Monday, January 15, 2007

The Academic Job Market

Thomas Hart Benton at the Chronicle of Higher Education on the academic job market:

When will there be stern talks about closing down all the marginal and bloated graduate programs that have created a reserve army of the academic unemployed? In effect, the MLA report asks lower-ranked departments to realize their proper station and accept that they should not be making faculty members write two books for tenure while teaching eight courses a year.

But there's no reason departments should accept that reduced status. They don't have to. Plenty of English Ph.D.'s are only too happy to meet whatever standard the departments care to set.

. . . . . .

Better advice: Do not go to graduate school in the humanities in the first place — not unless you are independently wealthy or, for some reason, you don't mind the strong possibility that six or more years of hard work and lost opportunity will come to nothing but competing at a disadvantage against new college graduates for entry-level jobs.

These are sensible questions, but they might as well be rhetorical ones. A few comments:
  • "Stern talks" about closing marginal programs, which have been around for at least twenty years, are like talks about unilateral disarmament: "We need fewer Ph.D.'s and ought to shut down some programs." "All right. How about if you shut yours down?"
  • And as long as the arms race metaphor is on the table: the same holds true for the MLA recommendation about changing standards for tenure. Most university administrations seem to spend time setting standards to compete not just with their peers but with those ranked (in whatever fashion) above them. If it's good enough for Harvard or Next-Best U, goes the thinking, it's good enough for us; never mind that we've cut the library budget, raised teaching loads, and eliminated support for faculty research. Since the MLA issued this report--and indeed, since Stephen Greenblatt's call for this some years back--I've been waiting for news of universities taking this recommendation. I'm still waiting.
  • As long as it's a bragging point to send students on to Ph.D. programs--and as long as deans and universities make that a measure of success in annual reviews--this won't stop. We try to talk to students about this, but few people get any thanks for talking students out of going to graduate school.

    Anonymous said...

    Correct. And it's depressing. And it's depressing to teach in marginal programs (at any level) if you have high ideals and so on. However I really enjoyed graduate school (albeit in a non marginal program) and got a lot out of it.

    My advice to myself, which I didn't take or haven't yet, anyway, was get the graduate degree you're interested in, and/but also plan to go on and add to it a more "practical" professional degree, so that you have options. It's the advice I give others now.

    undine said...

    That's good advice. I try to give some of the same--not to get a degree in another field, necessarily, but to get coursework and experience in the part of my field that's the most marketable.