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A Contrasting View of Personal Teaching and Learning Philosophy Statements

Message Number: 
18

Folks: 

Here is an interesting comment on the value of personal teaching and learning philosophy statements from Lee Dorosz, chairman of the Biology Department at San Jose State University. 

Rick Reis 

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Rick, for what it's worth: Having served on many RTP [Retention, Tenure, and Promotion] committees over the years both as member and department chair (8 yrs total), at both department and College level, and having provided occasional input to RTP at t he University level while an administrator for seven years, I must say that I'm not a fan of these generic statements. At least in the environment of the CSU [California State University system] , I've found them to be pretty much non-contributory to the debates and discussions of the various committees and evaluators. The only time they come into play (again, in my experience) has been when someone is in potential trouble, and needs to explain something awkward in the dossier - or when there's somethin g really out of the ordinary, but then that should be pointed out in other ways. People at the department level already know the person well enough that the statement tells them nothing; at the College level the department representative can clarify any questions, and at the university level where they have to read so many so fast (10 to 15 a week during the spring madness) members just don't have time to digest this stuff, any more than they read course outlines, or exams, or other such materials - unle ss they are extraordinary in some fashion, and that's pretty rare. (Our department members who have served on these university committees have routinely reported back guidelines having to do with absolute clarity, clear outlines, punch, punch, punch, wit h minimum emphasis on grand elaborations of any kind). 

Such philosophy statements also come with applications for tenured positions during recruitment, where pretty much the only purpose they serve is to help the committee weed out someone who talks about nothing but research ( the CSU is, of course, a "teaching university".) Thus the statements are used only in the negative, i.e., to eliminate someone who says the wrong thing in the sense that they are not speaking to the position for which they are applying. 

If there is something truly unusual, sure, a statement describing some exotic teaching program, or massive coordination responsibility, or .... then get it in. But here certainly the referees will also speak to this unusu al talent or experience, so the candidate needn't address it in depth. The generic "here's how I do it" statement doesn't help in any positive sense. 

Please, this is one person's perspective from one style of university, and others may have had much different experiences. 

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If such statements are of limited value in RTP, might they still be of value to the professors and graduate students who write them; for example as a guide to their decisions and behavior? As always your comments are most welcome.