IN 1990, THE ASSOCIATION OF American Universities predicted a dramatic shortage of PhDs by the early 21st century. Since that time, academia, industry, and government have had to compete for diminishing pool of doctoral candidates. While more than 1,300 PhDs were awarded in 1994-1995, that number has decreased by 12 percent in the intervening years.
One oft-cited factor for this decline is the “opportunity cost” of obtaining doctoral degrees. A typical program is six years, translating to noteworthy lost wages and career advancement opportunities. In academia, the perception exists that these lost wages will not be recouped, due to historically low starting salaries for tenure-track faculty.
Yet the University of St. Thomas’ (Minn.) Opus College of Business has hired 26 professors since 2006—a 33 percent increase in faculty. They have doctorates from and have taught at places such as Harvard, Georgetown, Notre Dame, University of Minnesota, University of Michigan, Duke, and University of California, Berkeley.
For those not familiar with the University of St. Thomas and our school, our success in recruiting faculty of such provenance may be surprising. St. Thomas is Minnesota’s largest private university, but it’s not yet a household name nationally. And our location in the upper Midwest causes some people to think frigid tundra,” so our ability to attract, hire, and retain committed, credentialed, and passionate faculty sometimes elicits wonder.
The lesson we’ve learned from faculty recruiting efforts demonstrates that while there may be an overall shortage of PhDs in the nation, there is an abundance of talented doctorate-holders disillusioned with the unbalanced demands of academia. These individuals long for an equilibrium of teaching and research duties.
Large, research-based universities can afford the opportunity for faculty to discover new knowledge, but they do so by tying tenure appointments to publication and reducing teaching opportunities to a mere fraction of a faculty member’s schedule. The pressure to research and publish is so great that it overshadows the importance of purveying knowledge to students. On the opposite spectrum, teaching universities expect their faculty to devote time and talent to teaching, with little room for research.
A person’s decision to pursue a doctorate is a desire to both understand why things are as they are and to share this understanding with those who would benefit from it. It is more than mere discovery, and it is more than mere teaching. It is a chance to enrich one’s life while also enriching the lives of others. Scholars must build their knowledge and expertise through research relevant to the real world. In academia, they must also be attuned to the best classroom practices that convey knowledge to students.
At our school, we focus on a balanced approach, fostering the teacher-scholar, offering an environment that stands in contrast to the “publish or perish” or “teach well and be well” mentalities. We believe the number of publications a faculty member contributes to annually is not an accurate measure of his or her success. Instead, we focus on ensuring that research conducted is applicable to the real world of business—a movement recently furthered by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International.
Our model provides a high level of faculty support. New faculty attend workshops and seminars to develop classroom skills. Senior faculty monitor development through classroom visits and provide feedback and assessment. We assign established research scholars as mentors to new faculty. These tactics don’t just attract professors; they help build and maintain a cadre of experienced business academic professionals who are intellectual mentors and personal coaches. In interviews with prospective faculty, our mission to educate highly principled business leaders makes us attractive. Good-fit faculty are often energized by our having the country’s largest business ethics faculty and our emphasis on helping students align personal values with professional goals. We stress the importance of not only educating the whole student but also serving the whole professor—the analytical researcher and the communicative teacher.
Christopher Puto is dean of the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas (Minn.).