Research in academia is important. I would be uninterested in working with a scholar who was themselves uninterested in being involved in their field. For one thing it displays hesitance on their part to participate in something I would like to do, which raises questions about both the field and the mentor. For another, the proof that they are knowledgeable in the field is their publication, which can then be judged by and next to their peers. For a third, a well respected scholar is more likely to have the requisite sway to secure appointments and acceptances for their students. Then there is the reputation of the department, income for the department, and so on.
No, research is an indispensable part of academia, there is no question about that. The question is where it falls in comparison to teaching.
During orientation I was told in no uncertain terms that research at the University of Missouri is more important than teaching. On one hand, I have a certain level of respect for that dedication, and one of the reasons I have come here is to work with a world-renowned scholar in the field. On the other, I am almost appalled, especially in that there are fewer professors, teaching more undergraduates and I firmly believe that professors, as with all teachers, have a primary duty to the students.
I beleive, and when I reach the point where I am teaching, I hope I can live up to this, that professors should teach a minimum of three courses per semester, preferably four. I understand that they have to grade and prepare lectures and do research on the side, but students routinely have to take up to five classes per semester, so the least a professor can do is provide options. This will also force professors to break away from specialization, because there are only so many classes on Alexander the Great that can be taught any given semester. Further, it would force a greater variety of courses over the span of years, as it would be poor form for any specific course aside from requirements to be taught more than once every year or two.
Now I feel obliged to add a caveat to this. If a professor runs a lab, especially one that involves graduate and undergraduate researchers, their course load should be reduced because they are teaching in another form. If they routinely teach independent studies and mentor other student projects, they may be able to teach fewer courses. If they are the director for, say, a student run research conference, they may be able to teach a lighter load. In each case the common denominators are that they are still teaching and that they are involved in the academic development of students in a tangible form outside of the classroom.
Thus reward should primarily be based on teaching ability, rather than research. There does need to be balance, though, as the complete lack of reward for research, aside from employment in the first place, makes research not worth the time of the professors.
To bring this full circle, it was made absolutely clear that the teachers earned their salary and their raises by publication alone. As I have said many times, there is a lack of good history teachers in the world and while such a focus on research does not preclude them from being good teachers, it certainly does raise a red flag.
Several of the ideas in this post were inspired by the book Who Killed Homer? by Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath. While it was not well received by Classicists, and presents some ideas that are entirely unfeasible, it is a book all historians, academics and educators should read and think about.