In-Humanities

I know Floyd disagrees with me on this topic, but I find this nearly criminal.

FEWER HUMANITIES COURSES, MORE PH.D.’S

(emphasis mine)

A new report says that humanities departments in the United States produced 5,891 doctorates in 2015, the largest since the numbers were first tracked in 1987.

Meanwhile, the chief market for those grad school grads, a tenure-track position at a decent school, has steadily contracted. Things just keep getting worse. The Humanities Indicators press release notes that regular faculty jobs remain below pre-recession numbers for the seventh year in a row…

… They spent six or seven years — all of their twenties — training for it. They logged two years of dissertation research and writing and can’t imagine throwing it in the trash. Most humanities graduates end up in adjunct or lecturer positions, not tenure-track posts. To walk away from academia is to admit a wasted young adulthood, to accept a personal failure. “I didn’t take all those seminars, read 500 books and 600 essays, sit at the feet of 20 professors, and devise a project of original research just for my own edification,” they grumble. “I want my rightful place in the profession.”

Each year when they receive the wrong answer to their 25 job applications, they get the message that the profession doesn’t want them. The feeling of betrayal grows. They did everything right—passing qualifying exams, writing good seminar papers, meeting with professors, filing a dissertation—but no final reward followed.

We can aim a simple accusation at the professors in these Ph.D.-overproducing programs. Why take in so many graduate students who won’t ever win tenure-track jobs? We know the answers, though the professors don’t like to voice them.

Prestige—It flatters professors to have a research profile, and graduate students contribute to it both for the faculty and for the department.
Teaching support—With graduate students available to handle freshman composition and language classes in literary fields and discussion sections (and grading) in large first-year lecture courses in history, art history, philosophy, classics, and religion, faculty members are free to teach advanced courses and graduate seminars.
Those are substantial benefits for a tenured professor. The only cost for them is the sight of graduate students doing the work and receiving little compensation in the form of monthly pay or a job at the end of their training. It’s easy for professors to overlook that cost.

…the humanities at the undergraduate level are not in a growth mode. Enrollments are down, and so are majors…

Where have the professors been while all this has happened? Certainly not on the front lines in making sure that English and the rest remain at the center of the curriculum. They have proven wholly ineffectual in keeping the fields strong and impressive on campus.

This is a case of people in a discipline failing to maintain it…

Is Resentment an Answer?

…But when they are told that the jobs went down again this year, or that the number of majors in their own institutions have reached a new low, they have no answers except resentment. It’s the fault of the corporate university, of careerist students, of a Republican, anti-intellectual culture…

This is to say that market conditions mean nothing to the tenured professor. He is immune to downturns. The only way he can lose his job is through an administration that closes his department, and no administrator wants that to happen on his watch. The steady stream of bad news for the humanities is easy to ignore…

(more at the link)

3 comments to In-Humanities

  • Magnus Caseus Formatis

    Interesting that that leftists are putting themselves out of jobs. Kind of neat to see what happens when the rubber meets the road, and these kids find out that, as far as real world living goes, their profs were seriously out of touch.

  • I would put “Humanities” in quotes. The way they are taught is the problem. Technical proficiency is a small part of civilization. Shit… Josef Mengele was a technically proficient doctor and Eichmann was an able administrator. Where did that get us?

    Assuming no one is holding a gun to their heads who cares? Also the idea that a PhD in a liberal arts discipline is only to be a professor is a pretty dim view. Many of those PhDs are vanity degrees by already wealthy people and CEOs, etc. so they can be “doctor so and so”.

    The society we have — which knows squat about classics, virtues (classical or Christian) and liberal arts is the society that has voted in the parade of dim bulbs since Woodrow Wilson. The “Enlightenment” has brought us (in addition to scientific and medical advances and political liberty — though with a poison pill) better murder; less religious faith and objectification and commodification of almost everything in life…. to what end? We live longer and emptier lives in large part. Very few people know how to “Pursue Happiness” as someone once wrote… but goddamn it we have proficient technocrats.

    I reiterate — the “humanities” as they have been taught since the mid 1800s especially — are in no way the liberal arts — those arts that equip a free man to enjoy and retain his freedom. But then, neither does a certificate for X-Ray tech or engineering or pharmacy degree — but they do equip us to earn money. The heritage of the Founding was under threat within 40 years after that generation waned.

    • Rufus

      Floyd, I agree with what you write about the benefits of a classical, liberal education and wish our modern University system was still structured towards teaching philosophy and critical thinking. Even hard core STEM majors like Chemistry and Electrical Engineering would benefit from adding some core, classical humanities classes and eliminating a few STEM courses. However, that is not the system we have today.

      When the job market for attorneys went on a downward trend about a decade ago the Bar Association started pulling accreditation from Law schools that weren’t graduating enough lawyers capable of passing the Bar Exam. Part of the Bar’s mission appears to be looking out for law students, and ensuring those who choose the profession have a reasonable chance of working in it. In other words, adjustments are made as demand fluctuates.

      There is no such thing at the doctoral level in the humanities. Humanities PhDs working in the field should be experts in that field, and know it better than anyone, including students wanting to pursue a career in it. At a certain level it is exploitative to take money and time from prospective doctoral students when one knows large percentages of them will not find work at the end of their tribulations.