Friday, February 10, 2012

How to Turn a University Into a Glorified High School

Ian D. Clark is Professor of Public Policy and Governance here at the University of Toronto. He has attracted a lot of attention lately because he and his colleagues advocate the creation of Teaching-only Universities in Ontario. The scary part of this ridiculous idea is that it might soon become official policy of the Ontario government as described in a recent article by Louise Brown in The Toronto Star [Teaching-only universities would cut education costs, author says].
Undergraduate universities that focus on teaching only would create cosier classes, cut salary costs and boost student satisfaction, argues Ian Clark, the former head of the Council of Ontario Universities.

Moreover, he says professors at these new universities should be required to teach twice as many courses as usual — a full 80 per cent of their time with 10 per cent left for research and 10 per cent for administration.

Clark and professor David Trick are co-authors of a controversial new book that calls for new teaching-oriented universities where profs would have much higher course-loads. Simply by doubling the number of courses a professor teaches each semester to four from two could cut the operating cost of educating a student to $9,800 from $14,300 at a campus of 10,000, Clark noted Tuesday at a conference sponsored by the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Having profs teach more courses is one cost-saving tip rumoured to be part of economist Don Drummond’s report next week to Premier Dalton McGuinty.
There are many problems with teaching-only universities and I'll get to some of the specifics in a minute. But first I'd like to explain the role of universities in modern societies.

The word "university" is derived from the Latin phrase universitas magistrorum et scholarium (community of teachers and scholars). Universities are places where scholarly activity is carried out.1 Students are attracted to places where scholarly activity is going on because that's where they can learn from the experts. It used to be that "higher education" meant just a Bachelors degree but now it includes higher degrees such as Masters and Ph.D. degrees. As a general rule, universities are now places where there's lots of research and lots of graduate students working towards Ph.D.s.

Universities are of great value to society because they are places where scholarly activity/research is rewarded. Society benefits because it can draw on this expertise in a variety of ways. Ian D. Clark is a perfect example.

The fact that students can get undergraduate degrees at a university is also of great benefit to society but it's a consequence of the fact that universities are places of scholarship, not a cause. High schools are places where you can get an education but they are not places that carry out sophisticated research. If you create institutes where you can continue your education in a environment like that in high school then you are creating glorified high schools. They may serve an important role in some ways but they are not universities. Call them something else, like "glorified high schools."

Clark has responded to his critics in many places but I want to concentrate on his response to a piece by Alan Slavin that appeared in University Affairs. Clark's response is here: Teaching-oriented universities and undergraduate participation in research. The main issue is whether undergraduate research is important and whether it would be possible in a teaching-only university.

Clark says,
We are proposing teaching-oriented, not teaching-only universities. Faculty are expected to be scholarly. They are expected to teach the equivalent of eight one-semester courses per year but classes are held only 26 weeks per year, leaving the other 26 weeks for preparing courses, marking exams, vacation and conducting research. The 80-10-10 allocation of time to teaching, research and service provides more than one month a year for research.

We propose that the research be focused on teaching and learning and this can include disciplinary research where it includes a direct and integral contribution to the education of undergraduate students. Reflecting on my own research experience as an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia, which led to a co-authored publication entitled “A Study of the Energy Levels in Benzene and Some Fluorobenzenes by Photoelectron Spectroscopy,”2 I believe its lasting value was not a deeper understanding of fluorobenzenes but in helping me with research methodology, critical thinking, complex reasoning and written expression. If my experience is typical and the benefit that a student gains from research with a professor is not highly dependent on the subject of research, then students in any field of study should be able to benefit from working with professors engaged in research on teaching and learning.
This is complicated. Let me first say that in principle I agree with Clark that it doesn't really matter what field you're exposed to in your research project as long as you're learning to think critically. It seems obvious to me that you learn to think critically by working with a mentor who is very knowledgeable about the field and has plenty of experience in critical thinking. But the reality is quite different. The topic is important if you are planning to continue in your chosen field (e.g., music theory, civil engineering, psychology, physics).

Let's say you don't want to go to graduate school. Is it possible to take a lot of courses in, say, geology, then acquire extra critical thinking skills by doing a research project in a completely unrelated field like pedagogy? Is it even possible for professor in a teaching-only university to be enough of an expert on pedagogy teach critical thinking about the subject? No, not if they can only devote one month during the summer to scholarly activity. They will be part-time scholars at best.

Let's think about biochemistry teachers in such an environment. They will be teaching four courses a semester. The rule of thumb in our department is that each hour of lecture takes about a day of your time, especially in advanced courses. The extra time is for lecture preparation, course preparation (handouts etc.), meeting with students, and grading. (More time is required if you have a lab component.) If the courses involve two lectures per week, then our typical biochemistry professor will be spending about eight days a week teaching. Only Beatles can do this.

When you're teaching an advanced course (4th year), it takes a lot of effort to make sure you are up-to-date on the latest work. This is true even (especially) if you concentrate on basic principles and concepts. Our hypothetical professor in a teaching-only university will have to be an experts on a number of topics in biochemistry and it's really hard to see where one can find the time to keep up.

Perhaps Ian Clark has a naive notion that course material doesn't change from year to year so all you have to do is deliver the same lecture you gave five years ago. What kind of a university is that?

Isn't it obvious that our hypothetical biochemistry professor will have no time for scholarly work on pedagogical issues? And since they won't be experts in this field, how can they supervise an undergraduate thesis? And where in the world will they find the time during the school year?

Who is going to want such a job?
Many of our colleagues worry, like Professor Slavin, that the new universities would be perceived by students to be second-rate institutions. Part of their concern is that the teaching demands of four courses each term would make it difficult for the new universities to attract genuinely scholarly faculty. We think that a clear eyed look at the academic labour market should allay this concern.

In our book we examine the academic labour market in Ontario by comparing the number of assistant professors from 1971 to 2009 with the population aged 25-44, which is the age range into which almost all assistant professors fall. The increase in supply of PhDs has vastly outstripped the increase in demand for new full-time professors. The number of assistant professorships has grown, but the number of people who meet the minimum academic qualifications for these positions has grown faster. The ratio of people in Ontario aged 25-64 who hold an earned doctorate to the total population in that age range almost doubled in the period 1986 to 2006. For every full-time professorship that exists at an Ontario university, there are five PhDs in the population. Every year, about 2,100 new PhDs graduate from Ontario universities, about 80 percent of whom will remain in Canada after graduation. Another 1,400 PhDs immigrate to Ontario each year. Meanwhile, only about 800 full-time university faculty reach the normal retirement age - a figure that will rise to about 1,000 per year a decade from now. The supply of PhDs relative to the number of new academic positions assures that the new universities would have a deep pool of scholarly candidates to draw from.
Nobody doubts that if the jobs are available then you will find people willing to fill them. And nobody except Ian Clark doubts that the best scholars will go to research intensive universities where you don't have to spend eight days a week teaching during most of the year.

As for perception ... does anyone seriously think that these teaching-only institutions will be viewed as being in the same league as the research intensive universities with strong graduate programs, medical school, and law schools? Gimme a break. We already have Ontario schools that concentrate mostly on undergraduate teaching. Can you name them?

The teaching-only institutes will be viewed as second-rate universities, as they should be. In terms of the primary role of a university, scholarly activity/research, they can't possibly compete. This may not be a bad thing but let's not ignore reality.
As for opportunities for graduates of the new universities to proceed to post-graduate studies, they should also be first rate. Given the attractiveness of new universities in the Greater Toronto Area with a much better faculty-to-student ratio, we would expect that one or more of the new universities would soon have entrance and grading standards that were more rigorous than those of most of Ontario’s existing universities. Their graduates, having had more opportunity to interact with faculty, including on research projects related to teaching and learning, would be attractive candidates for graduate schools. I cannot speak for all of University of Toronto but can assert with confidence that the admissions committee for the Master of Public Policy program would be impressed with a candidate from a teaching-oriented university who attained high marks in a rigorous economics and political science curriculum and had co-authored with a professor an article with a title such as “A Multivariate Analysis of Graduate School and Employment Success of Undergraduates Who Participate in Faculty Research.”
Let's think about potential applicants for graduate school in biochemistry. We want those applicant to be up-to-speed on the latest ideas in the discipline. We want them to have a good idea about what aspect of biochemistry they want to pursue. We demand that they have reasonably sophisticated lab experience because nobody wants to spend $25,000 a year on someone who can't work in a lab. The student will need reliable letters of reference to support the application and those letters will have to address things like whether the students is suited to becoming a scientist. The students will be applying to major research universities all over the world so it's a pretty good idea to have a letter from someone with research credentials.

I can only speak for our department but a student from a teaching-only institute whose only experience is writing a report on "A Multivariate Analysis of Graduate School and Employment Success of Undergraduates Who Participate in Faculty Research" will not be likely to get taken on as a graduate student. I think it's even less likely that they will succeed in getting into Berkeley. Yale, or UNC Chapel Hill. They will be competing against students who have co-authored a paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and who have glowing letters from the heads of active research labs with an international reputation.

What if you're a high school student who thinks they may want to go to graduate school and become a scientist? Is it best to go to a university full of graduate students and active research labs so you can see what it's like or is it better to go to a teaching-only institute and wait for the surprise when (if) you get accepted to graduate school?

I don't know what planet Ian Clark is living on but it sure ain't this one.

1. Scholarly activity is often referred to as "research" but the two are not synonymous.


  1. I agree. I think it is important to have some faculty that are teaching-focused (i.e. teaching fellows) that can pick up the lion's share of the introductory courses but it is a really bad idea to make a whole University like that. The best PhD students, in my experience, are those that have performed genuine research during their undergrad course and, as you say, higher level courses are best taught by those at the cutting-edge.

  2. Research University: teachers not selected according to their ability to teach.

    Research University: teachers for whom teaching is their last priority.

    Research University: bad teachers prosper as much as good teachers.

    Research University: for the sake of our tenures, let's pretend that there are no viable alternatives.

    1. I can think of a half dozen alternatives that don't require the dumbing down of higher education and the destruction of major research universities by shifting funds to cheaper second-rate schools.

      Besides, there's nothing in the proposal that guarentees that teachers in the new schools will be better than those in major research universities. You can be certain that they will get better student evaluations but that's not the same thing as being a better teacher.

      They will also have "tenure" although it certainly won't protect academic freedom.

    2. As a lecturer in a Research University, I can say that although some of your points have some validity, they also highlight a great misunderstanding: students at University are not there to be taught, they are there to learn. There are many ways to learn and being taught well is only one, and arguably the least important one. Peer-to-peer learning, self-directed learning, learning by experience and learning/teaching by example are all things that go on in top tier Research Universities.

      I also take issue with the suggestion that teaching is our "last priority". It may not be our top priority but most of us take our teaching very seriously and try our best to do a good job at it despite the conflicting pressures of research and admin. Indeed, one could argue that this conflict encourages more explicit involvement of research in teaching and vice versa, which can only be a good thing given the role of a University. If you have zero interest in education, you should get a job in a Research Institute, not a University.

  3. What if you're a high school student who thinks they may want to go to graduate school and become a scientist? Is it best to go to a university full of graduate students and active research labs so you can see what it's like or is it better to go to a teaching-only institute and wait for the surprise when (if) you get accepted to graduate school?
    Of course in the US we have undergraduate focussed institutions. Students at top tier small liberal arts colleges engage in research with faculty without graduate students. These students do carry out research and may get on a publications.

    The likes of Tom Cech (Grinnell College), Tom Steitz (Lawrence University), and Joan Steitz (Antioch College) (among others) went to such undergraduate institutions. All three of those do advocate for a liberal arts education, Cech in particular (

    Students who went to selective small liberal arts colleges for their undergraduate degree do well for themselves and are well represented in graduate schools and the faculty who teach at those research universities. The key though is students do carry out research and the faculty have to stay current, publish, and get grants.

    Currently I am a faculty member at such a college. We have students accepted into top Ph.D. programs (including ones you listed), which is good because the education the students receive is very expensive.

    My point, seeing graduate students is not required. What you do need as an undergraduate is quality research experiences.

    1. Imagine that you had to teach four courses each semester. Where would you find the time to apply for grants, publish papers, stay current, and supervise undergraduate research projects?

      I'm in favor of some more "liberal arts" (especially philosophy) for science students but I'm even more in favor of more science courses for arts students.

    2. Liberals arts colleges have faculty typically teach 3/2 loads (maybe 3/3 but with only 2 preps are year and/or include both lab sections for a course). Some places have a 2/2 load and handful 1/1. I do agree 4/4 every semester would be a significant challenge. It does matter how many preps but teaching is exhausting. Here in the US there are private universities and public colleges that do have faculty teach those loads. They are not research universities and do not provide the environment of a small liberal arts college. They crank out students with undergraduate degrees who are not planning on going to graduate school. I don't think many are science majors but I don't have the numbers easily available on that.

      The point was to dispute the notion you need to see graduate students in action to get into top graduate programs. Undergraduate focused institutions in the small liberal arts college model provide a strong foundation for those looking to go to graduate school. They are not cheap, cost saving ways of getting an undergraduate degree.

      At the liberal arts college I work at, about 40 % of the science majors (1/3 of all students major in the sciences, humanities and social sciences make up the other 2/3) minor in a subject outside of the sciences. Less than 5 % go the other way, most of those are pre-med students. The science majors embracing the liberal arts concept is what helps them get into and succeed in graduate school. Shame the other students don't take advantage of the education provided to them.

  4. Let's call a spade a spade: they're not fooling anyone (except perhaps themselves) with the suggestion that it is possible to do meaningful research (even in pedagogy) with a 10% component, and nobody can think that such an institution would give students adequate preparation for graduate study, but >90% of students do not (or should not) intend to do graduate study or train to become researchers. Yes, this is a proposal to create glorified high schools, but is that a bad thing?

    Looking at the needs of students, is it the case that most students' interests are better served being at an institution which emphasizes scholarly work rather than job skills? Given a choice, would most students agree to the idea that their tuition money is being used to support research or other scholarly activity?

    Looking at the needs of research, does it make sense that good researchers are made to spend 50% or more of their time teaching (which they may dislike or not be good at)? Does it make sense to use research money to employ professors who are good at teaching but not so good at research?

    Looking at the needs of professors, does it make sense that there are many
    good teachers whose career progression is stymied because performance evaluation is based on how well they perform at research and/or grant writing?

    Traditional universities make sense when they are aimed at a small minority of the population - those who want to engage in scholarly activity. When you are talking about tertiary education for a majority of the population, a more seamless continuation of high school may well be best for most.

    1. But what would be the point? Degrees are not about just learning more about a subject. There are professional qualifications and apprenticeships for that. Scholarly work and the transferable skills associated with it - time management, independent thinking, independent learning etc. - are the desired output, whether the student goes on to be a researcher or not.

      Should there be a greater diversity of further education opportunities? Possibly. But let's not get confused and call them Universities or call the resulting qualification a BSc or BA.

  5. There can be yet another danger. It sounds as if cost will be a great factor. Attracting students will be necessary to attract the funding. In the UK, this resulted in courses on homeopathy, reiki etc. And yes, these courses led to a degree. This disgraceful situation is now being solved and these courses are being removed.

    A second way of attracting the funds was the certification of degree courses in external institutes. A blind eye was applied to the standards required by these institutes providing the funds appeared. The fall out from these shenanigans is the break up of the University of Wales.

    University education is a valuable resource for society. If the facilities or funds or tutors are not available, the answer is certainly not to reduce standards which is the likely result of these proposals.

  6. Yes, in the United States we have some pressure to ruin some of our best public universities in this fashion.

  7. I wonder why these people need to play around with the education system. Not only in Canada but in many other countries. IMO these are people who are not interested in science and most of them will not have been in cantact with natural sciences. Either they do it for their own political career or they do it to fulfill demands from pressure groups. A recent example: WIthin the framework of the German "Exellenzinitiative" some boneheads want to introduce so-called "research oriented teaching" (ROT) at universities. I just wonder what they think we've been doing during the last 200 years.
    At the same time the old diploma system was cancelled to introduce B.Sc. / M.Sc. studies because politicians claimed that the industry needs younger bachelors that will be trained on the job rather than aged PhDs. IMO the whole thing was essentially about cutting jobs and reducing costs at the universities.

  8. Can't speak for all fields, but in any of the sciences collectively called molecular biology, administrators often have no idea of the cost and time commitment required to carry out meaningful research. Doubling the teaching load of a professor would make all but the most simplistic and trivial research well nigh impossible. People forget that aside from classroom instruction, research universities provide the very best education opportunities not just because the profs are up-to-date experts but because the opportunity to engage in high level research does more to elevate a students thinking and learning than sitting in a classroom reading textbooks ever could.
    Finally I suspect this is just a means of cutting research funding to already existing smaller universities. If he is suggesting the creation of "new" teaching universities, would this not act to siphon off students from existing research universities that rely on undergraduate students for some portion of their operating funds.

    1. the opportunity to engage in high level research does more to elevate a students thinking and learning than sitting in a classroom reading textbooks ever could.

      This has got to be the reddest herring ever. There is absolutely no evidence for this claim. Just incessant self-serving blah-blah instead.

    2. If you're talking about what the average student should learn at university—how to think—then working in a research lab is a very inefficient way to advance that goal. If you need to prepare students for a career in science then the skills, training, and experience you get in the lab are essential. These are two different things.

      DK is right. The idea that doing research as an undergraduate is a way to teach critical thinking is a myth. If this were true then all of the graduate students in my department would be experts in critical thinking.

      The proposed teaching-only institutes cannot do a good job of preparing students for advanced degrees because they can't give them real experience in a research environment. I'm not even sure that they can do an adequate job of teaching students how to think since the system will select against teachers who are creative, imaginative, and want to learn.

    3. @DK: I am not sure whether engaging in research generally elevates thinking and learning, although I am sure that for some people it does. Crucially, though, it provides a way to demonstrate critical thinking in a way that just learning what you are taught does not. Research is about moving from the "known" space into the "unknown". Demonstrating that you can learn stuff and answer questions is one thing. Demonstrating that you know what to do when confronted with the unknown is something very different - and a vital skill if society is to continue to progress.

      Students are typically pretty bad at critical thinking because they are educated to learn the right answers. This assumes that there is a right answer. There is no magic bullet that teaches these skills but I have witnessed the change happen in students engaged in research projects - students that have gone on to be teachers and dentists and accountants, not just scientists - in a way that assessment of lecture material has never provided. (Anecdotes are not data, of course. Unfortunately, there is almost no quantitative data supporting any of our teaching strategies, so anecdote is currently the best we can do.)

    4. In many ways I actually agree with you. In fact, I am deeply dissatisfied with the lecture format of teaching. I myself learned infinitely more doing things than listening to lecturers. That said, I maintain that it is utter BS to claim that effective (and efficient) teaching requires cutting edge research and researchers. What's needed is professional teachers using effective teaching techniques instead of disinterested lecturers dumping their notes and slides onto students. Those who primarily want to do research should work at research institutes.

  9. Prof. Moran's colleague, PZ Myers, teaches at a public liberal arts college, UM Morris. Does Prof. Moran think that the undergraduate students at that school are being short changed?

    1. It depends what you mean by "short-changed." Do I think that students in biochemistry or molecular biology will have more opportunities at the University of Toronto than at Morris? Yes.

      Do I think they will have more opportunities at Berkeley than at Toronto? Yes.

      Do I think they will have no opportunities to get experience in biochemistry labs at the proposed teaching-only institutes? Yes.

    2. I can't speak for biochemistry but my somewhat hazy recollection is that there were no physics labs when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley a million years ago. Perhaps it is different in biology/biochemistry then it is in physics.

  10. In a certain sense, the market will take care of this. Ivy league and top state research institutions have the prestige and their graduates are valuable both in the academic sector and in private industry. "Teaching" institutions and less research intensive institutions do not and their graduates are not.

    I'd read an interesting study about the post-graduation earnings of business and commerce grads--probably the purest expression of market forces' interactions with the university sector you could imagine. Going to a "good" university--you know the ones we mean: research intensive, prestigious ones--results in a very high average income (top 10% of earners right away, if memory serves); going to anything else results in something far less lucrative (mid $30k if memory serves).

    I was trained in excellent (i.e. research focussed state and ivy-league) universities and teach in a mediocre one that is focussed on teaching. You can see the difference from the moment you walk into a class: it isn't just that the students aren't as good and the faculty less connected to their fields (how could they be, they teach everything); it is that the entire intellectual culture of the university suffers.

    A real university has somebody who specialises in classical Greek prose as well as Homer, has more than one medievalist, and has people who disagree knowledgeably on the most specialised topics.

    If you don't have that you are, at best, at a pretty advanced high school. And everybody else knows it.

    1. You can see the difference from the moment you walk into a class: it isn't just that the students aren't as good and the faculty less connected to their fields (how could they be, they teach everything); it is that the entire intellectual culture of the university suffers.

      It is. Without a slightest doubt, at less prestigious schools both students and faculty are not as good as at top places. Can't be any other way around. The keyword is, of course, "on average".

  11. Why should anybody invest the time and effort in getting a high quality PhD in order to teach at one of these glorified high schools? What such ideas ignore is that it will remove much of the incentive for people to do their best scholarly work. As a whole it will drag down quality to the same mediocre morass that our high schools are already.

  12. Can't seem to post my own reply to comments made after my comment above, so I will reply here.
    I didn't say that the opportunity to engage in research is the most efficient means of gaining skills in critical thinking in general. I said it "does more to elevate a students thinking and learning than sitting in a classroom reading textbooks ever could." This does not mean that it should be the only path to thinking and learning, but that it is the most valuable one. Most frequently students in a classroom are there to memorize "facts" so they can later be regurgitated on an exam. Sure, a good teacher might provide context to these "facts" but I would wager most do not; indeed there would not be time to do this task justice in a typical course.
    How many students gain any sense of the difficulties associated with successfully carrying out experiments from reading textbooks? Years of work might be reduced to a single declarative sentence. Must be easy. No mention of the much more common deadends and failed experiments.
    How many students appreciate that a great deal of the information presented in textbooks is far from competely settled business?
    Virtually every enzyme or enzyme complex mentioned in a biochemistry textbook continues to be subject to investigation by many labs despite the frequent inference in a textbook that its "function" is understood. Yes maybe in broad terms its function, but mechanism is another matter altogether, and the challenges to answering these question yet another still.
    Hands on experience and immersion in this business of science is indeed more illuminating than reading about it, in my opinion. This would be true of every profession from auto mechanics to astrophysics. Does every student require this experience. No. But for those who aspire to someday actually contribute to a field of their choice, it is absolutely essential. I am happy to provide more incessant self-serving blah-blah for DK in lieu of telling him to go to hell ;).

    1. The important part of teaching is explaining the basic principles in the discipline. In biochemistry, for example, this means showing students why thermodynamics matters. It means covering the basic principles of enzyme kinetics and how enzyme catalysis works. It means teaching why evolution is important in making sense of biochemistry. It means understanding—and I mean truly understanding—the difference between flux and equilibrium. It means trying to get students to see the way cells get energy from inorganic molecules and/or light.

      You can't learn these basic concepts in a lab, and don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise. The concepts can be illustrated by laboratory exercises but that's not the same thing. It's quite possible to learn the basic concepts and principles without ever taking a lab course or working in a research laboratory but it's not possible to learn those principles and concepts by only taking lab courses.

      The ideal situation is to learn the basic principles and concepts and also learn how to do biochemistry.

      We all know that most lecture courses do NOT teach basic principles and concepts and we all know that many lab courses and much "research" experience is little more than cookbook science. Let's not get confused by thinking that lectures have to be bad just because that's become the norm.

  13. We've had this in the US for a long time. It's called "community college". I'm surprised no one has mentioned it yet---it's clearly a much better comparison to this idea than a 4-year liberal arts college is.

    To be fair, community college degrees are usually 2-year associate degrees. But I still think they fill a needed niche: first, there are many students who do need more education that they get in high school but who do not need the full 4-year bachelors' degree. Second, for many adult students who didn't have an opportunity to go to college, community college is a far better option than enrolling as an undergrad at the local university.

    Whatever the purpose of a university used to be or whatever we would like it to be, the fact is that for many students and parents it is now seen as a means to an end. As a professor at a research university, I really do think a lot of those students would be better off at a good community college.

  14. I taught for a year at an American liberal arts college. it wasn't a research university, and there were no grad students. Yet of the four students who took my senior seminar, two now have tenure-track jobs in philosophy! And this was not an abnormal occurrence: elite liberal arts colleges, focussed very largely on their teaching mission, send a higher proportion of their students into academia than any research university. So I don't think it is right to say that only a research university can give a good preparation for researchers at the undergraduate level.
    Of course, the college I taught at had a 2/2 teaching load, with a far more intensive teaching model than any research university. And the cost to the students was exorbitant. Ontario is undoubtedly planning to cut every corner to keep costs down, so the quality of education will be nothing like that at those liberal arts colleges. Ontario spends about as much per student on higher education as Mississippi, which is to say, very little.
    This underfunding is the real problem with the Ontario model. Even at the U of T, 30% of undergraduate courses are taught by sessional lecturers - paid peanuts by the course, and with an explicit message from university administration that any research they do is a hobby for their spare time. Most of the actual interaction students have with an instructor is with a TA, who has one or two hours per student per term for grading and all contact time. It is entirely possible for a student to graduate without ever having interacted with a research professor, beyond as a face in a crowded lecture hall. At that point, it s not clear how the student can gain anything from the fact that the prof has a distinguished research career. But maybe things are different in biochemistry....

    1. The teaching at Yale in biochemistry is pretty hit and miss. Some faculty take teaching very seriously and they tend to be great. Others not so much. Being on the cutting edge of research is fantastic but if you don't update your lecture notes or you prepare them the couple of hours before giving lecture, you are not going to be teaching well. For most of the undergraduate and graduate students it really doesn't matter. They are going to learn the material. They are supremely motivated, which is why they are at a place like Yale.

      Small liberal arts college faculty may not be doing cutting edge research but they are going to be doing research, going to conferences, writing grants, reading the literature (i.e., stay current) and they have more time to teach with institutional pressures to do so well.

      Ontario is not going to this model. As Ian said, this is an expensive education.

      Community colleges in the US are not a good example. For the BA/BS curriculum, CC offer typically the general education courses and maybe the intro courses for majors. They don't teach the advanced courses typically.

      The model is more akin the 2nd/3rd tier state universities in the US. These are places that offer undergraduate and professional degrees but usually no PhDs. Faculty are not paid well. Adjuncts are becoming a greater and greater percentage of the faculty at such places. When you run a university like a publicly traded business, you get a downward cost spiral.

  15. @Larry
    yes agree wholeheartedly of course regarding value of teaching basic concepts and your other comments. Would also add, the concept of receiving laboratory experience solely through so called Teaching Labs (those labs usually associated with a lecture-based course) are often of somewhat limited value I fear (though some will be better than others, and none are completely devoid of value). This, partly because they are so intermittant in the life of an undergrad, partly because they often follow the "cookie cutter" approach. So, to get back to the only point I had really wanted to make: the value of a university with a strong research mandate is that it offers those students who envision a future in research an opportunity to participate in a real research laboratory (most often in their senior year, participating in a project that may extend over two semesters). At least for me, the opportunity to be present for discussions involving theory and practise (in my case involving the biochemistry of proline transport in E. coli) in lab meetings etc., with people intimately involved in this research, was an invaluable preparation for graduate work. None of this negates the value and necessity of teaching basic concepts in the classroom, of course. But as per my original comments, maybe I am overly cynical, but when politicians/administrators start talking about the creation of teaching-only universities, I fear this has more to do with calving money away from traditional universities, rather than improving education.

  16. There is not much input from faculty at regional public universities. I'm in biology and teach a 3/3 load so this isn't too different from a 4/4 load. In my department, 6/10 faculty are actively publishing about 1 paper every other year, generally in excellent (Genetics, J. Exp. Biol) to top (Science, Nature) journals and we've had some NSF grant success. The biggest obstacle to my productivity is not the teaching but not having students/post-docs capable of any part of a project other than collecting data (and often this requires time-consuming quality control). The students don't know the literature well enough to write an introduction or discussion and do not have the analytical skills to do statistics or modeling. And when I've tried to encourage creative thinking with experimental design that has usually failed as well. Again, this is a regional public university and the math skills of biology students are generally poor. So instead of having a lab full of bodies that increase productivity, students generally reduce productivity. But some of the professors spend an inordinate amount of time mentoring these students and if they've been in the lab for more than a couple of years, they are well trained and some go on to excellent Ph.D. programs.