Hot Topic Alert: Granting New Ph.D.’s in a Job Market That Sucks

January 18, 2010 · Print This Article

There’s a really interesting discussion taking place on Tenured Radical right now about the merits of pursuing a Ph.D. when the job market sucks so badly and there is precious little likelyhood that newly minted Doctors of whatever will find a place in academia after graduation. Tenured Radical, aka Claire Bond Potter, is Professor of History and American Studies at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut specializing in United States political history, queer studies, and the history of gender, sex and feminism. In a post titled “Playing the Blame Game: Or, How Should Graduate Schools Respond the the Bad Job Market,” Potter writes,

“While I am deeply sympathetic to those whose dreams of a teaching life are discouraged and perhaps dashed by a foul job market that gets only fouler, I am entirely unsympathetic to claims by disappointed job seekers that they have been lied to and bamboozled by the schools that admitted them to the Ph.D. because they were not cautioned at the very beginning of their education that they might not succeed in finding a tenure-track job.

“In fact, I don’t know a single form of professional education that guarantees its graduates a job, whether the market is good or bad, and why Ph.D. granting programs have a special moral responsibility to do this is unclear. But on the job wikis and the blogs there is an emerging consensus that the jobless should have received a waiver of liability with the letter of admission (which Brown University actually used to send its graduate students in English back in the sad old 1980s, and most of us who knew someone who received one were horrified by the practice.) Resentful job seekers , in other words, speak in the language of fraud rather than regret. This I find astonishing, given that an hour of research prior to applying, or accepting an offer of admission, could tell any prospective graduate student what their academic job prospects might look like six to seven years hence.”

Potter goes on to argue (quite persuasively, to my mind) that Ph.D. programs should not allow graduate students to matriculate within three years of having attained the bachelor’s degree, Ph.D. programs should consider devoting at least one year of graduate support to administrative labor, and and that professional associations, particularly in history and literary studies, need to think about accreditation of graduate programs. A lengthy, fascinating and often heated discussion about the issue follows in the comments section afterwards. The full post is definitely worth a careful read, especially if you’re thinking about pursuing a Ph.D. right now (the discussion, while not specifically touching on the art M.F.A. or Ph.d., translates quite readily to that issue too). Related: Duncan’s conversation with James Elkins about the Art Ph.d. on Podcast Episode 191.

(Via @briansholis).