A main topics in today's issue of the Frankfurter Rundschau (one of the major German newspapers) is dedicated to the quality of teaching at universities. Page 3 features an interview with Thomas Metschke who founded the page www.meinprof.de where students can rate their prof's teaching skills (it's all in German I'm afraid.)
Maybe I was particularly unlucky with my lecturers, but the classes I had to take were in the best case useless, in the worst case demotivating, if not debilitating. The quality considerably improved in the cases a prof was spending other people's travel grants to go in vacation and his class was held by one of his students instead. I do well learning from books, so to me it wasn't a huge problem, but still one had to appear and sit through all these hours while somebody was mumbling to the blackboard or got confused about his own notes.
Either way, ever since then I've been wondering why people are forced to teach who apparently have neither the skill nor any desire to, while people who would like to teach first place have a hard time getting a professorship. The idea that those who teach about research should be researchers themselves has a long history in Germany, and I think this is a necessary requirement. But do they have to be active in research while teaching? In practice it seems to me that teaching is often seen as a timeconsuming duty while research is the 'real' thing - it is what brings the colleagues' appreciation, possibly invitations to cool places or journalist's requests. On the other hand, people whose interest clearly is in teaching, and who have experience in research but possibly are not in the top-group have a hard time making it onto a position were they would teach.
Does that make any sense? It raises for me the following two questions
A) Why aren't there more pure research positions at universities? Face it, there are people in the academic system who can be great researchers but are a complete failure with students. There is the kind of people who are complete hermits or just totally nerdy, and who efficiently radiate an aura of get-out-of-my-office. Nothing of which necessarily makes them bad researchers, but where is the place for them?
B) Would it be possible to diversify research jobs by additional training in possibly different secondary disciplines like e.g. in teaching, public outreach, or group management? These are all skills besides the research activities that today are expected of researchers to acquire them just somehow. The advantage of that would be that it could be better documented, tasks could be assigned better, and if you were hiring somebody you'd know better what you are at.
In fact I think this is where the trend will be going. Researchers today are expected to be all-rounders, to do everything with less and less time, under increasingly high pressure. It just doesn't work well. Universities and institutes, as well as private companies, offer an increasing amount of training seminars to improve such secondary skills. I think this is a natural development into a division of labor that the academic system will have to incorporate at some point in order to stay functional.