Like anyone who watches American politics, I was stunned last June when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated by Tea Party candidate David Brat in a Virginia primary. As media outlets scrambled to provide us with more information about Brat, my attention was caught by this one fact: He's an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland. Not only that, the opponent he'll face in the fall elections is Jack Trammell, a professor at the same school.
Political analysts debated what the upset might mean for issues like immigration reform; they wondered how the race might play out between two little-known contenders suddenly thrust into the spotlight. But I focused on tidbits like this one from The Washington Post, which reported that Brat had missed meetings with powerful D.C. conservative groups because "final exams got in the way." At least until last June, he was an academic before he was a politician.
And that made me curious about whether either candidate would try to continue to fulfill his academic duties if he were elected. In fact, the question foremost in my mind was: How will he ever find time to produce research while he's in Congress?
I'd been thinking about academic scholarship because I'd just been talking to business professors about the importance of intellectual contributions. They noted that, at most schools, faculty who are pursuing tenure and promotion are evaluated solely on whether or not they have published research in top-tier journals. While changes in the higher education landscape have profoundly affected the kinds of responsibilities faculty must handle every day, the metrics for assessing faculty haven't altered at all. In "Measuring Faculty Impact," we examine whether it's time to rethink what constitutes a faculty contribution.
In this issue, we also take a look at some of those other faculty responsibilities, such as faculty engagement with the outside community. In "Actively Engaged," we explore some of the ways schools encourage their faculty to interact with business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and other academic institutions, and how those interactions benefit the school and society as a whole. Finally, four faculty members share their thoughts about other issues that are important to them in "The Professor's Perspective," which details the approaches they've taken to address the challenges they face today.
My guess is that, whichever Randolph-Macon professor wins the fall election, he'll take a leave of absence from the school. But I can't help thinking about what might happen if he retains his academic position while he's in the House of Representatives. After all, "serving on boards and government committees" is a key part of faculty service at most schools. Wouldn't a term in Congress give him a chance to serve on one of the most important government committees there is? And would that service weigh more in his evaluation than any research he might publish in a top journal? It will be interesting to see.