The Scientist and the Sage

Two educators propose a new portfolio model of business faculty for business schools, designed to give great researchers and great teachers equal recognition and equal reward.
The Scientist and the Sage

Despite popular notions to the contrary, we business professors are human. And, like all humans, our aptitudes and interests vary; we have different skills and fill different, though equally important, roles at our institutions. Even so, many business schools expect a uniformity among business faculty that focuses on research, regardless of how effectively they engage students in the classroom.

Business professors themselves often believe, prima facie, that professors must be quality scholars to be quality teachers—that they must embody, in equal parts, the skills of the scientist and the sage. This conventional wisdom is about as close to an “article of faith” as one can find among a group of otherwise diverse and reliably contrary professors.

With that belief in mind, we wanted to examine the simple, but profound, question: Do good researchers necessarily make good teachers, and vice versa? Recent studies, as well as our own experience as business faculty, suggest that the answer to that question is a resounding “No.”

Business schools’ overarching mission is to promote excellence in research and in teaching. Moreover, the excellent scholar and the excellent educator are often not the same person. Business school administrators need to re-examine their widely held bias toward research; they must realize that communicating knowledge is as important to their missions as creating knowledge. Only then can they fashion a system that offers equal status and rewards to teaching and research—and creates a more balanced portfolio of faculty talent.

The Compatibility Myth

A chorus of prominent voices has emerged to debunk the myth of the inseparability of the scientist and sage in academia. Many argue that research-oriented schools are designing curricula to further their research missions, while neglecting their educational missions. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Christina Fong, for example, contend that business research has become so divorced from practical application that it adds little value to students’ professional development. And Warren Bennis and James O’Toole have gone so far as to say that many business schools have relinquished their teaching responsibilities to clinical instructors who are worked harder, paid less, and given less job stability than tenured faculty.

Perhaps the most serious allegation was made by the late Sumantra Ghoshal. He charged that business theory acolytes have so doggedly pursued rigor in research, at the expense of real-world relevance, they actually have laid a foundation in the classroom for unethical corporate behaviors.

These are disturbing claims; but they also have inspired business schools to re-examine the way they conceive and conduct research and teaching activities. In fact, three compelling arguments make the case that research and teaching aren’t as interconnected as many have for so long believed.

No. 1: Research and teaching are fundamentally incompatible. We can make a strong case that research and teaching compete, often in a zero-sum way, for a professor’s time, energy, and commitment. As researchers progressively focus on their investigations, their teaching often suffers—they lack the time required to place their discoveries into a context conducive to instruction and learning, or to thoroughly prepare teaching materials that may not be directly relevant to their research. 

In addition, personality differences come into play. Researchers are often “lone wolves,” introverts driven by contemplative reflection, while teachers tend to be “clan creatures,” extroverts who thrive on lively dialogue with students and colleagues.

Great teachers often find it impossible to reap the rewards of their research counterparts. The value of teaching awards is often deemed trivial —even suspect—by the larger business school community.

Rewards for both functions differ as well: While research is rewarded globally, teaching is rewarded locally. That is, faculty may be rewarded by their schools for research productivity; but they strengthen their reputations only through recognition by their national and international peers. On the other hand, professors may be recognized by a handful of national or discipline-based teaching awards; but their teaching prowess is recognized primarily by their students and supervisors.

Finally, great teachers often find it impossible to reap the rewards of their research counterparts. The value of teaching awards is often deemed trivial—even suspect—by the larger business school community. In addition, as professors Luis Gomez-Mejia and David Balkin reported in their 1992 study, “The Determinants of Faculty Pay: An Agency Theory Perspective,” faculty salaries are often determined by their scholarly achievements, not their instructional skill.

No. 2: Research and teaching are unrelated functions. We might also argue that research and teaching neither promote nor distract from one another. Does one need to produce knowledge to help others understand it? After all, business leaders need not be involved in the formulation of strategy to execute that strategy effectively. Likewise, teachers need not be involved in a research study to teach it to their students effectively.

No. 3: Research and teaching are separate, but symbiotic, functions. While the first two arguments are compelling and substantial, we believe that to develop a truly accurate view of the relationship between research and teaching, we must look at them in a broader context. Yes, research and teaching can be incompatible when a single academic is forced to do both; and, yes, they can be unrelated if faculty who conduct research and faculty who teach do not work together. But when these two areas are equally nurtured, respected, and rewarded, one area can work to enhance the other.

Quality scholarship is a critical and necessary partner to quality education, but the two functions need not be inevitably intertwined.

At its very best, the relationship between research and teaching is intimate and symbiotic. Researchers conduct studies to generate knowledge and make new discoveries for their fields. Teachers share that knowledge with students, instruct them to apply that knowledge effectively, and maintain a dialogue that then sows the seeds for future research. It’s a virtuous cycle that cements the missions of professional schools worldwide and accounts for innumerable contributions to society—achievements of which we academicians should be justly proud. 

To create such symbiosis that enhances both functions to the fullest, business schools should encourage faculty members to focus on becoming great researchers or great teachers. Then, they can use their expertise in one function to help those in the other excel. We argue that, while quality education is inextricably linked to quality research, researchers do not enjoy sole custody of knowledge, nor do they alone possess the skills necessary to deliver that knowledge to business students. A single person does not have to be a prolific researcher and a great teacher to serve an institution effectively.

By placing undue emphasis on research, many business schools often distract from, rather than encourage, great teaching. By treating and rewarding the two separately, business schools may find that they would encourage much more depth and precision in the work of their research faculty, as well as more breadth and connection in the work of their teaching faculty. Doing so would create a portfolio of faculty talent that is suited to advance all of the institution’s missions.

Challenging the Status Quo

Remarkably, no one has addressed the empirical link, or lack thereof, between research and teaching, at least in the business school environment. However, several excellent studies have examined the question across university disciplines. The most exhaustive and authoritative of these studies was published by John Hattie and H.W. Marsh in 1996 in the Review of Educational Research.

Hattie and Marsh combined the results of 58 independent studies to detect general trends. To gauge research productivity, they examined not only the number of researchers’ published articles, but also the quality of the journals and the number of citations and grants received. To gauge teaching quality, Hattie and Marsh examined student and peer evaluations. The two found that the overall correlation between good research and good teaching was a mere .06—that is, close to none.

Like any research, Hattie and Marsh’s analysis is open to legitimate challenge. But their findings suggest that research and teaching are autonomous activities, thus refuting the notion that knowledge creation should be the primary criterion for hiring and rewarding faculty.

A Broader Perspective

Given the available data, we believe that good researchers are not necessarily good teachers—or vice versa. Quality scholarship is a critical and necessary partner to quality education, but the two functions need not be inevitably intertwined.

If both skills are instrumental to the success of a business school, then both should be equally rewarded and nurtured. AACSB member institutions—as well as AACSB International itself—should broaden their recognition of excellence in ways that validate both aspects of their educational missions. The result will be a community of business schools with more diverse missions; a community of teachers and researchers with more innovative approaches and ideas; and a richer, more comprehensive definition of excellence in modern management education. By definition, a portfolio’s balance—be it of one’s finances or of a university’s business faculty—must be dutifully managed.

James R. Bailey is the Tucker Professor of Leadership at George Washington University’s School of Business in Washington, D.C., and editor of the Academy of Management Learning & Education. Roy J. Lewicki is the Dean’s Distinguished Professor at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business in Columbus and former editor of the Academy of Management Learning & Education.