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Complacency, not tenure, hurts teaching

I appreciate your coverage of Monday night's "town meeting" on tenure, but I feel that the headline "Nowicki calls on students to change tenure process" was misleading. I did call on students to become activists, as I have since my arrival at Duke four years ago. My remarks, though, were not directed at tenure specifically. In spite of the controversies that sometimes arise, I do not see the tenure process as inherently flawed. Duke is a research university; thus, an evaluation of the quality of a professor's research must play a central role in tenure decisions. I came to Duke because of its first-rate research environment, and I am willing to be evaluated on my ability to contribute to that research mission.

I also came to Duke, however, because I wanted to teach undergraduates. To me, teaching an undergraduate course is an intellectually stimulating experience that contributes to my own creativity and, ultimately, to my ability to do high-quality research. Although popular professors are sometimes denied tenure, I do not think that the tenure process here at Duke is in itself a barrier to high-quality teaching. Our biggest obstacle is complacency. All of us recognize the need for improving undergraduate teaching. All of us--professors, administrators, and students--must act to remedy the situation. My plea to students is that they take an active and constructive role in this process on all levels. Express your opinions directly or via major's unions to professors, department chairs and deans. Don't just complain--offer creative solutions. Above all, be alive intellectually! Students cannot expect professors to be inspired to teach well if they themselves choose to sit in the back of class, reading The Chronicle or sleeping off last night's excesses.

Steve Nowicki

Assistant Professor of Zoology

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