I am thinking of taking up a position at a liberal art college. I have taught mathematics at large public universities but I have no idea what is it like to work at a liberal art colleges. So what are things I should know about teaching mathematics at a liberal art college? Can you recommend some resources to read so I may be better prepared for this new job?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm skeptical that an answer that would be good for Guilford would be good for Carleton. $\endgroup$ Apr 3 '21 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have an offer to teach at a specific place? Or is it that you imagine you'd like such a position? As @AlexanderWoo comments, "liberal art[s] college" is not at all a tight identifier, in any case. Can you clarify? $\endgroup$ Apr 3 '21 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ @paulgarrett Yes, I do have an offer from a liberal art college. $\endgroup$
    – ablmf
    Apr 6 '21 at 15:39

Let me reply as someone who left a university in favor of a Liberal Arts College (LAC). Although @AlexanderWoo's point is valid, my experience supports the following:

  • At a LAC, the walls between the departmental silos are lower, enabling relatively easy cross-disciplanary collaborations.

  • At a LAC with a strong faculty-governance tradition, you can play an all-college role that is almost impossible to achieve at a university.

  • If you are passionate about teaching, it is uplifting to work at an institution that prioritizes and rewards teaching.

  • I've found the engagement with students much more direct: There is less separation between students and faculty.

  • The best students at a LAC are comparable to the best students at a university. So one can still research-collaborate with the top students.

  • The scholarship that counts for tenure is more varied than at a university. For example, writing a textbook could gain you tenure at a LAC, but rarely at a university.

To counter-balance the above with two negative points:

  • It rarely possible to remain active at the research-frontier of a popular math subdiscipline. You might need to adjust your research agenda toward less-traveled paths, and less-dependent on graduate students.

  • The Univ$\to$LAC transition is nearly irreversible. It would not be easy to move from a LAC to a university later in your career.

  • $\begingroup$ The vibe I get from you is that a liberal arts college is a nice place, right? $\endgroup$ Apr 5 '21 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. But it depends on your inclinations: how much you value contributing on the frontier of research, compared to how much you value teaching. $\endgroup$ Apr 5 '21 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer! Have you changed how you teach math in any way since moving to LAC? $\endgroup$
    – ablmf
    Apr 6 '21 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @ablmf: Hmm. I don't think I changed how I teach, except that of course teaching graduate course is different from teaching undergraduate courses. But I taught/teach undergraduate courses more-or-less the same at the university as at the college. $\endgroup$ Apr 6 '21 at 16:06

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