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Western Oregon University: Celebrating 150 years
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   Selected Emeritus Alumni/Faculty writings from events and memories that occurred at Western Oregon University

Origins and Evolution of Teaching Research

by Bert Y. Kersh

I was working at the System Development Corporation (SDC) in Santa Monica, California, when Jack Edling phoned me from the campus of OCE (Oregon College of Education, now Western Oregon University). The College was starting a research arm, he was to be the director, and would I like to join in the effort, serving as a full-time researcher? If so, the College president, Roy E. Lieuallen, would be at a meeting in Los Angeles and would like to interview me for the position. Jack caught me at an opportune time. It was in the Spring of 1960 and I had joined SDC and moved my family there only about nine months earlier but, already greatly disillusioned with my work assignment and with family life there, I was ready for a change. In fact, I was angling for a position with AIR (American Institute for Research) which had a branch office in Santa Barbara.

The interview with Lew was memorable to both of us. We met for a meal in one of Los Angeles’ downtown hotels. I remember feeling a bit cocky—well, arrogant might be a better word—and brimming with research ideas. He described his view of the new research center and how it would fit into the college organization; and he outlined the terms of employment. I told him what I had in mind, based on Edling’s phone call, and answered his questions about my research agenda and my family. Simulating instructional settings in which teachers could interact with students for instructional purposes was uppermost in my mind, but I also must have described research projects in human problem solving and my research publications in that area.

In the years which followed, on occasion Lew would recall that interview and remark to me about the impression it made on him. In fact, when I last spoke with Lew, which was about 43 years afterwards and long after we both had retired, he spoke of that meeting.

Soon after the meeting with the college president, I was invited to visit the OCE campus. There, in preliminary meetings with Jack Edling and the college president, the organization of the new center, where it would be house on campus, and the details of my own position were set. Coming, as I had, with an elitist university graduate school background, I was very skeptical about associating a research center on the campus of a small teacher’s college. My orientation was completely contrary to that scenario: in my view, research was conducted by faculty members at research universities, faculty members whose teaching assignment was secondary to their research endeavors, and whose reputations were established through research publications, not by their instructional capabilities. I had completed my graduate level studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and had been awarded the Ph.D. degree by that institution in 1955. My first job after being graduated was at the University of Oregon where I taught for four years from 1955 to 1959. There, my teaching efforts had been a disaster in my opinion but, I came to realize much later, I had established an excellent reputation through my writing and research publications. I had left the University of Oregon in 1959 to begin a full-time research career in the private sector, in part because I felt my teaching efforts were inadequate. After all, I had been a 27-year-old research-oriented academic with absolutely no teaching experience when I joined the university faculty. I had been assigned to supervise student teachers and to teach educational psychology to graduate students, most of whom were experienced public school and college level teachers many years my senior. At that time, I did not enjoy teaching at all.

To return to my story, I received a formal letter from the college president offering me a one-year appointment as a research professor, beginning in September of 1960. The salary was several thousand dollars less than I was making at SDC and the letter made it clear to me that the position would have to be grant-supported if I wished to continue in the position beyond the first year. But, I accepted the position with great joy and confidence.

During the first year, Teaching Research consisted of three people: Jack Edling, a secretary and me. Jack and I were a great team. Jack was outgoing, charismatic, charming, a gifted salesman and a superb public speaker. I was inward but creative, good with communicating in writing or one-on-one and in small groups; but I was a rotten public speaker, prone to stage-fright and tongue-tied before a large audience. I was the “idea man,” according to Edling, and I was willing to stay on campus, build my research laboratory, write research proposals and run the office. Jack was the “front man,” willing to travel to Washington, D.C., as frequently as necessary to lobby for Teaching and to represent us at professional meetings.

To be continued . . . .go to part II