Replacing the Professorate: Perspectives from a Doctoral Program

Kim A. Wilcox, Ph.D.

University of Kansas


My task is to speak on the shortage of communication sciences and disorders faculty from the perspective of a doctoral degree granting institution. I will attempt to speak for all doctoral programs, but I can really only speak for myself. So if you donít agree with my comments, please blame me and not the doctoral program director who happens to be sitting next to you!

Doctoral programs have a particular role in preparing faculty, but we all participate in the process. Today's undergraduates, become tomorrow's doctoral students, who go on to educate a new generation of undergraduates. As doctoral programs we rely on others to send us appropriate raw materials, in the form of eager young students with high academic potential and to provide a market for our finished products. While all of us cooperate in this process, the coordination between units is not always as smooth as it might be. At previous meetings of this Council, I've sometimes found myself in discussions of the mismatch between the expectations of new doctoral graduates and the realities of many university departments. Often, during those discussions, I've felt as though I was being chastised for creating unreasonable expectations in the minds of our doctoral students and for preparing them for jobs (and teaching loads) that don't exist in many places. I would like to be able to say that I have solved this problem and, as a result, have saved myself from such future scoldings; but, alas, I have not. I would, however, like to discuss some of the issues surrounding this mismatch and other issues related to our current faculty recruitment difficulties.

Doctoral Programs

The Council's 1996-97 National Survey (Petrosino, Lieberman, McNeil, 1997) lists 240 graduate programs in communication sciences and disorders, with approximately 60 of those programs (or about 1/4) offering doctoral degrees. An informal review of faculty rosters from a sample of graduate programs, conducted over the web, indicates that the majority of current faculty in CSD programs come from approximately 20 of 60 doctoral programs. These 20 tend to be located in Carnegie Research I universities, most of which are state-supported. These programs are also among our largest in terms of faculty, and they generally maintain a number of collaborative arrangements in both research and clinic enterprises with other institutions. Since these programs have traditionally produced most of the faculty within our discipline, they will be the primary focus of my comments.

Research I universities pride themselves in the production and dissemination of knowledge. Inter-institutional comparisons within this group are made on several dimensions, but the most important are research-related. In particular, total number of external research dollars and individual program ratings by the National Research Council are important indicators of university quality and success. Internally, of course, the usual metrics (student credit hours, numbers of majors, etc.) also contribute to determining budget allocations and setting short-term goals, but these are not the metrics used to determine long-term priorities for program enhancement; instead, it is research productivity that is used. In this environment, doctoral degree programs are one of a department's most important assets. In fact, Research I status is determined primarily by the total number of doctoral degrees awarded by a university. So, to be seen as a full contributor to our university's mission, we must produce reasonable numbers of doctoral graduates. Further, while all of our degree programs contribute to our overall health, our doctoral programs are the most important, our undergraduate programs are second in importance, and our M.A. programs are the least important in the eyes of many administrators. Undergraduate programs are important for two reasons. First , because of their large numbers, undergraduates pay many of the bills. Second, undergraduate programs are visible and politically important. Like nearly every other college and university in the country, research universities have, in recent years, responded to the public's call for a renewed focus on undergraduate education; and effective speech and hearing departments have found ways to respond to this request. By contrast, M.A. degree programs can not compete with the student credit hour potential of the undergraduates and do not offer the research productivity associated with doctoral programs.

The Role of Doctoral Students

At the 1996 meeting of this Council, Irv Hochberg argued emphatically and eloquently for re-establishing the scientific base of our discipline. Others at that meeting offered specific suggestions for integrating research activities into both undergraduate and graduate curricula. I will not restate those arguments and strategies here, although I strongly endorse them. Instead, please accept Irv's comments as assumptions underlying mine. With that base, I would like to talk about the specific contributions of doctoral students to university departments, for while the size of our doctoral enrollments is important, the size is not as important as what the students accomplish during, and after, their time at our university.

Doctoral students and faculty are partners in the research process and, at most institutions, both are necessary for its ultimate success. First of all, productive faculty rely on doctoral students as research assistants. It is extremely difficult to manage a multi-million dollar research grant with only M.A. level assistants. Clinic and class commitments leave little time in most M.A. schedules for serious research participation; and once you get these students trained and experienced to a level of full effectiveness, they are off to external practicum sites and are preparing for graduation. Our best faculty scientists can't be competitive at NIH without long-term (i.e. doctoral) RA's on their research staffs, and if our best scientists aren't competitive for funding: their research is at risk, our departments are at risk, and Professor Hochberg's scientific base is at risk. Faculty also rely on doctoral students as research seminar participants. We all know that "we learn a lot from our students". Faculty at research universities are most interested in "learning" about research-related issues. While applied seminars have a place in the curriculum, fully engaged faculty seek out groups of students who will enroll in seminars on cutting edge issues in their speciality field or in new cross-disciplinary topics. Students who are not fully engaged in the research enterprise, are less than ideal participants in this intellectual discussion; and are not effective in moving our discipline ahead. In many senses, research universities think of doctoral students in the same way as faculty. That is some students are simply more productive than others: they publish more, receive more grant funding, win more honors and awards, contribute to more programmatic initiatives, and, as a result, they are more valued.

These realities have clear implications for the nature of doctoral training. To succeed, students must prioritize their research over everything else. No doubt, at this point, some of you are saying "That's precisely the problem in transitioning new graduates onto many university faculties. How can we expect students to move from that culture to one where there is little time and few resources for maintaining a program of research?" One could further argue that post-doctoral research experience, something that has been endorsed as a strategy for strengthening the discipline, only exacerbates the mismatch between faculty expectations and opportunities. In addition, institutional expectations of former students also contribute to this mismatch.

Every informed Ph.D. in the country realizes that his or her individual accomplishments (receipt of a Fullbright, appointment as a university President, awarding of Nobel Prize, etc.) will forever be claimed by her alma mater as a mark of institutional success - with the individual receiving the award, playing an important, but supporting role. This tradition of institutional credit for alumni accomplishments has become bureaucratized at most universities. As part of our regular graduate program reviews at the University of Kansas, we are asked to identify the employment settings of former doctoral students. Placing graduates on the faculty at other major, research universities is seen as an indication of program excellence; while positions in clinical service and clinical administration are discounted or seen as indications of program weakness. I am not here to argue for, or against, this perspective, just to inform you that our department's day-to-day well-being relies, in part, on where our former students choose to work. A similar situation exists in competitions for federal funding. We are fortunate at the University of Kansas to have three doctoral level training grants, two from NIH in Language Disorders Across the Lifespan and in Communication and Aging, and one from the USDE in Preschool Language Intervention. Each of these is a collaborative project with faculty from other departments, and collectively, they build on a long tradition of work in these areas at the University. With each competitive application, we must account for our previous success in research instruction. This routinely involves identifying past graduates and their current employment settings. In addition, we solicit from our recent graduates summaries of their publications and grant awards since graduation. Again, students who have gone on to productive research careers increase the competitiveness of our applications, while those who move to other employment activities do not. Clearly, our recruitment of future doctoral students - future faculty members for all us - is dependent upon these and similar grant awards; which are, in turn, dependent on the research productivity of our former graduates. Last year at this meeting, Fred Minifie (1997) challenged the members of the Council to compete for such doctoral training grants as one strategy for rebuilding the discipline. I endorse that challenge. We must recognize, however, that for programs in the communication sciences and disorders to be competitive in this arena, we must provide employment settings for our that include opportunities for continued research and scholarly productivity.


Our ultimate success rests largely on the quality of the students that we recruit and graduate. Fortunately, we represent a veritable cartel in that we control all aspects of the student preparation process from who enters the system, to their primary experiences within the system, to who graduates from the system. Despite this reality, we remain frustrated by the small number of students interested in doctoral study and by the paucity of minority graduates available for appointment to our faculties. Given our monopoly, we have only ourselves to blame for these shortages and we are the only ones who can effect a solution. Again, others have spoken in the past about curricular enhancements that will assist in broadening the perspective of CSD undergraduate and M.A. students so I will not elaborate on that topic here. Instead, I would like to focus on some specific aspects of the recruitment and admissions process.

To fully operationalize an increased emphasis on research and academic careers, we must revise our student recruitment and admissions policies at all academic levels. Our primary pool for recruiting future faculty is, and I believe must remain, our own undergraduate and Master's programs. For too long, however, students interested in these programs, as well as students in other fields, campus administrators, and our own faculty, have seen only one academic option in communication sciences and disorders, that leading to a clinical career. How many times have each of us started a conversation with a prospective undergraduate with: "To become a fully credentialed speech-language pathologist or audiologist, you will need at least a Master's degree..."? While accurate, and representative of the dominant paradigm, this sentence is the first of hundreds that shape that student's long-term goals and expectations. We systematically set a 6-year plan (4 undergraduate + 2 Master's) in the minds of our students and then later find ourselves trying to undo that perspective in those that we are trying to encourage to consider doctoral work. Moreover, after decades of this practice, we have succeeded in setting the same expectations in the minds of our colleagues in other academic disciplines, in other professional fields, and in our own university administrators. This is not the perspective in most other fields, where students with high academic aspirations strive from the earliest undergraduate years to receive a Ph.D. even though they realize that the competition is stiff and they may fail in reaching their goal. I imagine that many of you report with pride each year the number of M.A. graduates securing employment, but few report to your deans the number of M.A. students placed in leading doctoral programs. If we don't consider this an important metric of program success, neither will anyone else.

Through our admissions policies, we must create an environment where students realize their research aptitudes and interests are just as important as their clinical interests for ensuring a precious seat in the M.A. class of their choice (or undergraduate class, where those are selective). In the short-term, this will encourage students to seek out research experiences to help improve the competitiveness of their applications. In the longer-term, it will help to shape our perception among affiliated fields. At present, many of our undergraduate transfer students come from fields such as education, pre-occupational therapy, and pre-physical therapy, fields with a tradition of service, but little history of scientific research. Undergraduates with interests in science are not drawn to, nor are they directed to, our programs because we do not have the scientific profile of chemistry or psychology. That must change; and one of the most effective way to effect that change is through clarity in the expectations for entry into our programs.

I am not suggesting that we abandon our commitment to clinical instruction or eliminate indicators of clinical potential from our student selection criteria. Instead, I am saying that we need to find a balance between research and clinical indicators and aptitudes; and that achieving that balance will require a significant increase in emphasis on research credentials.

This is not also a call for increasing the recruitment of non-CSD majors into our graduate programs. While I encourage students from other fields to consider careers in speech, language, and hearing, and I work to facilitate their entry into our programs; I believe that focused efforts to recruit larger numbers of these students are mis-guided and will have negative long-term consequences. Those who argue for such recruitment, claim that students from other fields are oftentimes better prepared than our own for graduate work in speech, language, and hearing. I can not imagine faculty in any other discipline advocating for the superiority of students from other majors over that of their own field. On the face of it, it is the ultimate condemnation of our own effectiveness. We are the ones who recruit and educate these students, if they are not well prepared let's do something different, but the last thing we should do is abrogate our responsibilities to other faculty within the university!

Personally, I'm not fully convinced that our students are less able than others. I agree that the nature of our undergraduate and graduate programs tends to make our students less interesting, more homogeneous in thought, and less willing to take risks than those in many other disciplines. For this, we are responsible and we should change. However, I routinely have colleagues in other departments tell me, "We love to recruit your students!", implying that

our students are capable and well-prepared in their eyes. Part of this perception is, no doubt, due to sampling bias. We don't usually accept mediocre English majors into our graduate programs, just as they tend not to recruit our mediocre students into their programs. Part of this is also an observer effect. The atypical student's comments and contributions stand out in class, so we remember her and her actions. As for the disappointing national GRE scores reported for our students, we again are to blame. Few of our curricula include courses on the information tested by the GRE, short of a few introductory courses in algebra and composition. We could achieve a significant increase in national GRE scores by simply adopting a calculus requirement for all CSD undergraduate majors. We never question such a requirement for undergraduate business majors and that requirement contributes to our perception of the undergraduate business degree and Business scholars. This is despite the fact that few business graduates do much calculus on the job. I believe a stronger case could be made for calculus in speech and hearing than in business, but few speech and hearing programs have such an expectation.

In comparing our majors with others, we should also be careful not to paint all of our students with a broad and mediocre stroke. Our best undergraduate students have fared well in campus-wide research competitions. Similarly, among our M.A. students, I would put our best former speech and hearing undergraduate up against our best non-speech and hearing undergraduate anytime. Both of these statements are not so much a reflection on the integrity of our undergraduate major as on the quality of the students, themselves.

I am also troubled by calls for increasing our academic diversity by recruiting more students from outside of the major, when we have done so little to address racial and ethnic diversity in our field. Imagine, if you will, a classroom filled with young white women. The lesson for the day is cultural diversity and African-American communication styles. The instructor, also a white woman, is reviewing the readings on the topic in linguistic and socio-cultural terms. About 10 blocks away from this classroom is a large African-American community. None of the residents of that community are present in the classroom, however. One African-American student did apply for admission to the program, but she was turned down. If this scene took place in South Africa under apartheid, we would all be indignant about the white majority and their exclusionary practices; but when we behave this way ourselves semester-after-semester, we find a myriad of ways to justify the situation. To effectively teach diversity we must practice diversity. We know that there are just as many bright and capable minority students in the world as there are majority students. The fact that they are not in our programs of higher education is an embarrassment to us all.

I know, you're saying, "Well, we don't do that much worse than any other discipline on campus in recruiting minority students." To that I have two responses: 1. Just because others aren't doing well, doesn't mean we don't have to better. 2. We profess to be a uniquely human field that bridges anatomy, physiology, cognition, genetics, psychology, social development, aging, and education; as such, we have a special obligation in the area of diversity. For our teaching and research efforts to have integrity we must make serious strides in diversifying our faculties and our student bodies so that our work is representative of the world that we strive to assist. If these altruistic reasons aren't enough, remember, that many of the greatest challenges and opportunities of the next century will involve issues related to the changing demographics of the nation and the world. If we succeed in diversifying our discipline, we will be positioned to assume a unique leadership role on our campuses and in society, and increased resources should follow.

Strategies for the Future

It is easy for us to enumerate the various problems and challenges facing the field, but the reality is that we are in an enviable position in higher education. Most other disciplines are struggling with a glut of new Ph.D.'s The psychology graduate students that I work with routinely apply for faculty, or even post-doctoral positions, that have over 100 other applicants in the pool; and the situation is even worse in other areas, especially within the humanities. We also benefit from a robust job market at the M.A. level which promises to ensure a healthy demand for teaching faculty market well into the future. Even at the undergraduate level, where we have recently faced new concerns about student career options, we are better off than most. It is still the case that over half of our students matriculate to graduate programs, a number far above the national average for other fields, and many of our other undergraduate students find employment in areas related to their degrees.

Some might argue that we shouldn't tinker with such a good situation. However, I am inclined to think of the man who proclaimed: "I intend to live forever. So far, so good!" There is no guarantee that our current favorable job market will continue indefinitely or that this market alone will sustain the discipline and we would be naïve to assume so. In fact, the continuing high demand for clinicians actually threatens the long-term health of the discipline by undermining the research base and our ability to recruit future scientists.

In summary, have two recommendations for our future:

I am fond of quoting KU's Chancellor, Robert Hemenway, who in a discussion on student diversity, challenged the faculty by asking, "Aren't we in a position to say that every minority student who graduates with a 3.0 GPA from the University of Kansas will be admitted into our graduate programs?" We all know where a 3.0 cum ranks among current CSD graduate applicants. For too long, however, we have blindly ranked and selected students by GPA and GRE, despite the limitations of those measures. While nearly every admissions committee considers other factors, the appeal of these quantitative indices is oftentimes too great to overcome. To move ahead, however, we must stand ready to defend our choices for graduate study based on a broader set of criteria and select that 3.0 cum over a student with a 3.5! That may seem difficult, or even blasphemous to some, but until we are willing to make that choice, little else is going to change: we will continue to graduate scores of very sincere individuals who look just like the class that graduated last year, and the year before.

Many states and universities are struggling with the challenge of crafting admissions criteria that are racially blind, yet still enhance institutional diversity goals. Most experts agree that to be successful in this task, the criteria must be justified on academic grounds. We, in communication sciences and disorders, have an opportunity to play a leadership role in this area because our justification is straightforward and academically defensible. To meet the society's needs in the coming century, communication sciences and disorders must prepare students for the full range of cultural and communicative realities they will face. You can't do that by teaching about communicative diversity and intervention from a book.

We must also develop research programs that are valid and responsive to society's needs. Such programs will demand a large and diverse cadre of active scientists working at universities across the country. By combining these two academic goals within similar admissions criteria, we will accurately depict the needs of the discipline and operationalize our commitment to the future of the professorate.

My second recommendation:

I endorse an environment that provides a range of employment options for new faculty members. Every year, we graduate some students looking for positions that emphasize research and others that are looking for positions that emphasize teaching. Similarly, undergraduate and M.A. students deserve a broad spectrum of choices when selecting among schools and programs. Nonetheless, I believe most, if not every, program should provide new faculty with some opportunities for conducting serious research. We are all familiar with the arguments against providing research opportunities: we are already an expensive program and we can't get additional resources to support research or clinical instruction takes too much time to allow research opportunities, etc.. As expensive as research may be, we can't afford not to engage in the process as widely as possible. Chemistry is also a very expensive program. Most chemistry departments have very few undergraduate majors and the equipment and materials needed for instruction and research in the field are far more expensive than those in many of the communication sciences. Why then do we expect the chemistry faculty to have research support, but we don't expect the same for our own colleagues. Part of the answer lies in our failure to integrate our course offerings into the university's curriculum. Chemistry makes its money on required freshmen chemistry courses and advanced courses for pre-med students, biology majors, and future nurses. By contrast, we have succeeded in professionalizing our courses to the point that few students outside of the major enroll in most of our classes. The other reason that chemists are expected to participate in research and we aren't is because of the image that we have created for ourselves. We're simply not seen as scientists or as members of a research-based discipline. We need to invest significant energy in changing that image and the change must be on all campuses. The first step in creating a research image is to have faculty involved in research. In the short-term, that will mean individual and programmatic sacrifices. It will also require some creative management of resources. In particular, we must explore new and more appropriate models for clinical instruction that are in keeping with changes in professional responsibilities, university expectations, and department resources.

I believe we have a promising future in communication sciences and disorders, both because of the opportunities in society and because of the talent that the field continues to attract. We have an opportunity in the next two decades to move from the periphery of academe to a leadership role in the academy, but realizing that role will require some bold actions from all of us.


Hochberg, I. (1996). Building a strong foundation: An overview. Proceedings of the Seventeenth Annual Conference on Graduate Education. Minneapolis, MN: Council of Graduate Programs in Communicative Sciences and Disorders.

Minifie, F. (1997). The educational continuum: A.A., B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Postdoctoral. Proceedings of the Eighteenth Annual Conference on Graduate Education. Minneapolis, MN: Council of Graduate Programs in Communicative Sciences and Disorders.

Petrosino, L, Lieberman, R. J., & McNeil, M. R. (1997). National Survey of Undergraduate and Graduate Programs. Minneapolis, MN: Council of Graduate Programs in Communicative Sciences and Disorders.