The MLA kerfuffle is hot on Twitter (by which I do not mean it is not hot in real life, but rather you can get lots more context if you go onto Twitter) and is centered on a bigger debate about academia in general. This Inside Higher Ed story highlights a lot of what's wrong and right about the debate. The main question in the story is whether graduate schools should shrink because there are fewer permanent jobs.
First, what's right:
He noted that the demand for instruction in English and related fields has gone up over time, and said that the real reason for a shortage of good jobs was that states have not provided enough money for higher education, and that colleges have come to rely on non-tenure-track labor to teach. While he said that graduate programs should reduce time to degree, he said that the emphasis of professors must be on "the broad struggle" to fund higher education at appropriate levels, and to create jobs on the tenure track.
Yes, and the point about state budgets is too rarely examined despite the fact that they are central to the number of tenure track positions. Their allotments determine that number in a very real way. It's not a simple question, but it has to be front and center in reference to public schools.
Second, what's wrong:
Purdy said that there are ethical issues with graduate program size that play out in different ways. There are ethical questions in "preparing people for jobs that don't exist," he said. But so too there is "an ethical obligation not to let a program disappear." He said that in discussions of fellowship awards, for example, he has reviewed applications from people who study topics that are only studied "by one old man in Heidelberg," and that this suggests that humanities scholars need to be sure fields don't die out.Oh man, this is all kinds of wrong, not to mention contradictory. If you encourage graduate students to study things few people are interested in, how in the world do you think they're going to get a job? Preserving such things should be sole domain of people with job security, not vulnerable graduate students. People looking for employment cannot afford to live in a bubble--they need to produce scholarship that ultimately will employ them. If they are asking to study in a bubble, then they need to be advised about how it will affect their ability to get a job.
That reminds me of the Inside Higher Ed report about History Ph.Ds. The headline was that the number of jobs had shrunk, but that obscured a much more important development, namely that interest in particular areas of History had shrunk relative to the number of graduate students.
|Field||Number of Openings||Number of New Ph.D.s|