American teachers of mathematics in 1935

In 1935 R G D Richardson published the paper 'The Ph.D. Degree and Mathematical Research' which was published in Amer. Math. Monthly 43 (4) (1936), 199-215. The paper contains a very detailed analysis of Ph.D.s in mathematics awarded in the United States and Canada, looks at the foreign influence on American mathematics, the proportion of those with Ph.D.s who are publishing research articles, and the number of college teachers of mathematics. We present below a version of his section on the number of teachers.

Number of College Teachers of Mathematics.

Data collected in the autumn of 1935, based on information furnished by the institutions themselves, indicate that the number of persons teaching mathematics in colleges, universities, junior colleges, and degree-granting normal colleges in the United States (with its outlying possessions) and Canada is approximately 4,500. This includes some persons who are teaching descriptive geometry, mechanics, and methods in mathematics, as well as some who are teaching part time or who are largely in administrative work or who are emeriti; but on a conservative estimate, 4,000 persons are actually engaged full time in the teaching of mathematics of college freshman grade or higher. Similar figures were collected in 1932, and there seems to have been a considerable increase in the interim, due chiefly to the growth of junior colleges.

We have made a statistical study by states of the number of teachers of mathematics in junior colleges, teachers colleges, and other colleges and universities, of the number of men and women teachers, of the number of teachers holding doctor's degrees, and of the number of those who are members of the American Mathematical Society or of the Mathematical Association of America or of both. The best information obtainable indicates that probably somewhat less than 1,300 of the present teachers of mathematics have the Ph.D. degree! Many of the 1,400 listed as having obtained degrees in America or abroad are deceased or have entered fields of work such as government service, banking, or industry. It should be remarked also that mathematics has furnished more than its share of administrative officers to colleges and universities. There have been some doctors who have drifted out of mathematics into other fields of science, and probably more who have correspondingly drifted in.

Of the 4,444 teachers of mathematics listed, 1,292, or 29%, hold the degree of Ph.D., while slightly less (1,263) are members of the American Mathematical Society and slightly more (1,333) are members of the Mathematical Association of America. When the states are grouped by sections of the country, we note that 35% of the teachers in the northeast section from Illinois to Maine hold the doctor's degree. Only about 22% of those in the south central states from Kentucky to Texas hold the doctor's degree. In the remainder of the country about 26% hold that degree.

New York State has the largest number of mathematics teachers of college grade, followed by Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, and Texas. Arizona and Connecticut are the states with the highest percentage of doctors on their faculties, with New Hampshire, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Washington, and Illinois following; at the other end of this scale is North Dakota with no doctors listed.

Whereas for all institutions above the rank of junior colleges (universities, colleges, and degree-granting teachers colleges) the proportion of persons with a doctor's degree is 33%, in the group of 285 colleges and universities on the approved list of the Association of American Universities it is 44%.

The decline of growth in the degree-granting institutions has been to a considerable extent offset by the establishment of emergency institutions of college freshman grade or of junior college grade. While the number of college teaching positions in mathematics probably doubled during the period 1918-1930, the unprecedented year-by-year increase in the college student population on which this increase was based was slackening rapidly even before 1929, and it seems improbable that, even if a period of economic stress had not ensued, there would have been many more academic students in the colleges of the country than there are at present. The decided drop in the number of additional appointments to the staffs of degree-granting institutions appears to have been inevitable. Without doubt the unemployment problem for college teachers is aggravated by the financial depression, but in main outlines it might have been foreseen by competent executives.

It is probably true that the number of persons attending institutions of grade beyond the high school will still increase greatly. Registration in junior colleges is increasing by leaps and bounds. The situation seems predictable, and it may be sufficiently accurate to estimate at 4,500-5,000 the number of professionally trained mathematicians who will be employed in college teaching during the next decade.

Of the 60,000 persons employed in teaching all subjects in the junior colleges, colleges, and universities (not including professional schools), about 7.5% are in the departments of mathematics. In this group of institutions there are approximately 800,000 students, or about one teacher of mathematics to 175 students. In the junior colleges alone, there are approximately 6,000 teachers, of whom 12.5% are in mathematics; the total enrolment is approximately 110,000, or one teacher of mathematics to 150 students.

If we consider twenty-five years as an average period of service, it would seem that, as soon as the situation becomes a little more normal, there will be need for at least 175 new persons to be added to the staffs each year. We have arrived at the point where the universities are granting about half that number of Ph.D. degrees annually. Less than one-third of the present staffs have such degrees, and, if one-half the new appointments are made from those holding the doctorate, the situation will probably be as satisfactory as we can hope for at present. The standards in this regard need elevation, and doubtless the next decade or two will see rapid advancement. There are many college teachers with pitifully meagre preparation; the institutions must look forward to their gradual replacement by well-trained men and women.


JOC/EFR November 2019