“Is fictional construct designed to make you feel superior.”
“Will still do better than you on the job market.”
Not quite as funny, but also kind of genius. (Continental)
One more point about the Bloomberg article raises pertains to the plight of adjuncts. Though SNHU’s online program was initially supported by adjuncts getting paid the usual pittance, it has generated enough revenue to hire full-timers to do more (and, hopefully, eventually, most) of the teaching. This may be a way to break the fatal logic of the adjunct dilemma as it exists at (solely) brick-and-mortar universities. Not only would schools have the resources to ensure that many, most, or all of their on-site teachers are full time, but now adjuncts could still teach part-time, but do so more comfortably, without having to shuttle from campus to campus, which is a major drain on time, money, and mental health.
Of course, the true adjunct dilemma is faced by the teachers themselves, not the administrators. My fellow blogger Dan Mullin recently shared his ambivalence about going back to adjuncting after a hiatus.
My friend and colleague Dan Fincke just posted a reflection on his own journey through the twisted funhouse of the academic employment market. Dan’s energy and passion–as a teacher and a blogger–has for years simply dumbfounded those of us who know him; his efforts are über-human, and in this way he is true to the ideal of his favorite philosopher, Nietzsche.
Dan’s situation is a symbol for what is wrong with professional philosophy. In much the same way that Andrew Sullivan–one of Dan’s role models as a blogger–has led the charge in upsetting the conventions and exposing the limitations of traditional print journalism, Dan is leveraging the new medium of the blog to do philosophy in way that is accessible, interesting, relevant, and important for a broader audience. I don’t say “popular” audience because that carries the whiff of “pop culture,” which spells “dumb.” But today’s popular audience, in some parts of the country and the world, at least, no longer spells dumb. When academics turn their nose up at “popular” writing and venues, I think they have this 19th century vision of a semi-literate hoi polloi a world removed from the elite bastions of oak-adorned studies and sophisticated salons. But Dan, like an increasing number of younger academics, smells the rot and decadence that infects this way of thinking and this way of doing philosophy. Again, like his intellectual hero, Nietzsche, Dan is finding a way to do philosophy outside the confines of academic scholarship. And it should concern us that the 20th century was the first in which almost all the major philosophers were academics. I heard a talk recently where a scholar argued that philosophy has always done better as a parasite (gadfly?)–when it uses something else as fodder for reflection, be it new developments in science, culture, technology, or politics. Whenever it tries, or pretends, to become it’s own thing, it retreats into a sorry sort of solipsistic solitude, a cloud of self-important knowingness; a retreat fueled by fear and insecurity. Voltaire’s Candide is precisely a mockery of this tendency–Dr. Pangloss (literally, “all words”) is the caricature of this mindset.
What leadership looks like:
On Thursday afternoon, on Day 2 of the Council of Graduate School’s annual meeting here, Michael F. Bérubé was scheduled to give a plenary address titled “The Future of Graduate Education in the Humanities.”
“There is no way to talk about the future of graduate education in the humanities without talking about everything else involved in the study of the humanities,” he told a rapt audience of about 700 graduate deans, most of whom were not from humanities fields.
Mr. Bérubé opened his remarks by saying that every aspect of graduate education in the humanities is in crisis, from the details of the curriculum to the broadest questions about its purpose. “It is like a seamless garment of crisis, in which, if you pull on any one thread, the entire thing unravels. It is therefore exceptionally difficult to address any one aspect of graduate education in isolation,” he said.
Among the problems he cited were high attrition rates among graduate students, the many years it takes students to get their degrees, the need to revise the content of graduate courses so that students are prepared for jobs outside of academe, whether alternative forms should replace the traditional dissertation, and if some programs should be reduced in size or eliminated altogether.
Mr. Bérubé also noted the glut of Ph.D.’s in the academic-job market and the 1.5 million people now employed as adjuncts, with no hope or expectation of ever getting a tenure-track position.
“For what are we training Ph.D.’s in the humanities to do, other than to take academic positions in their fields?” Mr. Bérubé asked the audience. “What does one do with a Ph.D. in philosophy or history, other than aspire to teach and conduct research in philosophy or history?”
The great task of the current generation of graduate students and early-career academics is to answer that question–together. The university system cannot save them.
Lenny Cassuto makes one:
What if we reconceived the guiding assumption that Ph.D.’s are supposed to become professors? As the Versatile Ph.D., a Web site dedicated to alternative careers for Ph.D.’s, pointed out in a comment to me, “Recognizing nonacademic placements as legit communicates a much more positive message about the skills and abilities that are nurtured by graduate education. It affirms the value of the entire enterprise.”
But it also throws a bone to administration. If graduate programs were tricked out with nonacademic job training programs and workshops; if they forged partnerships with university career services offices, AltAc alumni, and administrators; talked openly about applying PhD training and skills, rather than relegating these conversations to the shadows; and/or incorporated internships and/or service learning into their programs–if any or all of these things are done, then graduate schools gain a competitive advantage. They can say to prospective students: “We don’t just place our graduates in tenure-track jobs. We prepare them for a whole host of careers in different sectors.” A healthy culture is one capable of criticism, reform, and adaptation–that is how institutional metabolism works. But as Cassuto points out, cultural change can only happen if it starts at the academic equivalent of birth:
That affirmation has to begin at the earliest stage of graduate school. Professors need to shape students’ expectations before they enter graduate school—which means more transparency about their career options. And we need to shape students’ expectations while they’re in school about what’s waiting for them afterward. Most important, we need to alter their training accordingly, to prepare them for the full range of jobs they will be able to get.
The system only gets fixed from the inside, granted. But I worry that Cassuto’s solution is only a rearguard action that eases the passage of the current generation of graduate students but concedes that the war is lost: admissions will be cut and programs will close, and “becoming a professor” will no longer be a legitimate career path.
In any case, if present trends continue, I think we’re likely to see three species of PhDs: the few Elites idling in Ivy Heaven , the many Plebs toiling away in Adjunct Hell, and the plucky, creative NACs who parlay the PhD into something new.