It is likely that you have read about the job candidate in philosophy whose offer was withdrawn by Nazareth College. The candidate was reportedly told that his or her requests “… indicate an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered.” Beyond finding the college’s response inexcusable, this statement stood out to me because it sets up “research” and “teaching” institutions as a dichotomy, which I have heard a number of times when talking to those from small liberal arts colleges about things like teaching loads. This dichotomy is demonstrably false not only because it ignores a lot of schools but also because the situations in which it is used reveal as many differences as similarities.
I have heard variations of the statement, “We’re not an R1, so…” to justify teaching loads ranging from 4-4 to 3-2. I imagine that a difference of three courses per year is significant, but it is not the only significant difference. Although I teach three courses per semester, I regularly teach more students per semester than friends who teach four. Despite this, my school does not have the resources of those in the top 100 national liberal arts schools (whether sorted by US News ranking or endowment). There are also large differences between teaching at a school with no religious affiliation, one with a nominal affiliation, and one with a tight coupling between faith and academics.
Talking about SLACs vs. R1s makes for an easy shorthand, and I have certainly discussed the common qualities that many SLACs share. Statements that start with “We’re not an R1, so…”, however, suggest a sort of inferiority complex that might be brought on by working at a school that nobody has ever heard of but that could also be linked to the perceived status of teaching vs. research in academia. After all, I have never heard somebody who works at a research university respond to a question about teaching load by saying “We’re not a SLAC, so…”.
I know that those involved in the job market from both sides are doing their best to make a good impression, but I think that making a good impression can be bolstered by having a bit of self respect. If somebody asks you about the teaching load at your institution, tell them. Then tell them about your class sizes, your students, and what kind of research you’re working on. If that person is a job candidate, giving them a realistic picture of life at your institution can be done without denigrating it. It is okay to reflect the complexities of life in the ivory tower.
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