Jobs in the Humanities

In his article, We Need to Acknowledge the Realities of Employment in the Humanities, Dr. Peter Conn of the University of Pennsylvania says:

To cite only the most recent data, the latest jobs report from the Modern Language Association indicates that the number of positions on offer in English has dropped 44 percent in just the past two years, from 1,800 to 1,000 —the lowest number in 35 years.

In addition, attrition in humanities Ph.D. programs amounts to academic carnage. According to estimates from the Council of Graduate Schools, something like 43 percent of the nation’s graduate matriculants never earn Ph.D.’s. To be sure, attrition requires more interpretation than job placement: It is not self-defining as a quality indicator. Not all attrition is bad. We should encourage programs to make judgments about students who are not making satisfactory progress. However, that sort of attrition is exceptionally rare, at least at Penn and the other places I know something about. Most attrition represents a vast group of unsupervised students who spend as long as a decade enrolled in doctoral programs before resigning (or simply disappearing). In the years before their eventual departure, these students provide a pool of cheap and disposable labor that administrators at all levels can use to subsidize the salaries of more-expensive, long-term staff members.

Perhaps, in the absence of jobs, our national 40-plus-percent attrition rate might be considered —rather ironically—a good thing. In most other respects, it bespeaks negligence and indifference on the part of both faculty members and administrators.

He also talks about why the jobs aren’t there. We got rid of mandatory retirement. Folks lost their savings in the stock market drop. Etc.

Very interesting reading.

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