New Faculty Do Want to Teach

Baron Perlrnan
Karen Konop
Susan McFadden
Lee McCann

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Applicants for a tenure-line assistant professor position in cognitive psychology at a public regional university were surveyed on their teaching preparation, interest, and experience 3 years later. Respondents (n = 76) rated their preparation to teach under graduates as good or excellent, and they demonstrated a strong interest in teaching.

Although concerns about a lack of emphasis on undergraduate teaching are frequently found in the popular media and within higher education, Boyer (1990) observed renewed attention to teaching, Simpson and Frost (1993) described a new importance for teaching and learning in higher education, and Boice (1992) presented data and discussion on new faculty’s hard work at teaching and pedagogical development. Given this divergent information, we wondered if a movement away from teaching could be documented in the recruitment process or in the early stages of teaching careers. We were interested in whether new instructors (a) feel well prepared to teach, (b) actually want to teach, and (c) enjoy teaching. Although our data are partly retrospective and limited to the cognitive sub-discipline in psychology, they indicate how interested we can expect the next wave of college psychology faculty to be in teaching.



Data presented herein constitute baseline information for a longitudinal study of applicants’ subsequent careers and teaching. All participants were treated in accordance with the ethical standards of the American Psychological Association (APA, 1992).

Of the 163 applicants for a position to be filled in 1990-91 and reopened in 1991-92, 125 were located 3 years later. Of these, 76 (61%) individuals (55 working in academia and 21 working in nonacademic jobs) completed and returned a survey. Of those who declined participation, most cited lack of time as the reason or said that they could not commit to a longitudinal study. Many who initially agreed to participate told us later that they were simply too busy. Respondents seem representative of the population sampled.

The job announcement described a tenure-track assistant professorship in cognitive psychology that required a PhD. It 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." The only graduate course was a seminar in the candidate’s area of expertise. The university was described as of moderate size, with the department offering a master’s degree.

Relevant data were taken from curricula vitae. Experience was counted as the number of years from date of doctoral degree (doctoral candidates were assigned a 0). Teaching assistant (TA) courses and courses taught with full responsibility for teaching were counted. Papers published were those appearing or in press in peer-reviewed journals. Papers presented consisted of papers (or posters) presented or accepted by a refereed conference.


Results and Discussion

The mean age of respondents was 34.6 (SD 5.7, median 33), and 57% were men. At time of application, 37(47%) had not yet completed their dissertation, but 2 to 3 years later all but 1 had finished, and about 60% worked in public institutions.

Desire for Teaching Positions

When asked how much they had wanted an undergraduate teaching position 2 to 3 years previously, 43 respondents (57%) said "a lot" or "a great deal," another 26 (35%) said "some." Only 6 (8%) said "very little."

Preparation to Teach

At the time of application, 61 respondents (80%) rated their preparation to teach undergraduates "good" or "excellent"; 9 (12%) said "average." This high level of confidence was based on the average respondent having assisted with 4.9 courses as a TA (SD = 3.2) and having had sole responsibility for teaching 7 (SD = 10, median = 4) courses.

Teaching Positions Found

Tenure-line positions were held by 47 (85%) of those teaching. Departments in which they worked primarily offered bachelor’s and master’s degrees; only 14 (26%) of these departments offered a doctorate; in 9 additional institutions, doctorates were offered in other disciplines.

Interest in and Enjoyment of Teaching

These 55 faculty showed a strong interest in teaching. In response to the statement, "In 5 years I want to be teaching undergraduates," none disagreed, 7 were neutral, and 48 (87%) agreed or strongly agreed. At the same time, 47% (n = 26) agreed or strongly agreed that they want to teach more graduate courses. Overall, 98% (n = 54) enjoyed or greatly enjoyed teaching. Of the 21 individuals sampled who were not teaching, 10 were actively looking for a teaching position, 4 held postdoctoral positions, and 7 were not working in academe.

Teaching and Scholarship

One of the major variables influencing choice of the college or university of current employment was an emphasis on teaching. In decreasing mean order, as measured on a scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), reasons for choosing a specific department in which to work were colleagues (M = 3.9, SD = 1.2), emphasis on teaching (M = 3.8, SD = 1.0), location (M = 3.6, SD = 1.0), opportunities for scholarship (M = 3.4, SD = 1.2), salary (M = 2.9, SD = 1.0), and no other jobs available (M = 2.8, SD = 1.5).

There is no sign that these new faculty are unhappy with or fleeing undergraduate teaching. However, of the 55 teaching when surveyed, 37 (67%) agree or strongly agree that teaching fewer undergraduate courses is preferable. This preference is not because they disliked undergraduate teaching, due to high teaching loads, or to teach more graduate courses, but to allow more time for necessary scholarship and other pursuits.

Our respondents’ ideal position (on the same 5-point scale) is one in which teaching and scholarship have an equal emphasis at either a small college (M = 3.7, SD = 1.0) or a state college or university (M = 3.7, SD = 1.1). A small college with a primary emphasis on undergraduate teaching was ranked 3.0 (SD = 1.3), a regional college or university with a primary emphasis on undergraduate teaching was ranked 2.8 (SD = 1.0), a state college or university with a primary emphasis on scholarship was ranked 2.9 (SD = 1.1), and a major university with primary emphasis on research and graduate-level teaching was ranked 2.6 (SD = 1.2).

Our applicants had published an average of four papers (SD = 4.7, median = 3.0) and presented an average of 6.6 papers (SD = 6.4, median = 5.0) when they applied. Although they were not "superstars" bound for prestigious research universities, their emphasis on teaching is surprising given this record, the acculturation process in doctoral programs for research, and the necessity of scholarship to earn tenure.



Our data show no shift from or disinterest in teaching (Barzun, 1991). Candidates see themselves as well prepared to teach, enjoy teaching, and have deliberately sought out institutions in which undergraduate teaching is available. If there is a flight from teaching, perhaps it occurs once candidates are on the job and discover criteria for renewal, tenure, and promotion, and/or an environment that fails to support excellence in teaching.



American Psychological Association. (1992). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 47, l597-l6I1.

Barzun,J. (1991). Begin here. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Boice, R. (1992). The new faculty member: Supporting and fostering professional development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Boyer, F. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Simpson, R. D., & Frost, S. H. (1993). Inside college: Undergraduate education for the future. New York: Plenum.



1. This study was supported by a University Faculty Development Research Grant.

2. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Baron Perlman, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Oshkosh, WI 54901, e-mail:


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