U.S. Intellectual History Blog

This Means You: Some Thoughts on the Job Market

In my overlapping social, social media, and professional networks, there are a couple of “economics of higher education” stories rattling around: the abysmal but utterly unsurprising job market report from the AHA, and the House-approved (but not yet Senate-approved) Federal budgetary plan to treat graduate tuition stipends as actual income and tax them accordingly.

Obviously, taxing graduate stipends as income would put a graduate education even further out of reach for all but the most affluent students or the students with the most robust and extensive external support networks.  It would make a graduate education for first-generation students and working-class students impossibly unaffordable, except perhaps by taking on impossible levels of debt.

Please understand:  this isn’t some inadvertent side-effect of the budget bill; it’s a goal.  I have been harping and carping at this blog about the neoliberal assault on higher education for years.  It’s not simple anti-intellectualism on the part of our duly-elected representatives, though anti-intellectualism has certainly been strategically packaged and sold to our electorate for decades.  No, this budget is a perfect example of “rent-seeking” behavior:  levying higher taxes on those who are less financially secure in order to help pay for lowering taxes for the wealthiest citizens.

It’s not enough for these moochers to shift more and more of the cost burden for higher education – something once considered a public good, a strategic benefit to the United States, and an obvious engine of economic growth and rising prosperity – to individual students and their families.  Now they want graduate students to pay an income tax on financial aid that comes not in the form of income, but in the form of reduced or forgiven tuition.  Instead of making the pursuit of knowledge available to people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and income levels, this plan deliberately narrows access to the opportunity to pursue intellectual inquiry in a formal educational setting to a terminal degree.  I guess that’s one way to keep out the riffraff.

Still, some of the riffraff sneak through and manage to get PhDs anyhow.  Some students from disadvantaged backgrounds land full funding at top tier PhD programs straight out of college.  Some PhD students go back to school later in life, after years in a different line of work, and are able to cover their house payments or their healthcare payments through early retirement or a pension plan or severance pay.  Some of them have spousal support, or parental support. Some of them have to moonlight while they go to school. Some of them just take on incredible amounts of debt.

Of all those scenarios, only the last two are problematic, because that suggests that the university is not providing adequate support for its graduate students, whatever their destiny is to be after they graduate.  So at the very least, universities should provide support all current graduate students with a living wage and full benefits, and should expect to continue that approach with any future graduate students admitted to their programs.

Meanwhile, some people are talking about cutting or closing “unnecessary” Phd programs.  To those people, I would like to say:  unnecessary to whom?  Unnecessary for what?  And who will make that judgment?

Get you a PhD where they have Cajun food.

Are Stanford, Harvard, Penn, Cal, Wisconsin, and, I dunno, The Johns Hopkins University supposed to be the only places where someone seeking to reach their full intellectual potential can study for a PhD?  Or is it okay if places like The University of Texas at Dallas, a regional R1-aspirational research university, have PhD programs?  Shall “we” just dial back the spread and accessibility of higher education to pre-GI-bill, pre-Cold-War levels, because there are just too many people running around with PhDs and “they” are creating an oversupply in the job market that “we” are trying to navigate?  Because obviously “the market” should decide how many historians or scholars of literature or mathematicians should exist in society! Yet what “the market” has somehow already decided, per those who make this argument, is that this number of PhDs should be roughly equal to the number of people who can expect to find jobs afterwards teaching in universities or community colleges.

Let me put it in really clear terms for those who are concerned about the “surplus population”:  is it a good thing or a bad thing that I was able to obtain a PhD?  Am I part of the surplus population?  Or am I “one of the deserving ones”?

When you start talking in the abstract about restricting others’ access to a benefit or an attainment that you have already acquired, you are on some pretty shaky ethical ground.  I mean it:  watch yourselves.  If you have a PhD and you believe that the problem here is too many people with PhDs seeking too few available jobs, then you should feel free to step out of the job market or leave your current position so that someone else who is seeking it can have it.

And if you want to start talking about reducing the number of PhDs, why don’t you start with Stanford, Harvard, Penn, Cal, Wisconsin, and, I dunno, The Johns Hopkins University?  Maybe the top 25 programs that place historians in something like 85% of the tenure-track jobs should go a decade without admitting any new students.  Would that have any kind of salutary effect on the job market, or on the discipline of history?  Maybe.

And if you have foregone the academic job market because it is not financially necessary for you to have an academic job in order to participate fully in intellectual life – you have a great job already, or you are not the primary wage-earner in your family, or you have an annuity to live off of, or whatever – that’s fine.  But if you’re financially secure, if landing a full-time job in or out of academe is not something you must do if you want any hope of continuing your scholarly work, you have no business telling those with less financial security that they ought to give up and try something else – unless, that is, you want to restrict participation in scholarly discourse, in or out of the academy, to only such people as can afford to make it a hobby.

It is certainly true that many people persist in the pursuit of a full-time academic job even after it becomes clear that they might be better off financially if they look for some other kind of work.  It is likely that some people may persist in that pursuit because they have been conditioned by “the meritocracy” to believe that those who have merit will find full-time tenure-track jobs, and those who do not have merit will not find such jobs.

That persistence to avoid feeling a sense of failure is not the fault of the people who persist in that search.  That is the fault of “the meritocracy” that has decided that landing a tenure-track job is the only measure of success for PhDs.

That bullshit needs to stop.

If you’re reading this, and you’re responsible for training graduate students, and your attitude is that the “worthy” ones will always find work in academe, and any other goal is less desirable, I guarantee you that you are passing that attitude along to your students whether you ever say as much to them or not, and they are internalizing it, and it is hurting them.  So if that’s you, here are two options for you to consider:  change your tune or quit your job.  That might clear a tenure line or two.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that people have other reasons for persisting in the search for an academic job even after years of unsuccessful searching, and those reasons are worth our consideration.  I know plenty of people who adjunct not just to pay the bills, not just to get or keep a “foot in the door,” but to pay forward their own education.  There are people who find a way to survive in this current, awful system, making less money and enjoying less stability than they could elsewhere.  And sometimes it’s not because they devalue their own labor – that’s what their employers do – but they highly value the work they are able to do and the population they are able to serve.

That commitment to college teaching even when the pay is poor is costly – it is financially costly, emotionally costly, it takes a toll on people.  But there are people who both count that cost and willingly bear that cost.  They may be choosing a tough row to hoe for themselves, but those people are absolutely not “ruining it for the rest of us.”  You can’t talk about them and treat them as if they were scabs, when there is no unity, no union, and no picket line to cross.  When I see the tenured on a general strike coast to coast, then I’ll start listening to talk about how the underpaid adjuncts ought to give up on the job market or quit en masse.

Let’s focus instead on validating the ideals for which some are willing to sacrifice by calling loudly and publicly for better working conditions for teaching faculty, but let’s frame that call in a way that makes clear how adjunctification harms students.  Professors’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions; professors’ work environment is students’ learning environment.

So academics must clearly make the case to students and parents and, yes, “the taxpayer” that adjunctification and the casualization of academic labor is shortchanging students, parents, and taxpayers.  Those who want to halt and reverse the casualization of academic labor need allies, political weight, some everyday citizens up in arms about the fact that students are being taught by part-timers. Call out your own institutions, critique your own practices – if you’ve got tenure, use it for something.  Hell, if you’re afraid to call out your own institutions, write editorials calling out each other’s institutions and state education systems:  “Oh my lord, look at how terrible things are in fill-in-the-blank-rival-state, where college students take seventy percent of their classes from temp workers. What a shame that fill-in-the-blank-rival-state is shortchanging its students by not prioritizing instruction.  If your kid goes to fill-in-the-blank-State-University, you had better get in touch with that university’s president, because your kid is being treated like a second-class citizen.”

I mean, what if the AHA sponsored a competition — $1,000 to the student production team that could come up with the most viral, tweet-worthy, shareable, compelling 30-second or 1-minute web ad about the problem of adjunctification?  That’s a lot of money for four or five undergraduates to split, and every single contest entry could be used to draw attention to this problem:  not an “oversupply” of PhDs, but a complete abandonment of the pedagogical mission that lies at the very heart of a college education.  The modern research university is about 125 years old; but the first and oldest mission of the University – antedating “knowledge creation” by a millennium – was teaching.  And to the general public, that remains the university’s mission.  Academics must leverage that public expectation if there is to be any hope for meaningful change.

Students and parents should be pissed the hell off that there are deanlets and administrative aides-de-camp sprouting up in the universities like mushrooms, while tuition is rising and students are taught by temp workers who don’t even have an office.  People who go to college expect to be taught by professors – and rightly so.  It should be a front-page scandal that state legislatures are reducing public support for higher education and state institutions are raising tuition while the number of course hours taught by tenured or tenure-track professors continues to plummet. (Yes, I know there are lots of front-page scandals to choose from these days — but we can do our best to make this one go viral.)

Meanwhile, what shall be done for those who got their PhD but who haven’t landed a full-time job in academe and still want one?   Here’s a list:

Stop judging them for sticking it out.

Stop talking about people as constituting a “glut.”  They are not commodities.  They are not an oil slick.  They are not a clog of hair and grease in a pipeline.  They are your colleagues and friends.  Quit speaking in the dehumanizing language of the market.

Stop judging them for getting a PhD “in this market” – as if you knew fuck-all about the academic job market before you got your PhD.  Don’t mistake your accidental good timing for some inherent virtue.  There are many things to consider when deciding whether to get a PhD that should have absolutely no connection to thoughts of a “market” of any kind.  Quit valorizing “the market” – that’s Stockholm Syndrome.

When your colleagues and friends express doubts about whether or not they should persist in the job search, listen before you speak.

When you speak, call out the bullshit of the meritocracy for what it is and affirm the evident and marvelous worth of your discouraged interlocutor.  People who are brilliant and creative and kind and giving and smart and knowledgeable are walking around feeling like failures as human beings because somebody convinced them that the only measure of worth for them as scholars, the only point of even getting a PhD, is to land a tenure-track job – and that anything else is necessarily less.  And so they are feeling like they are less.

And that’s not true, and it’s not right.  But when you talk about people as a “glut” or an “oversupply,” you just reinforce that lie and do an injustice to your fellow.  Stop it.

And to those who are facing the prospect of finding a job this year or next year or the year after that, in academe or elsewhere, what shall I say?

I will say that it’s not for me or anyone else to say what you should do.  But whatever decision you make in that regard, whatever path you follow, you will always have an intellectual community here. You belong among us here in this virtual space and in our real-world community of scholars when we meet at our own conference or meet up at conferences all around the country.  There is room here for your writing, and room among us for your ideas and your presence and your voice.

One thing we as a professional society might consider doing is to set up a mechanism or message board to help people connect regionally or locally with other members of our organization and readers of our blog.  We do that informally already, but we could be more intentional about encouraging local meetups or reading groups that will help those of us outside the academy and those of us inside the academy remember that we are all part of one larger community of intellectual inquiry.

And now when I say “we,” this means you, certainly, but it means me too.

So let me say “we.”

We are not a glut. We are not an oversupply.  The academic job market is not our fault, and it’s not our problem to fix.  We are not an accounting problem.  We are colleagues and co-laborers and scholars and writers and thinkers who have developed and are using the gifts and talents and skills we have, to the best of our ability, for the good of all, and we will continue to do so whether we land a job in academe or not.

9 Thoughts on this Post

  1. What a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I agree with most of it, and disagree with a bit of it. I’m going to focus on the parts I disagree with only for the sake of discussion, and because I’d value some clarification.

    (LD knows my history, but for those readers who don’t: I got a Ph.D. from an institution that really should have been prestigious enough to land me a job, but I didn’t get one. I spent one year adjuncting, two years as full-time contingent faculty, and then rather improbably got a tenure-track position, which I’ve held for three semesters. All of this gives me a bit of a heterodox perspective on the crisis of academia, for better or worse.)

    There is an idea out there — the late Ralph Luker, my provocative and exasperating friend and sometime rival, used to champion it on his blog Cliopatria — that academia should function like a guild system: work as an industry to identify openings, only admit people to the guild who fit those openings, train them within the guild and produce a guaranteed job for them at the end. This is an idea I have real sympathy with, because it would ensure steady jobs for academics within the guild while keeping those for whom jobs are unavailable from wasting their time and money training for nonexistent positions. I also have a friend who belongs to an electricians’ guild, and it seems to work well for their industry.

    However, your post argues (tell me if I’m reading you wrong) that academia is not like the electricians’ guild because a terminal academic degree is a gateway to knowledge and creative endeavor. As such, it’s not necessarily a blessing to exclude potential graduate students for whom there might be no jobs; one would be excluding them not only from employment consideration but also from personal growth and scholarly achievement.

    I find that argument persuasive — but at the same time, I find the counterargument persuasive. If I were advising Ph.D. students at a lower-tier state university, would it be ethical of me to accept students in the full knowledge that most of them would never get a tenure-track job? It is a terrible thing to devote six to ten years of one’s life and earning power to achieving a goal, only to discover that the goal is not achievable because one’s chosen industry can’t look past the name on one’s diploma. If I were advising students in that position, would it be enough to warn them of the likelihood that no job was waiting for them after graduation? Many graduate students have an inxhaustible optimism about their own job prospects, and will not believe such counsel. How do we separate the students for whom graduate education is worth the costs even if they don’t get a tenure-track job from those whose lives and careers would benefit from having the academic path foreclosed early on? Perhaps we should just tell them the options and the risks and let them make an informed choice, but many of these prospective students are just out of (or still in) college — what 21-year-old is mentally and emotionally prepared to commit to possibly throwing away the next decade of their earning power?

    It’s a thorny question, and one that I don’t have an answer to. But I think you’re asking the right questions, at least.

    On a related note, I’m equally conflicted about the idea of blaming vs. advising colleagues and friends who are involved in long-term adjunct work. Obviously we should not blame them for the brutalizations of the market. And there are certainly good reasons to be an adjunct long-term, reasons which are often individual to the person seeking such work. Nevertheless, isn’t there something to be said for advising someone in a bad situation to get out of that situation, and for helping them do so? This may be a bad parallel, but consider a person in an abusive relationship. The abuse is not their fault, and you should fight for your friend against your abuser. But at the same time, your friend is asking you what they should do. You wouldn’t be a good friend if you advised them to stay put, right. Your role is to advise them to leave, and to help them strategize and plan for how they can do that; and if they refuse, to continue to be there for them anyway and to hope they eventually make that decision on their own. Acknowledging that adjuncting makes sense for some people, it’s a generally abusive system, no? So why not advise people to leave it?

    Anyway, you’ve given me a lot to think about. I look forward to your further thoughts.

  2. I’d like to share an anecdotal story about when and how graduate school professors can err in identifying talent. I went to graduate school at the University of Virginia. One off my classmates was a former savings and loan investigator named Susan who was an alumna of the University of Texas. Susan wrote well, and was a frequent contributor in our seminars, who when she talked made cogent points and asked really insightful questions. Her advisor at UVA was extremely popular and is known as “a great guy.”

    The professors at UVA didn’t think she or her research topic was worthy of advancing beyond the M.A.

    She seemed to do okay. https://app.oxford.emory.edu/WebApps/Directory/index.cfm/view/208

    So anytime anyone tries to bullshit you about “meritocracy” or the “job market” and their effectiveness at identifying talent remember Susan.

  3. Very powerful post, LD.

    I think Jeremy’s point about the history profession as a guild, drawing upon Ralph Lukar’s ideas, is important here, but need more historical contextualization. If we try to look at the history field in its current formation, it is a sort of hybrid thing: partly a professional guild, partly a superstars-or-nothing thoroughly incorporated part of the neoliberal corporatized university of the twenty-first century, and increasingly a part of the “service” industry, broadly conceived.

    So far as I understand it, the current problem stems, in part, not from some oversupply of labor in terms of demographics (a 5.1 million increase in Americans enrolled in college since 2000, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_105.20.asp), but more from a manipulation of labor markets (adjunctification), shifting ideological struggles over what college is for (in particular a narrowing of what counts as “skills” for employment in place of a broad liberal arts education), the continual defunding of public education institutions, and efforts to “disrupt” educational practices for profit (MOOCs, testing, etc.). Just to name a few of the forces at work.

    What’s interesting is that there are other potential articulations (to use Stuart Hall’s term) of this hybrid form (guild, 21st century professional, service worker) than just the current dystopian, depressing version. One could imagine, for instance, taking the best parts of the guild mentality, with its pre-modern, pre-capitalist sense of obligation, and combining that with the prestige and value of knowledge-work and managerial skills found in the professional classes of today, and then bringing those together with the inclusive new and powerful coalitions among service workers that are beginning to take shape (as in the SEIU Faculty Forward efforts that link workers in higher education to a wider range of service workers in America and the world). Then you’d start to get some different horizons coming into view out of the current mess: both working to reshape the university itself as an institution and reimagining the intellectual and communities of labor and jobs that overlap with it but are not one and the same. To once again turn to Stuart Hall, here is not Marxism without guarantees but something like history without guarantees.

    I think your forceful calling of historians to account here is part of this larger work to rethink the field, the profession, the ethics we value, and the path forward. Thanks for that.

  4. Wonderful post. The issue is typically power and priorities, not resources. Universities routinely hire union-busting lawyers in the context of organizing campaigns by adjuncts, grad students, food service workers, etc. These lawyers usually charge around $700 to $1000 an hour. Think about all the potential TT lines that could have been created if these administrators had different priorities.

  5. Thanks to all for the comments. This is two weeks in a row that I have sat down and channeled something just shy of righteous fury, first keystroke to “publish” button, in one sitting — felt like in one breath, practically. It didn’t take but an hour or two after publishing before I had a Stanford alum in my Twitter mentions telling me that the excess PhD students are the problem, and that this “surplus” is what made adjunctification happen. So that was fan-frickin-tastic.

    But I’ve mostly just been blown away by the response to this essay, the number of times it has been shared, the graduate students and ex-graduate students and academics and ex-academics and alt-academics from all ages and stages of their professional lives who have said that this articulated something that needed saying — though certainly not everything that needs saying.

    I tried to keep this post at the “structural” not the “biographical,” because I think we can get lost in the weeds of our own or each others’ individual experiences and lose sight of the systemic nature of these problems. But I have written a post about my decisions re: the job market at my own blog, if you want to know what I’m doing on (or off) the market.

    On the ethical question of taking on PhD students for whom there are going to be no tenure-track jobs — that’s something that the professors who train graduate students will need to answer, even if they are only settling the matter for themselves.

    When I sat down to write this post, I was originally planning to tie in a third narrative strand — the theme of last week’s post, the #MeToo movement in academe — but as I tried to bring these together I saw that connecting to that issue would take away from the particular point I wanted to make here.

    But it’s worthwhile to think about the gendering of the precariate, the fact that most adjuncts are women, even as (because?) more women than men are pursuing higher education. There are two arguments made about phenomena like this. One we are probably all familiar with: when women enter into a profession in large numbers, the prestige of the profession drops (as does compensation) as the profession is feminized. The other argument — and IIRC Myra Strober makes this argument — is the opposite: when professions that used to be pretty much the exclusive purview of men begin to be open to large numbers of women, that is an indicator that the profession has already ceased to provide most men with adequate material (and cultural) compensation.

    Either way, the adjunctification of the professoriate goes hand in hand with the feminization of the student population, undergraduate and graduate. That’s something to ponder — as is the gendering of the genre of “quit lit.” It is, in my observation, authored almost exclusively by women, who either find it more necessary or more possible to demarcate and describe the distance between themselves and the system in which they did not find approval/of which they did not approve.

    However, this post certainly isn’t “quit lit,” and this post isn’t “don’t quit lit.” But it’s lit, for sure — plenty of heat, but also, I hope, a little light and some human warmth, which is so often gendered, but doesn’t have to be.

  6. A further thought on Jeremy’s comment about returning to a “guild system,” a thought I’d like to connect with my prior comment above…

    There’s a reason the profession (purportedly) left the guild system, and that’s because it functioned as a fairly closed system — closed against women and minorities. The phone call or letter from the advisor trying to place a candidate at a department where he knows of an opening has been replaced by the publicly advertised job opening and the AHA interview — not great, but probably a far sight better than the AHA “smokers.” In my archival research I dug up faculty discussions from the early 1970s at Stanford about whether *advertising* job openings might help the university attract a larger and more diverse pool of candidates. Like, “we should try running a job ad and see if that increases our candidate pool.” The 1970s are the key decade, and this has a lot to do with Title VII — more on that later.

    Anyhow, trusting the historical guild to pre-select only those who are going to prove capable of some day taking their place in it is trusting scholars of the past to predict the future, while also being, I think, a blast from the past. Each program has so many slots for admission a year, so there’s already a selection process going on. But as Brian’s comment above indicates, if it were entirely up to those particular UVA profs to decide, a leading scholar in the field would not have had the opportunity to pursue her research or land a job.

    One of the problems — and one of the reasons that many people feel so betrayed — is that the procedural steps of seeking an academic job have changed, become more “meritocratic” in the sense that posts are advertised, that there are committees of faculty rather than a single department chair making such decisions, etc, etc. But the underlying structural preference for certain progeny of particular schools, particular professors, etc, remains in place. People get frustrated because they are qualified for positions for which they are not a “fit.” And how much work does that work “fit” do to replicate the structure and the prestige hierarchy as it already exists?

    At the same time, you can’t fault hiring committees for looking for “fit” when it comes to seeking a TT colleague, because they’re looking for someone who (they hope) might spend the next 25 or 30 years working in the office down the hall, and God knows it would be madness to give faculty *less* say in hiring decisions. They’re looking for someone to help shoulder the service load, the teaching load, give a damn about the curriculum, do interesting work, be a decent colleague — all that and more. A tough call to make — so people rely on sorting criteria of various kinds, varying from hiring committee to hiring committee.

    As I mentioned at my blog, I have happily sorted myself out of several job categories (over the objection of some of my profs/recommenders), but that’s not a privilege that everybody can afford. And for those who must throw their hat in the ring everywhere in the hope of being able to land a job anywhere, the last thing they need is someone telling them that they’re a “glut,” an “excess supply,” or that they’re “the reason” for adjunctification, because “the market” is oversaturated, having “produced” too many PhDs to reabsorb. The very terms we use to talk about the situation shape (and limit) our ability to respond to it in fruitful ways.

    I guess I’m making an odd or conflicted argument: maybe one way out of this structural problem is to re-personalize the situations of those who are being crushed by it. I guess that’s just a garden variety liberal argument, which should be no surprise, since I’m a garden-variety liberal, not a Leftist. But seeing people as people, not as “a supply” or “a glut” — surely solidarity could begin there?

  7. Fascinating rejoinder, LD. One thought I have is that the people advocating for a guild system aren’t suggesting we return to the pre-1960s hiring system. That’s not how modern guilds work, as far as I understand it — not how the electricians’ guild works, not how the more guild-like process of matching psychology PhDs with internships works. A guild doesn’t have to be a good-old-boys’ network.

    The fundamental issue is that there are more job candidates than there are jobs. This is true of prospective electricians as it is of prospective tenure-track faculty. And in both systems, there are candidates who are weeded out from consideration for jobs (at least those with appropriate benefits and standing — there are non-guild electricians just as there are non-tenure-track faculty). The difference is that, for electricians, the decision is made at the very beginning. My friend got into the electricians’ guild when he was eighteen. Had he not made it, he could have learned more skills and reapplied the next year, in a process not that different from how the academic job market works today; or he could have walked away and done something else. But all of those decisions happened at the very beginning of his career, before he’d actually received formal training from the guild. For academics, it’s the opposite: we receive the training first (and spend the years and money necessary to earn it), then wait to see whether we can actually get a job.

    This difference has a number of consequences. Brian noted one of them above: the earlier a profession makes its decisions about who to admit into its ranks, the greater the risk of excluding someone who would end up doing really well in the profession. Waiting to make the decision until after candidates are trained should, in theory, increase the quality of the accepted candidates. However, it also means there are a lot of people who have sacrificed greatly, for the better part of a decade, to receive training for a job that is now closed to them. This is not something you encounter among people who can’t get into the electricians’ guild. They are disappointed, but they haven’t invested blood and treasure into a quest that’s turned out to be fruitless for them. The quality of the electricians’ guild members may be slightly poorer overall than that of tenure-track faculty, but the people who don’t get in are happier and less desperate.

    Now, you and Liz have qualified this equation in ways that I find thought-provoking. You argue that attaining a terminal degree is an inherent personal and societal good that can’t be compared to being trained as an electrician. I can agree with that, so long as graduate students are truly aware of their prospects on the academic job market. Liz also argues that the Ph.D. can be used to attain jobs outside the guild, something specialized electrician training presumably can’t. I take that point, but I think Jonathan’s post offers an important corrective: outside of some specific programs such as public history, the PhD is a specialized course of training designed for a particular job and only imperfectly suited to other jobs. Of course, we could argue that it should be changed to make it more malleable, and people have made that argument.

    But whatever you think of the guild system — and I’m undecided at the moment — it doesn’t need to look like what happened in the profession before the 1960s. As you note in your reply to me, at some level the problem with academia is that it’s a guild system that doesn’t realize it’s a guild system. I suggest we either formalize it or find some way to treat potential applicants to the academy more humanely — a goal I know you and others share.

  8. Thanks Jeremy. It’s fascinating to me how the three pieces percolated up separately de profundis and all complement each other.

    Here is the link to Liz Covart’s piece: The History Job Market and How to Fix It

    Here is the link to Jonathan Wilson’s piece: About That AHA Jobs Chart

    Each of us harmonized for a bar or two, but then each takes its own melody line and runs with it.

    To summarize…

    LDB: Adjuncts are not a surplus of labor; they are people who for deeply humane reasons seek a PhD and dedicate themselves specifically to teaching as the original mission of the university, and they should be treated humanely.

    LC: The measure of success for history PhD programs (and PhD recipients) should not be “a TT R1 job or nothing!,” but should be this: are you supporting your students in helping them find a variety of ways to bring their much-needed knowledge to bear?

    JW: Despite what a history PhD could do, what most history PhDs want to do is teach — something of a minor miracle, given the fact that undergraduate instruction has been so shortsightedly devalued by the academy; if the profession as a whole continues to treat teaching as something to be offloaded to temp workers, it will further undermine any remaining support for the purpose of a university or a tenured professoriate.

    All these three interventions speak to different components of the jobs crisis — I’m kicking against the market language and market logic as the arbiter of our shared values, Liz is kicking against the narrow vision of acceptable outcomes (a vision which saddles “failed” graduate students with ridiculously unjust psychological burdens and a sense of alienation from the scholarly life), and Jonathan is kicking against the notion among many of the tenured that they are somehow in a different boat than the adjuncts.

    It’s a good set of arguments to consider. So far the major pushback (for mine, at least) has been in the form of tweets — either some version of #YesAllAdjuncts or #NotAllPhDs or #NotAllTenuredProfessors. (e.g., “Yes, adjuncts are the reason for the jobs crisis, because Supply and Demand” or “Well, not every PhD wants to teach” or “Well, we don’t have lots of adjuncts teaching intro classes in our department.”) To the first, I have nothing much to say except quit sending me 280 character tweets that completely missed the point of my piece. To the second, I’d say Congratulations — then it sounds like this conversation about the job market for professors doesn’t really concern you. To the third, I’d say, Good, then please use what leverage you have in academe to argue that all universities, whatever the teaching load of the tenure track, make sure that tenure-track research professors or permanent full-time “teaching track” professors are teaching the gen-ed level courses.

    If we want others — the taxpayer, the legislature, the “general public” to value our discipline — we had better start acting like the introductory courses in our discipline are important.

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