Experiments with Teacher Training and Tightened Programs

The most realistic formula for training Ph.D.s who are first-rate scholar-teachers is, in the opinion of many members of graduate faculties, one of five parts: (1) get first-rate students; (2) provide them with adequate financial support for full-time or nearly full-time study; (3) inspire and require them to work very hard; (4) make them feel that teaching is important and orient them in the qualities of good teaching; and (5) turn them loose after three or four years, judging them by the quality of their work more than by its quantity and acknowledging that Ph.D. training is a beginning, not a culmination, of scholarly development. Since better salaries for history Ph.D.s are needed if the first-rate students are to be attracted to doctoral training, it is believed that they are a precondition for the success of this or any other training formula-and that what the student can expect to earn at forty or sixty is more important than what he is offered upon completing the degree.

Explicit efforts at teacher preparation and deliberate attempts to tighten the training program are direct expressions of the last three parts of this five-part formula.

Teacher Preparation

A great many Ph.D. programs provide graduate students with experience as leaders of discussion groups, and some add instruction in college teaching. The instruction may be given informally by the course director during staff meetings-as at Harvard-or it may be put on a more formal basis-as at Wisconsin. Still other institutions appoint graduate students to part-time instructorships, giving them full control over their classes and, typically, providing no faculty supervision and criticism. Since these types of preparation are well known, they will not be reviewed here. Instead, a number of more experimental attempts to meet the need for teacher preparation will be summarized.

Princeton's program since 1950 has included a seminar on "Teaching History at the College Level." It is required of all second-year graduate students and lasts the better part of one semester. In the first part of the course a faculty member lectures on the ways students learn and on the attributes and techniques of teaching that encourage or discourage learning. Students then prepare outline plans for the conduct of parts of a freshman survey course, showing the central aim of each session; they also provide illustrative material, questions for discussion, and a fifteen-minute test based on assigned reading, and indicate the way a single session would be summarized at the beginning of the next session of the course. Each student's plan is critically discussed by the whole group. Some attention is also given in this course to the role of history in relation to other parts of a college curriculum.

In the "laboratory" part of the course each graduate student gives (to the seminar and its director) a fifty-minute lecture of the sort that would normally be presented in an undergraduate course. Each performance is followed by vigorous criticism of content, style, and delivery by students and the director of the course. This experience is thought to be especially valuable, for it may be the last time in a teaching career when the lecturer is "told what is wrong with his teaching with complete, if rather brutal, candor."

This experience enables the faculty to write "honest and informed" recommendations about the students when they apply for teaching positions. It is also believed that this course strengthens the motivations of the students for teaching and helps develop among them a professional approach to their whole graduate program.1

The University of Rochester, like Princeton, a decade ago searched for a way to provide teacher preparation to graduate students without assigning them to teach undergraduate courses. The doctoral candidate who is accepted at Rochester as a "graduate associate" manages two or three discussion sections of the survey course during his first and second years. During his second year he also prepares 10 lectures to be given in undergraduate courses of differing sizes and at differing levels. Each lecture is prepared in consultation with the instructor in whose course the student will give it. The instructor then listens to the lecture and subsequently criticizes it. The graduate associates also receive practice-under faculty supervision-as advisers to undergraduate majors. The Rochester experience illustrates one way in which a Ph.D. program can provide a limited amount of supervised teaching of varied types to doctoral candidates even if it is unwilling or unable to assign them full responsibility for undergraduate classes.

Duke University's approach to teacher preparation of Ph.D. candidates in history combines some of the instructional features of the Princeton program with the supervised practice features of the Rochester system. Since 1952 a seminar in "The Teaching of History in College" has been required of doctoral candidates in their last year of required residence. It is conducted by two members of the history faculty with the close collaboration of other members of the department. In the first part of the year-long seminar each student is assigned to observe the teaching of an instructor in an undergraduate course during a period of about six class meetings covering a unit of the course and, if possible, ending with a test. During this period the student confers with the instructor about his objectives and methods. Each student prepares a detailed written report on the goals and methods of instruction and testing that he has observed. These reports are then discussed in evening meetings of the seminar, held every two weeks in the homes of the seminar directors.

In the second semester each member of the seminar prepares a detailed plan of instruction for a unit of three class meetings of the course he observed during the fall term. This plan must show general objectives, objectives for each class meeting, approaches to be used, illustrations to be used, reading assignments, plans for student participation, a twenty-minute test, and a fifty-minute test. The student then teaches the class in a three-meeting period, following which he revises his teaching plans, writes a report on his experience, and presents this report to the seminar. Besides reviewing teaching experiences the seminar members discuss matters of broad professional concern on the basis of readings assigned by the professors in charge. These treat such topics as: (1) academic freedom and responsibility; (2) the relationship of teaching and research; (3) professional societies; (4) administrative and committee work of faculty members; (5) ethics and etiquette of the profession; (6) getting a job; and (7) responsibilities of faculty members toward the library. The Duke program thus moves first from observation of good teaching to actual teaching and then to consideration of professional matters.

Indiana University in 1958-1959 inaugurated a course in "The Teaching of College History" somewhat like that at Duke, offering it to second- and third-year graduate students. At Indiana as at Duke the students prepare outlines of courses and lectures and give practice lectures. Plans were being made in 1959-1960 for tape recording the conduct of discussion sections and trial lectures, and for making five-minute films of parts of each student's lectures. In this way the student could actually hear and see his own teaching and thus identify-with the help of other members of the seminar and the instructor-the qualities needing improvement. At Indiana as at Duke the course in 1958-1959 involved discussion of the seven matters of professional concern enumerated in the above paragraph.

The program at Tulane University to prepare history students for college teaching includes a one-semester seminar, required of all doctoral candidates. This is conducted by the chairman of the department, who also serves as adviser to graduate students. The seminar gives considerable attention to the history of higher education in the United States and to the professional matters discussed in the Duke and Indiana seminars. The Tulane program differs from the others here reviewed chiefly in that it includes the independent teaching of a section-occasionally two sections-of the freshman survey courses for an entire academic year by each doctoral candidate. Ideally this is done during the student's third year of graduate study, and the seminar on college teaching is taken during the first term in which the student is actually teaching. Each member of the seminar observes the teaching of every other member and prepares a written critique on it. Thus at the end of the seminar there are 5 to 10 critiques on each student's teaching. In a conference with each student-instructor the department chairman reviews the critiques of his work, making suggestions for the improvement of shortcomings that were noted by the student-critics. Meanwhile, each student's major professor also observes his classroom performance and offers constructive criticism.

Some supervised teaching is also provided in the Intercollegiate Program of Graduate Studies operated by the Claremont Graduate School, Occidental College, the University of Redlands, and Whittier College. This program, in fact, "aims primarily at improved preparation for college teaching." Believing broad understanding of the liberal arts to be the way to good teaching in the colleges, this program features interdisciplinary seminars in which three professors direct and try to interrelate extensive reading by 6 to 15 students in their various fields (e.g., history, philosophy, and art). Two of these interdisciplinary seminars are normally completed by each doctoral candidate.

Yet another approach to teacher preparation was inaugurated at Stanford University in 1959-1960. In this experiment each professor sponsoring Ph.D. candidates undertook to give them a course on methods and problems of teaching. Because of the burden on professors with many graduate students, the department at the end of the year was considering the possibility of having one faculty member conduct a unified course on teaching.

Reducing the Ph.D. "Stretch-Out"

Many doctoral programs in history have taken steps in recent years to make Ph.D. programs less protracted. The change in foreign language examinations and the waiving of the final doctoral examination in some cases at Harvard have already been cited (see Chapter 7). Several other Ph.D. programs have made even more comprehensive attempts to reduce the Ph.D. "stretch-out."

The basic step in some programs is (as it is at Harvard) the careful scrutiny of applicants for admission to graduate school: thus Yale in 1959 admitted 1 of 4 applicants, and Princeton 1 of 6. While the obligations of state universities may make it impossible for them to turn away such a high proportion of applicants as do Princeton, Yale, and other private universities, the University of California in 1958-1959 inaugurated a new foreign language requirement that also has the effect of screening applicants more carefully than was earlier the case: each applicant is required to pass an examination in one foreign language before he can enroll in graduate courses in history.

The guidance a student is given when he first arrives at a graduate school and during his first year of study can do much to prolong or shorten his period of study. At Berkeley, as a result of the reforms that went into effect in 1958-1959, each entering student is informed that the department expects students with sound undergraduate training and a reading knowledge of two foreign languages to complete the general examination for the Ph.D. after two years of full-time graduate study. Students who have not taken the Ph.D. examination by the beginning of the third year of graduate study must petition the department for an extension. The department thus no longer allows the students to set their own pace. "They must plan their program to get to the qualifying [general] examination in two years or explain why they are delaying."2 To enable the students to prepare for the examination by the end of the second year of graduate study, field requirements were altered. Adequate undergraduate preparation can now satisfy the previous requirement of a fourth (minor) field. Examination over the major field is separated from examination over two minor fields of history, underscoring the subordinate character of the latter. In addition, students are encouraged to enroll in two 3-hour reading courses in order to prepare for examination in the whole field of the major. These reading courses are directed by a specifically designated adviser from the major field of study, and the contact this affords makes possible more adequate guidance in the planning and development of a total Ph.D. program than was previously afforded Ph.D. candidates at Berkeley.

The history department at Stanford University in 1959-1960 also moved to screen graduate students more systematically than it had previously, and to speed their progress toward the Ph.D. Students are told that they should pass an examination in one foreign language during the first year of graduate study at Stanford, and in a second language during the second year; that failure to pass on schedule will result in suspension of their candidacy for the doctorate. After four quarters (or soon after one quarter for students who have received the master's degree elsewhere) each student is evaluated by a faculty review committee. This committee gives in effect a qualifying examination, scrutinizes seminar papers, considers the student's plans for Ph.D. study, and generally assesses the student's ability and readiness to perform as a doctoral candidate. Admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. or termination of the student's study at Stanford follows the review of this "washout" committee.

Each entering student at Stanford is told that "except in the most unusual cases, the Department expects completion of the requirements for the doctorate in not more than three academic years of residence"; that "at the end of his second year the candidate should take his general examinations and by the end of his third year he should have completed his dissertation." To this end the department has changed the number of fields required in history from six narrow fields to three broader ones (e.g., Europe since 1700). It also authorizes the student and his adviser to "delimit a particular area of study" within the secondary fields for major consideration during the general examination. A minor in another discipline (or in a combination of disciplines) may be substituted for one of the secondary history fields. The general examination is divided into two parts. A written examination covers two secondary fields and, if this is satisfactory, the oral examination may be limited to the major field. Finally, the student at Stanford is told that the doctoral dissertation-"except in the most unusual of cases"-should not be longer than "250 typewritten pages" and that the subject should be "sufficiently delimited to admit of completion within one year." A committee of three faculty members, including one from outside the history department, supervises and approves the dissertation. No final examination is required.

The history faculty at Yale tightened its Ph.D. program in 1958-1959. Early screening is an important element in the speed-up. In an all-day meeting at the end of the spring semester the faculty decides which students are to be allowed to continue into their second or third years of study and which are to go beyond the master's degree. Students unable to pass an examination in either French or German cannot matriculate in history. The passing of the second language is urged at entrance, or no later than the beginning of the second year. Fellowship aid is normally not given to those who have not satisfied both language requirements before the end of their third term of residence. Another feature of the Yale reforms of 1958-1959 is a special provision for independent study. Henceforth second-year students will drop one of the four courses they were previously expected to take in order to use the released time for independent study in preparation for the general (oral) examination. This is scheduled for the end of the second year. By the middle of the third year each student is expected to have a doctoral dissertation underway, and a length limitation of 300 typed pages on the dissertation is enforced.

Early and systematic faculty screening of graduate students is also a feature of attempts to tighten the Ph.D. program in history at Tulane University. There a faculty "reception committee" of three or four instructors and the department chairman meets each new graduate student in an interview lasting about thirty minutes. This involves an informal review of the student's previous study, an attempt to ascertain his professional objectives and his central interests in history, the tentative planning of a full year of courses and seminars, and the designation of a faculty committee to advise the new student during his first semester in the choice of a topic for the master's thesis. At the end of the first and second semesters the department chairman receives an evaluation form on all new students from each professor with whom they are studying. Thus the coordination of faculty evaluations of student performances is made possible. Intellectual growth, prospects for attainment of the Ph.D., readiness for part-time teaching, and qualification for fellowship aid are all noted in the evaluation check-sheets. This affords a more careful and earlier screening of graduate students than was previously practiced.

The University of Michigan in 1959 sought in different ways to accelerate the progress of doctoral candidates. One slight change was made in field requirements. Ph.D. candidates will be required to offer five fields of history plus one cognate field as before. From now on, however, Ph.D. candidates may omit the examination over one of these fields. This may be the cognate field or any field of history except the field of concentration. Course work satisfies the requirement for this field. As another means of reducing the Ph.D. stretch-out, Michigan requires that a committee meeting be held to discuss each candidate's work when he is about one-third of the way through with the dissertation. It is hoped-but no rule is adopted to cover this-that each Ph.D. dissertation will be no more than 300 pages in type. Michigan has also agreed to waive the final examination on the Ph.D. dissertation when it shows exceptional ability.

One of the suggestions most often made for shortening the period of study for the doctorate is to reduce the number of courses-especially lecture courses-required of Ph.D. candidates. The history department at the University of Texas in 1958 revised its Ph.D. program to eliminate the traditional lecture courses taken by both graduate and undergraduate students. Henceforth graduate students are to take sequences of "seminars" and "research seminars." The former, given in the fall, introduce students to a field of history, its major themes, problems, conflicting interpretations, and primary and secondary sources. The "research seminar" in the second term involves the student in supervised research and writing. A drastic reduction in credit hours was part of the Texas reform. A minimum of 36 credit hours for the Ph.D. is now set, 24 hours in the major area (three limited fields) and 12 in the minor area (two limited fields). These reforms look toward "a two-year course program for the doctorate."

A somewhat similar approach to revising the character of graduate courses was adopted at Emory University in 1959-1960. In three quarters during the academic year students are now moved in sequence within each field from lectures about content to emphasis on literature and then to full-time research and writing. It is hoped that this will culminate in the completion of a master's thesis within one academic year, thus accelerating progress toward the Ph.D. degree.

To some extent both the Texas and Emory approaches to courses resemble the approach that has been used for some time at the University of Washington (Seattle). There the courses taken by graduate students directly point toward field preparation in restricted areas of history, usually covering periods of twenty-five to fifty years. In two hours of formal class meetings each week the professor discusses the scholarly problems, varying interpretations, and literature of the field. Students are thus guided in wide and intensive reading, and since each course carries five hours of credit, only two of which are spent in class each week, there is time for independent study. These "field" courses are supplemented by research seminars and a course in historiography. The over-all emphasis is, therefore, upon achieving competence in fields rather than upon the accumulation of large numbers of hour-credits.

This is also the aim of graduate courses at Princeton, which pioneered in several of the techniques for tightening doctoral programs that have been reviewed here. The major tactical moves in the Princeton campaign against the Ph.D. stretch-out have been:

  1. Careful selection of students, with admission of doctoral candidates only
  2. Careful guidance and close screening of first-year students
  3. Elimination of lecture courses for graduate students
  4. Early selection of topics for doctoral dissertations and their development in seminars-especially in a "Thesis Writers' Seminar" that all students are expected to take during the second semester of their second year of graduate study and during their third year of graduate study
  5. Restriction of the number and scope of fields to be covered on the general examination (three fields; one additional field in history and one outside field to be satisfied by "successful completion of advanced work")
  6. Reduction of courses during the spring term of the second year of graduate study to allow for supervised independent study in the major field
  7. Requirement that students take the general examination at the end of the second year of graduate study
  8. Limitation of the scope and length of dissertations, which are not to exceed 75,000 words (or about 300 typed pages)


All the experiments in teacher preparation that have been reviewed here have one feature and one result in common: they focus the thought of both students and faculty on teaching as a central concern of doctoral training in history. The doctoral candidate who goes through programs like those summarized above can be expected to emerge with an awareness of the importance of good teaching, familiarity with the various forms it can take and the problems it involves, and some actual experience in it. The students know more about themselves as a result of the experience; and the faculty is better able to be specific about the capacity for teaching of the Ph.D. candidates it recommends for academic positions.

The attempts to tighten Ph.D. programs in history have taken many forms. Some have involved a realistic elimination of certain requirements; some have been more specific about the timing of traditional requirements. All are based upon two guiding assumptions. One is that some quantitative aspects of previous practices can be sacrificed without damaging the quality of doctoral training; that the central concern of Ph.D.-training faculties should be with the student's demonstration of scholarly purpose and growth and with the quality of the student's performance. A second assumption is that the faculty must itself assume responsibility for pacing the doctoral candidate's progress toward the Ph.D.

Other experiments are being undertaken; those reviewed in this chapter are only representative. It is too early to say with certainty whether all the features of the experiments noted here will in the long run prove to be desirable. It is indicative, however, that the Princeton and Rochester faculties are convinced of the importance of deliberate teacher preparation after more than a decade of their efforts to achieve it. And it is encouraging to learn that the results of the increased speed of training are thought to be salutary where it has been effected. One year's experience, in the opinion of one member of the graduate faculty at the University of California, has been sufficient to allay the fear that a "watered-down Ph.D." would be the necessary result of acceleration. On the contrary, the experience at California suggests that "acceleration is the path to higher and more precise standards and a better level of performance on the part of the student."3


1. See Gordon A. Craig, "College Teaching: Theory and Practice," Princeton Alumni Weekly, LIX (January 30, 1959), 9-12; Craig, "New Needs and Old Values," paper presented to the annual convention of the American Historical Association, December, 1959.

2. Hunter Dupree, "The State University Graduate School and the Deluge," paper read at the annual convention of the American Historical Association, December, 1959.

3. Ibid.