Friday, September 12, 2014

The jobpocalypse of 2014

On the opening day of the 2014-15 MLA/ADFL job information list for German, there were a total of nine ads for tenure-track (9) or open-rank (0) jobs. This is a new record for the least number of TT jobs advertised on opening day, beating out such lackluster years as 2009 (11), 2010 (11), 2013 (14), and 2012 (15).

Between 2003 and 2013, an average of 57% of all TT jobs that would appear on the ADFL job list appeared on opening day. The average for 2008-2013, at 52%, is little different.

Based on those numbers, we can expect a total of 16 or 17 TT jobs to be advertised in the JIL by the end of AY 2014-15. The last TT job ad may not appear until February or March, or even later.

If the predicted total of 17 jobs appearing in the MLA/ADFL job information list holds, 2014 will be the worst year on the job market for German in generations, somewhat worse even than 2009 and a level not seen since 1955, when "Personalia" recorded a total of 11 new tenure-track appointments. Your advisor, your advisor's advisor, and perhaps your advisor's advisors' advisor never saw a job market this bad.

From 2006-2013, an average of 90% of all positions were advertised in the JIL. We might therefore expect one or two additional TT jobs to be advertised outside of the JIL.

There were also four non-TT jobs advertised, but there is no way to predict the number of ads that will eventually appear, as they tend to show up at a steady but irregular rate through the summer.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

How to shrink the Ph.D. in German Studies. Part two

The first half of this post identified our target—41.3 Ph.D.s in German per year, less than half of the current number—and the reasons for making this our goal. This post will lay out one way to get there.

To establish program-specific targets, I started with the number of each program’s average number of tenure-track placements per year since 2008. Then I added bonuses (worth a quarter of a TT job) to those programs with post-2008 TT placement rates at or above 30% (Princeton, Texas, Penn State, Cincinnati, U Washington, and Massachusetts), and an additional similar bonus to those programs that seem to be operating efficiently (Cincinnati, Florida, Harvard, Virgina, UC Davis, Stanford, U Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Illinois). Then I applied geographic bonuses based on regional balance; schools in the Southwest and Southeast get a bonus and the Plains schools suffer no penalty, while the New England, Great Lakes, and Mid East schools take a quarter-point penalty and the Far West schools take a half-point penalty. I multiplied the result by 1.43 (based on the ratio of Ph.D.s to TT jobs in 1981-2007). I didn’t apply the outcome mechanically, but instead used the resulting figures as a guide. The table below summarizes the results.

The path to 41.3 Ph.D.s per year is littered with corpses and the emaciated figures of the gaunt survivors. I present the plan here only as one possible variation on the least bad option for restoring some balance to the job market in German Studies.

The programs that don’t have to change a thing. Princeton, Texas, Cincinnati, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Florida, and Tennessee can keep on doing what they’re doing. Their record of TT placement and/or their geographical good fortune mean that they’re already producing about the right number of Ph.D.s each year that the market can bear from them. Florida and Tennessee seem too small to me to be sustainable, but presumably they know something I don’t. If they can avoid growing, then they can keep going.  North Carolina and Duke have already done the hard work of combining programs, so the future UNC/Duke program can continue at a rate slightly above UNC by itself right now, but not as high as UNC and Duke added together.

The dirty work’s already done. The easiest cuts are the ones that have already happened. The average number of Ph.D.s for 2008-2013 includes some now defunct programs, including Iowa, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Nebraska, and Utah. That’s already 1.2 Ph.D.s per year on average.

Close the programs that are too small. Brown, CUNY, UC Santa Barbara, Connecticut, and Purdue: I’m sorry. You had a good run. But your doctoral programs produce Ph.D.s in such low numbers that they’re either tiny, or bad at turning grad students into Ph.D.s, and your graduates don’t seem to be finding TT jobs. It’s not much, but we need the 1.7 Ph.D.s per year that you contribute together.

I’m assuming that 1 Ph.D. per year is around the lower limit for the size of a healthy program. If you admit only 3 M.A. students each year in a 2-year program, of whom 1.5 (on average) continue on to the doctoral program for two years of doctoral coursework, followed by three years of dissertation writing (with .5 students from each year stopping at the ABD stage), then you have a total program enrollment of 12 grad students (6 M.A. + 3 doctoral + 3 writing dissertations), including 9 grad students in coursework. If students are offered little choice on electives and the dean is understanding, that might be enough enrollment for the seminars to make.

The stillborn. Colorado, what the world needs now is not more Ph.D. programs in German. I know, you’re doing innovative things, but we need less innovation and more immolation. Your plan is to put all your grad students on the five-year plan to cut down on grad school dropout rates. But we’ve only got 41.3 Ph.D.s to award each year. I know your region is underserved, but three years of efficiently mass-producing Ph.D.s in German will serve your region’s needs for the next two decades. Arizona’s program is too close to graduating its first Ph.D.s to shut it down now, but it belongs on this list, too. Allowing one Arizona Ph.D. per year means shutting down some other program that probably deserves to continue.

Close the departments that are too redundant as departments. This is the list where the hurt begins: Georgetown, three more UC schools, Illinois-Chicago, Maryland, Michigan State, NYU, Northwestern, and Wayne State. Between them, they account for 10.7 Ph.D.s per year. There are several excellent programs on this list, but none of them have impressive placements rates, and all of them face too much local competition. Keeping Arizona (or any other program) alive at a minimal rate of 1 Ph.D. per year means losing the legacy of Heidi Byrnes to SLA in German Studies. Keeping Georgetown means losing someone else. That’s how painful these cuts are going to be.

Modest reduction. People who know the local programs better might argue that it would make more sense, say, to keep Georgetown but close Rutgers, and it’s quite possible that they’re right. Some of the programs on the following list benefit from the demise of their neighbors, possibly unjustly. Programs that can meet their targets with only modest adjustments include Rutgers, Johns Hopkins, Virginia, Stanford, UC Davis (or some other UC school outside of Berkeley), Penn State, Kansas, and Vanderbilt, who need to produce only one Ph.D. less every two years, on average. This only adds up to 3.1 Ph.D.s less per year.

Major reduction. Other programs need to graduate around one Ph.D. less every year. These are programs of significant size that need to become programs of modest size: U Washington, Ohio State, Indiana, Cornell, Illinois, Michigan, Harvard, and Columbia. Together it results in 7.3 Ph.D.s less per year.

Over-producing Ph.D. programs that have to face the music. The biggest cuts have to come out of the largest programs that have modest to poor placement rates in order to get the job market back into balance: Chicago, U Pennsylvania, Yale, Washington U, Wisconsin, and Berkeley, who all need to produce around two Ph.D.s less per year. Their reductions together provide another 11.0 Ph.D.s less per year.

The UNC-Duke project might provide a model for programs to follow. Georgetown and Johns Hopkins could choose to partner with Maryland, for example. Or Illinois with UI-Chicago and Purdue with Indiana. Michigan partnering with Michigan State and Wayne State seems like a logical step. NYU and CUNY could talk to Columbia (NYU actually has better placement rates than Columbia, but Columbia has a better name to trade off of). Brown is not far from Harvard, and Connecticut is not far from U Massachusetts. Berkeley and Stanford are within commuting distance. UC Los Angeles, Irvine, Santa Barbara, and Davis could set up a consortium. (Davis has the better placement record, but with Berkeley/Stanford up north, it might turn out more feasible to have a program based in southern California.)

This is the least bad future for our discipline, and the most equitable way that I can find to distribute the pain. It leaves 31 doctoral programs in German Studies still functioning, distributed in all regions of the country.

There are other options. One could let the biggest programs survive at their current size and close all the smaller programs. That option leaves only 16 doctoral programs still operating. Or we could do nothing and let a Ph.D. in German Studies turn into a career crapshoot reserved for those with a significant trust to fall back on. We can imagine different methodologies that value different things and arrive at a different list of casualties and survivors, or even more other undesirable possible futures for doctoral-level German Studies in the United States. Unfortunately, one of them will become reality whether we like it or not because the job market of 1981-2007, the one that your adviser thought was bad when she got her first job but that actually looks pretty good in retrospect, is never coming back.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to shrink the Ph.D. in German Studies. Part 1

This post is getting long, so I am splitting it into two parts. In the second part, I will offer a concrete plan for reducing the number of Ph.D.s in German Studies, including specific programs that should maintain their present size, others that should shrink or form partnerships with other programs, and some that should close entirely. In order to explain how I arrived at this proposal, I’ll lay out my assumptions in this post.

1. The job market in German is not ever going to recover. Since the crash of ’08, we have seen six ADFL job lists and six job wikis appear with no sign that our discipline will ever return to the same rate of tenure-track hiring that it enjoyed in the 80s, 90s, or early 2000s. Both grad students and grad departments should plan on a future no rosier than the present.

2. People earn Ph.D.s in German in order to become German professors. Completing three or four years of coursework, writing a dissertation on Heinrich Heine, and gaining foreign language teaching expertise is a terribly inefficient way to prepare for a career in anything else. There’s nothing wrong with people choosing to pursue other careers, but the number of grad students for whom alt-ac is their first choice is quite low.

3. German Ph.D. programs in North American exist to serve the North American market. Teaching German language and literature at colleges and universities in the U.S. requires an odd mix of preparation in SLA, literature, and culture that isn’t well met by graduates in literature or DaF from German universities. In the same way, American Ph.D.s face handicaps outside the U.S., where their language-teaching background is not as strong as a German in DaF, but what they do have is a liability compared to those who have focused strictly on literature.

4. Good graduate programs should continue their work. Poor graduate programs should shrink or close. Existing prestige hierarchies have always poorly served the needs of hiring institutions and should not be reflexively reproduced in the future of German Studies. Instead, programs that have been effective in placing their students into tenure-track jobs should continue to do so. Programs that place their graduates into teaching-focused jobs should be preferred to programs that prepare their students for research-focused jobs that they can’t get.
5. There are too many Ph.D.s in German. To restore some balance to the market, the ratio of new Ph.D.s to advertised tenure-track jobs needs to drop from where it is today (well over 2 to 1) to where it was during the 1980s and 1990s (less than 1.5 to 1). That doesn’t mean that everyone will find a job, but it will improve the situation for job-seekers. (Reducing the number of M.A. degrees awarded is a separate but related issue.)

6. Reducing the number of new Ph.D.s will improve the situation for job seekers within a few years. There is not a massive backlog of underemployed Ph.D.-holders that a reform of doctoral programs in German would need to work through. My evidence for this lies in the facts of who gets hired, where Ph.D.-holders more than three years past their date of Ph.D. conferral who have not previously held a tenure-track position comprise a tiny fraction of those who are hired. With a few exceptions, people who have not found a tenure-track position after three or four years move on to other career options, or develop ties to a location that preclude seeking a TT job outside their immediate vicinity.

7. Programs can be too small or too large. Some small programs should close rather than continue investing in a graduate program that does not offer its students a broad range of faculty research interests and seminar topics. For a relatively efficient program, I estimate the lower limit at around one Ph.D. per year. Other programs admit more students than they can support. With the academic job market as out of sync as it is, graduate programs should only accept students for whom they can provide full funding (and a stipend of $8,000 for teaching three or four classes a year is not an acceptable substitute for full funding). Even programs that can fund all their students may need to replace TAs with full-time lecturers as their programs shrink.

8. Diversity of graduate faculty and programs is healthy and should be preserved as much as possible. While programs need a certain size to be viable, it’s also important to maintain as far as possible the diversity of faculty expertise, geographic distribution, and program emphasis. Ph.D.s should be produced approximately in line with the hiring of tenure-track professors in their regions. It would be a loss to our discipline if reducing the number of Ph.D.s awarded came at the cost of eliminating entire subfields or geographic regions. To put it another way, the pre-1750 subfields are already so small that the intellectual impoverishment of eliminating all of them would have very little effect on the number of Ph.D.s produced each year. To have a noticeable effect, the cuts will have to come out of the larger programs and the center of our discipline.

9. Denying opportunities to people causes less unhappiness the sooner it occurs. It’s less painful to not get into grad school than it is to fail out of a program. It’s less painful to make a career change right after getting a Ph.D. than it is after several years of working on a contingent basis in the field. Like reducing the number of part-time adjunct positions by hiring fewer full-time people instead, improving the chances at a tenure-track job by reducing the number of grad students leaves everybody better off in the long run.

With that in mind, let’s look at the cold equations of the academic job market in German and see where we need to go. Between 1981 and 2007, there were 57.3 tenure-track positions advertised on average each year in the ADFL job list, and 82 Ph.D.s awarded on average, or a ratio of 1.43 TT jobs/Ph.D. Since 2008, there have been on average 30.2 TT jobs advertised and 82.7 Ph.D.s awarded (according to my records, higher than the average of 77.6/year according to “Personalia”), or a ratio of almost three Ph.D.s per TT job. In order to restore balance to the job market, bringing it back to the conditions that prevailed between 1981 and 2007, the discipline of German Studies needs to shrink the size of doctoral education by over half, to around 43 Ph.D.s per year.

But first, we'll saw off Canada. Hiring of Germanists in Canada seems to be different enough from the U.S. that it’s hard to know what to say about it. Not many Ph.D.s from Canadian universities are being hired there or in the U.S. Either a radical restructuring of the Canadian programs is needed, or I just don’t understand their system. For now, we’ll remove Canada from the equation by eliminating Canadian Ph.D. programs from further consideration, and reducing our target by 4.4%, the percentage of jobs advertised each year that lie in Canada. Our new goal is to bring the number of Ph.D.s down to around 41.3 per year—a level not seen since 1961.

Regional alignment. The table below compares Ph.D. production by region (as used for Carnegie classifications) to the number of jobs advertised in the same region, and it says a lot about the misery of German studies today.

In most regions, graduate programs have produced wildly more Ph.D.s in German than the number of tenure-track jobs in that region. The only exceptions are some of the smallest regions, including the Rocky Mountains (where the closing of Utah’s program is about to be replaced by the opening of Colorado’s) and the Southwest (where Texas is the only Ph.D. program, soon to have competition from Arizona). One relatively bright spot has been the Southeast, where a small number of programs (Florida, the fusioning North Carolina and Duke programs, Vanderbilt, Virginia, and Tennessee) have benefited from a significant number of tenure-track searches. Programs in the Plains region (Iowa’s closing leaves only Kansas, Minnesota, and Washington University) also face limited competition, but haven’t benefited from as many TT searches.

After that, the picture becomes much grimmer, with multiple large programs chasing few TT searches. In the Great Lakes region, there are six graduate programs within a few hours’ drive of each other (Illinois, Illinois-Chicago, Chicago, Northwestern, Indiana, and Purdue), with Washington University just over the border. Perhaps Chicago and Northwestern aren’t training students for the same kinds of jobs as Indiana and Illinois (although Illinois and Indiana might dispute that), but there’s not enough room for Chicago and Northwestern in the same city, or for the four public schools within a short drive of each other. The worst case is the Far West, where five UC schools, Stanford, and Washington produce together the third-highest number of Ph.D.s in a region that has offered the second-lowest number of jobs.

This can’t go on. Some programs have to shrink. Others have to close. In the next post, I’ll show one way that it might be done.