Faculty Recruitment and Excellent Undergraduate Teaching

Susan H. McFadden
Baron Penman

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

The successful recruitment of a faculty member who can provide high-quality undergraduate teaching requires a rigorous self-study by the department and careful observations of the candidate. A conceptual model provides a framework that describes characteristics of excellent undergraduate teachers. This model can shape both the self-study and contacts with job applicants. Examination of the intellectual, emotional, and moral dimensions of three elements of teaching&endash;perceived self-efficacy, interpersonal relationships, and pedagogy&endash;will assist a department in preparing for and conducting a search for a qualified candidate who will teach well.

Writings, such as The Closing of the American Mind (Bloom, 1987) and a number of blue-ribbon commissions like the Carnegie Report, College: The Undergraduate Experience in America (Boyer, 1987), contain arguments that the intellectual quality of undergraduate education in our country has greatly diminished. One of the central issues in the ongoing debate regarding the state of higher education concerns the faculty’s teaching ability and skills. In addition, educators note that the next 10 years will bring many faculty retirements at a time when younger persons appear reluctant to enter academic careers.

Given our concerns about higher education and the demographic projections for the coming century, institutions seeking to improve the quality of undergraduate studies must attend to the ways faculty members are selected and retained. A well-designed, thorough recruitment process can improve the quality of undergraduate teaching and increase the probability of retaining new faculty.

Cole (1986) addressed the issue of "Attracting the Best and the Brightest to Teach Psychology." He described how faculty can discern potential in undergraduates and then encourage them to prepare for careers in academia. Our article extends Cole’s thoughts to their logical conclusion:

How can departments of psychology select the "best and the brightest, " and how can the qualities of the good teacher be assessed in the relatively little time faculties typically have when recruiting candidates for teaching positions?

We believe that before active recruitment begins, a department must conduct a rigorous self-study. This process is necessary because faculty should understand the type of colleague they need and want. Also, skillful candidates will ask probing questions about the department’s intellectual mission, emotional climate, and moral commitments that deserve articulate answers.

We propose a model of high-quality undergraduate teaching that can guide the self-study process. This model provides a framework for devising questions that should be considered by department members and job applicants; it also represents a structure for evaluating data related to excellent undergraduate teaching. To our knowledge, this model is unique in linking an understanding of excellent undergraduate teaching with faculty recruitment. The model is meant to be open and flexible; questions can be modified to fit the specific needs and expectations of a particular department. Also, further experience in working with the model may suggest more or fewer components.


A Model of High-Quality Undergraduate Teaching

In teaching, as in most other human endeavors, one is vividly reminded of Bakan’s (1966) description of the dual yearnings of humanity: for agency and for community. As teachers, we demonstrate our autonomy as human agents encouraging the learning process in others. Yet we could not teach if there were no persons to teach; thus we are forced to be connected to others, as Bakan said, to be in communion with them.

Teaching requires that faculty transform individual abilities into actions that facilitate students’ learning. This expression of human agency through the transformation of abilities into actions represents efficacy, according to Bandura (1982,1986) who suggested that "a capability is only as good as its execution" (1982, p. 122). The assessment of efficacy&endash;both individual and collective&endash;represents a central mechanism that "mediates…between knowledge and action" (Bandura, 1986, p. 390).

Bandura’s writings about perceived self-efficacy lead us to suggest that one element of excellent teaching is the teacher’s belief that he or she really can teach effectively. Further, Bandura’s comments about collective efficacy suggest that a department’s sense of its own efficacy will influence how it addresses and solves problems, in this case, the recruitment of new faculty.

The communal aspect of teaching can be observed in relationships among students and colleagues within and outside of the classroom. Excellent teachers know how to establish rapport and relate appropriately with students in settings ranging from large lecture halls to small seminar rooms. Excellent teachers also know how to promote a climate of collegiality with peers. The second element of this model- the nature of interpersonal relationships (with students and with colleagues)- is important to the departmental self-study and to the assessment of candidates.

Pedagogy, the last element in this model, represents interactions between expressions of agency and community that take place in institutions devoted to learning. The idea of pedagogy has suffered much in recent years because of controversies over the relative merits of specific pedagogical styles and methods; however, we assert that any effort to promote excellent undergraduate teaching must examine the meaning of teaching as both an art and a science.

Faculty engaged in recruiting will want to inquire about candidates’ understanding of pedagogy; likewise, to ensure a good fit between themselves and a candidate, the faculty should articulate the nature of their own pedagogical approaches. For example, department members may determine that they have two basic approaches to pedagogy: a lecture format with multiple-choice tests and dialectical inquiry with essay examinations. A candidate espousing self-paced instruction may not initially meet the pedagogical expectations of the department. However, following a self-study, a department may consider selecting such a candidate to introduce a new form of teaching to the department and its students.

This model of high-quality undergraduate teaching proposes that each of the three key elements- perceived self-efficacy, interpersonal relationships, and pedagogy&endash; possesses intellectual, emotional, and moral dimensions. Although few in academe would deny the intellectual nature of teaching, we often overlook the equally important emotional and moral dimensions. Table 1 depicts the relation between the model’s elements and dimensions.

Gleitman (1984), much honored for his teaching, called teaching "a sort of libidinal enterprise" (p.426) in which some passion for both the subject and the teaching of it must be communicated to students. Emotional issues also arise in connection with perceptions of efficacy and in interpersonal relationships.

The moral dimension of the elements of excellent undergraduate education is included in our model because we believe that significant moral issues permeate the study of psychology. Furthermore, moral issues arise out of the very act of teaching. In his book on teaching techniques, Lowman (1984) noted how the interpersonal nature of the profession mandates adherence to an ethical code for college teachers.

Many in academe know faculty who are decidedly non-collegial, who pursue their own research programs exclusively while ignoring interpersonal or pedagogical issues, who are prejudiced toward certain students and colleagues, and who may even be emotionally disturbed. This model asserts that these individuals are unlikely to bring excellence to their undergraduate teaching and that a well-planned recruitment process may identify such persons before they are hired.

A Department Turns Inward: The Starting Point is Rich in Solutions

Departments can begin recruitment by initiating a self-study informed by questions generated from each cell of the model in Table 1. For example, the moral dimension of perceived collective efficacy can be addressed by inquiring about faculty members’ beliefs about their abilities to resolve conflicts justly and fairly. Questions about whether faculty offer one another emotional support in times of personal and/or professional crisis would assess aspects of the emotional dimension of interpersonal relationships. Finally, faculty can consider the intellectual dimension of pedagogy by examining the congruence between their intellectual mission and their actual classroom behaviors.

The self-study process generated by this model may be resisted by faculty who fear it will be a Pandora’s box that, when opened, will release latent concerns or hostilities among faculty members. By encouraging clear communication and careful listening in a climate that values all faculty, departments can resolve conflicts prompted by the self-study. Also, faculty must understand that sufficient time must be allotted; hiring new faculty necessitates change, and "effective change deserves time" (McGovern & Hawks, 1984, p. 74). When ideas are exchanged by faculty who agree with the central goal of improving teaching in the department, the self-study can yield positive and long-lasting results in recruiting and retaining new faculty.

Three issues that predictably arise in the self-study process concern matters of curriculum, interpersonal rivalries (e.g., over resource allocation), and affirmative action. Applying this model, these issues represent the intellectual dimension of collective efficacy, the emotional dimension of interpersonal relationships, and the moral dimension of pedagogy.

Table 1. Model for a Departmental Self-Study and Subsequent Recruitment








Intellectual strengths and contributions


Ability to manage affect


Competence to resolve moral questions

Interpersonal skills

Intellectual engagement and cooperation


Responses to emotional issues


Conduct with colleagues and students


Integration of scholarship and teaching


Responses to the affect of teaching


Commitment to ethical conduct


Hiring a new faculty member provides a challenge and opportunity to examine the department’s curriculum. Changing an existing curriculum is often a difficult, emotional task that requires attention to the process as well as the substance of change (McGovern & Hawks, 1984). Individual faculty may believe they "own" or covet available courses. They may doubt their own efficacy in preparing new courses, and the department itself may doubt its ability to improve the existing curriculum. Curriculum discussion should, however, become an integral part of most recruitment efforts; out of such discussions, department members may discover new ways of working together to enhance the sense of collective efficacy.

Interpersonal Rivalries

If a new colleague is granted significant recruitment incentives, some faculty may feel inadequately rewarded for their many years of effort and service; thus, these individuals may respond with jealousy and hostility. The homogenization of salaries necessitated by limited resources may become a critical issue when a new recruit is hired at a relatively high salary. In times of declining real income for faculty, departments must be cautious about potential responses to a new colleague with little or no teaching experience who earns as much or more than long-time faculty.

Some departments may discover in their self-study that they have not provided adequate psychological or monetary rewards to faculty. Allowing controversies over resources to be aired and ameliorated before hiring a new candidate may make retention more likely and improve interpersonal relationships in the department.

Affirmative Action

In searching for faculty who want to teach and who teach well, the concept of affirmative action must be embraced. Excellent undergraduate education involves more than what any single teacher does in the classroom; students need to be exposed to a variety of faculty with diverse life experiences. The impetus for affirmative action should come from within the department, not from externally directed and politically determined quotas. Commitment to affirmative action should derive from the recognition that psychological study includes gender and multicultural issues. The model of excellent teaching presented here requires a department to examine its attitudes toward qualified women and minorities as colleagues and to conclude that excellent teaching of psychology necessitates affirmative action.

Turning Outward: Detecting Excellent Teaching Potential

Following the self-study process, the department "turns outward" to applicants. Motivated by the desire to hire someone who will provide high-quality undergraduate teaching, faculty face the challenge of evaluating each candidate’s potential to fit departmental ideals. Similar evaluations could be conducted by departments in research institutions for which skills in teaching undergraduates may not be so highly valued. Although it is beyond the scope of this article, we believe modifications of this model can be helpful in this type of recruitment.

Information about candidates’ teaching abilities may be limited because typical vitae and letters of recommendation often provide scant data. Even the symposium presented during the on-campus interview often focuses on the candidate’s primary research interests; performance in this context may not provide information that generalizes to the rigors and challenges of undergraduate reaching.

How can the department accurately predict a candidate’s potential to provide teaching excellence? Recognizing that each department will articulate its values differently, we believe that the model of undergraduate teaching that analyzes the intellectual, emotional, and moral dimensions of perceived self-efficacy, interpersonal social skills, and pedagogical skills can be of great assistance. This model can guide department faculty in developing questions for candidates and their references. It can also be applied to observations made when the candidate visits the campus.

Specific requests should be made for letters of recommendation that describe the candidate’s intellectual, emotional, and moral responses to the three elements of excellent teaching. For example, references can be asked to comment on observations of the candidate’s interpersonal skills by responding to questions concerning the candidate’s; (a) expressions of interest in others’ work, even if it lies outside the specialty area; (b) emotional maturity in dealings with students and colleagues; and (c) capability of pursuing career goals while maintaining respect for confidentiality and tolerance of others’ points of view.

In addition to letters of recommendation, other sources of information are useful in assessing the candidate’s abilities. Copies of student course evaluations, syllabi, examinations, and even videotapes of the candidate teaching a class can demonstrate some dimensions of pedagogy by revealing if the candidate encourages critical thinking, communicates enthusiasm for psychology, and informs students about the ethical issues raised in psychological work.

During a campus visit, the candidate can present a formal lecture followed by questions from students and faculty. Issues such as ability to establish rapport, depth of the ideas presented, clarity of articulation, and resources used in preparing the lecture should be observed. Recognizing the inherent difficulties of lecturing to strangers as a part of a hiring process, members of the department should later discuss the lecture with the candidate and ask questions about the intellectual and emotional dimensions of perceived self-efficacy.

During the formal interview process, department members can raise issues related to the moral dimension of perceived self-efficacy by asking the candidate to describe his or her greatest assets for promoting the intellectual and personal growth of students. Faculty should also examine the candidate’s ideas about and experiences with various approaches to teaching different types of classes. It is important to ask candidates who they regard as role models of excellent teaching and why. Inquiries about the candidate’s undergraduate experience can reveal qualities of respected teachers the candidate will consciously or unconsciously model. Finally, we recommend that search committees discuss the candidate’s ongoing plans for improving pedagogical skills.


This approach to recruitment has many advantages over methods that pay more attention to research than to teaching. By the time a contract is offered, the candidate should clearly understand what value the department places on superior teaching. The individual’s socialization into a climate in which teaching excellence is highly regarded has already begun. Furthermore, the probability of a good fit between a newly hired candidate and a department dedicated to high-quality teaching is maximized when the processes of departmental self-study and recruitment have been derived from the same model.

By hiring a person possessing the attributes of an excellent teacher of undergraduates as depicted in the model, a department may experience other positive outcomes. For example, in our recent recruitment efforts, requests for specific information about perceived self-efficacy, interpersonal skills, and pedagogy in letters of recommendation have enabled us to predict that certain individuals would help us improve student advisement and reinvigorate our Psi Chi chapter.

Although this model needs to be tested empirically, informal observations in our department reveal a revitalized intellectual climate in addition to increased attention to the emotional and moral issues involved in teaching. Furthermore, we are now in the initial stages of changing the curriculum. This process has been guided by the kinds of issues raised recently in recruitment.

Given the current national concerns about higher education, psychology departments maybe in a position to lead by example, by emphasizing high-quality teaching in their recruitment, and by providing incentives and rewards to all their faculty for the ongoing improvement of teaching. If we, as psychologists, promote excellent teaching, then our discipline can help to improve the quality of undergraduate education.



Bakan, D. (1966). The duality of human existence. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37, 122-147.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bloom, A. (1987). The closing of the American mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Boyer, E. L. (1987). College: The undergraduate experience in America. New York: Harper & Row.

Cole, D. L. (1986). Attracting the best and the brightest to teach psychology. Teaching of Psychology. 13, 107-110

Gleitman, H. (1984). Introducing psychology. American Psychologist, 39, 421-427.

Lowman, J. (1984). Mastering the techniques of teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McGovern, T. V., & Hawks, B. K. (1984). Transitions and renewal of an undergraduate program in psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 11, 70-74.



1. This article is based on a symposium presented at the 1987 annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, New York. We thank Wilber E. Scoville for his contributions to the symposium and to this article.

2. Requests for reprints should be sent to Susan H. McFadden, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Oshkosh, WI 54901.


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