Applicants for a Faculty Position Do Not Emphasize Teaching

Baron Perlrnan
John C. Marxen
Susan McFadden
Lee McCann

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Cover letters, curricula vitae, and teaching statements of 82 doctoral candidates and 74 PhD applicants for an assistant professor position were examined for teaching-related content. Applicants presented little teaching information. The discussion focuses on understanding this lacuna and offers recommendations for correcting the problem.

Teaching remains a major faculty responsibility (Bowen & Schuster, 1986). Despite the basic mission of a college or university and the amount of teaching done by faculty, teaching is often held in lower regard than scholarship (Clark, 1987). Given this situation, we wondered to what extent candidates attend to teaching when applying for an undergraduate teaching position. Do they emphasize teaching experience and present teaching credentials with breadths or depth? What information is available to recruitment committees that want to hire good teaching faculty? Little is known about academic recruitment (Boice, 1992), and we found no published information about how applicants for faculty positions describe their teaching capabilities. The materials applicants provide to recruitment committees could communicate their preparedness to teach and their understanding of teaching and its place in higher education, or they could reflect an inattention to teaching.

We hypothesized that if teaching values and abilities are ever to be demonstrated they should be reflected in applications for an undergraduate teaching position.




Applications from 82 doctoral candidates and 74 PhDs were examined. These 93 men and 63 women applied for an assistant professor cognitive psychologist position open in 1990-92. Applicant files were treated in accordance with the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (American Psychological Association, 1992).


The position announcement requested vitae and teaching and research statements. These materials (plus cover letters) provided gender, number of years since obtaining a PhD, number of papers published, number of papers presented number of courses in which applicants assisted, number of courses taught, and use of the words teaching and research. A Teaching Awareness Scale (TAS) measured interest in and knowledge of teaching, and its assessment was based, in part, on a teaching model (McFadden & Perlman, 1989). This model identifies three teaching domains (pedagogy, self-efficacy, and interpersonal), each with three dimensions (intellectual, emotional, and ethical)


A tenure-track, assistant professor position announcement with a PhD required stated that "the successful candidate will demonstrate excellent undergraduate teaching potential and commitment to an active research program. …A 9-credit primarily undergraduate teaching load will include introductory psychology, …and a graduate seminar in the candidate’s area of expertise." The university was described as moderate in size with a department offering a master’s degree.

Frequencies of the words teaching and research in the candidate’s cover letter were divided by total lines. Alternate forms of the words, such as taught, were also counted.

The TAS was scored by evaluating the extent to which individuals described teaching elements in the model and their (a) commitment to teaching, as evidenced by experience (e.g., teaching assistant [TA] and 1 -year appointments); (b) willingness to work with students outside the classroom (e.g., collaborative scholarship or independent study); and (c) expressed preference for teaching and liking for students.

Cover letters, vitae, and statements on teaching and research produced a 10-point TAS rating system. Two researchers independently rated applicants; ratings within 2 points were considered valid and averaged for final ratings. Initial agreement was 92%. Other cases were discussed to establish a final rating.

Remaining data from vitae included number of years since doctoral degree, with 0 assigned to doctoral candidates; TA courses and courses taught with full responsibility; papers published (appearing or accepted in peer-reviewed journals); and refereed papers (or posters) presented at or accepted for a conference.



The average applicant had a PhD for 1.82 years (SD = 3.12, median = 0). Eighty-two applicants (53%) had no PhD, 32 (20%) had 1 or 2 years of post-PhD experience, and 42 (27%) had more than 2 years post-PhD experience. Applicants averaged 4 published papers (SD = 465, median = 3) and 6.6 papers presented (SD = 6.43, median = 5).

Average applicants served as TAs in 4.9 courses (SD = 3.2, median = 4); 15 (9.6%) had assisted with 10 or more. Applicants had sole responsibility for teaching an average of seven courses (SD = 10.05, median = 4). Although this teaching experience appears substantial, 36 (23.1%) applicants never had sole responsibility for a course, and 32 (20.5%) had taught only one or two. Of the 82 applicants without a PhD, 46 (56%) had taught two or fewer courses; of the 74 PhDs, 22 (30%) had taught two or fewer courses. The data indicate that applicants are relatively inexperienced teachers and that they have been active in research.

Of 156 applicants, 35 (22.4%) provided statements on both teaching and research. Some (n = 32, 20.5%) provided only a research statement. No applicant submitted only a teaching statement, and 121 (77.6%) included no teaching statement. Research statements were often several pages long, but the longest teaching statement was 1.5 pages.

Research words appeared in cover letters an average of 15.7 times (SD = 7.5) per 100 lines, whereas teaching words appeared 12.6 times (SD = 7.2) per 100 lines. Three applicants never mentioned research, and 9 applicants never mentioned teaching. Research words appeared significantly more often than teaching words, t (155) = 4.57, p < .001.

The 10-point TAS had a mean of 4.3 (SD = 1.85, median = 4). Briefly, 84 (54%) applicants were rated 4 or less, 62 (40.7%) were rated 5 through 7, and 9 (5.7%) were rated 8 or higher. We have no comparative data, but an average score of 4.3 seems low, as it is relatively easy to achieve because the TAS tends to overestimate depth and breadth of teaching knowledge. (Summaries of teaching statements and details on scale scoring are available from the authors.)

Two variables correlated significantly (p < .05) with teaching awareness: courses taught, r = .40; and papers presented, r = -.18. The low negative correlation with papers presented suggests that scholarship may be inversely related to teaching and the value placed on it.

Analyses of variance revealed that courses taught and research productivity were significantly higher for the most experienced applicants. (Detailed results are available from the authors.) No significant differences were found among groups with no PhD, 1 to 2 years of experience, and more than 2 years of experience for the TAS or teaching assistant courses or between male and female applicants.



Most applications, even those from candidates with more teaching experience, did not emphasize teaching, although a specific statement was requested. Applicants may have anticipated greater interest in other aspects of their credentials, but 57% failed to provide a research statement. Many candidates with whom we talked reported that they have never reflected on what they do when they teach and they have never systematically written about their teaching philosophy and goals.

What could produce greater emphasis on teaching in applications and candidates’ professional lives? After all, instruction takes almost two-thirds (64%) of faculty time (Bowen & Schuster, 1986).

First, doctoral program preparation of students for careers in higher education and teaching (Schuster, 1990) would enhance the developmental process by which an inexperienced graduate student becomes a master teacher. Second, departments recruiting undergraduate teachers should prepare position descriptions explicitly stating their teaching values. A required teaching statement would force applicants to consider pedagogy and provide recruitment committees with valuable information. Third, candidates must learn about teaching, even if they have been socialized in academic settings in which teaching is neglected or belittled (Richlm, 1993). Some applicants reported faculty adviser disappointment that they applied to teaching institutions.

Our study measured breadth and depth of teaching knowledge from a small sample applying for a single position. Systematic studies of those applying to schools with different missions and reputations are needed to determine the generalizability of our findings.

Boice (1991,1992), Getman (1992), and others reported that new faculty usually experience a reality shock during their first 2 years. Class preparation and teaching require unexpected time and energy. The result is disillusionment, frustration, and dissatisfaction with academic life, a situation benefiting no one. The developing national dialogue about quality undergraduate teaching must continue. We hope this dialogue produces greater awareness of the importance of teaching among applicants for teaching positions, graduate faculty, research supervisors, faculty hiring new teachers, and professional organizations in psychology.



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Clark, B. R. (1987). The academic life. Princeton, NJ: Camegie.

Getman, J. (1992). In the company of scholars: The struggle for the soul of higher education. Austin: University of Texas Press.

McFadden, S. H., & Perlman, B. (1989). Faculty recruitment and excellent undergraduate teaching. Teaching of Psychology, 16, 195-198.

Richlin, L. (1993). Graduate education and the U.S. faculty. In L. Richlin (Ed.), Preparing faculty for the new concepts of scholarship (pp. 3-14). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schuster, J. H. (1990). Strengthening career preparation of prospective professors. In J. H. Schuster, D. W. Wheeler, & Associates (Eds.), Enhancing faculty careers: strategies for development and renewal (pp.65-83). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.



Correspondence concerning this article should be Sent to Baron Perlman, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Oshkosh, WI 54901. Email:

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