Felder, Richard, "We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident."
Chem. Engr. Education, 25(2), 80-81 (Spring 1991).


Richard M. Felder
Department of Chemical Engineering
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7905

Being engineering professors, we all know about the need to make assumptions...and we also know that if the assumptions are invalid, the results can be worthless. We learn early in our careers to check our results (Does the model fit the data? Does the algorithm converge? Does the product meet quality specifications?) and if they are not satisfactory, to question our assumptions (Is the solution ideal? Is the reactor isothermal? Is flow laminar?), and we try to develop the same critical questioning mentality in our students.

When it comes to education, however, our mentality changes. We generally do whatever it is we do without much critical evaluation of how well or poorly it is working, and we accept without question what Armando Rugarcia calls academic myths---assumptions that have never been shown to have any basis in reality and often defy common sense. Here are some of them.

Myths about Faculty Recruitment

Myths about Research and Teaching

Myths about Curriculum Design and Pedagogy

Myths about Evaluation of Students (Grading)

Myths about Evaluation of Teaching

I could go on, but you get the idea.

When I classify these points as myths I'm not saying there's nothing to them; it's just that as far as I know they've never been scientifically or even empirically validated. (Mentioning someone who is great at both teaching and research, for instance, doesn't quite do it.) If you can justify one or another of these assumptions, let me know and I'll set the record straight.(1) If, on the other hand, you conclude that the assumptions might be faulty, then how about considering whether some alternative assumptions might lead to better ways of doing things? Couldn't hurt.


  1. McKeachie, W.J., Teaching Tips: A guidebook for the beginning college teacher, 8th Ed., Toronto, D.C. Heath & Co., 1986.
  2. Rugarcia, A., "The link between teaching and research: Myth or possibility?" Engineering Education, 81, 20 (1991).

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1. Before you attempt it, though, you might want to check out the literature; McKeachie[1] provides invaluable summaries of the research on most of the topics in question and Rugarcia[2] makes some interesting points specifically on the research/teaching dichotomy. Return to text