Georgetown, among all research universities, has an unusually strong commitment to the formation of its students. By this is meant a deep attention to the intellectual and field-knowledge component of the student’s growth, a care about enhancing their resilience to setbacks, a shaping of their values-based discernment of the best choices for themselves, and attending to their development as a leader in service to the wider world.
This takes faculty time – meeting with students, listening to their concerns, shaping their attention to the best ways for their own learning, coaching them in career and life choices, and supporting their research and scholarly efforts.
Such meetings, as well as classes, are the vehicles by which the role model of critical inquiry and research is communicated by the faculty to the students. In short, faculty are always teaching, whenever they are in the presence of students.
Of course, email and other electronic communication occurs 24/7, so that faculty can interact with students without being face to face. Much of the transactional nature of the relationship between faculty and students can easily be handled via electronic media. These include specific questions about course material and protocols. However, special impact often lies in the moments of face to face interaction – these are the moments that can be life-changing for the student.
On some campuses, there has been a confusion about the role of the student in the life of a faculty member. When faculty cultural norms evolve that threaten the integration of research and teaching, there is often a tendency for faculty to work outside their offices, advancing their scholarship in isolation of students. On such campuses, faculty office hallways tend to be sets of closed doors to empty offices. Faculty come to campus for teaching and a preset limited number of office hours to meet with students. Separating teaching and research cheats the students of insights into the life of an academic, with all the joys and sorrows of discovery and creation. Once again, when face to face time between students and faculty is maximized, students can see faculty doing their research and faculty can communicate their passion about their work.
At this moment in the university, we are all working quite diligently to integrate teaching and research. We’re called to do this by our students, who are increasingly asking us for research-based experiences as part of their curriculum. New course formats are arising throughout the university. These changes in pedagogy will increase the likelihood that our faculty can communicate their deep interest and passion about their fields of expertise. At the same time, students will be exposed to more role modeling of the life of the mind. Indeed, our hope is a new integration of research and teaching, viewing them as partners in achieving the university’s mission.
We have ample evidence that when faculty interact with students in the area of research, students learn more, become more excited about the field, and develop more critical thinking skills.
All of this, however, requires faculty and students working together. Maximizing the number of moments that faculty have in meaningful interaction with our students must be our goal.