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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Carnegie Foundation Creates New 'Owner's Manual' for Doctoral Programs


In his 1990 book Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, Ernest L. Boyer, who was then president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, analyzed the balance between teaching and research in the scholarly endeavors of that era. His conclusion that the university rewarded research at the expense of teaching set in motion a series of reforms that sought to re-emphasize teaching as an integral component of scholarship.

Seventeen years later, the Carnegie Foundation has again found academe lacking. This time, however, higher education's most prominent advocates for teaching and teaching reform say that the research has been overlooked.

Carnegie Foundation researchers, under the auspices of the foundation's departing president, Lee S. Shulman, have undertaken a project as ambitious as Mr. Boyer's: to take stock of the current state of doctoral education and how it has responded to, or ignored, the challenges of the 21st century.

Over a five-year period ending in 2005, the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate monitored 84 Ph.D.-granting departments in six fields—chemistry, education, English, history, mathematics, and neuroscience. The projects's researchers tracked the selected programs as they analyzed departmental goals and performance, and made changes to improve their own effectiveness in meeting their goals.

The group's findings have been summarized in a 200-page book, to be published in January, called The Formation of Scholars: Rethinking Doctoral Education for the Twenty-First Century.

Both the project and book come in the wake of two decades' worth of reports and blue-ribbon panels on the urgent need to reform doctoral education, says Chris M. Golde, associate vice provost for graduate education at Stanford University and one of the study's co-authors.

Despite the myriad recommendations produced by those efforts, says Ms. Golde, "a lot of times those didn't get into play at the local level." Focusing on just six disciplines and working directly with individual departments allowed the group to "drill deeply," says Ms. Golde, yet still provided participating departments enough context to consider how practices in other fields might apply to their own.

The study's authors found that while doctoral programs have made strides in recent years in preparing students to teach, universities have not given the same level of attention to how they prepare students to be scholars and researchers.

That's not to say academe's teaching problems are solved, says Mr. Shulman. But those ills, and their remedies, are already well defined. "I think the big surprise was when we shifted our attention to the areas that people didn't particularly think were problems," he says. "There were programs that prided themselves on the preparation of scholars that were often not doing anywhere near as good a job as they could and should have in preparing first-class researchers."

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