organizational complexity and administrative control.

Perceptions of a positive or negative relationship between teaching and research depend on how observers define the content of the two roles. Teaching is often defined as activities involved in delivering formal classroom instruction to registered students. Some analysts, however, suggest that teaching also includes advising, informal instruction, and training students to conduct research. Similarly, research is often defined as publications. In 1990, however, Ernest Boyer of the Carnegie Foundation asserted that research should be more broadly defined as the scholarships of discovery, integration, application, and teaching. Those who define teaching and research in terms of classroom instruction and publications are less likely to perceive a positive relationship between the two faculty roles than those who define the roles more broadly.

Research Findings

Studies that investigate the relationship between teaching and research also vary in the ways they define the nature of the two roles. One line of inquiry defines teaching and research in terms of measurable outputs. Other lines of inquiry define teaching and research as activities that use time.

Measurable outputs. Many investigators have attempted to determine whether there is some measurable correlation between teaching and research quality. They typically measure teaching effectiveness by student ratings of formal classroom instruction and research productivity by numbers of publications. Most of these studies were conducted at one or only a few institutions and included relatively small (less than 300) samples of faculty. To attain more comprehensive results applicable to more faculty, two meta-analytic studies synthesized the results of multiple studies. In 1987, Kenneth Feldman analyzed the combined results of twenty-nine studies of the relationship between teaching effectiveness and research productivity, and found a very small (0.12) positive correlation. A meta-analysis conducted by John Hattie and Herbert W. March in 1996 analyzed the combined results of fifty-eight studies, and found an even smaller (.06) positive correlation between teaching effectiveness and research productivity. There are several possible reasons for their findings of a relationship so close to zero that it may be considered a null relationship.

A null relationship suggests that teaching and research outputs are completely independent, neither enhancing nor detracting from each other. The substantive reasons frequently given for no relationship discuss inputs and processes for producing effective teaching or large numbers of publications rather than outputs themselves. For example, the organizational resources, production processes, and faculty abilities and personality traits needed for teaching and research may be different while not competing with each other. A methodological reason for finding a statistically null relationship may be that mediating factors that contribute to a negative relationship between research and teaching are effectively canceled out by other mediating factors that contribute to a positive relationship.

There are both individual and organizational explanations for a possible partially negative teaching-research relationship. Some personality characteristics and abilities needed to teach effectively and produce many publications may compete with each other. Students may see extroverts as better teachers, for example, while introverts may be well suited to writing alone about ideas and abstractions. Organizational context may contribute to competition between teaching and research when evaluation and reward policies systematically fragment the two roles. According to James Fairweather, "faculty rewards emphasize the discreteness, not the mutuality, of teaching and research" (p. 110), and faculty are rewarded more for research productivity than for effective teaching. Therefore, faculty may neglect teaching to attain rewards for research.

A partially positive relationship between teaching and research may also be explained by individual and organizational reasons. Individual characteristics that may contribute to success in both teaching and research include general ability, organization, and intellectual curiosity. Organizational evaluation of faculty work as an integrated whole might increase evaluators' and faculty members' own perceptions of a positive association between teaching and research.

Variations in discipline and type of institution may also affect whether the relationship between teaching and research outputs is null, negative, or positive. Although scholars have described comprehensive models that could account for relative impact of many organizational and individual factors on the relationship, no such model has yet been tested.

Time on tasks. Studies that analyze the time faculty take to engage in tasks that meet institutional teaching and research goals define the content of the two roles more broadly than studies that analyze measurable outputs. Time on teaching involves preparing and delivering classroom instruction, grading students' work, meeting students in office hours, advising, and training students to conduct research. Time on research includes reading foundational literature, gathering and analyzing data, supervising assistants, securing funding, writing reports, and presenting findings.

Findings of either a negative or a positive relationship between teaching and research time are primarily a consequence of research methods used. Most workload surveys that ask faculty to estimate the time they devote to their primary work roles define teaching, research, and service as mutually exclusive. A negative relationship between teaching and research emerges by design, because time spent teaching is inevitably not time engaged in research. These studies have been conducted with department, institution, state, and representative national faculty samples.

In contrast, a few workload surveys asked faculty to cross reference time on tasks with institutional teaching, research, and service goals. One such workload survey conducted at the University of Arizona in 1998 found, on average, that faculty engaged in tasks that met all three goals, and teaching and research goals 14 and 18 percent of their time, respectively. A 1998 study by Carol L. Colbeck that observed English and physics faculty on the job found they engaged in integrated teaching and research activities nearly 19 percent of the time. In both studies, the degree of positive relationship–the amount of time spent in activities that accomplished both teaching and research goals–varied by discipline. Studies that account for time spent meeting both teaching and research goals have been conducted at either a single or a few universities and with very small faculty samples.


Evidence indicates that the outputs from teaching and research neither enhance nor interfere with each other, and that faculty engage in activities that meet both teaching and research goals some of the time. Perhaps because of the limitations of small sample size and simple models, however, faculty, administrators, and policy analysts still debate whether the relationship is positive or negative. Evidence that may resolve the debate will require research designs and methods that consider teaching and research both as uses of time and as outputs, take into account mediating factors, and include large samples of faculty across many disciplines and types of institutions.


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BOYER, ERNEST L. 1990. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

BRAXTON, JOHN M., ed. 1996. Faculty Teaching and Research: Is There a Conflict? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

CLARK, BURTON R. 1997. "The Modern Integration of Research Activities with Teaching and Learning." Journal of Higher Education 68:241–255.

COLBECK, CAROL L. 1998. "Merging in a Seamless Blend: How Faculty Integrate Teaching and Research." Journal of Higher Education 69:647–671.

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FELDMAN, KENNETH A. 1987. "Research Productivity and Scholarly Accomplishment of College Teachings as Related to their Instructional Effectiveness: A Review and Exploration." Research in Higher Education 26:227–298.

HATTIE, JOHN, and MARSH, HERBERT W. 1996. "The Relationship Between Research and Teaching: A Meta-Analysis." Review of Educational Research 66:507–542.

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KRAHENBUHL, GARY S. 1998. "Faculty Work: Integrating Responsibilities and Institutional Needs." Change 30 (6):18–25.


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