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It kind of sounded to me like part of the trouble G was reporting also concerned course assignments and, in particular, getting intro assigned to people enthusiastic about recruiting new majors and minors. Or am I putting words in G's mouth?

(I don't have a suggestion on that front, but I'd be interested in hearing what people have to say. It seems to me like intro is a crucial recruitment tool for a discovery major like ours.)

Reality Check

I think part of the problem is that there is less consensus on who is a good teacher than on who is a good researcher. There is still a tendency to quantify research output and use it as a proxy. And here we can determine who is better than who. But teaching is a different matter. I recall a search where two faculty members were really taken by a candidate who had an easy way with students and was engaging. But when he gave a talk, he was very poor at answering quite a basic question. One of our strongest undergrads was very taken aback by this. He sensed it, and so did some of the faculty. It suggested to some, including me, that the candidate's "teaching" was mere showmanship. Others liked it, but I thought the candidate lacked substance (and our strong undergraduate thought so as well).


Marcus, thanks for posting my question and sharing your advice. One important point that I take from what you say, but which might not have occurred to me on my own, is that hiring good teachers (who are also good researchers) can be motivated by an interest in ultimately hiring more researchers in the future.

Michel, you are not putting words in my mouth. I am a junior enough faculty member that I am not really sure how teaching assignments are made in most departments (I am not even sure how they are made in my department!), but I would like to know any ways that junior faculty can, if at all, influence that process.

Marcus Arvan

Hi G: thanks! Yes, the best long-run strategy for hiring more researchers is to grow the department. The best way to grow the department is to get more majors and enrollment. The best way to get more majors and enrollment is to hire good researchers who are even better teachers. I think our discipline would be in a far better state today if more hiring committees thought this way!

Marcus Arvan

Michel (and G): thanks for drawing my attention to that part of G’s query that I neglecte. It would indeed be helpful to learn how these decisions are made and what we can do to influence them. In my department, we have a standing policy that each full-time member of the department must teach one intro class each semester—for more or less these reasons: intro courses are good places to get new undergrads “hooked” on philosophy and become majors. I personally think it is a great policy, but I would be very interested to hear more from others!

Marcus Arvan

Reality Check: It can indeed be difficult to discern who is an excellent teacher and who is not (and indeed, what these things even amount to). Nevertheless, my experience is that excellent teaching can make a large difference in student enrollment and majors numbers. To address your example, some teachers do indeed come across more a "show performers" than genuinely great teachers. But, as you noted, it's not merely faculty who can see through this: students often do as well!

My general sense is that the best teachers--the ones students really gravitate toward--tend to be good researchers, as they bring cutting edge ideas into the classroom that excite students.

So, while your general point is very well-taken, it's not (I think) a reason to be skeptical of the value of great teachers to a department. It's just reason to be very careful in trying to pin down which candidate has the best overall package, viz. teaching and research as a whole.


What if someone is not a good teacher, but is great at brining majors to the department?

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: that’s possible of course. But, for fairly obvious reasons, I think it is important to have educational integrity when making hiring and other such decisions. We shouldn’t aim to increase majors and grow departments by any means necessary. We should hire good researchers and educators.


Yes, of course. But I think it could be pretty hard to differentiate the two, especially through the hiring process. I don't know what to make of this, or what should be done. Just something that came to mind. In general, I think it is hard to tell who is a genuinely good teacher, for we seem to have very few common standards, or at least I never hear these standards discussed.

Now that I think about it, maybe this would be a good post: What makes a good teacher?

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