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.

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