Friday, February 9, 2018

Academic futures

Behind the Chronicle of Higher Education paywall, Sharon O’Dair writes about “Shamelessness and Hypocrisy at the MLA.” What she found at the Modern Language Association’s 2018 convention: a profession that produces too many Ph.D.s, and then encourages those degree recipients to seek a future outside academia:

If the way to a career with a Ph.D. in English is to take one-third of an M.B.A. program, why not take the M.B.A., a mere two years, rather than the six or eight years for a Ph.D. in English? Why spend all those years studying slave narratives, if your digital-humanities work is going to get you a career in an IT department? #Opportunity-Cost, if you want to get businesslike about it.

Who benefits from the overproduction of Ph.D.s? Colleges, whose budgets depend on inexpensive teaching labor. This overproduction also serves the interests of tenured faculty members, whose lives are cushioned by reduced teaching loads and research help. John Guillory’s dour judgment in 1996 that "graduate education appears now to be a kind of pyramid scheme" still strikes at the heart of the question.
I’ll quote from a post I wrote about academic futures: “the very telos of doctoral study in the humanities is a life of teaching and scholarship on the tenure-track. That’s what grad school is supposed to be for.” But a tenure-track position in the humanities is an ever-diminishing possibility. And it’s doubtful that the years of work required for a doctorate in the humanities are sensible preparation for any other career.

I’ll quote myself again: “Imagine going to medical school when the odds are slim that you’ll ever practice.”

comments: 4

misterbagman said...

One of the smartest decisions I ever made was to forgo graduate study in Russian literature. One of the dumbest decisions I ever made was to go to law school instead.

Michael Leddy said...

I think that sums up the dilemma. I sometimes wondered whether I should have gone to law school, but in retrospect, I think I made the right choice.

Slywy said...

Is "shamlessness" a typo in their headline or intentional?

Michael Leddy said...

My typo, now corrected.