Canards about the University: “There are too many PhD programs.”
by Ed Kazarian
Consider this the first in a series devoted to pieces of conventional wisdom which one hears repeated in discussions of higher education, which strike me as deserving of more skepticism than they usually receive.
If there’s one thing that the current state of the job market proves, it’s that there are too many PhD programs in the humanities.
I think this is wrong.
I’ve got no statistical basis for this except my own observations, so it may turn out that I’m all wet here. But if so, I’d be very interested in having that demonstrated (especially since I’m rather unsure that there is enough data to do so in the current environment, and I’d love to see that data collected and analyzed).
In any event, based on the evidence available to me, I tend to think that the reason that there are more and more PhD programs cropping up all the time in humanities fields isn’t just institutional vanity, but because there is a need for all these PhDs—and not just because universities are doing quite nicely in many cases by exploiting the heck out of graduate student labor.
But nobody can get a job! Surely if a program can’t give its graduates a reasonable expectation of getting hired, it must be superfluous and its existence irresponsible, n’est-ce pas?
This predictable objection ignores—as do many, many of the surveys of faculty employment conditions that I’ve seen recently—the fact that not only do most of these ‘unemployed’ PhDs have jobs, most of them have several jobs, and are in fact teaching the equivalent of a full time load or more. They’re just doing it for crap money at several universities, to the detriment of themselves, their families, and their students.
In other words, somehow—and I don’t understand how this happens except as a case of what Lacan called ‘foreclosure’—we keep treating overworked adjuncts as if they’re actually unemployed.
Conversely, I suspect that if you actually gave all these multiple-instutiton adjuncts jobs at ordinary full time loads (ranging from 3-3 to 4-4), there would be something much closer to a shortage of available faculty in many departments than the glut we’re currently seeing.
I came to France because I received a scholarship to work on a PhD, and I never finished and dropped out. But it is thanks to all this philosophical work that I was much later able to succeed at the Agrégation in English and become an English teacher in a French high school. As well I give classes in the Law Faculty in Nice at the Master’s level in the Political Sciences Department. This of course is over and above my normal teaching load, and is counted as overtime. So I am a failed PhD who succeeded in totally transforming his life (I was born and educated in Sydney, Australia) by studying for a PhD.
It’s the Walmart model of employment. That’s saying something, and it’s not good!
[…] In other words, somehow—and I don’t understand how this happens except as a case of what Lacan called ‘foreclosure’—we keep treating overworked adjuncts as if they’re actually unemployed. […]
But you ignore the fact that many PhDs leave academia altogether. Without the stats, I’m not convinced that Lacanian foreclosure applies. From my perspective, the crunch seems to be that fewer people are going to be able to afford college, and so consequently, those “ordinary” loads are never coming back. They were artifacts of a system that no longer exists, in which higher education was considered more of an intrinsic public good and thus more heavily subsidized by the government, by elites, and by students themselves (by overpaying for lecture classes). I agree with some of the trends described here: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/feature/college_for_99_a_month.php?page=all
After finishing my Canadian PhD, I got my first academic position teaching around seven to eight courses per semester in English communication, writing, reading and so on (what would equate ESL and composition) at a Japanese university, and that was only for a pay of around 400,000Yen(around USD 4000 after conversion). So you can count the math. I am basically expected to teach a lot as a foreigner professor compared to the tenured ones who are native Japanese, but well, I left after a few years of work when I obtained permanent residency at another country down under only to leave it when the economy seemed to be in serious doldrums and savings were running low. If you look at the situation across the board in various countries, austerity and budget cuts seem to be the norm more than anything and PhDs ought to be aware that alternative career switches should be the norm more than a rare occasion. The average PhD program in most universities is however ill-equipped to teach people how to handle job searching and making your skills marketable to the realms outside of academia.