Saturday, July 17, 2010

grad programs

 Our entire graduate program is taught extra-to-load.  Our classes and supervision are all done on top of our regular schedule.  The idea was that we would gradually change this, somehow under administrative radar, but this hasn't happened of course.  And I find that I vividly resent having to drag more students through a strenuous full-year grad course on top of my regular teaching.  I have never supervised more than one student at a time (it's a small program), so while supervision is work at least it's doable, but my colleagues who are supervising several students, for no credit whatever, are exhausted.  The administration is wholly unsympathetic and won't allow us to do any of the things that would alleviate the workload (like, say, earning a 1 term course reduction for every 5 students supervised, or anything like that).

I honestly don't know why we bother to have a graduate program.  The university wants graduate education in its profile, but the programs are underfunded and under-supported.  The admin wants to have grad programs but it doesn't want to have to pay for one; we're supposed to carry the whole thing ourselves.

There is also - as a separate but compelling issue - the fact that I'm in Humanities, so I am not at all sure where these students are going to get jobs.  Are we doing them any favours by letting them carry on in the first place?  Wouldn't we be doing better to just bow to market forces, close down the grad program, and tell our students the truth, that a Humanities first degree is excellent for broadening their horizons and equipping them to function as citizens of a democracy, but now they'd better go do an MBA or CPA or LlB or MPA or a plumbing certificate, if they were planning to actually earn a living? Because there are not that many jobs, and the ones there are are evaporating as we speak.

The grad students are great to have around.  They are lively, enthusiastic, hard-working, and remind me why I love my field.  So I get a lot out of having the grad program, though perhaps not enough to offset the workload.  But I'm really not sure there's anything in it for them.  Are we doing them a grave disservice by letting them think there is?


  1. As a very recent Ph.D. in philosophy -- I'd say yes -- you are doing them a grave disservice. Getting an academic job in any humanities field is really hard -- and, unless your graduates are in the "I need an MA so I can earn more teaching high school" or "I need an MA in anything so I can get promoted in corporate america", then you are doing them a disservice. I'm assuming they are paying tuition (an administration that won't count your grad classes in your teaching load doesn't seem likely to give free tuition / stipends) -- and, more than likely they are assuming student loan debt they'll never be able to pay off working at the GAP.

  2. They're all funded; at least they aren't going into debt by being in our program. I would certainly say that going into debt to do a Humanities MA or PhD is insane. But even if you're not going into debt, there's the question of time; how much of your youth do you want to spend on this?

    I suppose as long as you finish before you're 30, and as long as you accept that this may not lead to a job and you may have to do something else after all, and as long as it doesn't put you in debt, there are worse ways to spend your twenties. But graduate programs need to be very damn clear about the chances of getting a job post-PhD.

  3. Merely Academic:

    What do you mean by "Our classes and supervision are all done on top of our regular schedule"?

    Are you saying your contracts stipulate you have to teach a 3/3 load and you basically donate 1/1 a year to your university?

    If so, you all need to stop that. Because, in the end, I suspect you're actually aware of the fact that your department/program is setting a BAD precedent, and you all are never really going to reap any reward from this sacrifice.

    Also, isn't advising grad students usually considered part of that nebulous (and never really counted) "service" proviso?

    P.S. Thanks for fully funding your students; the R1 I was attending didn't. My program capped it once classes were finished -- if we were one of the lucky few to be offered it at all -- which is why so many of us are now in deep debt, in adjunct hell, and/or quit the program.

  4. Everyone in Humanities here runs their grad program essentially extra-to-load. We are doing precisely what you say: teaching 3/3 and getting paid for teaching 3/2. The only incentive is negative. It's voluntary, so we can stop. But if we do, that will strongly affect our salary reviews.

    I think supervision does come out of the nebulous "service" component, but it's wildly unevenly applied - Students rarely ask me to supervise them (my field isn't that popular); one of my colleagues is currently supervising half a dozen. He doesn't get compensated for this.

    The university has recently come down hard on the way most departments were compensating for this all this - by informally giving the people doing the most work the occasional 1-class course reduction. But now the university says we can't do that anymore. (So we will have to be sneakier about it.)

    The university is trying to act as if they're allowing us to run a grad program, as an enormous favour to us, but only if we do it with no cost whatever to the university. Their line is "do what you want so long as it doesn't affect your enrollments". But obviously, putting more low-enrollment grad courses into our 3/2 load WILL affect our enrollments.

    And now they want us to develop a Ph.D. program. The carrot is that if we do, maybe we can put more of the teaching on our regular schedules. I'm betting that the "maybe" is the crucial word there.

    I couldn't reconcile it with my conscience to watch students go into debt for a graduate degree in my field. My advice to all undergrads looking at a grad program elsewhere is "if they don't offer you money, do not go." As of a few years ago 50% of the PhDs in my field (much better than many fields in Humanities, I know) were getting TT jobs; I don't think it's been nearly that since the crash, though. And a 50/50 chance is not good enough to go into debt for.

  5. Yeah...

    Merely Academic, no one's winning in your situation except the skeevy admin who wants everyone to make the school look good but won't ante up the dough for the faculty.

    This strikes me as a no-win and a reason to shut down the MA program.

    Cite the financial meltdown and see if they're willing to shell out for an extra few TT lines!

    (Like that'll happen. Again, cheers for looking after the grad students. One less program will just save that many more of them from unemployment in 5 years.)

  6. Of course there's always the obvious way to handle this problem, which is, that what I'm not getting paid to do tends to show up last on my priority list. So my graduate teaching tends to be shall we say underprepared. Or shall we say that it relies a great deal on student-informed input and interaction. (So much for looking out for my grad students - unless "letting them know what to expect from here on in" counts as "looking out for them".

    There used to be TT jobs. When I got this job, 18 years ago now, it was very common to have an adjunct job for a year or two and then get a permanent job. Now, if you get into the adjunct line the chances are much higher that you're stuck there. And only the admin is happy, because they're paying less than half what a regular position costs, for the same teaching load.

    All I can do I think is warn my students that the employment outlook is grim, and that they should only go into this with some idea of what they could do if it doesn't pan out. And for heaven's sake, DON'T go into debt. And finish it before you're 30, so you've got time to do something else.

  7. Merely Academic, all the talk about setting up a Ph.D. program is like the slick lies of a good pimp or a multi-level marketer; they want you to waste your time guying the graduate student "fish" along until they finish the program....and then they reneg on the program, and the "fish" wind up doing the adjunct shuffle. It's all about using people like Kleenex, and until things swing back to the way they were in the 1980s, the universities would be better off mothballing the graduate programs.

  8. First "program" should be graduate school, second the "Ph.D program."

  9. My department at my shitty school does the same thing with its graduate program. Actually, it's worse because we offer an MBA.

    Our MBA program stinks. The students are awful. Half the courses are staffed by adjuncts who only have an MBA. Yes, MBAs teaching MBAs. Dumbdumbdumbdumb.

    The administration sees no reason to change things because graduate education is the low hanging fruit that subsidizes the undergraduate program.


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