Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Bad news from the MLA

The Modern Language Association reports that the 2014–2015 job market in English and foreign languages was the worst in forty years: fewer jobs than ever, and a smaller percentage of tenure-track positions.

In 1984, when I was job-hunting, the MLA listed 1492 jobs in English, 1442 in foreign languages. The 2014–2015 numbers: 1015 jobs in English, 949 in foreign languages. In 1984, the great majority of listings were for tenure-track positions. In 2014–2015, two-thirds of the English listings (67.3%) and half of the foreign-language listings (50.4%) were tenure-track.

comments: 7

Daughter Number Three said...

Remember how they used to talk about all the academic job openings there would be when the Baby Boomers started retiring?

Michael Leddy said...

Yes. I remember too that grad students used to joke about planes filled with MLA-goers going down in flames and opening up tenure-track positions.

That faculty continue to encourage students to “go on,” without making the shape of things clear, is intolerable. Of course, someone who tries to make things clear can be up against some pretty magical thinking: “It’s bound to turn around.”

The Arthurian said...

Michael, you're doing economics again :)

DN3's comment is anecdotal evidence that current demographic shifts do not fully account for declining economic growth. That contradicts the official story.

Your "some pretty magical thinking: 'It’s bound to turn around.'" reminded me of this:

Early in what became the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes was asked if anything similar had ever happened. "Yes," he replied, "it was called the Dark Ages and it lasted 400 years." -- George Will

Oh -- Happy New Year! (Don't worry, things will turn around. Eventually.)

Michael Leddy said...

The change in college hiring is best explained by the administrative choice to hire adjunct (contingent) faculty. Even if people retire, their tenure-track positions may go with them.

Michael Leddy said...

My goodness: I just looked at my comment again, and it seems mighty terse. Let me try again:

Yes, demographics do not explain what’s happening with the academic job market. The real explanation is the administrative choice to hire adjunct (contingent) faculty in greater and greater numbers. Tenured people do retire, but that doesn’t mean that their positions will be filled.

And despite all that: Happy New Year!

The Arthurian said...

Oh, that's funny. Your comment was terse all right, but I was getting up the nerve to risk it all and reply anyway! Thanks for the follow-up.
I often try to be extremely brief in comments and often, apparently, I'm too brief to be comprehensible. So it goes.

Thanks for the help with "adjunct (contingent) faculty". I was going to ask a few months back what "emeritus" means when you brought it up. Retired and respected, I think.

Did your tenure-track position go with you?

More broadly: Was there perhaps some change of law that made adjunct faculty an easier choice? Some change in the tax code that made adjuncting more profitable than it was before? I would want to hold the whole "supply side" thing responsible for the trend you describe. But I'm good at leaving out details.

Well I seem to have used up all my verbose. Thanks again for the follow-up.

Michael Leddy said...

I wrote up emeritus once I had time — after retiring. :) My position went with me, at least for now. There’s a hiring freeze that may continue for some time.

I don’t know of any change in the law that made hiring adjuncts more attractive to administrators. It’s just cheaper. Many adjunct positions offer meager pay and no benefits. Many schools have even cut adjunct hours to avoid having to pay health benefits. And still people will do the work. (That’d be a whole book: why people stay in academic life.) I’m sad to say that the discipline of English has contributed mightily to adjunctification (all those sections of comp).

As many people have suggested, parents touring campuses would do well to ask what percentage of faculty are adjuncts, and what kind of pay they receive. Those questions should deeply shame many an administrator. The MLA’s Academic Workforce Data Center and the Chronicle ’s Adjunct Project allow anyone to see recent data on staffing patterns and adjunct salaries at individual schools.