UT-Austin recognized as 8th largest producer of tenured faculty in the U.S.

Ali Juell, Senior News Reporter

UT-Austin produces the eighth largest quantity of tenured or tenure-track faculty members of any U.S. university, with UT doctoral graduates making up approximately 2% of the academic workforce, according to a study by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Published Sept. 21, the study focuses on how various factors, ranging from gender to a professor’s doctorate school, impact the composition of tenure-track professors, which directly affects the education received by students across the nation.

Lead author Hunter Wapman said the research team wanted to quantify previously observed assumptions and patterns of inequality within the higher education field, one of those assumptions being that well-regarded doctorate programs create a hiring advantage for tenure candidates.

“One in five professors comes from just eight U.S. institutions,” said Dan Larremore, assistant computer science professor at CU Boulder and the supervising author of the study. “That means that those institutions, those departments, are essentially creating a lot of the faculty, teaching them how to do research, teaching them the culture of research, setting the research agenda and then exporting those professors widely to the rest of the field. … They just simply have a lot of influence.”

Kenneth Merz, a tenured professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology at Michigan State University, received his doctorate from UT in organic chemistry. 

Merz said his PhD advisor Michael Dewar taught him students need to “break a few eggs to make the omelet” while conducting research so they can learn for themselves, a reason he maintains a largely hands-off approach with his current research students. 

“(Dewar) was a great advisor for me, because he allowed me to do what I wanted to do as long as it was sort of in the general area (of my degree),” Merz said. “Pretty much all the projects were self-identified by me, and I think that really helped me later on in my career. … The PhD is about you; it’s not about the professor, it’s not about your mom and dad. It’s about you putting in the time and getting the job done.”

Lisa Sigafoos, a non-tenured assistant professor of practice in the department of special education, said she received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in educational studies at UT. She said throughout her education and professorship at the University, she’s seen the value in giving students the room to figure out what teaching style fits best for them.

“We recognize the bigger field and the bigger impact on the education that we give our students,” Sigafoos said. “(We) model good teaching practices for them, so that they go out and are successful educators.”

Wapman said he hopes the compiled data can be used to further assess the role prestige plays in tenure consideration and reveal what aspects of the hiring process should be reviewed and improved.

“I think that things don’t look amazing in terms of summing up a lot of these inequalities, but I think the question is, “How should they look?’” Wapman said. “There’s a lot more work needed to understand what’s going on.”