The academic job market philosopher’s stone.

20 01 2010

Louis Menand has a new book out about higher education. The first article I saw about it is in Slate. I can honestly say that no more than three sentences in that entire piece made any sense to me at all. As Menand’s interview with NPR (via Historiann) actually does make sense, I’m guessing that incoherence is primarily the responsibility of the Slate reporter rather than Menand himself.

Unfortunately, when Menand presents himself coherently it still gives me no desire to read the book. I’ll second Historiann’s hostility towards the analogy between professors and doctors, but this is the quote that really got me:

There have been several studies, long-term studies, of career outcomes of people who’ve gotten PhDs. And one of those studies showed that of people who got PhDs in English – and only about half the people who enroll in graduate programs in English actually get the PhD – only five percent of those ended up teaching in research universities, which is really what we’re training our students to do.

So there’s a real disjunction between the training students receive to become research scholars and the kind of teaching that most of them will end up doing, which don’t involve training graduate students and generally don’t involve a huge amount of research. But they still need the PhD to get those jobs.

I think Menand wants to turn lead into gold. Let’s say he’ll wave a magic wand and “POOF!;” you no longer need a Ph.D. to teach in the humanities at a non-research institution. That would still mean that there are too many people entering graduate school and not enough jobs for them when they complete their masters degrees. Continuing with Marc Bousquet’s favorite side of the equation, an increasing number of those jobs will still stink. And don’t you think people will start getting their Ph.D.s to impress hiring committees for non-research jobs so as to differentiate themselves from everyone else?

In short, based on the perceived problem that comes up the most in these two pieces, Menand wouldn’t change the supply side or the demand side of the academic labor market. He’d just shorten the time between when you buy your graduate school lottery ticket and when they draw the numbers on TV. That doesn’t sound like real reform to me.



2 responses

20 01 2010

Jonathan–you don’t think it’s better to buy scratchies instead of waiting for the Powerball drawing on Saturday night? Failure at a faster speed doesn’t seem like such a Great Leap Forward now, does it?

Congratulations on your book!

1 02 2010
The exploitation of humanities graduate students is not a conspiracy. « More or Less Bunk

[…] exploitation of humanities graduate students is not a conspiracy. 1 02 2010 I continue to be unimpressed by everything I’ve read about Louis Menand’s new book on higher […]

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