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Fixing the Humanities Ph.D. 325 325

An anonymous reader writes "A new report from the Modern Language Association focuses on the decline of Ph.D. programs in the humanities over the past several years. "These programs have gotten both more difficult and less rewarding: today, it can take almost a decade to get a doctorate, and, at the end of your program, you're unlikely to find a tenure-track job." According to the report, 40% of new Ph.D.s won't be able to find tenure-track jobs, and many of the rest won't manage to receive tenure at all. "Different people will tell you different stories about where all the jobs went. Some critics think that the humanities have gotten too weird—that undergrads, turned off by an overly theoretical approach, don't want to participate anymore, and that teaching opportunities have disappeared as a result. ... Others point to the corporatization of universities, which are increasingly inclined to hire part-time, 'adjunct' professors, rather than full-time, tenure-track ones, to teach undergrads. Adjuncts are cheaper; perhaps more importantly, they are easier to hire." The MLA doesn't want to reduce enrollments, but they think the grad school programs should be quicker to complete and dissertations should be shorter and less complex."
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Fixing the Humanities Ph.D.

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  • Based on the summary it appears that the solution to humanities PhDs not finding work is to graduate more people with humanities PhD degrees. Law schools around the country have been trying that approach and it doesn't seem to be working out very well. Considering the lawyers have government buildings full of lawyer advocates (such buildings are often called "congress"), which the humanities decidedly do not, it is hard to see how the humanities could possibly bode better from this approach.
  • by Arakageeta (671142) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:47PM (#47181245)

    There is a new problem that comes with reliance on adjuncts. Departments rarely monitor the performance of instruction themselves. Departments make decisions on re-hiring or firing an adjunct based upon student reviews and evaluations. Left without recourse, adjuncts are perversely incentivized to teach easy classes and give out high marks---this helps ensure good reviews. (It also continues the trend in grade inflation.) Adjunct professors cannot challenge their students without risking being fired.

  • by erikscott (1360245) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:51PM (#47181291)

    The MLA's principal source of revenue is... wait for it... humanities PhD.s and their annual dues. So hell no they aren't going to call for a reduction in output.

    Historically, the sink for all those graduates was Law School. University education basically was Law School until individual "majors" started being created in the mid nineteenth century and the J.D. became a degree in its own right. Lawyers are in something of a unbalanced predator/prey relationship now, and it'll take a while to swing around. Meanwhile, your humanities PhD plus two semesters of organic chem will get you into any Medical School in the country. They like people with the demonstrated perseverance of a PhD in basically anything. The Great Doctor Famine is a good 25-30 years away (the GenX bunch, well, there just aren't enough of us to fill all those beds, and it'll be a while before the millenials get there to fill 'em back up).

  • Re:Because... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:04PM (#47181417)

    In defense of society, the handful of liberal arts types I know seem to go out of their way to alienate themselves from society at large. It's like, the more abstract, pretentious, and completely incomprehensible to the average unenlightened pleb you can make your work, the better.

    Draw me a nice picture I can stick on my wall. That has value! That I will pay for! The guy on deviantart doing MLP commissions for $30 a pop is offering more value to society than the (soon to be waiting tables) art snob and his artistically arranged collection of broken shoe laces representing our desire to belong that have been sealed in a wooden box so you can't actually see them but know that they are there.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:24PM (#47181631)

    Time to close Black and Women's Studies programs everywhere.

  • by sdinfoserv (1793266) on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:24PM (#47181635) Homepage
    If you think moving up the corporate ladder is about competencies, you don't know a thing about business. Getting a corner office is about politics and schmoozing and ass-kissing.
  • Re:Cultural issues (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sandytaru (1158959) on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:33PM (#47181723) Journal
    I majored in English for my undergrad. I quickly found that all literature was carefully supported BS, all my lit classes were teaching me was how to produce more carefully supported BS, and while I was good at the BS production I despised it and myself for doing it. I couldn't stomach it. It's a hot mess of group think.

    So I focused on technical writing instead, which was a good decision. There are not a lot of ways to BS in a software manual, nor do you really need to.
  • Re:market at work (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2014 @03:05PM (#47181991)

    Capitalism is already an ideological lens. Private property, intellectual property, contract law, the state monopoly on violence to support it all - it's all a constructed system and highly ideological. So we already have "people who think they know the direction society should take", and they are the current people with power and wealth who are in charge. And of course, they are organizing things to accumulate more and more wealth by dispossessing it from other people - which has been the whole capitalist project all along. Vast amounts of land was dispossessed from the commons by force a few hundred years ago, and now we have the rule of "private property" - which most people never wanted. So now you have to get into massive debt to use a small piece of land that is really your birthright. The whole system is based on wholesale theft. These types of dispossessions are still going on in Africa, where land is being taken away from the commons by force. Same with all the infrastructure that was built up throughout the 20th century through massive public investment which has now been "privatized" and the rentier classes are making fat profits by just squatting on these resources and charging other people to use them. Millions of people are dying right now because of these policies because resources are being hoarded by a small number of people and don't get to where they are needed (food, water, medicine). So your beloved capitalist system is murdering "millions upon millions of innocent people" as we speak, and you still seem to think it's working well. Science and engineering are amazing, but they only serve the interests of the ruling ideology - they can't fix the world's problems on their own. Unless they are oriented towards actually doing good for society they are just going to keep (for the most part) producing junk that makes more money for rich people. And the humanities seems to be the only place that is still nurturing and transmitting some sort of resistance to this failed system.

The F-15 Eagle: If it's up, we'll shoot it down. If it's down, we'll blow it up. -- A McDonnel-Douglas ad from a few years ago