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.