I direct an effort, which is funded by the National Science Foundation's Broadening Participation in Computing program, called "Georgia Computes!" in which we are trying to improve and broaden computing education, across the pipeline, statewide. We spend a lot of effort offering professional development to high school teachers and undergraduate faculty. We are increasingly getting signals that the faculty in the University System of Georgia (USG) are turning more toward research, away from teaching.
This tension has always existed in the American university system. In his book, How Scholars Trumped Teachers, Larry Cuban points out that the American land grant universities were designed in the late 1800's to merge the British focus on undergraduate education with the German research university. But nobody asked whether that was even possible, and he argues that the structure of the American university pretty much prevents the potential synergy of research and teaching from ever working.
The question I'm raising here is whether we can afford a shift toward research and away from teaching in the United States. There is evidence suggesting that the increasing costs of higher education are not due to growth in instructional costs, but in costs associated with sponsored programs and graduate education. In his blog, Rich DeMillo points out that university research rarely pays for itself. Doing research is more expensive than doing education well.
Of course, we need research in American universities. It's absolutely critical for graduate education. Do we need research in our undergraduate institutions? Rich also cites a new study showing that many of our undergraduate institutions that produce the most future Ph.D. students do not have (large, expensive) research programs. Number two on that list is Harvey Mudd College, which prides itself on having a "liberal arts engineering" focus, where undergraduate education is the top priority. If we can have high-quality undergraduate education without research programs, and research programs are so expensive, and higher education costs are growing too quickly for our nation's economy (and middle-class families' pocketbooks) to absorb, does it really make sense to steer away from teaching and into research?