More Ph.D.s joining ACC faculty: University classes are helping doctoral students make the transition to teaching"

By Angela Shah
Austin American-Statesman
Wednesday, October 20, 1999

It's a good thing Marcus McGuff is as fascinated with unraveling equations as he is with unraveling melodies. McGuff earned bachelor's and master's degrees in math but decided to get a doctorate in music so he could teach flute at a university. A music professor encouraged McGuff to keep up with his math studies -- just in case. After getting a doctorate in music performance from the University of Michigan in 1992, McGuff found his professor was right.

"When I got out of school, I realized: `Oh, bummer, there are no jobs' " teaching flute, he said. "What I could get was a job teaching math in community college, which was at the time not what I wanted to do." Despite the initial reluctance, he now says he loves teaching math at Austin Community College.

He's not alone in his unexpected career switch. Many Ph.D.s who spent years training for prime jobs at research universities are increasingly taking other jobs, such as teaching at community colleges. Their reasons include a sluggish academic job market, a changing view about community colleges' place in education and, as in McGuff's case, a late-found love of teaching.

At ACC, the number of Ph.D.s teaching courses has risen sharply from 69 in 1994 to 105 in 1999, almost 29 percent of full-time faculty. Total faculty at ACC rose by about 40 positions during those five years. Nationwide, the trend is not so steep, but the ranks of Ph.D.s in community college faculties have been on the rise in the 1990s, said Lance Selfa of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Elva Concha Allie, ACC's executive vice president for instructional affairs, said the community college has not specifically recruited Ph.D.s but has noticed an increase in doctors applying for teaching jobs.

"Some of the individuals who are applying, they want the challenge" of a community college, Allie said, such as a range of students in age and skill level. "I've chosen a community college because . . . I am certainly challenged more," said Allie, who holds a doctorate in philosophy.

ACC requires its faculty to have at least a master's degree in a teaching field. Many adjunct, or part-time, faculty members come from industry; those positions have different requirements. Many Ph.D.s began to seek nontraditional careers at the start of the 1990s, when teaching positions at colleges and universities started drying up. In many cases, it was a matter of demographics: Professors in the baby boom generation weren't retiring yet and leaving vacancies for younger Ph.D.s. Also, because of lower enrollment or changed priorities, some universities were not filling vacated tenured teaching positions.

Universities responded by creating classes to help doctoral students, who have spent their academic careers focusing on research, become better teachers. The University of Texas, in particular, has a community college training program for Ph.D.s interested in this track. Rick Cherwitz, a UT associate dean of graduate studies, said the goal is to give doctoral students skills to keep them competitive in an evolving job market.

"We need to help open doors for them," he said, "whether it's teaching at Texas or (working) at IBM."

Jim Perley, past president of the American Association of University Professors, said the Preparing Future Faculty programs are a good step for newly minted Ph.D.s because some community college administrators think Ph.D.s are less qualified to teach. Community colleges are less interested in the kind of prestigious research performed at universities , he said. They prefer faculty members who can handle larger teaching loads, including classes on the remedial or introductory level, Perley said.

"They're further removed from the students," he said. "But I believe those are unfounded fears."

The Ph.D.s have their own concerns about teaching at community colleges. Salaries are generally lower than those at colleges and universities. At ACC, the average annual salary for an assistant professor with a Ph.D. is about $46,400 -- about $7,000 below the $53,000 average salary at UT.

Also, McGuff said, for many, toiling in an academic discipline for at least six years only to get a job teaching at a community college is a disappointment.

"`I'm teaching math at a community college' would definitely be looked down on a bit," McGuff said about his fellow Ph.D.s' reactions when told of his choice. "There's really not any prestige in doing it, sad to say."

Still, McGuff, who has taught at ACC for seven years, said he prefers teaching math there to shuffling paperwork in an office.

"I'm having an effect on other people's lives," he said. "What I found out to my surprise is that I really enjoyed doing it. And I was a lot better at it than I thought."