(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Who are the nation's top?
In its search to find "professors who have made a lasting impact in the lives of its students," the Princeton Review plucked "inspiring and challenging" professors from a total of 122 colleges.
The Princeton Review teamed up with RateMyProfessors.com to pinpoint the professors, who teach more than 60 academic disciplines. Four schools -- Colgate University, College of William and Mary, James Madison University and Mount Holyoke College -- accounted for 15 percent of the best teacher list.
Does this list really represent the best professors in the country? I don't see how it could since many schools were not surveyed. The Princeton Review relied on students who volunteered their opinions about their schools and their professors.
The company ultimately turned to RateMyProfessons to check its data on 42,000 teachers at those schools. RateMyProfessors.com includes more than 13 million professor rankings from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. The site reaches more than four million college students a year.
I am sure that the list of 300 professors contains excellent teachers, but what I think is more important is that someone is recognizing great teaching. Unfortunately, the art of teaching at universities (as opposed to colleges) is rarely valued or rewarded. Professors are hired for their research output, not for anything they do in the classroom. Research can be measured -- you can count citations -- but teaching cannot. You can be a lousy teacher and a great researcher and still receive tenure. The same can't be true if you are a remarkable teacher who is weak in the research department.
This over-the-top emphasis on research begins long before a scholar snags his first professor gig. When students are applying to graduate school, they are expected to emphasize their love of scholarship. Mentioning a passion for teaching in a graduate school application can actually hurt applicants. Strange but true.