Just when I though I was out…

10 01 2010

I really had no intention of going back to the subject of the job market again, but this HNN summary of a session at the AHA in San Diego yesterday is a perfect illustration of the critique I’ve been trying to make for the last few days:

At a panel this morning entitled “Whither History PhD Programs? The Education of Historians Report after Five Years,” NYU’s Thomas Bender, one of the authors of the original report, said that the job crisis was not really a crisis at all, but a the result of “a thirty year structural problem” in the academy, and that the crisis of reduced funding for public universities, so dramatically illustrated by the University of California system last year, has been in progress since the 1980s.

That, of course, is the same as Marc’s argument (with which I still agree) but there’s more!:

Despite the recommendations in his 2004 report, basic information about graduate programs – like the percentage of students who successfully find work – is still not collected by universities, and that “this is information all the more vital because of the high stakes” for graduate students. Students need to be given the honest facts about the historical profession and prospects for job placement.

And why would you need to give students “the honest facts?” Not because it’s necessarily going to solve the problems with jobs for historians, but because it’s the right thing to do. Yet if the job market really is as bad as Bender’s figures suggest, you gotta wonder if it might help change the market too:

“The percentage of PhDs in history,” according to Professor Bender, “who end up in academic positions is two-thirds to three-fourths,” a figure which means anywhere from 25-33% of history PhDs work outside of academia.

Based on this summary, Bender isn’t differentiating between academic positions. What percentage of that two-thirds to three-fourths are adjunct or off the tenure track? You know it has to be huge. And like the unemployment numbers on the national level, they probably ignore people who stop looking. [I’d also be curious to know if Bender used AHAs numbers to get those figures.]

And I certainly agree with this sentiment:

Very little attention is paid by academic historians, the people who are responsible for training new PhDs, to this reality. “The master-apprentice system is not a good model,” said Professor Bender, because it encourages students to view their careers as failures if they do not find a position at a top tier research university. As major research universities only account for about 30% of the job market, this is a statistical impossibility.

I wonder if the whole demand/supply thing everybody has been arguing about is a false dichotomy. Limiting supply follows logically from lousy demand, assuming the people who control the market have any ethics whatsoever.

After all, isn’t selling someone an education that likely will never pay for itself the same as selling them a mortgage that they can never repay? And we all know how that worked out.



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