June 03, 2003

1 in 5: Thomas H. Benton Explains Why You Shouldn't Go to Graduate School

'Remember,' I advise, 'that if you go to graduate school, you are contributing to the problem by making it less necessary for universities to hire full-time faculty members at decent wages. If you have a burning passion for Victorian poetry, you can probably satisfy this passion by yourself. Force yourself to read a few dozen academic books before deciding to dedicate your life to a subject. That is what one does in graduate school anyway. Most learning is unsupervised, independent, and onerous. Why pay or work according to an institutional timetable unless one needs an academic credential?'

-- Thomas H. Benton, "So You Want to Go to Grad School?"


Thomas H. Benton, assistant professor of English at a midwestern liberal arts college and recent recipient of the Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory), has an excellent column on how to advise undergraduates who want to go to graduate school. His recommended advice can be summed up quite simply: "Don't go."

He notes that

the Modern Language Association's own data -- very conservative and upbeat in my opinion -- indicate that only about one in five newly-admitted graduate students in English will eventually become tenure-track professors.

1 in 5. It is very important that aspiring graduate students know these numbers.

But as Benton knows, it's not enough to publicize and emphasize the bleak statistics. It is also necessary to expose the inaccuracies and half-truths -- the mythology, if you will -- that mislead young people into taking this destructive, and often self-destructive, path.

The problem is not only that every bright and overachieving undergraduate tends to think, "I'll be one of the 1s, and not one of the other 4s" (which line of magical thinking is all too often actively encouraged and fostered by undergraduate advisors). There is also a more complex issue: namely, the fact that many people enter with the mistaken belief that they are signing on for another, more extended version of undergraduate education, a sort of "Grand Tour," as Benton puts it, that will give them the chance to explore new areas of inquiry and acquire a "cultural polish" without becoming personally invested in the profession:

'Also, remember that most grad students start out as dilettantes, thinking they'll just hang out for a few years on a stipend. But eventually they become completely invested in the profession, unable to envision themselves doing anything else. A few years can become a decade or more. Meanwhile, everyone else is beginning their adult lives while you remain trapped in permanent adolescence.'

I could, and probably will, say more about this in a later entry.

One topic that I have yet to address on this blog -- related to what Benton calls the "permanent adolescence" and to what I tend to think of as "graduate school as infantilization" -- is that of children: i.e., what happens to too many graduate students/adjuncts/unemployed and underemployed PhDs who want a family but who put it off for all kinds of complex reasons (the most basic of which is simply lack of financial resources). It's a grim tale, and another of those issues that nobody really talks about, at least not publicly, though privately I've often found that even the casual mention of certain keywords is enough to elicit some very sad stories from both men and women. In this area, I am one of the lucky ones, I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize how very fortunate. I know too many people who are not so lucky.

But more on this later. For now, I highly recommend Benton's essay, a must-read not only for would-be graduate students but also, and just as importantly, for the faculty who would encourage them.


UPDATE, 25 June:

I lost the last third of the comments to this post during a server crash a few weeks ago. Here is a google cached version of the comments, which I've just discovered. I'm particularly pleased to find the last comment, by Kelli, whose "Me, I'm writing a screenplay for Hollywood. Onward and upward, baby" has stuck in my mind ever since I first read it. Her comment in its entirety is worth reprinting here:

Wow! Is it too late to enter the fray? If not here are the thoughts of a recent Ph.D. from a top-ten humanities school, now at home raising the kids and paying hundreds/month in student loans.

1. Yes, I am quite sure I could have landed SOMETHING had I stuck it out.

2. However, how many sacrifices should otherwise intelligent people make for a career whose reward structure has been decaying rapidly over the past decade?

3. That's the question at its most basic, isn't it? What is this career worth? I have friends who quit because they could not live within 500 miles of their spouse, and others who have been married for years without ever living more than a summer together. I have friends who teach a couple of courses a year while managing the household, as their spouse comes ever closer to achieving tenure. Let's see how those marriages fare over time, shall we.

4. The numerous calls on this thread for "real-world experience" are absolutely on the mark. By the time you have Ph.D. in hand it is most likely TOO LATE. An exception is my husband, with a Ph.D. in ancient Near Eastern languages and religion (a top seller, that) who is now ensconsed in finance and makes excellent money. How did this happen? A window opened just enough in the gogo 90s to let him crawl in on the slimmest of qualifications and now, no one even notices the Ph.D. thing. This will probably never happen again, at least not in our lifetimes. This needs to be tattooed on the forearm of all those who insist on going straight to grad school.

Finally, there is a lot of pain in this thread, masked with good humor and fortitude. I wish you all well in whatever career you select or are cast into. Me, I'm writing a screenplay for Hollywood. Onward and upward, baby.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at June 3, 2003 03:31 PM
Comments
1

I get the feeling, as I often do when reading Benton's columns, that he's underestimating the extent to which graduate students and those contemplating graduate school are informed of the prevalent conditions.

When I first broached the idea of graduate school to a professor of mine when I was a sophomore, he asked me what I intended to do with the degree. I answered that I would like to become a professor at an institution similar to ours (a place some of the comically elitist posters here would refer to as "second-" or perhaps "third-tier"), and he replied that this was "highly unlikely."

Having just minutes before received a lot of praise from the professor and not knowing much about conditions in academic employment, I was considerably irritated and made a silent vow that I would prove him wrong--preferably in a spectacular fashion.

Several years later, I appreciate the wisdom of what he said, and I would also actively discourage anyone from going to graduate school in English--in much stronger terms than my professor did. I've come to realize, however, that I would do scholarship even if it were completely irrelevant to my job. If you don't or wouldn't read academic books and journals without being a graduate student or professor, if, in other words, you're not wholly committed to what you're doing, you shouldn't be in the profession.

I don't know if this is true of Benton or not, but some of the "job-crisis" rhetoric does seem to presuppose an at least partially careerist-motivated engagement with the actual performance of scholarship.

Also, it goes without saying that anyone considering becoming a scholar should follow the Talmudic (I think) injunction to learn a practical trade.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 3, 2003 04:32 PM
2

Chun -- you found a forthright professor.

I don't think your experience is common. I think it *should* be, and I'm very glad you had it, but nonetheless.

Thanks for posting this, IA.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 3, 2003 04:36 PM
3

I can't tell you how many cases I know of where an undergraduate was actively discouraged from going to law school and actively encouraged to go to graduate school in the humanities. "You're too smart for law school," is what I was told, and this by more than one professor. Well, not smart enough not to recognize that this advice was not very smart. It's almost comical, though at the end of the day not funny, after all. I personally know many others who were told the same, or very similiar things, by undergraduate professors whom they greatly admired and trusted.

"Also, it goes without saying that anyone considering becoming a scholar should follow the Talmudic (I think) injunction to learn a practical trade."

Before, after, or during graduate school? This seems completely impractical and begs the question, Why go to graduate school at all? As many have pointed out, graduate school is not so much about becoming a scholar as it is about becoming a "professional," a process which can and often does actively interfere with the ideals and practice of scholarship. Most people cannot afford to try and enter two professions or trades at once (one of them out of a practical need to earn a living, the other out of a pure love of learning).

I don't think it's careerist to argue that people (at least, people without trust funds or some source of independent wealth) should not spend years of their adult lives in a pursuit that may leave them impoverished, and impoverished not only in the economic sense.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 3, 2003 04:52 PM
4

The "1 in 5" MLA number contrasts with numbers that might be extrapolated from the Chronicle of Higher Education piece you linked -- saying 50 to 65 percent of PhDs from UW Seattle land tenure track jobs. Barry posted on that thread that the Chronicle's numbers seemed counterintuitive (I think it also had more PhDs in the humanities getting jobs than in other fields, if my memory serves). His theory is that it may have been relying on responses to a survey.

Actually, statistics from the academy may be deeply suspect in general. Citrus College, recently much in the news, is a 2-year community college that, when the media came calling, said its enrollment was 12,000. This would put it in a league with the University of Chicago or Duke. Someone is blowing smoke here, but somehow they can justify a number like this.

I suspect that numbers indicating "selectivity" may also be pulled out of a hat. Even the MLA number may be very inaccurate. 1 in 5 actually seems quite high.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 04:54 PM
5

As phrased here, the 1 in 5 would seem to refer to 1 in 5 of those who enter graduate programs in English literature. I wonder if they are factoring in the attrition rate? that is, the 1 in 5 may refer only to those who actually complete the PhD. But I haven't read the report, this is just speculation.

In any case, even 1 in 5 is a bleak figure.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 3, 2003 04:59 PM
6

It pains me to tell some of my best students that the structure of employment in the academy has been hidden from them -- that many faculty members make less than fast-food workers and have no health benefits.

This was also part of THB's article. It struck me because this is exactly what I have had to tell successive groups of students about myself each time my term appointment ended and I had to move on. It always shocked most of them -- especially bright young freshfolk -- but also produced a surprising well of sympathy (from seniors in particular).

Teach by example, I suppose.

I was also going to write, "and thereby destigmatize temporary faculty employment" but as I think about it, I'm not sure if I want to. Implication one: adjuncting becomes an "acceptable" career path versus implication two: adjunct experiences become a way to scare off the dilletantes.

Posted by: Rana at June 3, 2003 05:09 PM
7

While I certainly think that ambitious undergrads who are thinking about grad school should go into it with their eyes open, I think that Thomas H. Benton and Invisible Adjunct are too grim about the profession.

I think that the 1 in 5 guess about a grad student's prospects for future employment is a bit exaggerated, but perhaps not by much. But let's look at the reasons why only 1 or 2 in five might succeed at getting a tenure-track job.

Some people get to grad school and find that they just don't like it, or that they'd like to do other things more than spend 5-10 years on a Ph.D. Some people get the degree, but are unable or unwilling to apply to all possible jobs in a national job search. (In my experience, this happens more to women, who tend to have partners who are less willing to follow their careers. But this also happens to people for lots of other reasons--other family members to care for, children, etc.) A smaller number of people refuse to apply for jobs that they deem "beneath them" or in a geographically undesirable location, and so forgo tenure-track jobs that would at least keep them active in the profession. Some folks get the degree and a job, and then decide (for a variety of reasons) that the academic life is not for them, so they resign and go do something else with their lives. While some of these people might wistfully look back on their abandoned plans to become professional historians, my guess is that for the most part they made the choices that were best for them at the time.

In my entering class of grad students in 1990, of those of us who 1) finished our dissertations, 2) conducted a national job search and 3) were willing and able to take the jobs offered to us, we all got tenure-track jobs. I do not mean to suggest that for all of us that meeting conditions 1, 2 and 3 were easy, but that those of us who were fortunate enough to be able to do so, we succeeded in getting a job.

Grad school and academe are very demanding, no question about it. But being in academe is still a great life, as it (ideally) offers almost complete and total intellectual independence and almost complete liberty as to how I decide to spend my time and organize my working life. It's better to start young and be healthy and unencumbered by family obligations, as those conditions make it easier to be more flexible about applying for and taking jobs.

In any case, I think we should be extremely discriminating in terms of nurturing our students' ambitions. In the eight years that I've been out of grad school, I've recommended only 2 students for Ph.D. programs in History. Both of them got into top-notch programs with fully-funded 5-year fellowships, and I have no doubt but that if they finish their degrees and can be flexible about where they live and work, they will succeed at finding tenure-track jobs.

Posted by: Ann Little at June 3, 2003 05:12 PM
8

Chun writes " I was considerably irritated and made a silent vow that I would prove him wrong--preferably in a spectacular fashion."

This reminds me of an experience I had my first year of grad school when one professor told me that I would never have what it takes to be a historian, and so much of that year became about proving her wrong. I wonder if it might not be better, when instructing undergrads and stubborn people like me, to focus less on the rhetoric of "you will likely fail" and more on that of "why would you want to do this? There are more rewarding alternatives."

But then, I suppose, this would require that the warning party would actually have knowledge of said alternatives and believe that they would be rewarding -- and so would they be in a position to advice undergraduates?

Posted by: Rana at June 3, 2003 05:14 PM
9

Okay, one last comment and then I'll stop hogging the forum. Reading IA's comments about the function of grad school, it struck me that for many there is the assumption that grad school will be an endless joy of learning. Where does this come from?

Also, if that is the primary purpose of graduate school -- to share one's love of learning -- why does it cost so much and have to occur in a special space with specially trained people? (I'm not doubting that it is useful to have that degree of rigor -- I liked that part of grad school -- but such non-directed activity seems at odds with the notion of having to take x number of courses and get out in x number of years.)

Posted by: Rana at June 3, 2003 05:18 PM
10

That observation about attrition is a good one, though it needs to be qualified a bit. I don't think we need to consider students who leave grad programs after 1 or 2 years to be a sign of any sort of failure of the system -- some people will simply find that grad school is not their bag once they get there, and (if we assume they were there with a tuition waiver and some sort of stipend) the opportunity costs to them are not overwhelming. But students who are departing programs after they are ABD, and have given the university several years of cheap teaching, and have seen their 20s evaporate and maybe are getting through their 30s (or worse)... these students, even if they would fall under 'attrition', should be taken as evidence that the system is broken. I have no idea what the numbers here really look like.

I would also like to raise a somewhat different point about interpreting that 1 in 5: what would things look like if we broke the numbers down by graduate program? In my field of philosophy, there are a number of programs that are very reliable at getting their PhDs placed; and a whole lot of programs that only place every once in a blue moon and thus shouldn't be in existence; and of course a good number of programs running the spectrum in-between. Part of my standard advice to undergrads considering PhD programs is to consider the placement rate of the programs they get into. If you get into a program with a good placement rate (and by "get into" I mean "get into with at least a minimally decent financial package"), then your odds really are not so bad. If you can't get into such a program, and you don't have some other reason to suspect that you're an exception, then I advise them to pick another career. (Or I might in some cases suggest to them that they think about MA programs, but that's another matter.)

Question: what do people think the rate of achievement of tenure-track jobs for PhDs coming out of the twenty or so most prestigious programs?

Posted by: JW at June 3, 2003 05:20 PM
11

Sorry, I just had to respond to Ann's comment, above: "In my entering class of grad students in 1990, of those of us who 1) finished our dissertations, 2) conducted a national job search and 3) were willing and able to take the jobs offered to us, we all got tenure-track jobs. I do not mean to suggest that for all of us that meeting conditions 1, 2 and 3 were easy, but that those of us who were fortunate enough to be able to do so, we succeeded in getting a job."

Can I ask where you got your degree? I look at my cohort (graduating 1998-2000) -- also composed of bright people willing to work hard and relocate -- and I know of only two of us who succeeded in getting tenure-line jobs. The rest of us have given up or are still cobbling together part-time positions.

Posted by: Rana at June 3, 2003 05:23 PM
12

Regarding the 1 in 5 statistic:

It comes from Walter Cohen, "The Economics of Doctoral Education in Literature," PMLA 115.5 (October 2000): 1164-1187, Table 13.

The average completion rate for literature programs is 35-35%. The average placement of PhDs from literature programs is 53+% (not particularly rosy odds for 6-10 years of training, IMHO). The tenure-track placement probability for students new to a literature program is 20%, hence 1 in 5.

Perhaps the more interesting statistic is the attrition rate--why do 65-70% of grad students not complete their PhDs? Are the dilettantes and non-hackers leaving? Does this reflect how many grad students wise up about the system a few years into their program? Whatever the case, it doesn't reflect well on grad school in general or the process by which students arrive there. Advisors need to screen more carefully for ability and motivation--and this requires greater honesty on our part.

Posted by: Thomas Hart Benton at June 3, 2003 05:38 PM
13

IA,

I think it's perfectly valid, if somewhat self-serving, for a professor to tell a student that they're too bright for law school. It's up to the student to consider why a professor would say such a thing, and I refuse to believe that anyone would tell a student not bright enough to understand what law school entails and what kind of life it leads to such a thing.

At many, not all, but many law schools there is a strong culture of careerism and anti-intellectualism. Humanists in particular probably tend to overemphasize this negative aspect of the legal profession, but a student interested in law school needs to be talking to lawyers, law students, and law professors for the most relevant advice on the subject.

Regarding practical trades, no one should even contemplate graduate school if they could not get a job in a field completely unrelated to what they intend to study that would support him/her in a manner to which he/she has grown accustomed. Prospective students should have to prove such an ability to graduate schools before they are admitted.

Also, IA, I agree with the point made in your final graf, but I don't see how I suggested otherwise (if that's what you were implying).

John Bruce--you don't believe that enrollment and quality are somehow correlated, do you?

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 3, 2003 05:53 PM
14

I completely disagree that it is acceptable to ignore those who leave in their first year or two of grad school. This is when poor advising, gamesmanship about financial and social support, inadequate socialization, poor preparation for milestone exams, and the like hit *worst*.

I also don't think "one or two years" is anything to sneeze at, nor do I believe that those who leave early are as easy to dismiss with "aw, they just didn't like it" as that.

I *do* agree that the *causes* behind early and late attrition are likely to be different; I just don't think that makes early attrition acceptable.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 3, 2003 05:57 PM
15

There may be another danger in attending grad school..it may contribute to intellectual rigidity. In business, I've observed that people with advanced degrees often tend to focus more on the map than on the terrain. Young MBAs, for example, are often more interested in applying some trendy "strategic paradigm" than in developing an understanding of the real threats and opportunities facing their company. People with advanced Computer Science degrees are often more concerned with doing something that incorporates the approved intellectual models than in producing a useful and usable product.

As the saying goes (if I may mix my metaphor a bit), when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Grad school may result in the creation of large numbers of people trying to drive screws with hammers.

Or, conversely, grad school may not *make* people behave like this--it may just be that people with this orientation tend to go to grad school in the first place.

Does the phenomenon I am discussing occur in the liberal arts? Any thoughts?

Posted by: David Foster at June 3, 2003 06:02 PM
16

Chun, I agree with you 100% on the way it should be -- but let me tell you, that ain't how it is. I'd be a leetle careful, posting where you're posting, of assuming that "smart" grad students go into grad school with adequate preparation both to leave it and to succeed at it if I were you.

Smart isn't quite the same thing as practical. Or prepared.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 3, 2003 06:03 PM
17

Hereís a broad and offensive generalization. Many people who aspire to academic life in the humanities are bookish, introverts who dislike the private sector, and the type of people they imagine gravitate to it. I know, as I fit this carcicature. As a college senior, I harbored a vague contempt for unreflective drones who worked marketing jobs, and always imagined I would end up a professor. Fortunately for me, I drifted into a consulting job, and found it nothing like my expectation. Thus, when I did go to grad school in philosophy, and later decided against pursuing an academic career, I had someplace to go, and people who knew my (non-academic) work and were willing to help me/hire me. [I also think it likely that had the private sector looked to me like some undifferentiated nightmare, fear of the unkown would have kept be in grad school longer]

Thus, I cannot recommend highly enough that anyone considering humanities graduate school straight out of college work abandon this notion. Instead, the aspiring academic should work for two years and then apply.

Why? First, graduate schools wonít care. If the recommendations, etc., have been lined up in advance and seem fresh, such a candidate will look like anyone else. So the only damage is age at entry, and that matters less in academics than in most other fields. Second, a background of school, school, and more school provides no standard of comparison to intelligently assess the cost/benefit tradeoff of academic life. Itís hard to tell if academe is for you if you know nothing else. Third, any amount of money saved makes grad school much less dreary. Fourth, (and here is a crucial point), working will build up some connections in the world that will greatly ease re-entry should a you drop out of academic life.

So all you professors out there should be advising your best students to work before grad school. And work, in this case, means two years learning the insurance industry at Aetna, or product marketing at P&G; not a job at the university bookstore.

Posted by: BAA at June 3, 2003 06:06 PM
18

David,
I believe something similar does happen in the liberal arts. Timothy Burke makes the point that "Graduate school is not about learning" in his essay "Should I go to graduate school?"

That said, I would add that I think many people are adaptable and can learn/relearn to think more broadly, esp. when pushed by economic necessity.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 3, 2003 06:12 PM
19

I've said this before, but I will again. I don't think attrition is a good thing, but it does have a function. Yes, those entering grad school should do whatever they can to "try it out" first. A friend shadowed a DA for a year before deciding to go to law school, and I spent a year sampling different fields before applying for the MA. But most students don't or can't.

We end up accepting graduate students with the expectation that some will not make it through the first year. Ideally, that number is low, but we admit some students who have less than stellar GREs or who have spotty transcripts because we see something attractive in their application and want to give them a shot. In informal discussions with the faculty, about half had undistinguished undergraduate experiences themselves. Several students leave each year, some do so unhappy, but I think it's fair to say that many who do leave do not find the time they've spent "wasted." And inevitably one or two of the "borderline" cases bloom in graduate school, and both love it and perform well. If the purpose of graduate school (either for the faculty or the students) is a diploma, there is something wrong.

Posted by: Alex Halavais at June 3, 2003 06:13 PM
20

Chun asks, "John Bruce--you don't believe that enrollment and quality are somehow correlated, do you?" I'm not sure what you mean -- can you have a required course that all freshmen must take, and that course be awful? Yes. Can you have a completely optional course, and have enormous enrollment because the prof is so effective? Of course. So I don't understand your question, or how you feel it may support or refute me!

I would also like to find out from Ann Little where she went, and in what discipline. Clearly placement rates differ by institution, department, and dissertation director, which is something I've been saying throughout these threads -- but this information is not promulgated, and indeed where published, as in the Chronicle's piece on UW Seattle, suspect as being counter-intuitive and in serious conflict wih other data (such as the MLA statistics).

I read recently of a review that was conducted of Duke's English Department (some years following Stanley Fish's departure) applying criteria such as Ph.D. placement rate to indicate that the department's quality had deteriorated during Fish's stewardship. However, I'm not aware of this type of statistic or review or evaluation being generally made, and almost certainly not generally published.

Indeed, for senior department faculty involved in the graduate studies program or directing dissertaions, shouldn't placement rate be a statistic that's evaluated -- and perish the thought, shouldn't this be a component of compensation?

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 06:26 PM
21

My experience -- leaving an anthropology PhD program after two years -- is very much like what Benton describes. I really thought (and still think) that anthropology was interesting. I thought I could imagine myself teaching. I had no idea about the professional elements of grad school or academia.

So I got there and found out that I didn't want to focus as narrowly as I needed to. When I really understood the time to degree and job market, the it really started to seem a daunting task. I just wasn't very happy. Finally I realized that what I liked as much as anything was reading ethnographies. I really didn't have much drive to write them myself. I decided that the only real justification for the sacrifices that finishing the program would require would be that I simply couldn't imagine myself doing *anything* else.

It didn't take too much imagining to find out that that was not the case.

I don't think I was misled about my prospects. I didn't really do the homework to know what I was getting into, so it's more my own fault than anyone else's. The decision to leave the program was wrenching, even though it clearly seemed like the right thing to do. I can see how people convince themselves to stick it out.

Posted by: Frank Admissions at June 3, 2003 06:26 PM
22

Rana, You're not hogging the forum. Post away!

Lots of points here that I'd like to address. I'll be back to this thread later.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 3, 2003 06:28 PM
23

"Actually, statistics from the academy may be deeply suspect in general. Citrus College, recently much in the news, is a 2-year community college that, when the media came calling, said its enrollment was 12,000. This would put it in a league with the University of Chicago or Duke. Someone is blowing smoke here, but somehow they can justify a number like this."

I can see that. I am a 'current' student at a community college. I took a class last semester, and could register for classes in the next Spring, Summer or Winter semesters without re-enrolling - just sign up.

I don't know the enrollment figures for this college, but I'd estimate that they have at least enough parking for 2,000 cars at a shot. Considering the morning, evening, night, weekend hours, and that many students take one class at a time, and an enrollment of 12,000 isn't inconceivable.

And this doesn't put it in league with a U Chic, Duke or any other regular 4-year college, because their figures should include a far higher proportion of part-time students. This allows several students to be served with the facilities which would serve one student in a full-time college. And the lack of dorms, gyms and other service facilities adds to that.

Posted by: Barry at June 3, 2003 06:35 PM
24

I'm one of the lucky ones - I'm a tenured professor of English. But before I began graduate school, I worked for a over a year as a copywriter in a Chicago ad agency. I liked it well enough, and think I would have been happy enough to have gone back to it if academia hadn't worked out.

So I very much agree with the poster above who advises students to take a job outside of academia for awhile before beginning grad school. I think that knowing I had private sector skill and experience made me more relaxed about grad school, the job market, etc.

I know it's easy to say this now - most people looking for academic jobs don't happen to have done this, and I certainly didn't know at the time that I was being clever in doing it - I was simply ambivalent about academia and was putting off for awhile a decision to enter it But in retrospect I can see that this time off made a whole lot of sense.

Posted by: chantal at June 3, 2003 06:36 PM
25

JB,

I was asking in reference to your comment about the enrollment at Citrus College vs. Chicago or Duke, which seemed incredulous at the fact that the former institution had such a high enrollment.

Also, regarding Fish's tenure at Duke: the graduate literature program he (largely) built was unquestionably one of the top-five in the world. Their placement record, which is probably the only meaningful criterion of quality for a graduate program, reflects this.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 3, 2003 06:37 PM
26

Chun, your assertion is puzzling -- Fish involved Duke in a well-known academic scandal, in which physicist Alan Sokol submitted a bogus article to a Duke literary journal, arguing that the speed of light is subject to cultural interpretation. Sokol's exposure of his own "fraud" likely resulted in Fish's departure from Duke. One version of this story is at http://www.dartreview.com/archives/000530.php

Duke did in fact reach the top five of the US News survey, but this is US, not world, and its criteria aren't really academic but reflect education as a consumer good. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently reported on what would normally be seen as a scandal, in which very well-off families in Lake Forest, IL have been able simply to buy admission for their children who wouldn't normally meet Duke's criteria.

So I am skeptical of your assertions.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 06:50 PM
27

Forgot about the Citrus College enrollment question. My point was that this statistic is, like others recently cited from the academic world, wildly counter-intuitive, since Chicago or Duke, with enrollments in the 10,000 order of magnitude, have professional schools, 4-year undergraduate programs, graduate programs, etc. that are reflected in these enrollments. I guarantee you that Citrus College is not attaining an enrollment of 12,000. This figure is bogus but in my thinking possibly reflective of an academic habit of mind (i.e., post bogus stagtistics whenever possible).

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 06:54 PM
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Apologies in advance -- I know I tend to come off as obnoxious when I post here. But the vast majority of people who recently finished the philosophy Ph.D. program that I finished in 2000 got tenure track jobs or good post-docs. (18 finished between 1999 and 2001. 12 got tenure track jobs. 2 got post-docs they still hold. 3 are in full salaried (i.e. nonadjunct) visiting positions. None are adjuncting. One graduate never did an academic job search.) True, probably half the students who enter this program drop out sans degree. And this is one of the better placement records in philosophy. So the issue of how to advise undergraduates is completely legitimate. But I do occasionally encounter a student who I think could thrive in grad school and beyond. A year off -- great. Warning/reality check -- of course. But it seems like misplaced cynicism not to feel some hope for such a student's future in the academy.

Posted by: Ted H. at June 3, 2003 07:02 PM
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So, Ted, why be reticent about the institution? If the department were proud of this, why isn't it on their web site (or is it)? Neither you nor Ms. Little has come back to say "Boy, those guys at ______ don't let the grass grow under their feet." I am very interested in the reason.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 07:07 PM
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JB,

You are confused on a couple of matters of fact about the "Sokal Hoax." Fish wrote an article decrying Sokal's dishonesty for the New York Times. He was not on the Social Text editorial board, and his decision to leave Duke was motivated by his ambition for more money--as he's quite candidly written about in his Chronicle columns. There's a ton of information available about what Sokal did, much of which is, I suspect, a bit more reliable than what you can read in the Dartmouth Review.

The US News rankings of graduate programs in the humanities are, at best, an imprecise way of measuring the quality of a given program. Their rankings of the quality of individual universities are even worse, but are thankfully of no relevance in assessing the quality of Duke's literature program during this period. Again, based on placement records, Duke's program during Fish's stay was one of the five-best in the world (in English, Comp Lit., etc.)

Many community colleges across the country have very high enrollments. I'd be quite willing to take a bet on such an easily verifiable matter of public record.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 3, 2003 07:12 PM
31

Well, here's an interesting situation. I did provide a link to what I indicated was one version of the story -- and contemporary accounts all, mistakenly or not, make Fish out to be the hoax's primary victim. I'm not inclined to take exculpatory remarks by Fish on his behalf fully on their merits without other, supporting accounts -- could you link to some (not by Fish himself)?

Regarding Ann Little, I googled the name with PhD and find "Little, Ann M. Assistant Professor-Ann.Little@colostate.EDU
Ph.D., Pennsylvania - Early America" -- so Penn is the miracle worker in one case here.

I would be most interested to hear what institution granted Ted H. his degree as well.

But Penn is another counterintuitive case, it seems to me, not in a league with Berkeley or Yale or Michigan as a place you would immediately think of with a high placement rate. It would be much more helpful if institutions published trustworthy information like this themselves.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 07:24 PM
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Re: googling. Just a reminder that if you post here (or anywhere) with your real name, someone may google you. If you don't care to be googled, please use a pseudonym.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 3, 2003 07:29 PM
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JB,

I started reading the piece you linked to and had to stop when they referred to Fish as a "deconstructionist." There are limits to the ignorance I can endure.

If you're interested, Prof. Sokal has an extensive web page devoted to his "experiment." He also answers email fairly assidiously, and I'm quite sure that, if you asked him (or anyone else who happens to know anything about this), he wouldn't identify Fish as such--though I'm sure he would say that he disagrees with Fish's take on the situation (and he wrote a rebuttal to Fish's NYT piece, if memory serves).

Lingua Franca also published a book about the matter. I'd be very interested to know if you could find someone who's written on the matter (besides the august Dartmouth Review) to proclaim Fish as its main victim.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 3, 2003 07:42 PM
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Well, gee. I ain't hiding anything. I even link to my academic homepage from my blog.

My degree is from Michigan. You can look up their placement record for yourself on the Michigan philosophy department's web page. (There's at least one mistake though: the last graduate listed (a good friend) defended in 2002, not 1999. And not all the placement results from 2003 are posted.) I summarized the results from the two years on either side of my graduation year (1999-2001). Here they are again: 18 finished, 12 got t-track jobs, 2 got post-docs they're still in, 4 are still in full-pay visiting positions, 1 never did an academic search and left the profession for personal reasons. I don't know what you'd come up with if you looked at other years, but the placement record over all is pretty strong.

Posted by: Ted H. at June 3, 2003 07:47 PM
35

Placement rates: one has to take "# of years to achieve tenure-track" into account, no doubt. I received my Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago, which successfully places nearly all of its students in tenure-track positions--but there's often a year of "visiting" in there somewhere. (I was a lecturer at the U of Michigan--AA for a year before landing a tenure-track job.)

John Bruce: aside from the puzzling identification of Fish as a deconstructionist (he and his [then?] wife Jane Tompkins are reader-response theorists), the Dartmouth article makes no mention of the well-known internecine warfare within the Duke English department itself (reported in the Chronicle on June 12, 1998), which was mainly responsible for the disappearance of faculty to other positions. Eventually, English split into two departments, one literature and one theory. Fish's decision to go to U of I-Urbana as a dean was hardly the "step down" suggested here, since not only had he been shopping around for a deanship for several years, he'd already been offered the position--twice--at UC Irvine, which still has the reigning king of critical theory departments. In fact, the Sokal crisis did nothing to Fish's reputation whatsoever, since he had never been the one primarily associated with it (his attempt to excuse it aside); it was editor Andrew Ross of NYU who bore the brunt of people's ire. (Search the Chronicle and ye shall find.) More to the point, Social Text was affiliated with Duke University Press, not with Duke's English department: besides Ross (then at Princeton), the editorial board included Bruce Robbins (Rutgers) and Wahneema Lubiano (also at Princeton); Frederic Jameson, who really was a Duke ST affiliate, had "decreased" his work with the journal (see CoHE, 2/24/93). Meanwhile, I haven't a clue as to what "graduate schools across the country began re-imposing a focus on the text" means.

Posted by: Miriam at June 3, 2003 07:52 PM
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Just realized I mistyped in my previous comment. That should read: 18 finished, 12 got t-track jobs, 2 got post-docs they're still in, 3 (not 4) are still in full-pay visiting positions, 1 never did an academic search and left the profession for personal reasons.

Posted by: Ted H. at June 3, 2003 07:53 PM
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To correct an error in my previous post: Fish is at U of I--Chicago.

Posted by: Miriam at June 3, 2003 07:55 PM
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Alex -- I'm confused as to the "function" grad school attrition, early or late, is supposed to serve (for whom?), but I agree that some amount of it is inevitable. I've said as much on my own dime.

Which doesn't stop me from also asserting that the amount of it we currently have is evidence of some hefty problems -- and not, as is commonly stated, solely in the student population.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 3, 2003 07:59 PM
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I just want to second BAA's comments about the importance of having experience supporting oneself outside of academia before going to graduate school, and add emphasis to his point about it needing to be a "real" job.

I was one of those "straight-to-graduate-school" types, and my only prior non-academic work experience was in retail (stock and fitting room clerk), summer temp work (clerical) and part-time receptionist/clerical. None of these appealed to me as an alternative career, and may even have helped push me further into grad school. Lovely irony, eh -- now I'll be doing this again this fall, only with a PhD dangling from my neck.

I also think the comments about knowing exactly why one wants to go to grad school and what one hopes to get out of the experience is essential. I knew I wanted the degree -- but not what for -- and I knew I liked doing research. Unfortunately, I spent most of my time getting professional experience in teaching, which I like less well (one reason I did want a doctorate was that I didn't want to teach in high school), and not publishing or doing other things related to research as a profession. I still deeply regret that it was a colleague of mine, not me, who wrangled an archival work-study at the campus library; I would have enjoyed it, and would now be more marketable for non-teaching positions.

Posted by: Rana at June 3, 2003 08:07 PM
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Let me add my voice to the chorus of approval for BAA's suggestion about taking time off to do something real.

On the question of early attrition, I think that it's important to recognize that admissions procedures are, though far from perfect, generally about as good as they could get without radically increasing the amount of work that would have to be done by both applicants and admissions committees. Based on the information that is available to you -- how the student in in college, a few letters from decidedly non-disinterested parties, a sample or two of their writing, and some standardized test scores (that are mostly worthless at this level -- you pick a handful of folks out of 8 or 10 times as many dossiers. Some of these people will turn out to really not be well-suited for a PhD program in the field. It's not their fault, or their college's fault, or the admissions committee's fault. It's just that the decisions about who to admit -- and, for the student about whether & where to go -- are at best probabilistic.

Moreover, it's very, very, very important that when there are wrong decisions like this, the system has mechanisms for early attrition. It is _so_ much better for someone to leave early on, then muddle through for a few more years and attrit (is that a word) late, or finish their degree and have a disastrous time on the job market. If you aren't where you're meant to be, it's best to learn that early, rather than later.

So _some_ amount of early attrition is a sign of a well-functioning, not a dysfunctional, PhD system. (Now, if 80% of your admits are leaving by the end of their second year, of course that would be evidence that your program is psychotic! But I take it that is extraordinarily rare, if indeed it happens at all.)

Posted by: JW at June 3, 2003 08:36 PM
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For Miriam, in blogging around on this very tangential issue (the original topic is essentially on placement rates in tenure track jobs for those who enter Ph.D. programs), Fish, I found was in fact Editor of Duke University Press, so given the facts as you outline them, the thing occurred fully on his watch, and he would have been expected to defend his version of events. An outline of the intellectual debate (in TLS) is at http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/boghossian/papers/bog_tls.html Fish does not come off well there, and I don't think it's a reasonable position to say that Fish's academic reputation was not badly damaged by that episode.

More to the topic, several individuals have commented to say that they and their classmates at Michigan and Chicago had no problem achieving placements in tenure track positions. To which one is tempted to reply "Doesn't everyone, darling?" Clearly this is what one would expect from these schools. However, a major point of this thread, it seems to me, is that among other things, aspiring graduate students are NOT counseled that if you do NOT attend one of 10 or 20 top graduate schools, your chances of achieving placement are much less.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 08:38 PM
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Two corrections to the above: when I said "blogging around", I meant to write "googling around", which indicates the extent to which neologisms are dominating the discussion! Also, Fish was Executive Director of Duke University Press, not Editor, though I believe the tenor is the same. Reference here: http://www.ehfop.org/press/20010821154151.html

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 08:53 PM
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"among other things, aspiring graduate students are NOT counseled that if you do NOT attend one of 10 or 20 top graduate schools, your chances of achieving placement are much less." Amen, John.

I want to add something to my earlier comment about early attrition. Departments & students need to fully embrace this idea that some people will end up in programs that are not right for them, but that it is NOT the student's fault. Such students shouldn't be made to feel like failures, and they should receive various forms of support (e.g., access to the university's general placement services in the nonacademic sector). Students shouldn't have to feel that they are admitting that they are of subhuman, knuckle-scraping status, if they choose to leave the program.

Posted by: JW at June 3, 2003 08:59 PM
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JW, I don't agree, actually.

As far as checking *academic* readiness, the current admissions process is fine. There are no checks, however, for cognizance of the process. There are no real checks for applicant-department fit (if you think, as I do, that most application essays are aimed more at *getting* in than *fitting* in). And, as has been plentifully stated and restated in this thread, there are no reality checks.

Now, how much of this checking departments are rightly responsible for is arguable, and absolutely should be argued. How much remediation departments should do is another excellent question.

I do still think matters could be improved, long before new student sets foot in department.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 3, 2003 09:04 PM
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Oops, JW, I was disagreeing with your comment-before-last, not your last -- which I wholeheartedly endorse. Sorry for confusion; comments posted at same time.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 3, 2003 09:05 PM
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The executive editor of a university press has nothing to do with the editorial policies of journals that press publishes.

The article by Bogossian focuses on Fish's NYT article. Bogossian disagrees with Fish's conclusions, which is not particularly suprising given his and the TLS's general orientation.

To conclude from this evidence that Fish's reputation was "badly damaged," when he remains the most famous (and best-paid) English professor in the country, is puzzling. Perhaps his reputation was damaged with those who didn't much care for him to begin with, but I don't see why this is particularly noteworthy.

I disagree with many of Fish's positions, but his position on the Sokal hoax isn't one of them. His contemptible article about anonymous peer-review might be worth looking into, if you're of a mind to criticize.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 3, 2003 09:06 PM
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JB, Since you're taking my comment in the obnoxious "Ain't I grand!" way, let me clarify that the point I meant to make is this:

If you have a really promising student, and counsel her or him to take some time off, and present straight facts about placement records (in my field almost always available on departmental websites), and raise the issue of attrition, I don't think it need be irresponsible to express some hope for the student's post-graduate academic prospects.

I've been having a long-standing dispute with several colleagues about this. They argue: never ever encourage a student to go to grad school. That strikes me as too cynical.

Posted by: Ted H. at June 3, 2003 09:15 PM
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Well, I guess there's a reason Geoffrey Skilling is the most famous CFO in the country, too! But ain't got nothin' to do with the reliability of his numbers!

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 09:17 PM
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Dorothea,

As someone who sits on PhD admissions committees, and will probably do a fair bit of grad student advising down the line, I would be sincerely interested to know what sorts of changes could be made to help check 'fit' -- which I absolutely agree would be a great thing to be able to check.

Part of the problem here is, as you noted, the applicant has every incentive to jimmy their application so that they _look_ like they fit, even if they won't, really. Other than aggressively calling the student's letter-writers on the phone or some such, I'm not sure what to do about this. Perhaps departments could make sure that they are more fully honest in their own webvertising (e.g., make sure that folks who haven't researched in philosophy of mind since 1965 are not listed with a domain of philosophy of mind, etc.).

Part of the problem is also that for a great many students, there just is no information out there to help with the fit-decision beyond helping with the basic academic-readiness-decision. We do look seriously at things like, has this student taken numerous upper-level courses & thrived in them? But mostly I fear that no one is in a position to know how many excellent students will do in grad school by any better method than admitting them and seeing how they do.

But, seriously, I am very open to suggestions here.

Posted by: JW at June 3, 2003 09:31 PM
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Ted H., I meant my "doesn't everyone" comment to be somewhat lighthearted, because naturally I have enormous respect for anyone who completes a Ph.D. from a top-x school -- I did not mean to imply obnoxiousness on anyone's part. And clearly departments at such schools are correct to post their placement rates on their web sites.

And naturally there are those for whom an academic career is appropriate, and indeed there are some departments (such as music) at second-rate schools like USC where you will do quite well as a graduate. But these are the exceptional cases.

The other side of the coin is the essentially exploitive economic environment of the graduate department, where low-paid teaching assistants make it possible for the university to function as it does, while their tuition credits pay the salaries of many tenured faculty -- on the cynical expectation that they do not have a realistic chance of ever achieving comparable jobs. THIS is the common case, not the exception. I note posts here and there from faculty who feel essentially trapped in this morally compromising position, and I sympathize. Some had to stay in 1933-45 Germany; some got out -- you'd have to look at individual cases to try to get a sense of the moral compromises involved in both situations. But I'm glad that's not a problem for me.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 09:32 PM
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JW, you're the right sort; just *caring* puts you above the pack. I do have some ideas, but I'm not sure this thread is the place. Give me a few days and I'll blog about it on CavLec.

With the proviso that I claim no particular authority in these matters; I've just fumed about it a lot. :)

In the meantime, I like your open approach to providing information to would-be grad students. By all means do that, eftsoons and right speedily!

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 3, 2003 09:41 PM
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JW, in light of my comments immediately above, I'm intrigued by what I think is an implication that admitting graduate students is an inaccurate process made imperfect by its assembly-line nature, and indeed the need to work with relatively large populations.

Unless you're at Yale, Michigan, Chicago, or Berkeley (or another such), then these large populations, whether they fit or not, are in fact lambs heading for some type of statistical slaughter, either in the attrition process or later.

Even if an admissions committee acknowledges it is making imperfect decisions, the 20 (or whatever number) students/TAs it admits each year are in fact, some number of them, entering the program with radically overoptimistic expectations. Their purpose to you and your colleagues will be to teach sections of intro courses, thereby contributing directly to your paycheck, and also to fill graduate seminars, thereby ibidem; their eventual fates in the scheme of things are much farther removed, and indeed a subject that is largely avoided in conference rooms. My memory of graduate students being deselected for specific reasons of "fit" was exactly one case -- and considering the economic need departments have for their students, there is really a disincentive to deselect.

I would be interested in your comments here -- what do you feel is the moral position of a typical associate prof whose salary is determined in part by committee assignments or teaching involving graduate students who have such minimal prospects of success in an academic career?

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 09:42 PM
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"The other side of the coin is the essentially exploitive economic environment of the graduate department, where low-paid teaching assistants make it possible for the university to function as it does, while their tuition credits pay the salaries of many tenured faculty -- on the cynical expectation that they do not have a realistic chance of ever achieving comparable jobs."

John B., This is exactly right. And it's exactly what I tell students as they gather their grad school applications. I try to Explain the System.

One thing I don't understand, though, is where the graduate departments who don't place their students are getting their students. Is it as simple as that a lot of students are not having the system demystified for them before they apply? Even nowadays?

Posted by: Ted H. at June 3, 2003 09:46 PM
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Boy, this is a hot thread.

1. Regardless of the question of whether grad students are "victims", or whether grad departments or academic advisers are in some way culpable, it seems that it's worth making an effort to get the word out that grad school is often a bad deal. People can then have better information when they make up their minds.

2. National averages don't tell us anything about individual schools. Fully-funded admission into one of the top 10 programs would be wonderful. Admission to a low-ranked school with a poor financial offer would be far from wonderful.

3. By and large the humanities are money-losers, and I agree with Chun. Someone committing to the humanities should first spend a year training for some moderately well-paying job (IT, Med Tech, medical assistant, etc. etc.) Only a small proportion of those who want to will ever be able to make an upper-middle-class living doing what they love.

4. Questions of status are big. It's touch and go whether someone ooutside the tenure track can really be part of the scholarly world. And most people want not only to do what they love, but live the good life too.

5. An relevant issue touched on only occasionally has been important for me. The people I knew who went to graduate school never seemed to end up following their interests. They always ended up accomodating themselves to "the field", and in a highly subservient position at that. Academics as a group seem to me to be excessively timid, to the point of paranoia, about sticking their necks out.

6. We ought to get an economist on this. What we have is a classic two-tier hiring system in a declining industry (humanities). The industry also is highly dependent on a large pool of workers who rationally should be finding jobs elsewhere. To the extent that scholarship (rather than just teaching) justifies the system, the future looks grim since the scholars of the future are not being fostered. Ao it looks like an enormous shakedown is ahead.

7. On top of everything else, major taxpayer constituencies (the religious right, many free-marketers, right-wing populists, neo-Confederates) hate the university as such. So when the shakedown comes, many will be glleful.

And if you've read this far, sorry for my long-windedness.

Posted by: zizka at June 3, 2003 09:50 PM
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re: the question of community college enrollment, I don't find the Citrus College numbers to be too terribly out of whack. at the community college where I work, our last stats are 7,479.41 FTE and 13,016 headcount (fall quarter 2002). that's spread over two college, military programs, continuing ed, and some contract work for the state, among other things. (cite: http://www.pierce.ctc.edu/whois/student.php3)

I've nothing to add to the other threads, but thought this might be helpful as far as real-world numbers. (interesting discussion, btw. I never considered going to grad school in English - my BA major - and now I'm really glad of it!)

Posted by: Elaine at June 3, 2003 09:50 PM
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To Eliane, an enrollment of 7479.41 bothers the heck out of me. Clearly there's some kind of a formula involved, and this raises questions. Someone is going to have to tell me how a headcount in the 13,000 range can be explained when major universities post these enrollments on their web sites: MIT (10,000) Vanderbilt
(10,000) Duke (11,000) Chicago (13,000).

The numbers you are citing just seem wildly counterintuitive, as if there is an apple and orange problem, which I strongly suspect there is. My problem is that it doesn't appear to be in the interests of the powers to delineate them.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 10:00 PM
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I just looked it up. Dental hygienists get $50,000--$70,000 a year with three years of undergrad work and no BA. (This was in Utah, a low-wage state). Some of the undergrad work is standard requirements which could be part of a humanities degree.

A 21 year old dental hygienist could work part time, live pretty well, and go to school or study indefinitely.

I don't expect anyone to jump at this particular opportunity, but it's just by way of pointing out that Chun's proposal could really work. The jobs I can think of are in the medical field because of my own history, but I bet there are lots of comparable jobs in IT, etc.

Posted by: zizka at June 3, 2003 10:02 PM
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JB,

Though teaching assistants are undoubtably exploited, I don't know of any place where they pay any significant tuition. They don't earn enough to live on in most cases, but they also aren't directly paying anyone's salaries (the profit from the courses they teach so cheaply is significant, of course).

It's the faculty's responsibility to shut-down a PhD program which isn't placing people. Of course, this would mean teaching more entry-level classes, etc., and it would also take a tremendous administrative battle. Thus, you'll almost never see it happen (even reducing enrollments is rare).

John Lombardi, former President of University of Florida, was on a mission to increase the university's national ranking by increasing the proportion of graduate to undergraduate students (one of the measures by which they are judged in the various ranking schemes). He wrote an article in the Chronicle defending this practice, which was not supported by faculty, in which he claimed that it was wrong for a university to deny someone the right to pursue a PhD.

This was probably the nadir, as far as administrative cynicism goes, on the issue.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 3, 2003 10:02 PM
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Also, JB, FTEs and enrollment are two different things. Some community colleges have high enrollments. This is, again, an easily verifiable matter of public record. Why would you possibly think that MIT would or should have more students than a large open-admissions community college?

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 3, 2003 10:09 PM
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Once again, Zizka nails it:

"6. We ought to get an economist on this. What we have is a classic two-tier hiring system in a declining industry (humanities). The industry also is highly dependent on a large pool of workers who rationally should be finding jobs elsewhere. To the extent that scholarship (rather than just teaching) justifies the system, the future looks grim since the scholars of the future are not being fostered. Ao it looks like an enormous shakedown is ahead.

7. On top of everything else, major taxpayer constituencies (the religious right, many free-marketers, right-wing populists, neo-Confederates) hate the university as such. So when the shakedown comes, many will be gleeful."

Tenure is extremely unpopular with the public at large. It's hard to believe it can survive much longer at publicly-funded institutions.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 3, 2003 10:18 PM
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Thank you, Chun.

Keep in mind that our college offers educational programs for two fairly large military installations, a state mental hospital, and a state prison, plus "Running Start" classes for high school students getting a jump on college classes. Almost 64% of our students are part-time, too.

IIRC, "FTE" is something like the total number of credits taken divided by a full-time load.

Community colleges are much bigger than most people realize, much bigger than I'd realized myself before I started working here. Our classes are *packed*, quarter after quarter.

I'm inclined to think that it's a variant of something THB touches on, too: waiting out a low economy, or trying to switch careers, by getting more education. (My last assistant was a recent graduate of one of our programs, who had been laid off from Boeing. Turned out to be quite a talented PHP programmer.)

Posted by: Elaine at June 3, 2003 10:21 PM
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Unless Duke UP has radically different policies than the U of Chicago P (I spent a year working at Modern Philology), I'm going to second Chun's position: Fish would have had absolutely zilch to do with Social Text (beyond acquiring it, perhaps), especially since the journal and its policies predated its move to Duke. Ross's reputation arguably did suffer, and so did Stanley Aronowitz's. Fish's career has had considerably better teflon.

Chicago keeps its undergraduate population small, even in the age of College expansion--it's almost entirely a graduate and professional school--and all of its graduate programs are highly selective. By contrast, a popular JC like Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa enrolls approximately 25,000 per semester.

Posted by: Miriam at June 3, 2003 10:38 PM
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Chun, it wasn't so long ago that every TA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was paying in-state tuition rates. I can't believe noplace else is running the same cynical deal ("remission of [whisper]out-of-state portion of[/whisper] tuition") today. Though I'd dearly love to be wrong.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 3, 2003 10:38 PM
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IA,

If tenure is unpopular with the public, it's because they have a distorted idea of what professors actually do. I suspect that having college professors unable to pursue certain types of research for fear of losing their jobs would be equally unpopular with the public, many of whom are under the mistaken impression that college professors, tenured and otherwise, don't actually have full-time jobs because they only spend x hours per week in the classroom.

Dedicated Randians should vote with their dollars (as do fundamentalists: witness Liberty and Oral Roberts, etc.) and educate themselves at the Universities of Phoenix.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 3, 2003 10:41 PM
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Chun, I wasn't implying that teaching assistants pay tuition directly, though tuition credit is typically counted by universities as part of their compensation. However, the same John Lombardi has discussed at length the economic value to universities of those required intro courses taught largely by TAs -- they subsidize other parts of the university especially the graduate program. This simply means that if Prof. Higginbotham teaches a graduate seminar in Victorian poetry, his paycheck, which depends on the enrollment from that seminar, is paid for by the cash brought in to the university by the TAs in his department (plus any public subsidy, if applicable, of course). Indeed, his paycheck for an upper-level course in Literature of Protest is also quite possibly subsidized by the cash income brought in to his department by the enrollment in intro courses. Lombardi discusses this at length.

The problem is that the TAs involve are accepting subsistence wages now in anticipation of better pay in the future, much as a medical intern might -- except that the medical intern has a much, much better chance of having the deal pay off.

Indeed, there is some moral eqjuivalence, I would think, to selling people real estate that is under water. You may say caveat emptor, but I would want to avoid being the seller in any case.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 10:41 PM
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Regarding the actual occupation of professors, this varies widely. I've known two professors of English who, once they achieved tenure, devoted themselves primarily to research in the area of yachting, reaching shore periodically to make class and office hours. No full time job here, sorry.

Others devoted themselves to cooking (English), sex (comp lit), pornographic filmmaking (English), I could go on and on regarding the productive research done by tenured faculty. The public is not incorrect, and indeed has a fairly keen apprehension of the possibilities embraced by human nature when given large amounts of disposable time.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 10:45 PM
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Chun, you say those who are opposed to tenure have distorted ideas about what universities actually do. I'm not yet at the point of being definitely opposed to tenure, but I do have grave concerns about it.

I grew up on a university campus and understand very well what universities are supposed to do. I seriously doubt if tenure is in practice providing much protection for those who want to do research which is unpopular *in the view of their influential colleagues*. By the time someone goes through 10 years of grad school and untenured professorship, he is unlikely to have a mindset that allows him to boldly challenge the status quo.

I don't think it is a good idea to assume that those who disagree with you on this issue are necessarily ignorant or non-well-meaning.

Posted by: David Foster at June 3, 2003 10:53 PM
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Regarding Stanley Fish's association with the Sokal hoax, I am just puzzled by one thing. If Fish had nothing to do with it, why then did he attack Sokal? If this was just a dumb move by some guys that work here that I didn't hire and I didn't know what they were doing -- umm -- why defend them? Why borrow trouble?

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 10:59 PM
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I have seen what John Bruce just described. Recently the philosophy dept. at my alma mater (bottom-tier urban U.) had an Oxonian visiting professor (home base New Zealand). After one-year of a two-year term, he returned to New Zealand, sending a blistering letter to the school newspaper. The gist of it was that the department was neither a research department nor really a teaching department; the faculty members were primarily invested in non-philosophical personal lifestyles.

That was probably around 1995. Oddly enough, I have very good reason to believe that almost the same thing happened in the same department still a (rather aged) undergraduate. The prof in question in the 1980 case left academia entirely and went into IT.

Posted by: zizka at June 3, 2003 11:02 PM
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What exactly, again, are we to say to talented students looking for advice? Beyond presenting them with the facts, I'm genuinely stumped. Here's how I just put my puzzlement in a post on my own blog:

It feels really wrong to tell a capable student to steer clear of something that was obviously such a benefit to me. Plus, a lot of my students strike me as smarter than I am, and much better educated than I was at their age. How can I tell a student who wants to make a career of philosophy and is aware of the risks -- and moreover is clearly smarter than I am -- not to give it a go?

And yet that just makes the whole problem worse, doesn't it?

Posted by: Ted H. at June 3, 2003 11:05 PM
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Ted H., what you do in individual cases is not going to affect the operation of the machine. The machine is sucking in some thousands of misguided 22 year olds each year, and spitting most out in disillusion some years later, having in the meantime robbed them of their time and just remuneration. Your individual advice does not affect this problem.

The problem is simply that a large number of graduate departments need to be shut down. As an assistant professor, you have little input in that decision. Some others, like JW, may potentially have more.

Some potentially influential observers may also be motivated by discussions in fora like this, which one hopes will go farther in the blogosphere, to work toward getting something done.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 3, 2003 11:16 PM
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DF,

Most people are ignorant of how universities function (most undergraduates don't pick up much about this and don't care to), and this can lead them to have opinions on issues such as tenure which they might not hold otherwise. The issue you address about self-selection bias is a real one, but it's an entirely different (and much less potentially grave) issue than exterior political pressure.

The question of fairness compared to the utterly arbitrary workplace conditions that most Americans face is real, but I can't see this as a good argument for moving backwards, 'free'-market arguments notwithstanding.

I didn't state that ignorance and non-well-meaning are equivalent, though there are people who understand tenure and wish to do away with it, for predictable reasons.

JB, on Fish--I imagine he contributed to the argument because he thought that Sokal's prank was receiving uncritical and harmful attention. I happen to agree with him about this. I wouldn't have published his article, but the editors were sufficiently impressed by the novelty of a physics professor attempting to deal with some of these issues--even if in an incomprehensible manner--that they chose to publish the story. What he did was fundamentally dishonest and much less of an impressive indictment of some fairly straw-like targets than it is sometimes made out to be.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 3, 2003 11:19 PM
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A bit more on BAA's idea of working before grad school: why not have graduate programs require that applicants work at least 2 years in a salaried position before applying?

More people would take vocationally relevant classes as undergrads; graduate school applications would plumment as self-selection kicked in; the bottom tier grad schools would disappear for lack of students; those students who dropped out of graduate school would have some work experience; those who stayed would be less likely to think of people outside academe as the underclass.

Posted by: ogged at June 3, 2003 11:20 PM
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A possibility related to ogged's thought is *requiring* one letter of recommendation from an *explicitly* non-academic source. I won't go quite so far as to require that it be an employer, because I don't want to exclude people who do Peace Corps and similar laudable things (that are obviously equally good or better at lending a mature perspective on the world). But something. From someone on the outside. You know?

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 3, 2003 11:29 PM
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Good thought, Dorothea. At the very least it would ensure that such students had some sense of how to network outside of academia (that fabled network all of us "failed" academics are told to hook into somehow) and remind the selecting faculty that there is actually a world out there with other opportunities for their graduates.

Posted by: Rana at June 3, 2003 11:45 PM
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JB: On tenured professors yachting and cooking instead of doing research - I suppose this is true of some. Maybe it'd be good if it were true of more. You've eloquently defended having spent your undergrad years in a sort of Animal House way; why shouldn't people who are essentially well-informed teachers lead similar happy bouncy lives that contribute in various ways to their teaching? [There's an admirable woman professor character very much like this in the Jane Smiley novel, Moo.]

But this isn't the academia I know. Unfortunately, most tenured professors do altogether too much research of a most worthless nature, grimly producing one book/article after another after another. Why else did Sokal go to the lengths he did? The situation drives all authentic researchers mad...

Posted by: chantal at June 3, 2003 11:50 PM
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Don't bargain me down yet, Dorothea and Rana! I had them working for two years and you're going to let them in with a letter?

Posted by: ogged at June 3, 2003 11:54 PM
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Ted H. -- I don't think one should necessarily think of this in terms of discouraging students but informing them. Ask them if they know why they want to go to grad school, and tell them what they can reasonably expect to find. Ask them why they need to go to grad school now and why they can't wait until they've had a chance to save some money, have a family, tour around the world, etc. Explain to them that grad school can destroy marriages and health -- not that it will in all cases, but that it is a genuine risk. Ask them how they plan to make grad school work for them and help them decide their boundaries and goals ahead of time.

I don't think anyone here is saying that no one should go to grad school, but rather that anyone who goes into it should do so with the same sort of care and consideration you'd use when planning a mountain expedition. A well-planned expedition can be an exhilarating, rewarding experience that will transform your life; a less-well planned one can result in dysentary and broken legs and frostbite, and an unplanned one can result in death -- even if the mountainer is highly qualified.

There was much I loved about grad school too, but it came at a pretty high price in retrospect, and I'm not sure now if I'd have the courage to doit again.

P.S. I went to your site to read your full post there, but couldn't get the comments to work. So here they are...

ogged: I wasn't thinking that the letter would replace the two years -- I was assuming that it would help prove that you'd done something "real" during them.

Posted by: Rana at June 4, 2003 12:05 AM
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For chantal, one thing I've been thinking through on this and another academic blog is the different expectations we ought to have of students vs. the adults who run a university. The undergraduate educational experience, which carries with it a process of maturing into independent adulthood, is not the same as the expectation we have of a faculty member, who is presumed to be a mature adult, and indeed to have selected his career for reasons of serious interest in teaching or research. So to draw some kind of parallel between an undecided undergraduate and a tenured burnout case is, it seems to me, not valid.

But in my experience, the true burnout cases -- those who achieve tenure and then cease to publish or demonstrate more than a perfunctory interest in their academic career -- are numerous. I would challenge those who've been through the grad school mill to go back to their grad school websites -- or perhaps google their grad school classmates -- and examine the faculty lists at those institutions, and make a note of who's a burnout case. I suspect it will be a non-trivial total. I did this not long ago at USC and with my classmates there, and the results, to me, were astonishing.

This may be a reflection on the department chairs and administrators who may lack interest in weeding the burnout cases out. It's possible that ways have been found to handle this elsewhere. But the problem exists, and it seems to me it's major.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 4, 2003 12:39 AM
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I'm really enjoying some of the suggestions people have made on here.

Let me add another data point in favor of fully-funded "top-tier" program placement rates -- I went to one of those schools that keep popping up in your lists of shoo-ins, and I have friends at a few others. While my cohort and I didn't waltz into tenure-track jobs unanimously, I know very few people who did not manage to acquire a tenure-track job if they were willing to (a) spend a few years adjuncting, (b) move, and (c) stay in academia in the first place. Obviously, school reputation isn't everything -- there's reputation within the field, there's regional reputation, and there's the sad fact that some departments simply eat or cripple their young -- but it's worth considering.

As for learning another trade, that's what I did during my year between college and grad school, and I practiced it at intervals throughout grad school to pay the rent. It worked out extremely well for me: I gained a sideline career, self-confidence, and the opportunity to think through reasons for and against attending grad school. That said, I know plenty of people who've gotten out of school, tried to find a good, fulfilling job, failed, and taken that as a sign that they should attend grad school (which is precisely why they shouldn't; people who "can't do anything else" should ask themselves why on earth we'd want them in a profession where everyone has to wear so many hats at once). Simply mandating a year or two "off" won't always help.

Posted by: Naomi Chana at June 4, 2003 01:13 AM
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Naomi makes some good points, though I think the perspective from those who went to top-x grad schools and then got tenure-track jobs may be somewhat limited (there is, perhaps, in fact a "doesn't everyone" bias there, though it may come from merit).

Naomi and Ann Miller have said that those who finish, are willing to move, are willing to adjunct, want to stay in the field, and so forth, will get tenure track jobs. However, I don't believe this is numerically possible. The number of Ph.D.s in any given year in all disciplines simply exceeds the number of tenure track jobs available. The fact that a job may be in an undesirable region does not change the arithmetic that it is one of a finite number of jobs n which is less than the number of Ph.D.s awarded that same year x. In every year x will exceed n. These means that in every subsequent year there is a total x1, x2, etc., comprised of the number of new Ph.D.s plus the surplus from prior years still on the market.

A certain number of die hards will obtain tenure track jobs after some years of adjuncting, but in every case that person will take a position that will not go to current-year new Ph.D.s, nor to others in the remaining surplus from prior years. In short, willingness to move nor willingness to adjunct will improve any candidate's numeric odds of not being hired.

As an observer, it interests me that this "upbeat bias" exists among those who have benefitted most from the existing system. It does not augur well for the prospects of seeing the system reformed from within, however.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 4, 2003 01:27 AM
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John, you are da man. Sorry, just *had* to say that.

ogged, I'm with you on the two years thing. I just don't think we can ram it through anywhere. Whereas a single letter of recommendation strikes me as doable, and a reasonable start.

Though I suppose a few departments *might* consider requiring that applicants be at least two years post-BA. If they explain themselves, it'd make their applicants think, at least.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 4, 2003 02:17 AM
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I agree with Dorothea's comment about John B. I'm leery of presenting myself as "exhibit b" given that I probably have made plenty of mistakes in my job search, but let me say that being picky about relocating is not one of them. I have willingly applied to jobs in all sorts of places at all sorts of institutions, and keep turning up empty-handed. If I have gotten pickier over the years, maybe it's burnout, and maybe it's the knowledge that an environmental historian competing with women's history historians for a women's history job is not going to fare well.

Of course, it could also be that I'm a crappy candidate who needs more publications on her vita, but how does that explain situations like the one that occurred this year where one place was very enthusiastic about my candidacy -- until they had their budget yanked?

Multiple lessons could be taken from that, of course, but one way to look at it is that out of literally hundreds of applications sent out over three years, most of them aimed at positions directly relevant to my fields and interests, only one resulted in a potential tenure-line offer. Yick.

Posted by: Rana at June 4, 2003 02:41 AM
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Addendum: 203 applications, to be exact, all in the fields of environmental history, western history, environmental studies and American history. Results: 1 half-time lectureship, 1 2/3 time transitional position, 2 one-year offers, one accepted and extended on a part-time basis an additional year. Onward and upward, eh?

Posted by: Rana at June 4, 2003 02:49 AM
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For those who have said complimentary things, awarded me an award, sent me supportive e-mails, I must extend my most sincere thanks and good wishes.

Posted by: John Bruce at June 4, 2003 03:29 AM
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Great thread, y'all!

John asked me a question a few yards back, which I wanted to answer: namely, about the ethics of teaching in a department with a graduate program whose existence subsidizes my own existence. Basically, my answer for myself is that I am lucky enough to be teaching in a program where one can have some significant degree of confidence that our students will land jobs on the way out. So I don't really feel that I'm doing anything unethical. I am participating in a kind of bargain that basically works. (Though I acknowledge that part of this bargain involves my being willing to do some serious advising, help out with placement, not to be _too_ exploitative of my TAs, etc.) The ethical dilemma really arises for someone teaching in a PhD program that has much less of a chance of placing folks. There, I think you are really required to be very, very, very honest with the incoming students, about their odds in general and, harder still, their odds in particular. (If the best program that they got into was one that isn't placing, then I bet any honest assessment of them would be pretty pessimistic.)

John also comments that "Naomi and Ann Miller have said that those who finish, are willing to move, are willing to adjunct, want to stay in the field, and so forth, will get tenure track jobs. However, I don't believe this is numerically possible." I'm sure that he's right about that, but it's not quite what Naomi was saying. I believe that her claim was (correct me on this if I'm wrong, Naomi!) that those _who are enrolled in top-tier programs with full support_ who finish, are willing to move, etc. are much more likely than not to land tenure track jobs. Just estimating in my own field (philosophy), I think that there is not a big problem with the numbers here. The numbers problems come from the glut of graduate programs that really ought not to exist (I utterly agree with John's earlier assertion that many grad programs need to be shut down).

Posted by: JW at June 4, 2003 04:10 AM
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What I said was that, in my experience, graduates of "top-tier" but not screamingly dysfunctional programs/departments who were willing to adjunct for awhile, move, and generally do a full-on job search mostly eventually got tenure-track jobs. That is neither a prediction of things to come nor a statistically supported blanket assertion, and I drew from it the modest moral that, indeed, one's Ph.D.-granting institution does matter. (As morals go, that's one for undergraduate advisors to bear in mind; it's not helpful to most of us who already or almost have our Ph.D.s!)

If I had to try sneaking a glance at a crystal ball, I'd suspect that master's programs (usually unfunded, hence cash cows) will grow, doctoral programs in the humanities will shrink, with the weakest ones disappearing altogether, and people at the "top-tier" schools will still have somewhat better luck in a national job search than those from less prestigious institutions. I'm not sure I see how this is "upbeat," though, especially in view of the patent evidence here that many qualified scholars are still grievously underemployed.

Posted by: Naomi Chana at June 4, 2003 05:12 AM
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I haven't yet scrolled through all the posts on this thread, but I thought I'd introduce myself (I also posted on the old Strauss thread).

I got my Ph.D. in history in 1981, the worst year to date in the job market, and from a not very prestigious institution (although I had some excellent teachers). For reasons not entirely to do with the job market, I've never taught full time in a History Dept.

I never expected it would be easy to find academic jobs, and it hasn't been, but I was never under any illusions. Ironically, I would probably have been safer sticking with my undergraduate subject, classics, which was in better shape then.

I agree with the posters who point out that if you have to be forced to read scholarly literature you probably shouldn't be in a graduate program.

Posted by: gipsy scholar at June 13, 2003 08:31 AM
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ogged writes, "why not have graduate programs require that applicants work at least 2 years in a salaried position before applying?

More people would take vocationally relevant classes as undergrads; graduate school applications would plumment as self-selection kicked in; the bottom tier grad schools would disappear for lack of students[.]"

That's exactly why it won't happen.

We have here a basic problem of what's good for people individually (a tenure track position with graduate students, a source of cheap labor for low level courses, the prestige of having a PhD program) is bad for people as a whole (lots of people go into graduate school expecting good things that can't happen for more than a small fraction of them).

It is traditional in such situations for academics to point out the problem and then call for government to take the seemingly obvious action to solve it. So anyone for the feds closing down all graduate programs that don't place, say 80% of their graduates (and 60% of their incoming students) into tenure track positions? (averaged over a few years, of course)

Posted by: Roger Sweeny at June 19, 2003 08:27 AM
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This may be flame bait, but it's actually a discussion I've had with myself, so here goes.

Academics don't produce anything that can be sold, other than books read by other academics, and college courses to train other academics (something adjuncts can do cheaper). If they don't produce anything, who and/or what product is going to pay for their work? Even if you disagree with me when I say that they don't produce anything, you must agree that they don't produce enough of any sellable product to support their own existence.

An academic is paid for by charity (including government funding and private funding like alumni donations) because an advanced, civilized society is supposed to have some scholars, for whatever reason. (I'm talking about humanities here, the reasons for science scholars are obviously more precise).

The point here is that since a scholar is basically a charity case, there is no fundamental law guaranteeing that if the world were fair, every single one of them would be funded, from every apsiring philosopher to every lesser medieval german poets expert. Public funding for academics could be spent elsewhere, on other social programs for instance. (Or science could be funded in favor of english, etc.)

Most people pay some amount of labor into the economy that is used to build some economy product, and in exchange they can buy other economy products. (The terms of this exchange can be more or less fair.) Humanities scholars are a special priveleged class of people who don't pay anything in, or pay in very little, and still get to have salaries and benefits and vacations.

Who wouldn't want to be a humanities scholar? Intellectual freedom, freedom of what you do with your time and when, and you still get a paycheck, job security... the ability to be a tenured scholar is a privelege, and it is not surprising that the selection process is very, very tough.

The problem isn't that colleges exploit adjuncts, it's that too many wannabe-scholars believe they deserve the privelege of a lifetime guaranteed paycheck in exchange for the quality of their intellectual ideas more than the next guy, that they have some right to a sweet academic job just because they paid their 7 years of dues during the Ph.D.

I think that it's okay to want to go for the gold, that tenured job in a nice location, but if you are a mediocre scholar in a middle tier department, it's nuts to not have a backup plan. A tough selection process is not only today's bad news but something that is 100% fair and to be expected.

Posted by: Perroquata at July 20, 2003 02:25 PM
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Well, I think that if the public knew the quality of the current professors vs. those seeking their jobs, the average member of the public would vote to remove tenure and require the collection of current profs to compete with their students for positions.

I think Chun is wrong when he states:

"If tenure is unpopular with the public, it's because they have a distorted idea of what professors actually do. I suspect that having college professors unable to pursue certain types of research for fear of losing their jobs would be equally unpopular with the public,"

For the most part, the public does not value most of the research done anywhere outside of the sciences. Indeed, to the public it appears that most academics do not seem to value their own research (or the publication rates for academic books would be much, much higher -- at least print runs of 30k or so).

As for:

"many of whom are under the mistaken impression that college professors, tenured and otherwise, don't actually have full-time jobs because they only spend x hours per week in the classroom."

That is the whole point the public sees, and given that academics are supposed to be educating people, one would think that to the extent they have failed to educate people otherwise, those people are right.

Or not.

That is the real problem, the "or not" part of it.

Perception vs. reality. An area that calls for a much longer discussion than I have time for.

BTW, I went to diachronic and found only:

"So long!

Sorry: this blog no longer exists. I had a longish explanation posted for a day, then a briefer explanation posted for a few more days, but now (17 Sept.) I'm just going to leave this announcement."

Anyone know why he got rid of the explanation and killed all the content on the blog?

I feel like I've missed half the conversation dropping by there.

Drop me an e-mail if anyone knows.

Thanks.

Posted by: Steve at November 3, 2003 07:33 AM
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ok, i have read all of your comments, and i must admit i now feel a little lost. I am in my junior year of undergrad, and up until this point i always wanted to become a college professor. However, i was looking at most school's english lit grad programs and the minimum GPA is a 3.5 and i only have a 3.45. I never really understood how hard it was to find a professor position until i read your blog entries, and now im not even sure i can find a grad school that would be worth going to to admit me. Your comments said that you would reccommend students to find a job after graduation... well what does a classics/english lit major have qualificatiosn for? All of a sudden it seems as though undergrad was a period of glorified high school in which we are lied to about our chances of finding a job in the job market, because we dont gain true job skills due to the large numbers of professors who recommend that grad school will solve the job problem. I do not mean to complain, i just feel very frustrated and lost, what should i do now?

Posted by: ashley at February 17, 2004 11:31 PM
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Ashley writes: [...] what does a classics/english lit major have qualifications for?'

Being neither a literature nor classics scholar, I'll let one of the many here address that particular concern. But I would give you the general advice I give my liberal arts students:

1) if there's a economics dept., commerce school, business major, etc., at your school, then take at least a class or two there, even if you have to camp out on your college president's front door to get some sort of special permission. Or take such courses elsewhere in the summer. Just do it.

2) Do an internship, either during the school year or the summer. Use your school's career advising center to find a place or program.

3) Gain proficiency in a foreign language, and get some international experience.

Finally, look through the other threads on this wonderful site and ask yourself if you want to 'up the ante' by becoming ever-more narrowly trained in classics/lit graduate program, or if you want to start increasing your employability now.

Posted by: P at February 18, 2004 04:53 AM