Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Valuing and Evaluating Teaching in Academic Hiring: A Multidisciplinary, Cross-Institutional Study

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Valuing and Evaluating Teaching in Academic Hiring: A Multidisciplinary, Cross-Institutional Study

Article excerpt


Within academe, there is much interest in the workings of the academic marketplace. Efforts to understand how the process unfolds occupy both researchers and participants. Clearly, the search process is complex. This article contributes to our understanding by systematically examining how teaching is valued and assessed by search committees. As part of this examination, we pay particular attention to the use and evaluation of statements of teaching philosophy. Use of such statements is common, but little is known about how they are viewed and evaluated by search committees.

Using a multidisciplinary and cross-institutional sample, we present data related to these questions:

1. How important is teaching in decisions about academic hiring? How does this compare to other factors under consideration?

2. At what stage of the hiring process are evaluations of teaching effectiveness most significant?

3. What evidence of teaching effectiveness do hiring committees consider? In particular, why do some committees request statements of teaching philosophy, and how are such statements evaluated?

We were drawn to these questions through our work at the teaching center of a major research university. Our involvement in the Preparing Future Faculty movement led us to create programs to help advanced doctoral students consider their place in the academy. Of particular importance to this effort was helping our doctoral candidates consider the range of institutions that exist in higher education and exposing them to information and pedagogies that would enable them to be successful teachers in these varied environments. But in the process, we heard over and over from students who wondered whether and how teaching is valued during the hiring process. This work is intended to help answer their questions. In doing so, we are also able to provide additional detail to the work of others who have sought to better understand the current workings of the academic marketplace.

Literature Review

Empirical studies on the criteria used by tenure-track search committees are sparse. (1) In an early study based on interviews with department chairs in departments that had recently hired new faculty, Caplow and McGee (1958/2001) found that hiring was based almost exclusively on the perceived prestige of the applicants. Actual accomplishments--whether in teaching or research--were less significant than reputation of alma mater and recommendations, to the point that such secondhand information often took the place of interviews or other formal steps of the job interview process.

When a similar study was conducted by Burke in the mid-1980s, the situation had already changed markedly. While prestige was still clearly a major concern, it was now linked to a metric of quality. In addition, a more systematic approach to searches (first round of applications, interviews at conferences, on-campus interviews) was in place. Research quality and potential were the most significant criteria, but teaching ability was also part of the equation, even at research institutions. As Burke states, "It is refreshing to note, in spite of the governing selection criterion of research orientation, the emphasis on teaching in these major research universities .... This is not to suggest that research is not the principal emphasis in hiring" (Burke, 1988, p. 65).

A 1988 survey of department chairs by the Department of Education confirmed that teaching was indeed important, but the relative weight of teaching and research in hiring varied significantly by institutional type. Overall, three fourths of department heads said that teaching was a key factor in hiring. However, only 43% of respondents at research universities considered teaching very important in hiring compared to 73% who thought the quality of the candidates' research was very important (Russell, Fairweather, & Zimbler, 1991). …

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