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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Undergrads shouldn’t stand for $100 Big Macs

On what kind of performance should a professor’s salary be based? Research performance, or teaching performance? Most undergraduate students, like myself, would prefer teaching performance rather than research performance.

If we think of the education industry as the fast food industry, students would be the customers and professors would be cooks in different restaurants. In this metaphor, professors’ lectures and teaching would be different burgers. If a professor can’t teach well, no matter how great he or she is in terms of research, it means that professor only serves Big Macs to customers (students), even though the professor can make extremely nice burgers at their own home. Nobody would purchase a normal Big Mac for $100, even if the cook is the champion of Hamburger Making of Tucson 2010.

It’s exactly the same situation in the universities: undergraduate students don’t care that much about how great the professor is as a researcher. Instead, they care about how much they can learn from the class, which is what students pay for. College students are paying a great deal for tuition as well as living fees. What students care about is the quality of the “”burger”” — the teaching quality of the course. We students desire high-quality classes. We are willing to pay $100 for a burger only if it is worth that much. What the university should do is not hire famous burger makers to make their Big Macs, but serve burgers that are better than Big Macs.

I can comment on this issue from my own experience as a methematics junior at the UA. Since the instructor of one of my upper-division math courses got her doctorate at an Ivy League school, there is no doubt that she is super-brilliant at what she does in her own work. The problem was that students couldn’t understand her lectures. Sixteen out of 38 students dropped this class even though it is the only section offered in this academic year. I think a lot of people have similar experiences: a professor is extremely good in his or her area, but can’t explain the material to the students well. He or she can only serve Big Macs in class, and inedible ones at that. This is obviously far from ideal.

The reason behind this is situation is that, nowadays, the main criterion in determining a faculty member’s salary is research performance, which certainly also affects the decision of whether the university will hire someone or not. The consequence is that a lot of championship burger-makers are hired to serve Big Macs in the universities.

What should we do, as undergraduate students, to get our money’s worth? Here are a few suggestions of what we can do to force burger-makers to improve the quality of their burgers: First, the faculty evaluation is coming up soon. Be serious about it. Mark it down when a professor doesn’t know how to teach. The evaluation may be used for assessment of the instructor’s teaching performance. Beside that, we can also talk to the department heads and deans and let them know what’s going on in a course if we believe the teaching is poor. Be polite and specific. Let deans know how you think the courses should be improved. This is what we did in the class I mentioned above. A lot of students have talked about this class with the dean. The math department actually sent out other instructors to evaluate her class.

This university prides itself in being one of the top research institutions in the country. Virtually every day there is an announcement of awards won by UA researchers or new grants and projects coming to the university. That’s great. But we undergraduates must, in every way we can, raise our voice to be heard that we want, we demand the quality of undergraduate instructions rise to the same high level. After all, undergraduates are the majority of the students at the UA. We pay a lot for our education, and we want the quality product.

— Wei Dai is a mathematics, economics and business junior.

He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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