Friday, September 8, 2017

The Others

They’re coming to our discipline and taking away our jobs!

Well, not really. OK, maybe a little bit.

One of the exciting things about German Studies as a discipline is that we’re in conversation with historians, linguists, and scholars with many other disciplinary backgrounds. We talk to our neighbors down the hall in comparative literature and we maintain conversations with our colleagues in Germany.

One of the less exciting consequences is that the hiring pool for faculty in German Studies can be drawn very broadly. If there are 17 tenure-track jobs available this year, not all of the people hired will have Ph.D.s in German from North American doctoral programs. Some will hold doctorates from European universities, some will come from outside of German Studies, and some won’t hold a Ph.D. at all. Basically, think of the three alternate sources of German faculty as doctoral programs in Germany, comparative literature and other disciplines, and people with MA degrees. In the best case, this keeps our discipline vital. In the worst case, the dean can undercut any salary demand by simply offering a job to any native speaker he can find, qualified or not.

For the hiring cycles 2006/7-2015/16, a total of 91 searches selected candidates who did not hold doctorates from North American German programs (out of 814 total hires, or 11.2%). This was approximately equally split between tenure-track and non-tenure track positions (12.5% of all tenure-track hires and 10.2% of NTT hires).

In a few cases, no academic background can be determined. For tenure-track hires (42), just above half are from European doctoral programs, mostly from Germany, and just under half are from American doctoral programs, chiefly comparative literature. Only 2 of the TT hires were from the pool of MA holders, in both instances the rare case of TT hires by a community college. For NTT hires (41), around a third are MAs, a third are from other disciplines, and a third hold Ph.D.s from European programs. (The VAP numbers include 4 faculty members who were hired for multiple positions, while the TT numbers include a number of VAP-to-TT inside hires).

The largest single donor of faculty to German Studies is by far the program in comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania (4 TT hires). Princeton comp lit and the Humboldt Universität each had 2 TT hires.

The North American programs that hire outside of North American German Studies most prolifically include Harvard, NYU, the University of British Columbia, and Notre Dame, all with two TT hires from outside North American doctoral programs in German. The outstanding champion in the field, however, is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with 3 system-external tenure-track hires (and 2 non-tenure-track hires) during the previous decade.

Finally, has there been any change in hiring over time? In a word, yes. From 2006/7 to 2015/16, the percentage of hires from outside North American German Studies for jobs in North American German Studies has risen from around 5% to around 20% of all hires, even as the number of tenure-track jobs in the field has declined profoundly—by around 70%—during the same time. That suggests an amazing commitment to interdisciplinary exchange and intellectual vitality for a discipline that can’t currently provide stable jobs for 75% of its own doctorates. Or maybe it suggests a lack of confidence in its own product and a desperate search for relevance.
Figure 1: Hires in North American German Studies of those not earning terminal degrees in German Studies or from North American doctoral programs, 2006/7-2015/16

Friday, September 1, 2017

What's wrong with German Studies: High School edition

I'm not even going to mention the outsized role that the cult of TPRS plays in secondary language instruction. Instead, I present to you the following exhibits.

First, from the College Board's AP German course description: "The AP course provides students with opportunities to demonstrate their proficiency in each of the three modes in the Intermediate to Pre-Advanced range as described in the ACTFL Performance Guidelines for K-12 Learners" (5).

As far as ACTFL is concerned, "Pre-Advanced" isn't really a thing, so we'll interpret this as saying students passing the AP German test should be at the Intermediate Mid to Advanced Low level of proficiency.

Second, this chart from ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners (13):
Time as a critical component for developing language performance
There's a lot that's seriously messed up here, and we haven't even gotten to what's really wrong with German Studies (high school edition) yet.
  1. According to to the chart, students with four years of high school German don't get to the bottom range of the proficiency level the AP exam is testing.
  2. According to the chart, students who start off learning a language in third grade are much better off than children who start in sixth grade, even though the scientific evidence for this is sketchy at best 
  3. The most common situation we deal with at the university level, where students start German in grade 9 and continue in college, doesn't show up on the chart at all.
  4. The chart claims that children will speak German at an Advanced High level if they start German in kindergarten and take German until they graduate. This is simply false, because no one reaches an advanced level just by taking classes, no matter when they started learning German.
Third, an observation about college-level German proficiency testing. In German Studies, we typically care more about the Goethe Institute and the CEFR scale than we care about ACTFL, because the Goethe Institute comes from Germany and provides the language exam that 99% of people care about and that language programs in the US administer. (Plus the Goethe Institute provides huge amounts of free practice material, while ACTFL provides nothing, which is one more reason to hate ACTFL.) And the exam that nearly all German majors and minors are capable of passing at the end of their programs is the B1-level Goethe Institute exam. Students who go abroad for a year, or who spent some formative years in a German school, or heritage speakers, or the occasional freakishly good language learner have a shot at passing the B2-level exam.

Fourth, there is no complete agreement about how to map the CEFR scale onto the ACTFL scale. According to this ACTFL document (4), B1 falls in the range from Intermediate Mid to Advanced Low. Erwin Tschirner - you know, the lead author of Kontakte - thinks B1 corresponds to Intermediate High. I tend to believe Tschirner.

Fifth, according to the ETS guide to the German Praxis Exam required for German high school language teachers, those who pass the test will demonstrate "Language Proficiency in the target language. (At the Advanced Low level, as described in the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages [ACTFL] Proficiency Guidelines)."

So to sum up what's wrong with German Studies (high school edition):
  1. The AP German test for high school students and the ETS Praxis exam for future high school teachers both target the same level of proficiency
  2. The AP German test to grant credit for a few German classes to incoming college freshman targets a higher level of proficiency than most college students will achieve at the end of a college German major.
  3. This is Seriously Messed Up.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Closing the books on 2016-17

For tenure-track academic hiring in German, 2016-17 marks a new absolute low. To find a year where fewer positions were advertised, you would have to look back at least sixty years to the 1950s or earlier. The record low number of TT jobs advertised on opening day (7) was matched by the lowest number of TT jobs advertised all year (17), and by the earliest posting of the season's last TT job ad (in week 11, surpassing the previous record of week 15 in 2013). This year will also mark a new absolute low in the number of TT hires, as one of the 17 searches (Hamilton College) was downgraded to a VAP search; the maximum possible number of TT hires, 16, is lower than the previous low of 19 hires set in 2009-10.

That's just looking at the MLA/ADFL job information list. If you look at listings from all sources as reflected in the German jobs wiki (with 11 years of data going back to 2006), the situation is worse. The previous low, 27 TT jobs from all sources (from last year, 2015-2016), was in line with the number of TT searches from 2009-2015 (average of 33). So the current year marks a drop of 37% drop compared to the previous all-time low in the space of one year. One more time: a 37% drop compared to the previous all-time low in the space of one year.

For non-tenure-track hiring, it was another solid year: 41 positions advertised in the ADFL/MLA JIL before it closed, fifth highest and just a few places out of third (43 in 2007) and even on pace to set an all-time record just a few months back. But the VAP market went flat unexpectedly early this year. As far as NTT positions from all sources, 2016-17 is another solid year: 55 advertised NTT searches, just above average (54 for the years 2006-17).

The lack of late VAP hiring is something of a danger signal, as it suggests that late-spring/early-summer language department budgets are under pressure and the advertising of TT positions in the fall may be impacted.

Our profession is not in good health.

Friday, April 28, 2017


Unless something drastic happens - and it's almost May, so nothing drastic is going to happen - this year will mark a new absolute low in the number of tenure-track jobs in German Studies on the MLA job list: 17. That's two positions less than even 2009, the previous record for all-time miserable job markets. Of those 17 searches, one was canceled and converted into a NTT search.

Speaking of which: 2016-17 has been another banner year for non-tenure track jobs, with the number of ads near or at record levels all year. We're already at 39, with several more weeks still to go in a NTT hiring calendar that drags on into June and July. We'll likely end up in the range of such overheated NTT hiring years like 2005-2007, and beating the absolute record of 2014 is still a possibility.

So to recap: The economic recovery since 2008 has not led to a recovery in tenure-track hiring in German (or in any of the languages, actually). The job market in German is not going to make a comeback. There are, however, quite a few opportunities for you to stay in academia by moving every 1-3 years until you either strike out on the market or find yourself no longer geographically mobile (as long as you can live on $36-42,000 per year, including unreimbursed moving expenses).

Friday, September 11, 2015

Job Market Opening Day 2015

How many full-time tenure-track or open-rank jobs in German Studies will be posted to the MLA Job Information List in 2015-16? Take your pick. Seeing how 2014 went, your pick is probably as good as mine.

18. The historical average since 2003 is that 54.4% of all TT jobs show up on opening day. As of today, there are 10 such jobs. 10 / .544 = just over 18.

24. Ten jobs isn't the absolute worst we've ever seen on opening day, but it's close. Other similar years include 2009 (10), 2010 (11), and 2014 (9). The average result from those years is 24 jobs by the time the list closes.

25. The percentage posted on opening day has been declining. If the trend since 2008 (see graph) continues, we're only seeing 40.6% of the jobs today. 10 / .406 = almost 25.

Percentage of TT jobs posted on opening day, 2008-2014, showing declining trend
30. Going back to 2008, there have been on average around 30 jobs each year. The last two years saw 28 and 29 jobs, respectively. If this is an average year, then we'll get around 30 jobs by the end, maybe a few less.

32. Last year, only 31% of the jobs showed up on opening day. If the same thing happens this year, we'll get up to 32 jobs.

My pick: 25. We'll see a reversion to the mean, and 15 more jobs will appear before the list closes, most likely before the end of February. With a bit of optimism and wishful thinking, 2015 will end up in a tie for the second-worst year in German job market history. I would love to be wrong and to see many more jobs appear, but even an outlandish fantasy like 35 jobs would only move this year into sixth-worst in job market history.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Hiring season: how the market is changing, and how you can change the market

The MLA job information list opens one week from today. Usually the number of jobs advertised on opening day is a pretty good guide to how many TT jobs will eventually be advertized. Last year, though, my prediction was way off target: I predicted 16 or 17, but there were eventually 29 jobs advertised.

That’s not a positive development. It means the market is becoming less predictable, and specifically it means that more TT jobs are being advertised later in the year. For the most part, though, hiring departments still participate in the schedule of publishing job ads in the fall, conducting initial interviews in January, bringing candidates to campus and making initial offers in February and March. The more departments are competing for a job seeker at the same time, the better her life is. The general lack of departments competing for job seekers in German is a big reason for our misery.

But that’s only how things work in the shrinking pond of TT hiring. For several years now, the number of full-time NTT jobs has been larger than the number of TT jobs. Last year, there were over twice as many contingent positions on the German jobs wiki as TT positions, and even 50% more NTT than TT jobs posted to the MLA job list.

And the timing for NTT hiring works much differently. In the good old days of TT hiring – you know, 2006 – 75% of jobs were posted by the time the job list had been open for 4 weeks. Last year, it took until week 10 to reach that same level. For NTT jobs, though, barely 25% had appeared by week 10, and it wasn’t until week 30 – some time in April – that 75% of the jobs were posted.

That means that someone applying for TT jobs will know with a high likelihood in January or February how many schools are competing for his services. (Don’t kid yourself. Usually the answer is zero.) He can make an informed decision about what to do next – to accept a TT offer, to apply for NTT jobs, to go get a real estate license, whatever.

But there is no rhyme or reason to the hiring calendar of the NTT job market that is coming to dominate our short-lived careers. A great NTT job – teaching 3-3, paying $53,000, renewable indefinitely – can be advertised at any point in the year. A lousy NTT job – a one-year position teaching 4-4 for $32,000 – can also be advertised at any point in the year. And you often won’t know which job is which until it’s been offered to you.

There are two things that you – yes, you, the person reading this – can do to nudge the scales slightly more in favor of the job applicants. The job market in German will still be a desolate hellscape, but the thermometer setting may come down a bit.

1. Post the salary information of every job advertised to the job wiki. Make departments compete on salary. A few universities publish a pay scale in the job ad or in the HR job description. At public universities, the salary (or the salary of recently-hired people in similar positions in the department) is public information that can often be discovered with a little digging. At private universities, former tenants of the advertised position will know approximately what the salary is. Put the burden on the search committee to make sure the salary published on the jobs wiki is reasonably accurate. If the salary is too low, few people will apply. If nothing else, this will let would-be grad students see how dismal the salaries are in their dream jobs, provide ammunition to people who think they’re not being paid market wages, and maybe even shame a few departments into paying their full-time faculty a decent wage.

Enough with being coy about money. Applicants reveal every detail of their professional lives on their CVs. It’s about time that departments make public the basic information about the jobs they’re trying to fill.

2. Stay on the market. Let’s say you strike out on the TT market, but in February you land a one-year replacement position with College A teaching 4-4 that pays $37,000. Then in May you see a 3-year position at University B with a 3-3 teaching in a more attractive part of the country for you, and it pays $46,000. What should you do?

Apply. Take the interview. Take the job at University B when it’s offered.

Some senior academics will screech that This is Disgraceful, it is Simply Not Done, you have Given Your Solemn Word, Your Reputation in the Field Will Be Ruined, and you have Committed a Crime with Legal Penalties.

Nonsense. Look out for yourself, because no one else will. You owe College B nothing. They haven’t paid you a cent, and won’t until mid-September. College B can pick up the phone and find some other sucker in 15 minutes. Oh, the dean at College B won’t approve another hire, so College B can’t teach their intro classes? Very sad, but the insane policies at College B are not your problem. You can’t let that stop you from getting a better shot at a sustainable career at University A.

Will your reputation be ruined? Only at College B. Your friends and your advisor’s friends won’t care. They won’t remember you as “the gal who screwed over College B.” They’ll remember you as “that rising star who picked up that awesome job at University A.”

But can’t College B sue you? Since I’m not a lawyer, let me ask: what would they sue you for? It’s just a job offer. They’ve done nothing for you. Maybe in some alternate universe you would have to return your signing bonus. In the real world, people and businesses back out of contracts all the time. It’s just part of doing business, not a crime against humanity. And what college is going to want to have its name splashed across or Slate for suing an impoverished humanities Ph.D. who wanted to take a better job? It's not going to happen. If you’re still concerned, go give an employment lawyer $200 and ask him yourself.

(If you’re still working in your grad department, you may want to talk things over with your advisor. You’ll need to keep your advisor for a few more years yet, and maybe your advisor is one of those senior academics. But if you’ve left the nest, your advisor barely remembers you exist. Let your advisor know where you ultimately end up once you move in August. At the most, she’ll ask, “But I thought I heard you took a job at Slowpoke State?” To which you reply, “Oh, didn’t you hear? I got a better offer at Bigtime University, so I decided to accept their offer instead.” And that will be that.)

This is how we can make the job market suck a little bit less. Use your well-honed research skills to create transparency about salaries. And keep applying for the best job you can get. Don’t rush into the first NTT job you’re offered just because someone lowballs you in February.

Friday, June 5, 2015

2014-15 a Record-Breaking Year for Exit-Level Jobs

A boom in non-tenure track jobs promises full pre-unemployment for new Ph.D.s in German Studies

With the appearance today of an ad for a full-time adjunct instructor at the College of Charleston in the MLA job information list, the discipline of German Studies is rewriting its records for non-tenure-track hiring. Charleston’s ad pushes the total to 46 NTT jobs advertised so far—with five weeks left before the JIL closes—breaking the previous record of 45 NTT jobs set in 2005, and surpassing every prior year in nearly a half century since the first MLA job list appeared in 1966 (see graph). Never before have so many hopeful Ph.D.s in Germanistik been able to look forward to extending their professional identities and academic careers for nine more months before their cutting-edge research agendas become obscure footnotes in the MLA bibliography.

2014 sets an NTT record: German tenure-track and non-tenure-track jobs advertised in the MLA job information list, 1966-2014

While the number of new Ph.D.s granted during the 2014-15 academic year is not yet known, it is likely close to the 70 Ph.D.s awarded the previous year. That may suggest poor odds for new Ph.D.s seeking their first and last academic job, but the official numbers represent only a fraction of the market. With Charleston’s announcement, the German jobs wiki, which includes several jobs not advertised in the JIL, hit 70 advertised positions. Added to the 30 advertised tenure-track positions (at 29 TT positions in the JIL, 2014-15 is the 45th best year for TT job ads out of the 49 years since 1966), department heads are starting to worry that American colleges and universities may be facing an impending shortage of new Ph.D.s who are willing to shoulder high teaching loads for low pay for a couple years before their dreams of academic careers are snuffed out forever.

Long-standing traditions at many colleges of hiring new Ph.D.s as visiting assistant professors each year to put a young, research-active face on departments whose last TT hire was during the Nixon administration are in doubt. Departments who weren’t able to advertise their VAP slots until the late spring are facing several unpalatable options: hiring ABDs, canceling classes, or even canceling sabbaticals. Thus far, few departments have taken the drastic step of hiring stale Ph.D.s, or “experienced teachers with distinguished publishing records,” as they are euphemistically known, as it would be a tacit admission that a department’s teaching methods and research portfolio were stuck in 2013, or even earlier.

One group of faculty, though, is reacting to the latest figures with a mixture of relief and self-congratulation: Ph.D. advisors. Many of them will be able to pat themselves on the back this year for having placed all of their recent Ph.D.s in full-time academic jobs (what happens to the ungrateful little snots after that first job is their own problem). With such clear evidence that the jobs-with-training-wheels crisis in the humanities is receding, graduate faculty are looking forward to admitting larger graduate cohorts again so that no undergraduate German program in need of throwaway faculty members will be left wanting.