Too Many Docs on the Dance Floor

I, along with all members of the Society of Biblical Literature, received this information in an email from the Executive Director this week:

The Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) has released the results of its Fall 2010 Survey of Contingent Faculty Members, Instructors, and Researchers. The survey inquired about course assignments, salaries, benefits, and general working conditions as members of the contingent academic workforce experience them at the institutional level….

CAW is a group of higher education associations, disciplinary associations, and faculty organizations committed to addressing issues associated with deteriorating faculty working conditions and their effect on college and university students in the United States. When faculty members are not sufficiently supported, they are not able to provide students with the highest quality learning experience. The survey finds that faculty employed in contingent positions are not provided with the support resources necessary to excel and consistently provide such a learning experience for their students. Faculty employed part-time and paid the low wages documented in this report would likely need to find some other means for supporting themselves, which takes time and energy away from their teaching and interaction with students. Moreover, while the survey primarily addressed material working conditions, comments received at the end of the survey confirm the common belief that such faculty operate under inordinate stress and uncertainty, often self-censor in various ways out of a fear of repercussions or losing their jobs, and are left out of governance discussions that affect them.

These problems pervade higher education. According to data from the United States Department of Education’s 2009 Fall Staff Survey, of the nearly 1.8 million faculty members and instructors who made up the 2009 instructional workforce in degree-granting two- and four-year institutions of higher education in the United States, more than 1.3 million (75.5%) were employed in contingent positions off the tenure track, either as part-time or adjunct faculty members, full-time non-tenure-track faculty members, or graduate student teaching assistants….

Dr. Kutsko obviously considers this news disturbing, given the goals of the Society and other academic professional organizations. It is certainly disheartening for an aspiring academic professional such as myself. Many other scholars/bloggers have offered advice about the perils of graduate education in biblical studies (and the humanities generally) and the job situation: Peter Enns and James K.A. Smith, for a start.

Yet this problem–too many PhDs and not enough jobs–seems to be both obvious and unavoidable. It’s simple math: a professor who supervises three doctoral candidates at a time, and graduates one every year for 25 years as a tenured professor, will produce 25 candidates for his one job when he retires. One of them will be hired onto the tenure track, while the other 24 will wander the country, adjuncting here and there, writing articles and presenting at conferences, eventually giving up at age forty and going into another industry.

I think that we’ve subsidized education too much and for too long. I believe in liberal education, but there is no reason why we need so many intelligent people pursuing PhDs in the humanities. They could be doing something else productive for society. We need college professors, but not that many. I say this as someone who will probably be part of the 75.5% described above who will be left out of the tenure track: this is a foolish system. As much as it pains me to say, let’s get gov’t out of the business of humanities education and let the market determine how many English, history and Bible PhDs we need.

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
This entry was posted in Culture-Economics-Society, Research. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Too Many Docs on the Dance Floor

  1. Pingback: Academics as Global Missions | think hard, think well

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