Thursday, February 03, 2011

Notes for a Roundtable on the Future of the PhD in the Humanities

The topic of the future of the PhD in the Humanities might seem to have been suggested by the ongoing crisis in the job market. Are we producing too many PhDs when many of them can’t get suitable jobs? Are we training them properly, given the kind of teaching many of them go into. Can a humanities PhD prepare them for employment in nonacademic fields. Should we even worry over whether our PhDs are employable?

There has always been a crisis in the humanities job market—it was in crisis when I started looking for jobs 33 years ago. There has always been the promised surge of open positions when the current generations of faculty retire. But economic crisis, downsizing of programs, changes in universities, and changes in the humanities itself have proved such hopes empty.

The job crisis raises serious ethical and professional issues that we cannot ignore or pretend not to see.

However, the PhD’s future in the humanities is not merely an issue of too many graduates and too few jobs. It’s a matter of whether graduate programs in the 21st century should be governed by disciplinary models that date back into the 19th century. It’s about the quality and substance of the graduate education we provide. Do we overvalue the dissertation? Do our students take too long to finish, or not enough time? Is humanities graduate study too narrow and focused? Is a new PhD who has never studied outside a single discipline truly educated? Our world is one of virtualities, of inter- and multidisciplinary research and teaching, of the traditional monograph’s rapid decline, of radically evolving forms of scholarly publishing, of new technologies in instruction and research. Can we afford not to consider the fundamental shape of doctoral study in the humanities?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like the post. My gut reaction is that lots of verbal hand wringing will happen but nothing of substance will be done. Faculty in doctorate granting programs will continue to admit students, who will continue to lament their misfortune as they approach the job market.
As a librarian, I encourage all those on the PhD tract to consider academic librarianship. Your PhD does not count for much outside of the university classroom, but it does count for something in academic libraries. In fact, it counts quite a bit. With a PhD and MLS degree, the sky is the limit, you can still teach on a limited basis (a course/term), and the salaries are generally better for those with PhDs in soft disciplines.
And if you're concerned about yet another year or two of courses, MLS courses will feel like child's play after a rigorous doctoral education.