Some University of Wyoming students and professors are advocating the use of experienced industry people as educators at UW.
Two petroleum engineering students explained the importance of a professor of practice position to the UW Board of Trustees on Thursday.
“A professor of practice is someone who does not fit the current tenure-track system at the University of Wyoming but can contribute to undergraduate and graduate education through teaching students the skills, methods and values of their profession,” said Tayln Costello, treasurer of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. “We’re simply here to express the importance of the position.”
There are currently industry people teaching courses at UW, but under the title of visiting professors. While the job description might be similar, the new position and title can make a huge difference, said Tom Shaffer, president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers.
“It is vital that departments all over the university have the ability to attract distinguished professor of practice, and the position should offer the professor a longer term of commitment and the title professor of practice to reflect their accomplishments outside of education,” he said.
College of Engineering Dean Michael Pishko said the length of stay is an important part of the new title.
“Visiting professors are designed for visitors — people who stay for a year or two,” he said. “Professors of practice are designed to stay in those positions for years.”
The title visiting professor is also off-putting for both students and prospective professors, said Hertanto Adidharma, petroleum engineering department head.
“People actually look at our website and see a person is just a visiting professor, they think it could affect their long-term commitment (to UW),” he said.
Having people from outside of academia in engineering departments is important for a well-rounded education, Adidharma said.
“We need to realize our faculty members can have some experience in the petroleum industry, but not 20 or 25 years,” he said. “Our faculty are geared toward research, specifically, but also have teaching responsibilities. A professor of practice — they know the details and what students should know based on their experience in those industries.”
Some faculty were concerned the idea a professor of practice position would take away tenure-track jobs, but Pishko said this was not the case.
“In no way, shape or form would professors of practice replace tenure-track faculty,” he said. “Professors of practice are very few in number, maybe one per department, and their focus is teaching those courses that are industry-oriented.”
A bill to approve the professor of practice position was not passed by the UW Faculty Senate earlier this year. However, Trustee Dave Bostrom said the trustees and the senate can work together and find a common ground for the position.
“I support (professors of practice) whole-heartedly,” he said. ““If the president would allow (previous Faculty Senate Chair Tucker Readdy) and myself or anyone else to have conversations with him or the executive group of the Faculty Senate to come to something of an agreement that will be mutually beneficial that would make sense, and bring it back to this body as quickly as possible.”
Readdy said the Senate will likely reconsider the position after the senate reconvenes.
“I’m confident we could get a new bill through in the fall,” he said. “It is a very good example of both the benefit and the challenge of the way our shared governance system works. I’m actually pleased the trustees took interest in this because this is a great opportunity for at least Trustee Bostrom and other people who might be interested to work closely with us. We don’t normally have a lot of points of connection where we get to be involved at an intimate level.”