Friday, June 5, 2015

2014-15 a Record-Breaking Year for Exit-Level Jobs

A boom in non-tenure track jobs promises full pre-unemployment for new Ph.D.s in German Studies

With the appearance today of an ad for a full-time adjunct instructor at the College of Charleston in the MLA job information list, the discipline of German Studies is rewriting its records for non-tenure-track hiring. Charleston’s ad pushes the total to 46 NTT jobs advertised so far—with five weeks left before the JIL closes—breaking the previous record of 45 NTT jobs set in 2005, and surpassing every prior year in nearly a half century since the first MLA job list appeared in 1966 (see graph). Never before have so many hopeful Ph.D.s in Germanistik been able to look forward to extending their professional identities and academic careers for nine more months before their cutting-edge research agendas become obscure footnotes in the MLA bibliography.

2014 sets an NTT record: German tenure-track and non-tenure-track jobs advertised in the MLA job information list, 1966-2014

While the number of new Ph.D.s granted during the 2014-15 academic year is not yet known, it is likely close to the 70 Ph.D.s awarded the previous year. That may suggest poor odds for new Ph.D.s seeking their first and last academic job, but the official numbers represent only a fraction of the market. With Charleston’s announcement, the German jobs wiki, which includes several jobs not advertised in the JIL, hit 70 advertised positions. Added to the 30 advertised tenure-track positions (at 29 TT positions in the JIL, 2014-15 is the 45th best year for TT job ads out of the 49 years since 1966), department heads are starting to worry that American colleges and universities may be facing an impending shortage of new Ph.D.s who are willing to shoulder high teaching loads for low pay for a couple years before their dreams of academic careers are snuffed out forever.

Long-standing traditions at many colleges of hiring new Ph.D.s as visiting assistant professors each year to put a young, research-active face on departments whose last TT hire was during the Nixon administration are in doubt. Departments who weren’t able to advertise their VAP slots until the late spring are facing several unpalatable options: hiring ABDs, canceling classes, or even canceling sabbaticals. Thus far, few departments have taken the drastic step of hiring stale Ph.D.s, or “experienced teachers with distinguished publishing records,” as they are euphemistically known, as it would be a tacit admission that a department’s teaching methods and research portfolio were stuck in 2013, or even earlier.

One group of faculty, though, is reacting to the latest figures with a mixture of relief and self-congratulation: Ph.D. advisors. Many of them will be able to pat themselves on the back this year for having placed all of their recent Ph.D.s in full-time academic jobs (what happens to the ungrateful little snots after that first job is their own problem). With such clear evidence that the jobs-with-training-wheels crisis in the humanities is receding, graduate faculty are looking forward to admitting larger graduate cohorts again so that no undergraduate German program in need of throwaway faculty members will be left wanting.