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Fixing the Humanities Ph.D.

Soulskill posted about 5 months ago | from the start-calling-it-word-engineering dept.

Education 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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Because... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181003)

... Everyone goes to work and says, "What we need is someone who's spent the last 15 years studying Humanities. That will make filing these invoices sooooo much easier."

Re:Because... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181083)

Indeed.

The humanities lacks much in the sense of a practical foundation. Sure, most folks going for the CS PhD are going to stay in academia, but the stuff they work on trickles down to people actually using this stuff for profitable purposes. This spurs interest in keeping this stuff alive.

It also doesn't help that a lot of acedemic humanities types come across as ultra pretentious, often working on some bafflingely abstract project that no one outside their world gets. I've met people who are the stereotype (there is a big art school in this area), they come across as cartoons. This kind of thing doesn't inspire society to give a shit.

Re:Because... (5, Informative)

bunratty (545641) | about 5 months ago | (#47181145)

There's no way most CS PhD students could go on to be professors. Most professors advise many PhD students, so the number of CS professors would have to double every few decades if that were the case. Most CS PhD students move on to do research in industry: Microsoft, Google, and so on. I just got my masters degree in CS, and I actually do know where the PhDs go -- overwhelmingly to the west coast to work in industry.

Re:Because... (4, Insightful)

lagomorpha2 (1376475) | about 5 months ago | (#47181341)

There's no way most CS PhD students could go on to be professors. Most professors advise many PhD students, so the number of CS professors would have to double every few decades if that were the case. Most CS PhD students move on to do research in industry: Microsoft, Google, and so on. I just got my masters degree in CS, and I actually do know where the PhDs go -- overwhelmingly to the west coast to work in industry.

I guess it's unfortunate for humanities students that there is not substantial industry that requires their abilities.

Re:Because... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#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.

Re:Because... (1)

geniice (1336589) | about 5 months ago | (#47181617)

Thats because the other type of liberal arts students work in advertising.

Re:Because... (1)

lagomorpha2 (1376475) | about 5 months ago | (#47181651)

Thats because the other type of liberal arts students work in advertising.

I'm not sure which one I like less.

Re:Because... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181351)

About 1 PhD graduates per professor each year at our CE department.
If all of them went into academia as professors the number of professors would double every year (assuming similar statistics for professors at other institutions.)

Re:Because... (4, Insightful)

Anrego (830717) | about 5 months ago | (#47181353)

I think what you've said kind of mirrors why "the humanities" might be exploding.

There is no industry for them to branch into. They are all cramming into one funnel, and the proposed solution seems to be to toss more in. If the only viable career path for a CS student was to become a CS prof, we'd be having the same problem.

Re:Because... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181597)

The humanities curriculum is one big academic pyramid scheme.

Serious Note:
I did value the humanities courses I had, and enjoyed learning about non technical things on the side like philosophy, ethics, political science. But realistically there is no field for them besides academia. Maybe humanities PHDs should start running for office, we at least know they would have had to have taken some sort of ethics course and would have at least have a documented sense of humanity.

Re:Because... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181821)

"It also doesn't help that a lot of acedemic humanities types come across as ultra pretentious, often working on some bafflingely abstract project that no one outside their world gets. I've met people who are the stereotype (there is a big art school in this area), they come across as cartoons. This kind of thing doesn't inspire society to give a shit."

-- said the I.T. guy.....

Re: Because... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181833)

I don't think that the criteria for sustaining a science should be profit for corporations nor that someone who isn't an expert in your field appreciates it. But then again, I am from Europe.

Of course, humanities could be rubbish all the same, just not for those reasons. I'm in a technical field so I wouldn't know.

I'm failing to see a problem (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181019)

It looks like we have a good trend going, so I'm failing to see where the problem is or what actually need to be fixed.

Re:I'm failing to see a problem (4, Funny)

Megane (129182) | about 5 months ago | (#47181513)

I'm failing to see where the problem is or what actually need to be fixed.

Addition of a B-ark, perhaps?

Good scholarship - tenure (4, Insightful)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 5 months ago | (#47181027)

Others point to the corporatization of universities, which are increasingly inclined to hire part-time, âoeadjunctâ professors, rather than full-time, tenure-track ones, to teach undergrads. Adjuncts are cheaper; perhaps more importantly, they are easier to hire. Whereas it takes a committee of experts months to decide if someone's scholarship is good, it takes an administrator only a few minutes to decide if that person can teach. That makes it easy for faculty size to track student demand. Today, more than half of all the academic jobs at American universities are part-time, non-research positions.

If you think "good scholarship" is the first (or only) criteria for getting tenure, then you don't know anything at all about academia. Getting tenure is about politics and schmoozing and ass-kissing.

Re:Good scholarship - tenure (4, Interesting)

Arakageeta (671142) | about 5 months ago | (#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.

Re:Good scholarship - tenure (2)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 5 months ago | (#47181719)

Then again students can't challenge tenured professors without risking their future careers, leading to the oft bemoaned academic echo chambers in the humanities.

Re:Good scholarship - tenure (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 5 months ago | (#47181817)

Departments rarely monitor the performance of instruction themselves.

This is not a new problem, and teaching ability or efficacy - from what I've seen - has absolutely no bearing on granting tenure. Adjunct professors may not challenge students as much as tenured professors, but a large swath of tenured (and untenured) professors seem down right hostile to teaching classes, with many of the rest being indifferent. Research is what they enjoy, and what lines their pockets. Teaching is a necessary evil that, given a choice, they would eliminate entirely.

Re:Good scholarship - tenure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181389)

Getting tenure is about politics and schmoozing and ass-kissing.

Getting a PhD is perfect training for getting tenure.

Actually, a PhD can be done with very "good scholarship", but it's 30db easier with p, s, and a-k.
(Speaking from experience in getting a STEM PhD from a tier 1 university the hard way.)

Having seen academia, I didn't even try for a job there. Luckily, STEM PhDs, unlike humanities PhDs, have lots of job options.

Re:Good scholarship - tenure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181565)

So you saying it is like everywhere else? Good God, Ive been just offered a job in Academia and you've shattered my dreams. Now excuse me, I'm going to buy some nice length of rope...

Re:Good scholarship - tenure (4, Interesting)

sdinfoserv (1793266) | about 5 months ago | (#47181635)

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.

Eliminating the Humanities Ph.D. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181043)

Eliminating the Humanities Ph.D.
I fixed that for you...

Are they taking advice from law schools? (3, Interesting)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 5 months ago | (#47181047)

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.

Re:Are they taking advice from law schools? (3, Informative)

timeOday (582209) | about 5 months ago | (#47181251)

The story already responded to your comment:

Only briefly does the report address what, to many people, is the most obvious solution: reducing admissions. âoeIn the face of the post-2008 contraction of the academic job market, proposals to reduce the size of graduate education in our fields have been heard,â the committee writes:

The ostensible goal of such a reduction would be to realign the rate of PhD production with the number of tenure-track openings. While the logic of the strategy may seem at first clear, the task force believes it is misguided. Doctoral education is not exclusively for the production of future tenure-track faculty members. Reducing cohort size is tantamount to reducing accessibility.

I think what they are saying is - this won't stop being hyper-competitive. Most will not end up getting that tenured professorship. But a reasonable period in academia of 4 or 5 years for a PhD should be enough to differentiate candidates and put them on that track or not, instead of leading people along for 7+ years before flushing them. Put the rest out of their misery sooner so they can go do whatever they are going to end up doing in industry.

Re:Are they taking advice from law schools? (3, Interesting)

erikscott (1360245) | about 5 months ago | (#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:Are they taking advice from law schools? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 5 months ago | (#47181557)

The Great Doctor Famine (minus a number of high paying subspecialties) is last month. I would hazard a guess that you are correct - a PhD in the humanities plus some minimal assurance that you can handle some 'hard' science will get you into med school. Of course, paying for it is another question entirely. By the time you've finished your PhD dissertation on the effect of the Little Ice Age on parchment longevity you should be well into ramen-for-life and have made the max donation to the local plasma bank along.

What else could be expected... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181055)

When the mob sequestered power from the Mason's and Spencer's by killing them in an undocumented civil war and hate crime, what happened to the bloodlines of those who have a genetic disposition to care for humanity? So what would the point to promote or extend such a program.

Ran out of easy thesis paper topics (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181071)

Your paper about the symbolism of The One Ring in The Lord of the Rings was all well and good, but there's already 8 other papers just like it. Humanities is no different than the sciences: nobody gets a Nobel Prize for dropping rocks off a tower.

That's a separate issue from the fact that writing a paper about The Lord of the Rings barely qualifies you to flip burgers. Liberal Arts (of which "the Humanities" are a part) were never meant to be a means to support yourself, they were traditionally the fields of the already-rich, who wanted to expand their horizons and dabble a bit.

Re:Ran out of easy thesis paper topics (1)

geniice (1336589) | about 5 months ago | (#47181653)

I think you overestimate how original the average STEM PhD is. Remember you can only get funding if people think you have a reasonable chance of getting positive results. Which means in practice doing much the same as everyone else.

The MLA doesn't want to reduce enrollments - WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181093)

So, the solution to a lack of jobs and prospects is to crank out MORE underemployed Humanities PhDs? The problem is on the demand side of the equation.

Re:The MLA doesn't want to reduce enrollments - WT (2)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 months ago | (#47181365)

Hey, we try to fix the economy that way, too, so why not the humanities?

Oh the humanities! (1, Funny)

ErikTheRed (162431) | about 5 months ago | (#47181103)

In other news, who cares? When was the last time something important was done as a result of studying the humanities? They're only good for "huge manatees" puns.

Re:Oh the humanities! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181357)

Thanks, you just gave me an idea for a great new proverb:

A man whose work is truly important to society has no need to belittle the work of others.

I'd wager that a humanities graduate realizes this sooner in life than a "STEM" graduate.

Re:Oh the humanities! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181483)

Waiting tables gives on a lot of time to reflect on reality...

I'd also wager liberal arts types spend a huge amount of time trash talking people for caring about money or spending their life producing "things" for mass consumption.

Re:Oh the humanities! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181663)

Thanks, here's the next great new proverb:

A man who admits his equality to others has no interest in proving inequality.

Re:Oh the humanities! (1, Informative)

digitig (1056110) | about 5 months ago | (#47181729)

They're more likely to your boss [insidehighered.com] (or, more likely given your blinkered attitude, governing the welfare system you depend on) than waiting tables.

Re:Oh the humanities! (1)

digitig (1056110) | about 5 months ago | (#47181665)

Depends. What do you count as "important"? A lot of great books (which do have commercial value, for the Gradgrinds reading this) are written by English Lit graduates, and are likely better for that. Of course, being an author isn't a "tenure-track job", which the OP seems to think is the only sort of job that matters.

Re:Oh the humanities! (1)

geniice (1336589) | about 5 months ago | (#47181737)

Depends how you define important. Things like history tend to be significant in terms of how we define ourselves so you get the odd war and revolution. Maybe those are important? From time to time people insist on not killing people from other countries so working out what the people who talk funny are actually saying becomes important.

Depends on the field of humanities in question.

Tenure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181115)

[Universities] 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

It's not just the humanities; it's every discipline.
But this makes perfect sense. What employer wants to hire someone with a commitment to not fire him no matter what?
The Academy as we have known it is dying. It must adapt to survive.

market at work (4, Insightful)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#47181119)

This is the market at work. A Humanities degree is fiscally worthless. At best, you can teach other people how to get the same degree you have. You might as well be teaching someone about stamp collecting or theology. Sure, there's rare cases where that will be handy to some company, but for the most part the humanities exist in their own echo chamber. You can teach other people about them, right books for other people interested in humanities, but it does the rest of the world almost no benefit. Get your humanities degree and you'll most likely end up working in tech support and spending your day correcting other peoples grammar. What's worse, is those other people (like me) wont care and just flag you as a troll.

Re:market at work (5, Insightful)

wiggles (30088) | about 5 months ago | (#47181141)

> right books

Yeah - humanities education is worthless.

Re:market at work (2)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 5 months ago | (#47181305)

Its not the job of any third level course to teach basic spelling and grammar to anyone, or it shouldn't be. That's a failure of primary and secondary education.

Re:market at work (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#47181687)

Its not the job of any third level course to teach basic spelling and grammar to anyone, or it shouldn't be. That's a failure of primary and secondary education.

Or: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disor... [nih.gov]
Which I have. I spent years in handwriting classes. Thank god computers came along. Those classes didn't help at all. I can't even read my own handwriting.

Homophone mistakes are my biggest problem, followed closely by just general spelling. I literally don't even see what I'm typing. I think "Write" and a word pops out on the screen which my brain sees and it sounds correct so on I go. But spellcheck helps immensely (again, thank god for computers) Though I love Firefox which has about the worst spellcheck I've ever seen. I've been thinking of switching for that very reason.

And for the record, I nearly got my degree in English. I was getting very good grades before I switched focus so I could, you know, actually get a job. Granted my professors were all aware of my problems and I got a bit of a pass in that regard. I'll admit, had I finished I'd have definitely needed a very good editor :-)

Re:market at work (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 5 months ago | (#47181327)

I don't think 2nd grade spelling is covered in most humanities courses. The damage was done by age 8 here.

Re:market at work (1)

digitig (1056110) | about 5 months ago | (#47181771)

Still counts as a "liberal art" -- it has general application, rather than being specifically vocational.

Re:market at work (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#47181343)

> right books

Yeah - humanities education is worthless.

So you're working in tech support I see? ;-)

Re:market at work (2)

bigwheel (2238516) | about 5 months ago | (#47181567)

You just proved his point. "spending your day correcting other peoples grammar"

Re:market at work (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181395)

Unbelievable - our current society is founded on liberal "enlightenment" values that were the result of a lot of people trained in philosophy and other "worthless" subjects that enabled them to analyze how society as a whole operated, what we should value, and imagine alternatives. If there hadn't been any such people we wouldn't have the society we have today. Things are OK now for some people, so long as you live in a wealthy country and have a good job. But we're heading towards horrible levels of inequality and environmental degradation, and there's no sign the the current system is going to help things. So we need people who can be analytical and critical and imagine alternatives, and that's exactly what humanities graduates excel in. And that's exactly why the plutocracy is keen to crush the life out of humanities departments - because they don't want people out there who are capable of thinking about things and questioning the status quo. A humanities degree is "worthless" when considered within the current system - because it doesn't create personal wealth for anyone - but everyone just pursuing personal wealth and hoping that this agglomerated selfishness will somehow magically create a good society is precisely the problem.

Re:market at work (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181575)

If people in this field actually tried to use this amazing insight to better the world, society might put more value in it.

Instead, they circle jerk amongst themselves with projects so bafflingly abstract that no one outside of their field gets any kind of value out of it.

The important parts of philosophy have been rolled into other industries where they were found valuable. We have sciences and politics and economics and so on. All that's left in academic philosophy is naval gazing crap which helps no one.

Re:market at work (1)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | about 5 months ago | (#47181609)

How many units of "imagination" do we need every year?

How much are we willing to pay per unit?

Would you be willing to pay for each unit, or only the good units that come up with real alternatives?

If all units are paid for, are they all paid the same?

What is your unit of measurement of "imagination"?

Whatever system you do come up with, how do you prevent fraud and abuse?

Re:market at work (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 5 months ago | (#47181763)

The market places quite a high value on real imagination, just ask JK Rowling or Steven King. "Imagination" spent coming up with new ways to inflict ideology on people, not so much, other than in the persistence of the numerous victim industries, which are largely government funded.

Re:market at work (4, Insightful)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 5 months ago | (#47181649)

Actually our current society is founded on technological advancement, for example the mass production of white goods which had far more to do with the changing roles of women in society than second wave feminism ever did.

As for inequality, the standard of living enjoyed by most people in modern western democracies is far beyond that of even the most powerful kings of yore, which can be directly attributed to capitalistic competition and efficiencies, economies of scale and so forth. Greed works really well as a motivator and performance enhancer.

Environmentally there is a broad overall trend to move towards renewables - by 2100 I'd be surprised if there was a single coal or gas power plant left on earth. Petrol and diesel engines will be for the most part a thing of the past. Conservation efforts continue apace as we slowly gain further understanding of the biosphere around us.

All of this was and will be achieved through advances in science and engineering, not so much by rearranging society to fit whatever ideology happens to be in vogue this decade.

This is not of course an argument for unfettered capitalism nor is it an argument to abandon the humanities. It's merely pointing out that people who think they know the direction society should take are almost uniformly wrong, often with tragic consequences. You don't need to take a humanities course to care about humanity, nor do you need to view the world through an ideological lens in order to improve it. Quite the opposite in fact, leftist ideologies have been responsible for the murders of millions upon millions of inncoent people in the 20th century alone. Religions make the same moral rudder claim - perhaps you might consider why the two phenomena have this in common.

Re:market at work (1)

jratcliffe (208809) | about 5 months ago | (#47181405)

Get your humanities degree and you'll most likely end up working in tech support and spending your day correcting other people's grammar.

FTFY

Re:market at work (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181759)

The problem is the market. 50 years ago a person got a good education at school, and then learned how to do a job after being hired. Nowadays the market requires that a person know how to do a job before being hired. Thinkers are dying and machines are taking their place.

Head em up move em on out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181123)

Not exactly an inspiration to collegians these days to continue in the university system after graduation.

Saved me a lot of trouble (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181127)

I had the choice of going into IT or pursuing a PhD in the humanities. At least in engineering, a PhD may be justified. In the humanities, getting a PhD means you've either got extremely wealthy connections or you're insane.

We have to meny people getting degrees when they (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181135)

To meny people are in college and there are to meny joke degrees. We need more tech / trade schools

Re:We have to meny people getting degrees when the (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 5 months ago | (#47181285)

To meny people are in college and there are to meny joke degrees. We need more tech / trade schools

Thanks for adding that insight to a discussion of English degrees.

Re:We have to meny people getting degrees when the (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181447)

To meny people are in college

I'm just going to leave this right here, for the enjoyment of those who are fluent in English.

Re:We have to meny people getting degrees when the (1)

Anrego (830717) | about 5 months ago | (#47181529)

That is actually an impressive level of bad grammar.

I mean I pride myself on subtle things, like never under any circumstances using "it's" without the apostrophe and even dragging out "irregardless" from time to time, but this is just brilliant.

Re:We have to meny people getting degrees when the (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181721)

To all of my sibling posters:

You shouldn't need a Ph.D. in the humanities to recognize a "Whoosh!" moment.

corporatization of universities (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181137)

Or, they have become a business... that recruits with the same tactics as a cult.

Why is this so difficult to grasp?

Bleh (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181143)

When the only meaningful employment in an entire field is teaching others in that field, eventually things are going to implode.

It sucks that some people have a passion which society doesn't give a shit about, but in our defense, liberal arts types have done very little to make this stuff accessible to us inartistic plebs.

If you want society to value you, produce something that society values! Absurd abstract work that no one except maybe yourself understands or likes isn't going to encourage people to fund the arts.

Entering students too young (4, Insightful)

GlobalEcho (26240) | about 5 months ago | (#47181149)

The median time to get a Ph.D. is nine years.

I think students who enter are often doing so by default. Education has been their life unto that point, they have always been outstanding students, and they enjoy it. They are too young and inexperienced to realize how long 9 years is and what they'll be missing (or perhaps they are too optimistic about their personal chances of being an outlier).

Re:Entering students too young (2)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 5 months ago | (#47181691)

That was the case for my husband, although he got his PhD in education and not humanities. But he basically wanted to be a professional student. Lucky for him he DID become the outlier and was awarded tenure at his job this year, which he likens to smoking a pack a day and living to be 100.

Re:Entering students too young (1)

Megane (129182) | about 5 months ago | (#47181709)

They are also too young and inexperienced to realize just how much student loan debt they're going to end up with after 9+ years of college.

Dumb it down, right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181157)

This is about dumbing it down, right? Or am I misreading it?

Re:Dumb it down, right? (2)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 months ago | (#47181385)

So... the solution to a worthless degree is to make it less valuable.

Is that idea from the same idiots that try to fix our economy?

You can come back with half the pay and no benefit (4, Insightful)

Arakageeta (671142) | about 5 months ago | (#47181167)

My girlfriend recently graduated with a PhD in history from a department ranked 11th by US News. She's won a number of nationally recognized awards. She still can't find a tenure-track job. She was hired as a visiting professor at a university for this past year. Pay was around $40k with benefits. She got great reviews from her students, so the university offered to re-hire her as an adjunct with the same workload (teaching four classes a semester)... but at *half* the pay and *without* benefits. Her pay and benefits were better as a graduate student! She politely declined the offer. Being valued so little by the same world that qualified you is hard to endure.

Re:You can come back with half the pay and no bene (1)

onepoint (301486) | about 5 months ago | (#47181485)

I would advise your girlfriend to get a job with the military. History and battle tactics repeat themselves often, so her use would be of benefit.

perhaps more importantly, they are easier to FIRE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181173)

FTFY

Re:perhaps more importantly, they are easier to FI (1)

RackinFrackin (152232) | about 5 months ago | (#47181491)

You are being flippant here. Hiring someone into a tenure track position is a lot more work than hiring someone into a temporary position. Someone in a temporary position is usually just going to teach classes and that's it. All you need to know is if they are knowledgable and can run a classroom. Credentials give you a ballpark idea of the first, and references give you an idea of the second. Budget-wise you only need a commitment from above for one year's salary, which is a lot easier to secure than a continuing salary. You don't have to worry about their research compatibility, long-term career plans, or their ability to get tenure.

And if you screw up and hire a person who isn't up to the job, you don't renew them. So true, they are easier to fire, but that's a very small part of the story.

What goes around comes around (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181201)

The best thing about the humanities is that computers aren't any good at them. On the other hand it is only a matter of time before computers are better at computers than humans are, whence 99.99% of all IT employees are functionaries for our machine overlords, at best, low-paid data janitors, more likely. Either way, appendages to the machine. Poets, postmodernists and the like will get all the chicks, because some things never change.

40%? (3, Informative)

Ubi_NL (313657) | about 5 months ago | (#47181229)

So 60% of phds gets a tenure position and they still complain? In Medical Biology less than 3% gets tenure

Re:40%? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181269)

Keep your facts and science out of this, this is a humanities discussion!

Re:40%? (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 5 months ago | (#47181415)

People with Medical Biology PhD.s are employable. In their field, not as Office Managers.

Re:40%? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 5 months ago | (#47181471)

Yeah, but with a Medical Biology degree there are lots of career paths open aside from teaching. When a tenure track position is the only decent career you're qualified for you have a problem.

Re:40%? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181573)

The difference is Medical Biology PhDs have other employment opportunities in their fields. Most Humanities PhDs are almost useless outside of academia.

Re:40%? (1)

rainmaestro (996549) | about 5 months ago | (#47181739)

Not quite, the summary is misleading. According to the article, the 60% number came from this: there were 600 open tenure-track positions and 1000 fresh graduates, therefore 60%. What it ignores is that those 1000 graduates were emptying themselves into a pool already overflowing with graduates and existing non-tenure professors fighting for the same jobs. The actual percentage will be much, much lower.

And that's just tenure track. Only a fraction of people on the track will actually receive tenure. Humanities tenures certainly aren't as rare as STEM tenures, but they also aren't nearly as abundant as the summary suggests.

Pyramid Sceme (2)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 5 months ago | (#47181299)

The career options for half of the courses offered in universities are strictly limited to teaching that subject at some university. In that way, from a financial angle, they are simply pyramid schemes. Many of these disciplines important for science, ie Theoretical Physicists, but the idea of churning out classes of hundreds of future physicist is just ridiculous.

It's a numbers game (3, Insightful)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 5 months ago | (#47181329)

If these humanities graduates were numerate as well as literate, they'd easily be able to calculate that supply far outstrips demand.

If the only jobs for freshly minted PhDs is teaching the next generation of students (even supposing that most are only there to study for fun - and have neither the intention nor the motivation to try and get a degree-based job), then it will quickly become obvious to them that filling the "dead mens' shoes" is a suckers game. Given the low to zero growth in humanities departments, there simply aren't enough vacancies created every year.

The biggest shame is that this comes as a surprise to so many of them AFTER they've graduated.

Re:It's a numbers game (4, Insightful)

roc97007 (608802) | about 5 months ago | (#47181461)

> The biggest shame is that this comes as a surprise to so many of them AFTER they've graduated.

I think it's a matter of denial. Being in humanities is comfortable. You learn the process of being at university and the process of making your professors happy and the process of negotiating a doctorate, and the rest is social mixers and waking up in the park naked with no idea how you got there. (This isn't just me, is it?) If you're getting a full ride, there's a tendency, I think, to just enjoy the trip and not worry about what you're actually going to do with your life until the subject becomes urgent.

The best way to guarantee jobs... (2, Funny)

show me altoids (1183399) | about 5 months ago | (#47181379)

...for humanities PhD grads is to add a required class in which they are taught all the nuanced ways in each regional dialect to say, "Would you like fries with that?"

Re:The best way to guarantee jobs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181765)

No - the correct question is "What size fries would you like with your order?" TFTFY...

I'm a little conflicted (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 5 months ago | (#47181401)

If we fix humanities (assuming it could be done at all) we would not have the humanities PHD to make fun of anymore.

I have a recursive quandry (1)

quietwalker (969769) | about 5 months ago | (#47181411)

If the primary application of a specific education is to provide that specific education to the next group of people who will be providing that specific education, doesn't that strongly imply that it's not a very necessary area of expertise to have, and in turn, you should NOT have many jobs because they provide no benefit?

What is the end goal of getting an education that you only spend on furthering education? Specifically in the humanities fields where, often enough, the majority of obvious career options are in education, where you educate people so that they, one day, may also only apply their education to the field of education, and so on?

Thanks (0)

wechatspeedhack (3684949) | about 5 months ago | (#47181481)

Great article !

Cultural issues (5, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | about 5 months ago | (#47181503)

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. ...

I think this is pointing at a larger cultural issue: The "Humanities" disappeared down a post-modern rabbit hole of nonsense. It's become widely held by "experts" that classics are all bullshit and only the most novel works are interesting. Paintings aren't important unless it's an abstract piece painted with feces. Literature isn't interesting unless it's incomprehensible. Philosophy isn't worth talking about unless it's mathematically provable.

These subjects have the potential to be incredibly interesting and even important to our lives, but instead it's relegated to pseudo-science and trivia, and as a result, a lot of the "expert" PhDs don't know what the hell they're talking about.

Re:Cultural issues (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181637)

These subjects have the potential to be incredibly interesting and even important to our lives

Even if everything you have listed will be fixed, your appreciation for pointillism will still not help you serve fries with that.

Important enough to pay for? Probably not.

Re:Cultural issues (4, Interesting)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 5 months ago | (#47181723)

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.

Perhaps some consideration of the employment... (1)

John.Banister (1291556) | about 5 months ago | (#47181521)

I notice the phrase "tenure-track" used a couple of times to describe the desirable jobs that might be obtained with these degrees. I've never heard the word "tenure" used to refer to a job outside an educational institution. If the only job for the degree holder is at the same sort of educational institution where the degree was obtained, perhaps that department could be merged with the other departments that teach people who will end up working within the education industry. Other subsets of the humanities that teach people who become lawyers or human relations consultants branch off into subdivisions or separate schools that specialize in teaching oriented towards those specific jobs. A university department that specializes in pursuit of knowledge for its own sake might best be aimed at teaching those who are independently wealthy. They could teach concurrent courses in patron flattery and high level begging, but I think the courses that teach revenue generating skills would quickly split off and be primarily attended by people without the interest in knowledge for its own sake.

Re:Perhaps some consideration of the employment... (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 5 months ago | (#47181745)

That happens at Research I institutes, to some extent. Many of the university faculty members at the big schools only teach occasionally. The rest of the time they are doing experimental work.

Math is hard. (1)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | about 5 months ago | (#47181549)

If professors are teaching their replacements, they need dramatically fewer students, or an ever continuing ponzi scheme.

Assuming a stable population of x professors, with a career time of y years, each individual professor needs to engage only enough students to get a *single* success in y years. Assuming a success rate of z%, that means 1/z students in y years.

So, concrete example - 30 year career, 50% success rate of training a replacement, means each professor gets to teach 2 students in 30 years. Say you teach them sequentially, you could theoretically replace yourself in 15 years, but then the successful student would need to wait another 15 years to take over, while you teach your "failure" case.

The numbers get "better" as the success rate goes down, at least from the perspective of having enough students to justify gainful employment for 30 years. They also get "better" if the career is shorter.

Why go for tenure? (1)

jader3rd (2222716) | about 5 months ago | (#47181585)

Shouldn't the goal be a world with no tenure?

Re:Why go for tenure? (2)

onepoint (301486) | about 5 months ago | (#47181679)

In Capitalism, yes. Since the best will always be paid top $$$
I really don't know how to argue the no side of this question but I believe that it has to do with job security.

Re:Why go for tenure? (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 5 months ago | (#47181785)

The argument for tenure is that a professor needs insulation from the politics that inevitably comes about when they touch on prickly subjects. It's even more of a problem these days when you have helicopter parents harassing professors who gave their 19-year-olds a C and the 19-year-olds complained that the teacher was pro-union or talked about evolution, which went against their personal beliefs.

All tenure means if that some student or parent makes a complaint like that, the professor gets a hearing before being fired. Even tenured professors can get fired for serious infractions, like sexually harassing a student or committing a crime.

Too expensive and worthless. (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47181631)

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

Supply and Demand (1)

Prien715 (251944) | about 5 months ago | (#47181677)

According to the report, 40% of new Ph.D.s won't be able to find tenure-track jobs... 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.

So since there's already too many PhDs competing for too few tenure jobs, their "solution" is to decrease the effort of getting the degree, which econ 101 tells us will increase the number of teachers. With increased supply (PhDs in humanities) and the same demand (no new teaching slots), price (wages in this case) should go down.

...maybe it makes a good case for humanities PhDs taking some economics courses during their decade of school?

Corporatization of universities (2)

swb (14022) | about 5 months ago | (#47181795)

I think this is right, Universities have turned themselves into vocational systems which claim to provide educations that provide white-collar middle class jobs. It's why everyone "wants" to go to college so that they can get some corporate job.

Of course the irony is that nobody gets a job anymore with their corporate-approved education.

Hilarious Irony (1, Insightful)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 5 months ago | (#47181805)

Am I the only one who finds it hilariously ironic that a lot of the people who insist that the future of work is everyone having a "creative" job (i.e., humanities) are the same people mocking humanities majors for having useless educations?

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