Dr. Mark Graber stood before a seated group of 20-year-olds, many of them sporting jeans, baseball caps and a look of studied indifference. For Dr. Graber, an assistant professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park, this is his paying audience, and the first-floor lecture hall is his stage.

On this November afternoon, he hoped to animate decades-old Supreme Court decisions. "I know none of you have any feelings about affirmative action," he prodded, perching on a table at the front, "because none of you are applying to law school."


"OK, let's look at this another way to start things off," he said, standing up to ask questions to generate some reaction. And slowly the students responded, debating the role of race in the law.

This is what many people -- particularly those who pay taxes or tuition -- think of as a college professor: someone at the front of a classroom, energetically probing to stimulate students. But Dr. Graber, a seemingly archetypal absent-minded professor liked and respected by students, spends only five hours in class each week.

Professors tend to think of themselves as scholars. Their department heads and deans and provosts think of them this way, too -- not just at College Park, but at all "research universities" -- those institutions offering doctoral degrees and known to expect independent scholarship from faculty.

What's in a name -- teacher or scholar? -- is more than an academic question.

The issue has pitted academics at public universities in Maryland against annoyed legislators. How annoyed were they? Enough to withhold $21.5 million in university funds, pending a new policy and report on faculty workload.

The academics say that research makes professors better teachers, bolsters the prestige of the state's higher education system and fosters economic development. Legislators and other critics say the first mission of the public universities should be teaching, and that lighter teaching loads lead to huge numbers at lectures, classes taught by graduate students, not enough space in courses to meet student demand and higher tuition.

To see how research universities balance scholarship and teaching, The Sun examined the College Park department of government and politics (what most universities call political science). A representative department that serves many students, it also offers a case study of how professors spend their time. Teaching is the most visible activity there, but not the most valued.

With its proximity to Washington, D.C., and its growing presence in international fields, the department has attracted a faculty that is widely respected. The department's 37 professors boast a slew of honors and appointments. Many have written books that will be published during the year. Several currently serve as advisers to the White House and other government offices.

Approaches to teaching are innovative and show depth. One professor stages mock congressional hearings, based on current information from Capitol Hill staffers. Another is translating into English for five students the Arabic work of an early 10th-century philosopher from what is now Tajikistan. A third spends time devising ways to incorporate computers into instruction.

The department's students distinguish themselves on campus: Both of next spring's student speakers at university and college graduation ceremonies, selected for their academic records, are seniors majoring in government and politics.

The department has gained national recognition in recent years. It is beginning to show up on some political science "top 25" lists. The lists are based not on the quality of teaching, but on the strength of the faculty's published journal articles, on where its graduate students are hired as professors and on how frequently its professors are courted by other institutions.

It is professors' research that drives appointments, tenure, raises and promotion.

Junior faculty members are hired as assistant professors and await an all-or-nothing verdict within six years that, if they pass, gives them tenure and a promotion to associate professor. A rejection in a tenure case is the academic equivalent of a one-way ticket off campus.

To earn tenure -- lifetime job security -- six years from now, Dr. Melissa Matthes, a new assistant professor in College Park's department of government and politics, knows that she must write at least two books or one book and a host of academic journal articles while carrying out core teaching duties. That translates to 50 to 60 hours work each week -- about the same as most of her colleagues.

"I remember one young faculty member on staff being told by a more senior professor that teaching should not get in the way of the other things you need for tenure," fifth-year graduate student Doug Brattebo said. "If you want to take education seriously, you have to alter the tenure policy. You can't just base policy above all on cranking out research papers."

"There's no hand-holding," said James Gimpel, an assistant professor who faces a tenure decision three years from now. The American politics scholar displays equally high energy in his classroom and his office.

"They basically tell you you've got six years to make the grade, never telling you exactly what they want. If you blow it, out the door you are; we'll fire you, and you can teach at Fred's Community College."

While faculty members focus on publishing books and articles and getting grants -- and avoiding Fred's -- students see crowded lectures, courses closed out because there is no room for more students and classes taught by graduate students and part-timers.

The graduate students run some courses on their own. This term, 16 of the 76 courses offered are taught by graduate students and part- or full-time instructors who do not have tenure and are not on track to get it. In other courses, taught by professors, graduate students grade papers.

In the department's eight largest lecture classes, most of them designed for freshmen, sophomores and nonmajors, 1,062 undergraduates sit once a week in 48 discussion sections taught by 22 graduate students.

The discussion sections provide a chance for students to ask questions about the material covered in the massive lectures. They also offer future professors a taste of what it means to teach a course. But students complain they have little contact with senior faculty.

While some professors bemoan their students' reluctance to visit them during office hours, even the routine interaction of advising has been farmed out on the campus. The government and politics department has hired a full-time staffer and a graduate student to work part time solely to keep students abreast of their requirements.

"There are some professors who are working so hard to get tenure that they basically have no choice," Mr. Brattebo said. "It's not that they shun students."

In this department, professors are expected to teach four courses a year, usually one undergraduate and one graduate course each term. That's only half as much as political scientists at "comprehensive" campuses such as Towson State University (where there is much less demand for published research). But it is about the same level required at Ivy League universities and their peers -- schools such as the University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of California at Berkeley -- where most of College Park's professors earned their doctorates.

Dr. Graber is detached enough from the life of his students that he first heard of Beavis and Butthead when they became part of a legal dispute. But his five hours in the classroom each week require much outside work. In preparing his 75-minute class on affirmative action, he read new books by law professors Lani Guinier and Stephen L. Carter. He also reviewed Supreme Court decisions involving race and developed an outline of the main points in his lecture.

Since Dr. Graber writes on the same topics, he finds it hard to distinguish between reading for teaching and reading for research. Professors asked to account for their time each week said the work related to their two classes -- designing reading lists, developing and refining lectures, writing questions for exams and grading tests and papers -- ranges from eight to 25 hours a week.

In addition, teaching duties include overseeing graduate dissertations and independent projects, writing recommendations, helping students get jobs and offering advice students who stop by.

Although she has no morning classes, Dr. Matthes rises well before dawn four days a week -- just as she did during her days as a financial analyst on Wall Street -- to read for her research and her courses. "It's not terrible, because this is what I've always wanted to do. You don't do this for the pay because the money ain't so good," Dr. Matthes said with a mischievous smile,

Sure, they work many evenings and weekends, but professors can set their own pace, even take a few weeks off each summer before they plunge into their next project or prepare for the next fall's classes.

This year the department offers 151 courses with a total enrollment of 5,266 undergraduates and 427 graduate students. The faculty will supervise the work on 41 doctoral dissertations and 30 undergraduate honors theses, publish 50 journal articles and 14 books and direct the research on 26 external grants totaling more than $3 million (with almost half of that from the National Science Foundation, a federal agency).

With 150 graduate students pursuing doctorates, the department produces more Ph.D.s in political science than almost any other campus in the nation. In fact, the way the department is run places the instruction of graduate students above undergraduates. Research, however, stands above all else.

And the advent of electronic mail has physically isolated faculty members even more than the scatter of their offices throughout four different floors of Tydings Hall.

"A lot of older faculty only show up to teach and for office hours," said Dr. Gimpel, an assistant professor who works on campus five days a week. "It doesn't mean that they're not doing something. Geez, some of these people have [resumes] longer than my book."

"Faculty who teach two and two" -- two courses each semester -- "have a huge responsibility to be productive academics. They're not studying toenails of hippopotami," said James Glass, a political theorist who studies evil. "If I had to teach five courses a year, my research would suffer."

One who has not hurled himself into the rush to publish is Associate Professor Piotr Swistak, a game theory expert whose voice retains the inflections of his native Poland. Dr. Swistak spent two years developing his own textbook because he believed teaching materials in statistics were inadequate. He is critical of the proliferation of journal articles by some of his peers. "A lot of social science is bad journalism," said Dr. Swistak, formerly a mathematician.

He is proud of the three journal articles he has written, one of which will appear in a journal of the National Academy of Sciences, an unusual publisher for a political scientist. Others clearly don't agree with his evaluation of what research is valuable and what is not. When his publication was noted in a recent department newsletter, one wag scribbled on a copy: "Big toot, little horn."

On average, each faculty member also spends a few hours a week on "community service" -- that's not duty at a homeless shelter, but serving on the committees that help set campus policies. It can also include developing curricula, serving on advisory boards for professional organizations or local governments or even analyzing political trends in interviews with reporters.

Department chairman Jonathan Wilkenfeld himself is teaching only one course this year. While the tenured faculty help to set most departmental policy, it is Dr. Wilkenfeld's charge to keep the academic machine running.

The only way to do that financially, Dr. Wilkenfeld concluded when he became chairman four summers ago, was to get faculty members to seek grants. A grant pays for equipment and travel, but it also generates cash for graduate assistant positions, allowing prospective Ph.D.s to ease tuition charges and earn annual stipends of up to $10,000. While the department has state funds totaling $263,481 to pay for graduate assistantships, Dr. Wilkenfeld has made commitments of $381,382. Grant dollars make up the difference. A grant also provides the department and the lead professor with several thousand dollars a year.

Dr. Wilkenfeld and colleagues Ted Gurr and Karen Dawisha are rainmakers, the superstar grant-getters in the department who are among the highest-paid faculty. Each teaches only one seminar at the graduate level this term. Now the exception, the rainmaker model will become much more the rule, Dr. Wilkenfeld said; the department will consider future job candidates with that in mind.

To ease the burden on younger professors who are approaching a vote on tenure, Dr. Wilkenfeld reduces their teaching load for one term only from two courses to one. That has meant more senior faculty teach introductory courses.

While solid teaching is currently taken for granted in tenure decisions, the ability to teach -- or at least to communicate ideas -- counts in hiring. Earlier this fall, a Ph.D. candidate sought a tenure-track position at College Park teaching international political economy. A gem on paper with strong recommendations, he gave a rapid-fire, highly technical presentation that clearly dazed his prospective colleagues.

The consensus emerged even as the candidate spoke: no dice. Without the ability to teach, or the potential to learn how, even a promising young scholar will not be asked to join the department.

After gaining tenure, some professors hit the extremes -- either no further publishing, or too much interest in scholarship to the detriment of students. "In practice, too many of us, including me, go off to do our research and don't want to be bothered by students," Professor Fred Alford said.

Yet faculty members did not uniformly treasure teaching in the days before the pressure to publish had been firmly ingrained in the department. Dr. Charles Butterworth recalled his arrival in Maryland nearly 30 years ago. "There were a lot of old fogeys" in the department, said Dr. Butterworth, a political theorist. "One guy used to open his mail and read them aloud in class. Another used to fall asleep in his own seminar. There's nobody who does that today."

Tomorrow: In Maryland and elsewhere, state officials have pressed public universities to account for what faculty do. A new Maryland policy is intended to get faculty at research campuses into the classroom -- but will it?


Rank and pay in College Park's department of government and politics depend on research and scholarship more than teaching, although all faculty members are expected to teach.


Name: Karen Dawisha

Title: Professor

Salary: $88,000

Fall 1994 courses: Graduate seminar in International Relations

Grants: $710,000

Recent publications and distinctions: "Russia and the New States of Eurasia: The Politics of Upheaval," with Bruce Parrott.

Other Duties: Director, the Russian Littoral Project studying former Soviet states. Education and Job Experience: Ph.D. 1975 London School of Economics; taught at Louisiana State University and Princeton University.


Name: Clarence Stone

Title: Professor

Salary: $85,303

Courses: Senior seminar in urban politics; Graduate seminar in urban administration

Grants: $421,000

Recent publications and distinctions: 1994 Lifetime achievement award, American Political Science Association, Urban Affairs division; 1990 Ralphe J. Bunche Award of APSA for best book on ethnics and cultural pluralism.

Other Duties: External advisory board for the Center for Minority Health Research, University of Maryland at Baltimore; editorial board, Journal of Urban Affairs.

Education: Ph.D. 1963 Duke University. taught at Westminister College (Pa.), Emory University.


Name: Charles E. Butterworth

Title: Professor

Salary: $65,401

Fall 1994 courses: Undergraduate honors seminar on Maimonedes, ancient Jewish philosopher; graduate seminar in Medieval Islamic Political philosophy.

Grants: $12,000

Recent publications and distinctions: Averroes' "The Decisive Treatise and the Epistle on Divine Knowledge," translation plus interpretive essay; "Between the State and Islam," editor, book of papers delivered at conference of same name at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Other Duties: Advises six Ph.D. dissertations; 10 undergraduates; editor

Education and Job Experience: Ph.D. 1966 University of Chicago; taught at Univ. of Chicago; Federal City College (now Univ. of Dist. Columbia), St. John's College, Univ. of Bordeaux and Univ. of Paris (Sorbonne).


Name: Melissa Matthes

Title: assistant professor

Salary: $38,000 (one-quarter paid by women's studies program)

Fall 1994 courses: Senior-level lecture on ancient political theory. graduate seminar, current problems in political theory.

Recent publication: Forthcoming book review on Linda Zirelli's "Signifying Woman" in professional journal, "Political Theory."

Other Duties: Teaches one course a year in women's studies program; serves on graduate dissertation exam committee; serves on department curriculum review committee.

Education and Job Experience: Former Wall Street analyst; Ph.D. 1994 Univ. of Calif., Santa Cruz; taught at Univ. of Conn.


Name: Lois Vietri

Title: Full-time lecturer

Salary: $34,648 Fall 1994 courses: Undergraduate lecture, introduction to public administration; senior seminar on reinventing government; senior seminar, politics of the Viet Nam War.

Recent Distinctions: Winner, 1993-94 UMCP campus-wide award for undergraduate instruction; 1993-94 College of Behavioral and Social Sciences award for undergraduate instruction; 1993-94 Undergraduate Dean's award for undergraduate instruction.

Other Duties: Director, Maryland-Viet Nam Partnership

Education and Job Experience: management consultant for federal government; Ph.D. 1981University of Maryland College Park; taught at University of Maryland University College and Anne Arundel Community College.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad