Small Colleges Lure Profs Tired of 'Publish or Perish' Focus on Teaching, Time for Students Make More Consider the Switch

Article excerpt

When she decided to make college teaching her career, Janet Dizinno had a shining vision of her future: She would preside over a prestigious department in a large, renowned university. Her articles would appear in major journals in her field. She would be quoted by the national media.

Hey, she might even win a Nobel prize.

"That was my dream," Professor Dizinno chuckles in retrospect, with a cheery ruefulness.

Her dream was whetted at the huge University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where she got a heady taste of academic success as a teacher and as co-author of the revision of a widely read social-science book.

"Oh! It was wonderful," she recalls. "I got to travel. People knew who I was!"

Now she teaches at St. Mary's University, a small institution in San Antonio, Texas. It's a good school, but one where academic fame and prestige are not in the curriculum.

And she loves it. She made the switch voluntarily after she tired of what she says was a marked neglect of teaching skills and concern for undergraduate learning at her old job. Although her vision may have been scaled down, she finds her career much more satisfying - in everything from professional opportunities to home life. The key advantage, according to Dizinno, is that she's now a much better teacher.

At a time when the quality of college teaching is coming under increasing scrutiny, smaller colleges are gaining visibility and appeal as growing numbers of academics choose to teach there when they begin their careers or move there after teaching in larger schools.

Many acknowledge times of isolation, but they argue a payoff in everything from greater contacts with students to appreciation of teaching skills by college administrators.

"More teachers are discovering smaller colleges and universities, where they can focus on teaching," says Ellen Wert, program officer for education at the Pew Charitable Trust in Washington, which funds educational projects and also tracks academic trends.

"College teachers have been choosing {small schools} in greater numbers than they used to," she observes. "They are becoming much less worried about making it in research institutions. They're also finding that, although less research-intensive, the smaller colleges are often are every bit as intellectually vigorous."

Last year, the Washington-based Association of American Colleges and Universities asked 186 first-year doctoral students interested in an academic career where they would like their first job to be.

"Forty-five percent said a liberal arts college - small places," says Jerry Gaff, vice president of the association and director of a project called Preparing Future Faculty, which conducted the survey. …