Related Story: Finishing Grad School 11/24/1998
FRESNO DESK - Think the job market is tight? Think you need more education to get a better job? Maybe you should take a good look at the continuing weakness in the job market for Ph.D.'s. Especially in fields like the Humanities, jobs are simply not available, even for holders of the highest academic degrees. This was the subject of Saturday's annual meeting of the American Studies Association in Seattle.
Academics from universities were challenged as to whether it was ethical for doctoral programs to continue to produce new Ph.D.'s, while others suggested that the "crisis" in the academic job market had been manufactured.
Gregory S. Jay, a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, said there was an "inherent conflict" between the shrinking job market for Ph.D.'s in the humanities and the "tremendous pressure" that campus administrators are placing on departments to expand doctoral enrollments in order to use teaching assistants as "cheap labor."
"No one wants to face up to the contradictions of that," Mr. Jay said. "The paperwork we get says: Admit more. Admit more. Admit more. And the newsletters we get from disciplinary groups say: There are no jobs. There are no jobs. There are no jobs."
Ellen Messer-Davidow, a professor of English at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus, said the job market had been depressed not only in the humanities, but in many of the social sciences as well. She suggested that researchers in those fields may be at least partly to blame for their predicament by producing research that is not viewed as "useful knowledge."
"I'm not saying no one should do pure research, theoretical research," she said. "But we need to think about reorienting our research to real-world problems."
Annette Kolodny, former dean of humanities at the University of Arizona and now head of its Program in Comparative Cultural and Literary Studies, suggested that the job-market crisis had been "manufactured."
"If current enrollments continue, we are looking at an addition of three million students between now and 2017," she said. "And if the cohort of students increases, then that three million would explode. In addition, professors are now largely gray and over 50. Large numbers of us are about to retire." Those two trends, Ms. Kolodny said, mean that more Ph.D.'s will be needed, not fewer. Members of the public and state lawmakers, she said, must be made aware of those facts.
"I find it enormously disturbing that no one is planning for that day," she said.
In addition, she questioned why departments seemed to be shutting down the Ph.D. pipeline just as members of minority groups were making a significant entrance into the profession.
A lack of Ph.D.'s, Ms. Kolodny said, will lead legislators to turn to distance learning and technology even more than they already have.
"This is not going to happen at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and the other elite universities," she said. "It's going to take place at the public institutions."
For the many Ph.D.'s who have been unable to secure tenure-track positions, however, the suggestion that there is no dearth of jobs may fall flat. Ms. Kolodny noted that every one of her graduate students was either tenured or in a tenure-track job. But she had no specific suggestions for the many Ph.D.'s who have not secured such plums.
"I want to say to those people they need to find a way to survive, and to become politically active voices," Ms. Kolodny concluded.