Friday, January 31, 2014

How the job market in German really works. Part two: the job market has not always been bad

(I first published this post on  Pan Kisses Kafka.)

The Job Market Has Not Always Been Bad

I would like to drive a stake through the heart of the myth that the academic job market in German has always been bad. This is going to be long, but keep reading. If you want to understand why your career is such a mess and what the threat is facing our discipline right now, you have to stop believing that the way things are now is simply how things have always been.

When we say that the job market is good or bad, what we are really referring to is the ratio of available tenure-track (TT) academic jobs to the number of applicants with Ph.D.s. We could push on this definition in some places, but overall it’s fairly robust. A wealth of part-time or temporary non-tenure-track (NTT) jobs does not make for a good job market, and the Ph.D. has been a minimal qualification for tenure or tenure-track employment at most colleges and universities for the time scale we’re concerned with here.

We also need to talk about our data sources for the number of jobs and the number of doctorates granted. We can’t rely on MLA reports about the job market because we don’t have degrees in “MLA,” we have degrees in German. Our field has not developed in the same ways as English or French or Spanish. We need to look at German-specific data for a longer time frame than most MLA reports provide if we want to understand our discipline.

For German, useful data sources include the ADFL/MLA Job Information List (JIL) and the annual “Personalia” listing in Monatshefte. (The Survey of Earned Doctorates would be more accurate and likely find somewhat higher numbers of Ph.D.s, but it does not at present allow for discipline-specific queries in the humanities.) The farther back you look, however, the less easily accessible the data become—and this was as true fifty years ago as it is today. The sad fact is that when your advisor’s advisor, or your advisor’s advisor’s advisor, made some poor decisions that harmed German Studies for a decade or more, no one was paying attention.

I. How the MLA Job Information List created the crisis in the humanities

As a data source, “Personalia” is imperfect. It relies on annual surveys sent to department heads, and the response rate is less than 100%. If you have never filled out one of the surveys, the first time is bewildering, and the next time isn’t much better. The surveys are sent out early in the year and due in June, when departmental staffing is often still in flux. Do you count the guy who taught for you this year but is leaving, or the guy you hired but who hasn’t set foot on campus yet? Flip a coin. Eventually people’s names appear there, tenure-track hires more quickly and regularly than NTT hires, but there can be a delay before names appear, and new appointments can show up two years in a row. Completed dissertations are no better. As the “Personalia” editor complained in 2000, the number of reported dissertations was 20% higher than the number of reported dissertation titles. At least “Personalia” is now keeping count. Before 1980, there were no summary tables, so if you wanted to know how many people were earning doctorates in German, you had to count dissertations by hand. Before 1980, there were also no summary tables of new appointments (which “Personalia” has never broken down between TT and senior tenured appointments). Before 1973, there wasn’t even a list of new appointments; you have to go through all the departmental listings and find the people marked as new appointments on your own. Despite its limitations, “Personalia” reveals quite a bit about what happened to German, as long as you know what to look at. Somebody should have been watching at the time. Today, we’re 50 years too late.

Our other data source is found in the MLA job lists. The MLA did not begin publishing a job list until November 1966. It’s initial effort, Vacancies in College and University Departments of Foreign Languages for Fall 1967—we’ll call it the FVL, for “Faculty Vacancy List”—was actually quite good. Owing to popular demand from departments seeking to find candidates, the MLA began publishing lists of job ads with standardized formatting three times each year. Here’s a typical ad for a job at San Diego State College (today’s SDSU) for fall 1967:

Even without referring to the key provided in the FVL, it’s clear what this job expects and offers. The German jobs were interspersed with all the other languages, and they appeared in order by state, but the “G” in the margin makes it relatively easy to find the jobs you would qualify for. (If you’re curious—or envious—the salary range given in 1966 translates to $59,500-$68,800 in 2013 dollars.) The FVL maintained this form through 1970 (you can access the complete archive from the MLA website).

Beginning in 1971, however, things started changing. The March 1971 issue of the FVL dropped the language codes from the margin, making it difficult to find jobs in your field. The entries were not as uniformly formatted. For the first time, the FVL included at the back a list of departments with no vacancies, which was intended to let job-seekers know where they should not waste their time on fruitless inquiries.

Then in the fall, the first issue of the JIL appeared, which replaced the FVL’s accessible and uniformly formatted list of actual openings with a hundred pages of fear and loathing. Instead of listing jobs openings, the JIL aimed to print brief reports on hiring needs from every department in the U.S. and Canada, arranged not by language or by state but by ZIP code. Imagine going on the market in fall 1971, and opening up the new JIL that had just arrived in expectation of finding a list of jobs you could apply to, and finding this instead:

It goes on like this for over a hundred pages. Who was this supposed to help? If you look through all the ads, there are actual jobs being advertised, but they’re not easy to find. (My theory is that the new JIL turned a momentary if serious downturn into a massive collective freak-out that has hovered over the field for four decades.) In December 1976, the JIL went back to ordering the ads by state rather than by ZIP code, as the FVL had done, but it didn’t start arranging job ads by language until 1997. In 1974, it moved the “no information received by press deadline” announcements to a separate section in the back of the JIL, and the “no vacancy” notices followed them the next year, as the FVL had done in 1971. But by then the damage was done. For keeping track of what was going on at the time, or for reconstructing it today, the transition away from the old FVL to the new JIL in 1970-71 came at the worst possible moment. The sheer toil of finding relevant job ads (and then collating them between lists to avoid duplicates) makes it extremely difficult to track the number of openings from year to year. But eventually, the bad things that had been done to German Studies couldn’t be ignored any longer.

II. The Sixties revisited: How your advisor’s advisor ruined German Studies (for a while)

Your advisor did not make a mess of German Studies. The people who did—your advisor’s advisor, or advisor’s advisor’s advisor and his friends—have been dead or retired for decades. Here’s what went wrong: If we take 1960-61 as our baseline (with 32 Ph.D.s in German, it was identical to the average for the late 1950s), then the number of Ph.D.s earned each year tripled by 1966-67, and doubled again by 1972-73 to reach an all-time high of 204 (see Figure 2, and remember that “Personalia” probably understates the number of doctorates). Some of the expansion was justified; thanks to the GI Bill and the Baby Boom (not to mention Vietnam-era draft deferments), undergrad enrollments were booming, new colleges and branch campuses were being founded, and new departments were being formed. Between fall 1959 and fall 1969, total enrollments jumped from 3.6 million to over 8 million. But a jump of 120% in enrollments didn’t in itself call for an increase of over 500% in the number of Ph.D.s in German.

Figure 1: Doctorates granted in German, 1957-1980

Even worse, hiring new faculty in German reached its peak by 1967 and went into sharp decline by 1969, but the number of new Ph.D.s kept rising into 1972.
Figure 2: Ph.D.s versus new TT/tenured appointments in German, 1957-80

The number of doctorates granted didn’t decline substantially until 1976, while between 1977 and 1981 it declined to the same level that persisted over the next few decades and continues up to today.

 Figure 3: Doctorates granted in German, 1957-2011

Tripling the number of Ph.D.s to 90-100 per year in the 1960s would have been sufficient to supply faculty needs, so the ramping up of graduate faculty and grad student enrollments should have leveled off in the mid-1960s, but the department heads kept the party going well into the 1970s. They never had to pay a price for the strategic error they made in 1964-66. Their Festschriften, published back when presses still published Festschriften, have long since been moved to remote storage.

If we look at the number of TT job ads in the FVL/JIL and the number of new appointments in “Personalia,” it’s clear that 1970 was not a great year for job-seekers in German. (There is a one-year offset between the two sources, which otherwise track each other fairly closely. For the sake of synchronicity, all the numbers reported here use the hiring calendar of the academic year as their base, so “1970” includes job ads placed between October 1970 and July 1971, for which new faculty started employment in fall 1971 and appear in the fall or winter 1971 issue of “Personalia.”) In terms of long-term trends, however, 1970-71 was a short blip followed by a quick recovery to the level that would prevail for the next 30 years. The go-go days of 1967 were gone, and there were up and down years (1982 was another stinker), but over the long term, the market was relatively stable.

In order to provide meaningful figures, I’ve applied a standard definition of “TT job ad” for all years from 1957 to the present that includes only TT jobs published in the official MLA JIL. Senior-level, part-time, one-semester, and visiting positions are excluded, as are jobs open to any language or requiring multiple languages. This required making judgment calls in some cases when an ad was unclear about rank or the necessity of a second language, but I’ve tried to be fair. I counted all ads for instructor-rank positions as NTT, although promotions from instructor to assistant professor were not uncommon in the 1960s. If you disagree with my counts, I invite you to apply your own definition and judgment to 48 years’ worth of job lists.

There are a few more caveats about the earliest numbers. Departments were more likely than they are today to place an ad and collect applications before administrative or budgetary approval for a new hire was in place, so the appearance of an ad did not guarantee the hiring of a new faculty member (as is also the case today, however, as anyone knows who has ever sent in an application to a canceled search). The FVL/JIL also did not cover the market as thoroughly as it does today; there was a separate “Cooperative College Registry” for many liberal arts colleges, and some departments didn’t trouble themselves with anything as pedestrian as want ads at all. As J Milton Cowan, director of the Division of Modern Languages at Cornell University, stated in the first issue of the JIL:

With that in mind, here is the development of job ads and new appointments between 1966 and 1973 (the MLA archive is missing the JIL issues for November 1969, May 1972, October 1972, February 1973, April 1973, and May 1975, so I’ve tried to use reasonable estimates based on averages from prior and following years).
Figure 4: JIL/FVL TT ads and “Personalia” new apointments, 1966-73

These are steep declines in a short time, but the decline in TT/tenured placements, at 50%, is significantly less than the 65% decline in job ads; the transition from the FVL to the JIL appears to have exaggerated the market decline somewhat. The largest decline is in the new NTT appointments. Between 1963 and 1971, they declined by 85%—but this reflects both a slowdown in hiring, and a redefinition of entry-level positions away from instructors, who were often hired ABD and promoted upon completing their dissertation, to assistant professors with Ph.D. in hand.

If we extend our coverage with JIL TT ads and “Personalia” tenured/tenure-track placements from 1960 to 2007, the number of jobs available remains largely stable. I’ve added a three-year moving-average trend line to smooth out some of the annual volatility. Once we get into the late 1970s, the number of job ads and placements floats around between 40 and 70. The early 70s end up looking like a period of recovery following the steep downturn of 1969-71.
Figure 5: JIL TT ads and “Personalia” new TT/tenured appointments, 1960-2007

In other words, we should stop talking about the difficult job market of the 70s, 80s, or 90s, as this overlooks the 30-year stability in the market between the late 70s and 2007 and the particular circumstances of the 1970s. The rapid build-up of the American university system in the 1960s created a brief burst of intense hiring that had peaked by 1967 and declined to a more sustainable level by the end of the decade. The job market wasn’t ever easy; it required work and talent and connections and luck, but over a long time scale, the job situation in German from the late 1970s until 2007 looks relatively stable. It’s true that the early 1970s were laboring under the consequences of a severe overproduction of Ph.D.s, but job seekers in 1972 also benefitted from the second-highest number of TT job ads in recorded history.

III. 2008: The Bottom Falls Out

Things changed in 2008. This is the part that some people refuse to accept: The job market today is not like the job market of 1977-2007. It is quantifiably much worse.

We have JIL data for 48 years. The last six years, from 2008 to the present, are six of the worst eight years ever, including the four very worst. While it’s true that 1970 and 1982 weren’t great, they were one-year downturns followed by recoveries. For as long as the national job market in German has existed, it has never seen a period of sustained decline in tenure-track jobs like we have seen since 2008, and it has never fallen this low. The last time there were fewer TT or tenured placements than the 16 and 21 of 2009 and 2010 (and 2012 and 2013 will be similarly low) is unknown. It lies farther back than 1957. No year from 1957 to 2008 was worse.

Figure 6: JIL TT ads and “Personalia” new TT/tenured appointments, 1966-2013

Keep in mind that the more important line for job seekers is the green one, the number of ads for TT jobs that they can apply to. The blue line for TT/tenured placements in “Personalia” includes all kinds of hires, including spousal hires and senior appointments. For the thirty years between 1978 and 2007, the average number of TT job ads is 58; for the six years since 2008, the average number is 30.

At the outset I mentioned that the measure of the job market is the ratio of Ph.D.s to available TT jobs. We can graph that ratio over time using data from “Personalia” and the JIL. To estimate the ratio, it’s necessary to look at the number of new Ph.D.s over multiple years, as candidates are not only competing against Ph.D.s from their same cohort. As 95% of people are in their last year ABD or in the first three years after completion when they are hired into their first TT job (this number is not guesswork, but instead based on dates of degree completion and first hire for TT hires since 2006), each dot below represents the ratio of Ph.D.s over four years (in the given year plus two previous years and one following year) to the number of TT job ads that year. The solid three-year moving average trend line smoothes things out over three years to better characterize the period that an applicant might spend on the market. For job seekers, the market improves when there are few Ph.D.s and more positions, and declines when there are fewer jobs and more candidates.
Figure 7: Ratio of Ph.D.s to TT job ads (four-year moving window with three-year moving average trend line), 1966-2013

As you can see, between 1966 and 1970, the situation goes from brilliant to horrible very quickly before settling down to medium bad. If we look at how the ratio changes, we would say that the best time to look for a job in living memory was the 80s, while the 90s through 2007 were almost as good, and the 70s were notably worse, due to the nigh number of Ph.D.s. The period from 2008 to the present is much worse than the 70s. (The graph assumes that Ph.D. production in 2012 and 2013 was no higher than the average for 2000-2011, although the number in 2011 was significantly above average at 104 doctorates granted.) It’s true that 1970 was a bad year, but we’re currently looking at a bad decade with little prospect for improvement. The December 1972 JIL claimed that 87.5% of foreign language Ph.D. recipients the previous year had found full-time academic teaching positions; the December 1973 JIL claimed a placement rate of 72.5% specifically in Germanic languages. No one would claim we’re close to matching that number today.

There’s another important difference. The problem in the early 70s was one of Ph.D. oversupply. Compared to later figures, jobs were plentiful; there were simply too many job-seekers. What changed in 2008 was not the number of doctorates, however, but the number of TT jobs. Ph.D. production has been essentially unchanged since the late 70s (an average of 78 per year in the 80s, and an average of 75 per year in the 2000s). Nor is it the case that Ph.D. production is outstripping the growth of undergraduate enrollments; undergrad enrollments rose over 40% between 1999 and 2010. So where’s my academic job boom? The roots of the problem of 1970 and the problem now are entirely different. The 70s addressed the problem of oversupply by cutting back on production. Who’s going to address the problem of underprovision of jobs by increasing TT openings?

It’s not that there are no jobs out there. There are contingent and part-time adjunct teaching jobs. When it comes to hiring contingent faculty and adjuncts, the profession is still partying like it’s 1969.

Friday, January 24, 2014

MLA job information list classics #2: the more things change

U of Arkansas-Monticello
Language & Literature

9-15-75. Although there is no probability of a teaching position at this institution this decade, UAM solicits applications for the position of Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs from qualified MLA members. Minimal qualifications include the Ph.D., academic administrative experience, and proven research ability. Tom C. Coleman, Department head and Chairman of the Search Commitee.

Friday, January 17, 2014

MLA job information list classics #1: sinking ships

April 1976, Trenton State College (today's College of New Jersey)

No Vacancies Are Anticipated!!! We are trying to save our own positions. Letters of inquiry cannot be answered, but they will be kept on file for two years.

Dr. P. Alexander Winkel, Geschäftsführer
9. März 1976

* * *
This looks like a parody, but it isn't. All of the MLA Job Information List notices that appear here will reproduce actual job ads that appeared in the JIL. As always, you can view the originals here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

How the job market in German really works. Part one: the eerie silence of mid December

(I first published this post on  Pan Kisses Kafka.)

Attention, ABDs and new Ph.D.s: If this is your first time on the market, the first year you’ve watched the weekly job list updates as if your life depended on them, you may be starting to freak out right about now. After the big bang of September, new jobs have been trickling out of MLA headquarters and raising your hopes like clockwork. But last week, not so much. Or this week. Next week won’t be any better.

Are you doomed? Yes, you’re doomed. Your advisor says that it’s still early in the year, and that more jobs will be advertised in the spring. She’s wrong. There will be maybe one new tenure-track job advertised between now and next July. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Are you doomed? No, you’re not doomed. The visiting and non-tenure-track positions have barely begun to be advertised. They will trickle out intermittently for the rest of the year. Eventually dozens of them will be advertised, and you stand a decent chance of landing one.

How can I make these predictions with so much confidence? The answer is: data. This is the way the job market in German always works. See this graph:

Figure 1: Cumulative advertised TT jobs in German in weeks since initial MLA job list, 2005-today

This shows you the weekly count of how many tenure-track assistant-professor or open-rank jobs have been advertised from the opening MLA/ADFL job list up to the current week for every year since 2005. It only includes real jobs in German that new Ph.D.s can apply for, not the “Director of Theater History Center” or ultra-competitive humanities postdocs or Ivy League glam adjunct positions that get spammed to every discipline in the JIL, or the jobs for people who can teach two or more languages. (We’re also ignoring canceled or failed searches.) No matter how many TT jobs are advertised in any given year, they always show up the same way: a bunch on the first day, some more after that, a few even later, and almost none after the first 15 or 20 weeks have passed. If your dream job has not yet been advertised, it is not going to show up now. Sorry. Somebody had to tell you.

In fact, the market is so regular that you can accurately predict how many TT jobs will appear over the course of the year based only on how many are advertised on the first day. If we look at the last ten years and compare how many TT jobs show up on Day 1 with how many are advertised by the time the list closes in July, the average is 57%. Only three years in the last ten have been more than a few percentage points off: back in 2003/2004, the average hit 65/68%, while in 2010, it dipped down to 44%. Otherwise, it’s kept close to 57%. The last two years have been right on target.

Year initial asst/open rank %total a/o-r projected actual total
2003 33 0.65 58 51
2004 32 0.68 56 47
2005 29 0.58 51 50
2006 38 0.59 66 64
2007 34 0.59 59 58
2008 23 0.56 40 41
2009 10 0.53 17 19
2010 11 0.44 19 25
2011 22 0.55 38 40
2012 15 0.56 26 27
2013 14 24
Table 1: Initially advertised, projected, and actual total tenure-track jobs in German

So, let’s do the kind of math you last worried about when you took the GRE. How many TT positions were advertised on opening day this year? 14. One-four. Divide 14 by .57, and the result is twenty-four and one-half jobs. How many have been advertised on the JIL by now? 26. We’re already past the expected number. Good news is not coming in January. (You might notice that the number of total jobs is pathetic and not exactly rising. We’ll get to that soon.)

But wait! you say. There are more jobs than that on the wiki. What about them? Can you ignore the bad news because I’m not even counting all the other jobs that make it to the wiki?

No. I know about those jobs, too. I’m only counting jobs that meet a consistent definition so that I can make valid comparisons between years. For the last seven years, 90% of all TT jobs that show up on the wiki are advertised in the JIL. If you want, you can multiply the numbers above by 1.11 to take non-JIL jobs into account. Fourteen divided by .57 multiplied by 1.11 is 27.3. There are currently 27 TT jobs listed on the jobs wiki. In other words, 1.11 times zero is zero. There is not a new crop of TT jobs right around the corner in January. Maybe one, or two at most, maybe zero.

Don’t believe me? Look back at Figure 1. Notice where we are today in week 14. Look at other years. How many TT jobs have shown up later than this? Year in, year out, the answer is: maybe one.

So, 26 total jobs. How many new Ph.D.s are granted in North America every year? Three or four times that number (104 in 2011, according to the most recent “Personalia” article in Monatshefte). How many Ph.D.s come out of German universities? How many native speakers with no background in the discipline at all are department heads willing to put in front of a classroom of unsuspecting students if the price is right? You see the problem.

Are you doomed? No, of course not. The VAPs, they are a-coming. Take a look at the next graph, which shows one-year, renewable, and long-term non-TT jobs in German—and only German, not “German and/or Spanish,” and not counting “spring term only” positions—advertised in the JIL for the last several years. The graph looks way different. Every year, 25-45 non-TT jobs are advertised, and they trickle out at a steady rate throughout the year. (Note also the distinct slowdown in weeks 12-18, that is, right around now, which explains the disconcerting inactivity you may be noting when you check the weekly updates.) There will still be jobs advertised in the JIL in May or June, and even more advertised elsewhere (at least 30%, and maybe significantly more, of the VAP jobs that make it to the wiki are not advertised in the MLA JIL).

Figure 2: Cumulative advertised non-TT jobs in German in weeks since initial MLA list opening, 2005-today
So don’t despair, even as your ugly stepsisters friends fly off to MLA interviews in Chicago, leaving you in the dust. Don’t give up, even when your one telephone interview turns into a quick rejection (by wiki, not by actual contact from the SC). As January and February turn into March, April, May, or June, more and more applicants will leave the market, a few through landing a job, and more through revulsion at the conditions of the remaining jobs. If you are willing to teach 4-4 at a notoriously dysfunctional college in the backwater region of a chronically depressed state for $35,000 for one year with no chance of renewal, there may only be four other people applying, and three of them are local social studies teachers looking for a new career. (Sadly, this is mostly based on an actual recent job search.) If you’ve got a Ph.D. in German and some teaching experience, and aren’t fleeing any warrants, you have a decently good chance of landing a full-time job in your field for the next academic year (and search committees sometimes compromise on all those requirements, including the lack of a warrant for your arrest).

It will be your lucky break. Your once-in-a-lifetime chance to break into the profession. Your chance to show that you can so teach four new preps while pumping out a couple quick publications while networking at conferences. Maybe they failed to see the point of your dissertation, but this time everyone will have to admit what a gifted scholar and teacher you are, and they will rush to offer you a tenure-track position next year, when the market finally recovers.

Actually, none of that is going to happen. At most, you’ll land another visiting position, and you can start the charade all over again. You’re doomed.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Welcome to the German Studies trainwreck

This post will not be terribly useful. It's just a placeholder.

This blog will not be terribly useful to you unless you teach German at the university level, have a Ph.D. in German, are working on a Ph.D. in German, or are contemplating going to grad school in German.

This blog will not be updated frequently. You won't find up-to-the minute updates or witty banter. There may be about five posts total before this blog goes dark.

What you will find are some solidly researched posts to explain a few basic questions:
  • Why can't you find a job?
  • Why is your career so screwed up?
  • Why is our discipline such a mess?
  • How does the job market in German really work?
This blog will not help you get a job. It won't help you fix your career. It won't help us repair our screwed-up discipline. None of that can happen until you and we figure out the hard facts of the situation we're in and deal with the unvarnished truth. This blog can at least help with that.

In the upcoming posts, I'll present facts and figures that I've collected by my own efforts, but it's absurd that our professional organizations aren't already doing this, or have been doing it wrong for 50 years.