Figure 1: MLA/ADFL advertised TT and NTT positions in German, 1975-2012
This graph shows the number of tenure-track (green line) and non-tenure-track positions (blue line) in German advertised in the MLA/ADFL Job Information List for the last 38 years. (As with the TT ads, the NTT positions are only counted if they are full-time, full-year positions asking specifically for German and only German; “either German or Spanish” and “both German and Spanish”-type positions aren’t counted). In three of the last four years, the number of NTT jobs advertised has been above the number of TT jobs. In fact, in the middle of the third-worst year for TT hiring since at least 1957, we experienced our fourth-best year for NTT hiring. The situation is even worse than this graph indicates, as 90% of all the TT jobs that appeared on the wiki since 2006 were published in the JIL, but only 72% of the NTT jobs; the graph understates the total number of NTT jobs much more than we’re understating the TT jobs.
This illustrates an important but little-noticed way that academic careers are being undermined: rather than just in the initial phase, uncertainty, a lack of professional autonomy, and the impossibility of promotion now characterize the entirety of many academic careers. If you care about research or teaching in German Studies, or about preventing the spread of working conditions usually associated with the fast food industry, this is a bad thing.
Figure 2: ADFL advertised NTT positions vs. “Personalia” placements, 1975-2012
This next graph compares the number of JIL NTT ads (blue line again) and the subsequent new NTT appointments (green line) recorded in the “Personalia” section of Monatshefte. Unlike tenure-track hiring, where the number of ads closely tracks the number of new appointments, the numbers of NTT ads and NTT hires have almost no relationship with each other. Worse yet, there are far more new appointments than job ads.
Why is this a problem? Because that means that for decades, NTT hiring has been indifferently recorded. No one knows what’s being counted as an NTT appointment: part time? long-term lecturer? everything in between? At the same time, NTT jobs have long comprised the largest segment of annual hiring in German. Since 2000, there have been on average 90% more new NTT than TT appointments in “Personalia” each year. The job market and the working conditions that matter to most Germanists being hired today are not those associated with tenure-track appointments, because that is not where the majority are being hired. Worst of all, most NTT hiring is not advertised or based on a national search: since 1975, the number of new NTT appointments has surpassed the number of job ads by 57% on average. Not only are TT jobs disappearing, but the majority of the hiring for the remaining NTT jobs takes place out of sight of the MLA or any other professional institution.
If you’re interested in the prehistory, the chart back to 1957 looks like this:
NTT appointments peaked and started declining in 1963, nearly disappearing by 1971. These instructor-rank appointments typically required only an MA and were often convertible to TT assistant professor appointments upon earning a Ph.D. (The last list of promotions to assistant professor appeared in “Personalia” in 1979.) Beginning in the early 1970s, the advertised NTT jobs morphed into a much different beast: temporary positions that came with an expiration date. From 2006 to 2012 (the latest complete job list), only 26% of the NTT positions were renewable appointments; the rest were limited to either one year (43%) or a few years at most (31%).
Who benefits from this system where TT jobs are scarce, but NTT jobs are relatively plentiful?
- The employers. Universities can hire qualified Ph.D. holders for full-time positions and boast about it in rankings and promotional materials (we have full time faculty with terminal degrees!), but never have to worry about giving their language instructors a raise or paying their pensions. The risks of enrollment volatility can be entirely offloaded from the university onto the NTT faculty members. Just hire and fire as often as necessary. Teaching and research awards, not to mention more expensive enticements like travel funding, research leaves, or sabbaticals, can be restricted to the shrinking cadre of tenure-track faculty.
- The Ph.D. programs. Your grad program can claim with a straight face that every one of their Ph.D.s who went on the market found a full-time academic teaching job upon graduation. (What happens to you after your first job is your own problem, not the department’s, in this view.)
- The research mill. As a NTT faculty member, your only chance to stay employed longer than 10 months is to keep your CV fresh, so you publish at break-neck pace so that you’ll have new publications to show the next search committee who will look at your applications.
- You. You showed the world that you’re good enough after all. You got a real job in your field that pays over twice as much your grad student stipend!
- The students. In a term appointment, your incentives are not aligned with your department’s or your university’s, because they are not going to hire you the next time you need a job. By necessity, you focus on the things that will get you your next job. You don’t develop a course that the students may need, because a) you likely have no say in course development, and b) you have no idea if you’ll be there next fall. You may have already emptied your office by the time your spring-semester teaching evaluations come in.
- Your colleagues. Administrative responsibilities become more concentrated on the few remaining tenure-track faculty. Departmental democracies become tenure-based oligarchies or pedagogical dictatorships. With all their administrative demands, the tenure-track faculty have less time for research or teaching. Research and teaching instead become the domain of transient instructors, while tenure becomes increasingly restricted to a managerial administrative class.
- Research in German Studies. Even as you’re madly researching and publishing on a ten-month contract, you know what you don’t do? You don’t make a five- or ten-year plan, because everything you do must be completed by the end of the academic year. The important contributions to our field will not be made by people who can only plan ten months ahead at most.
- You. While you’re teaching as much, or 50% more, or twice as much as your TT colleagues, and publishing just as much (not because it’s in your contract, but because you need to in order to find your next job), you will be earning significantly less than you would have as a beginning assistant professor (and maybe receiving no employer’s match on your retirement contributions), all while enjoying less research support and being ineligible for the teaching rewards that would help your CV. Instead of the job market as a one-time life event that lasts four to six months, the job market will become your life, all year, every year. Instead of leaving academia after earning a Ph.D. because you couldn’t find a job, you’ll leave several years later, after you’ve discovered that you actually enjoy and are good at teaching and research, so much so that you’d do almost anything not to leave the field. If you pour your heart into building up a program, you will only prove to administrators that they don’t need to offer tenure to keep their programs running. You will never buy a home. You can choose between having no spouse, living apart from your spouse, or imposing a 100% portable career on your spouse. You can choose between having no children, or having children who will never spend longer than three years in any one place—children that you may not see much in any case while you’re teaching 4-4 or more, and publishing madly to keep your CV fresh, and applying for every job that will keep your career going for one more year. You will receive less moving support than TT faculty or none at all, even as you move across the country every other summer.
The systematic reliance on contingent faculty might be in some way defensible if the additional years of experience earned by VAPs made them more competitive candidates for tenure-track positions. But they don’t. Teaching experience and publications are good, but not as good as “promise” (which is to say, pedigree, freshness, and an aura of unblemished success). Every year of full-time professional experience gained as a VAP is before long outweighed by the stench that comes from failure to get a TT job. No amount of publishing and teaching makes up for the lack of a TT position when top departments evaluate the applications of candidates who have been out for a few years or more.
* * *
The department head just called. She reports that the search committee members were impressed by your credentials and your answers to their interview questions, and you are their unanimous choice for the position of Visiting Assistant Professor. The salary’s a bit on the low side, sorry, but it comes with full benefits.* No chance of renewal, unfortunately, as Professor Grossperücke returns from sabbatical in a year.
*Actually, the university won’t start contributing to your retirement until the second year of employment, and the position is limited to one year.
Do you accept the position? Maybe you do. This is what you’ve spent over a decade training for, ever since you declared a German major as an undergrad. It’s certainly easier to say yes to an adult salary than to choose unemployment and a career change you want to avoid—all of which might come soon enough anyway, so why rush? So you say yes.
Congratulations. You have bought yourself 10 months of an academic career, and one more spin of the wheel known as the academic job market. Better get to work. You don’t have much time. The next job list will come out before your new 101 students take their first chapter test.