Thursday, March 26, 2015

The New Yorker wants to fix your grad program (hint admit fewer students)

Actually a decent read. Rothman was a grad student (ABD in English at Haaaaahvaaaaahd) but he evinces little of the bitterness that many Ph.D. program dropouts display when writing about grad school. The article does a nice job of explaining the complexities to a lay audience.

Look for the link to the article "Oh Adjunct, My Adjunct" in the sidebar.

Added benefit of tightening admissions would be that interrupting the flow of cheap labour would make Mosman's head explode. I'd pay to see that.


  1. I've been hearing "limit Ph.D. admissions" for ... oh, must be 20 years or so. It probably goes back further than that, but I wasn't paying attention to academic job markets until I was G-5 or so...

    The only way that's going to happen is if graduate students actually cost universities more than they are worth in cheap teaching and research labor.

  2. The MLA report he mentions set off quite a firestorm -- and rightly so, I think. I can see an argument for the M.A. as preparation for a number of things, but the Ph.D.? Not so much. You either end up watering it down too much to make it take a reasonable time, or it doesn't take a reasonable time (especially when you throw in real teacher training, plus some of the exploration of other possible career options the report called for. The whole do-more-in-less-time thing was -- rightly, I think -- roundly criticized. The recommendations of the report not only didn't cohere into a unified whole, they were downright contradictory.)

    I have to agree with the author -- reluctantly, because I know how hard many people have worked to found new Ph.D. programs, and I know those programs make the Ph.D. accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to pursue the degree, and that in turn has the potential to increase the diversity of the profession in all kinds of ways. But the only way I can see to change the system is to starve it of new grad students (and a steady supply of newly-minted Ph.D.s willing to do almost anything to get a foot in the door/stay in the profession), at least for a while. Since decreasing cohort size beyond a certain point is difficult, that probably means decreasing the number of programs, and/or (my preferred solution) going to every-other-year or every-third-year admissions at most schools. I actually think that could work (and might give potential Ph.D. candidates some time to think about their decision, and explore a plan B career a bit, before entering a program). There would be complications, of course, but compared to the current mess, they would be minor. And a side effect would be to free up some faculty currently teaching grad classes to teach more undergrads (replacing adjuncts and TAs who would no longer be there. They'd still get to teach grad classes, of course, just not as often, and they'd have more, and more current, experience with undergrads to share with the grad students they did teach. Those seem like good things to me).

    The other key change is the one Jonathan mentions: having grad students needs to be more costly to the institution. One way to do that on the humanities side would be to require more investment in pedagogical training, in the form of credit hours devoted to pedagogical classes by students, and FTEs invested in pedagogical training (probably something like a double-credit subject/pedagogy seminar run parallel or prior to related undergrad classes in which the grad students would TA, after which the faculty member teaching all of the above would probably collapse, or at least have earned a semester to focus on research alone, but so be it).

    Finally, there's one more subject which I appreciate the author mentioning, because it frequently seems to be forgotten in discussions of this kind: there are a lot of un- or underemployed already-existing Ph.D.s out there, some of us working in the academy, and some not. If institutions (especially well-endowed ones such as my Ph.D. alma mater, and yes I've suggested this on the surveys they ask us to take from time to time) are concerned about hiring "stale" Ph.D.s, or Ph.D.s who've been away from the academy, to any tenure-track jobs that might be in danger of going unfilled if the current Ph.D. pipeline were significantly narrowed, they could always redirect some of their current graduate teaching force to crafting some sort of "refresher" course, along the same lines as NEH summer seminars, or other grad programs for working adults (who can actually benefit from some of the "innovative" models -- e.g. low-residency/mostly online programs -- that don't work so well for traditional-age undergrads).

  3. I'd pay to see Mossman's head explode too, but only from behind one of those transparent plexiglass shields, like they have at the killer whale show at Sea World. And no, it wouldn't be only to keep splashed water off me.

  4. I think one of the contradictions of the system is that at the top Ph.D. programs we actually have been restricting the pipeline for a while now. In my program we've cut cohort size by about 30% compared to a decade ago, our funding package is now extremely generous and includes things like child care and other fringe benefits that I suspect many people on this site do not enjoy (we only admit fully funded students) and we require no teaching whatsoever. They get a pay bump for doing it, but I'd say that fewer than half our students elect to teach anymore.

    The other top ten departments are more or less doing the same. So at the top of the scale, at least in social sciences and humanities departments, the cheap labour argument no longer really applies. We've ramped up funding, cut cohort size, and eliminated teaching as a requirement. All this is meant to cut supply and also to reduce time to degree. In that regard it is working.

    The problem is that the less well-heeled institutions and departments can't do that. They are the ones who are engaging in exploiting cheap labour, and they can't afford to stop because they can't provide any funding that is detached from teaching. So as Cassandra points out, the democratization of the Ph.D. is part of what drives the cheap labour express. And we are probably passed the point at which it would be possible to shut these places down without unbelievable cost and disruption.

    As far as MA programs go, ours is a money-making scheme pure and simple, but some of the other top places in my discipline are now using some of the money they've saved from cutting the size of their Ph.D. programs to create some fully funded MA slots. I think that's an ethical and rational approach to the problem. You create a mechanism whereby interested and smart students can do some funded postgraduate work without committing themselves to the six or seven-year slog to the Ph.D. (I know that it is longer for many, but that's where we are now).

    Personally, I think the places that rely on exploited labour should have to face the consequences. We should be aiming to cause a crisis that will expose the contradictions in the system and force the people who have cut the funding for instruction to give an account of their actions. I think those Ph.D. programs should be shut down. But I'm not holding my breath.

    1. Yeah, particularly not when there's no shortage of smegheads like the Ed.D. who heads our local Science-Mathematics-Engineering Group (SMEG) or Thomas L. Friedman who loudly declare "There is an imminent shortage of scientists in the United States." This has been going on since Sputnik I, and it wasn't true even then: I witnessed the layoffs after the cancellation of Project Apollo. If we need scientists so much, how come it's STILL so hard to get a job as one?

    2. Friedman is such a fucking prick. I was waiting for a table at the Tabard Inn in DC (best homemade donuts ever) once and there he was. I so wanted to punch him in the face.

    3. In case there are any Friedman fans reading this: Rarely has someone been paid so handsomely to be so wrong, so often, on such a wide variety of subjects. You could go out of your way to be wrong and still probably be right more often than that guy.

      I know I'm right about this because my taxi driver told me so.

    4. Whenever I hear a politician in my state mention the need for workers in STEM fields I want to punch things. Which fields because I know a lot of new grads looking for a job along with those cut from STEM businesses in recent months...

    5. I really don't know what the answer is. Funded M.A.s sound like a good idea, unless and until they tempt more people into Ph.D. study. I also like the idea of funded M.A.s directed at preparing people for alt-ac work (as long as there really are job opportunities in the relevant field), and part-time Ph.D.s designed to be pursued (at minimal cost) while building an alt-ac career through a concurrently-held full-time alt-ac job with growth potential. Those are all expensive options, however, and few schools are going to be able to offer them (though those that can probably should, especially if they do so by redirecting funds from more traditional Ph.D. programs).
      I'm much less sanguine about the value of the no-teaching Ph.D., not so much on account of the effects on the students in the program (though they won't be good if said students need to seek work beyond a very small circle of elite universities), as on account of the example such programs set for other institutions that aspire to be like them. The problem with a fully-funded, relatively short grad program with no teaching required is that it perpetuates the idea that an academic career is all about research, and teaching is something you can just pick up along the way (and should do as little as possible of in any case). My own grad program (at an ivy, in the late '80s) didn't go quite that far, but it came damn close. I could have TA'd for four semesters, never planned a class of my own, and gained very little experience in anything except leading discussions that jumped off somebody else's lectures and grading papers based on somebody else's (usually very broad) assignments, all with very well-prepared students who mostly already knew how to learn. As it was, I chose to teach freshman comp. (still to well-prepared students), which was a really stupid move in terms of making progress toward the degree, but a really good move when it came to learning how to teach -- mostly from the faculty wives (I'd say spouses, but they were all wives) who'd been promised something more specifically tailored to their interests when their husbands were recruited, but ended up in the writing program (which, I must say, they served well), and advanced grad students from the state R1 down the road who made up the rest of the teaching force for the class. That experience made me employable (as an adjunct or Accursed VP) at a pretty wide variety of institutions. The downside is that it took me nearly forever to finish the degree while adjuncting, and I wasn't a very good candidate for a tenure-track job by that point (long time to degree, a few very few fairly old publications, little relationship with my adivsors or anyone else who might serve as a reference). I've taken some steps to remedy those issues in the years since I defended, but it's very slow going, and I definitely don't have a record that stacks up very well against most recent Ph.D.s -- except that I have oodles of teaching experience, and a bit of experience with other stuff that makes most of the academy go 'round these days, such as assessment. "Stale" Ph.D. and advanced age aside, that actually makes me a pretty good candidate for the majority of TT jobs out there, which are in teaching-oriented institutions -- certainly a better candidate, in practical terms, than a recent Ph.D. with no teaching experience.

    6. Of course it's possible to gain teaching experience after getting the Ph.D., and many of the schools that minimize it during the degree process now have fairly large corps of postdocs teaching freshman seminars (either as substitutes for or in addition to traditional first-year comp). If they don't hire their own Ph.D.s for those positions, they frequently at least trade among themselves, creating a de facto post-doc teacher training opportunity for students in that elite circle. However, I'm not sure how much pedagogical training comes along with such positions (and the incumbents are no doubt being urged by their advisors to take advantage of their relatively light loads not to hone their teaching skills, but to spend most of their time on research, so that they can get a "real" -- i.e. research-intensive, TT -- job). The other training field for underprepared teachers is, of course, the adjunct corps, usually at institutions that can least afford to be choosy -- i.e. the deep end of the pool, in which many newer teachers, and their students along with them, struggle before (or instead of) swimming.

      Given the above, I actually think a high-ranked program at a flagship state R1, with decent funding but also an expectation of a significant amount of teaching, and associated training, combined with a somewhat longer time to degree (and encouragement to publish along the way), is the best preparation for the majority of TT jobs that do exist. That's where I'd advise anyone who does insist on pursuing a Ph.D. in the humanities (and who isn't independently wealthy) to set hir sights, even if (s)he can get into a more elite program. Given the current landscape,a new Ph.D. needs training and experience in both research and teaching to be eligible for the broadest possible range of available jobs (and any Ph.D. candidate these days really does have to be willing to take, and do well in, any of a range of jobs; if not, they should think many times about pursuing the degree in the first place).

      I'm not sure where that leaves the ivies and other big-name private R1s, other than trading Ph.D.s with each other, and taking advantage of extremely-selective admissions to attract undergraduates who don't really need all that much teaching (though they would certainly benefit from it if offered). That's basically what's happening already, and I'm not sure how much what goes on in that elite world matters all that much to the great majority of academics out there (even many of us who inhabited it during all or part of our undergrad and grad days), except as it sets a (bad, I'd say) example of what academia can and should be. If my State R2, and many others like it, didn't have an ambition to be "Harvard on the [local river]," I'm not sure it would much matter what Harvard did or didn't do. But as long as it does, Harvard's (and Princeton's and Yale's and Stanford's other elite schools' ) focus on research, research, research, with large lectures as the default undergrad instructional mode, and hands-on teaching relegated to the few grad students who insist on teaching (and so out themselves as not really belonging to the institutional culture), non-TT hired help, and assistant professors who probably won't get tenure (Harvard's answer to grad student TAs/postdocs, at least a few decades ago; this role is probably now increasingly played by official post-docs), does have an effect all down the line, because their approach serves as a model/"metric" by which my institution, and others like it, measure their progress toward R1-dom.

    7. Usually we agree, but here I think we disagree quite strongly. We (if you didn't name check my institution above you came within spitting distance of it) are not the problem here. Yes, we trade students among ourselves. But when did we not do that? But as far as teaching opportunities go, practically the only ones we ever offered were those recitation and/or grading assignments. So getting rid of those has reduced time to degree for our students without actually affecting their pedagogical training which was always more or less meaningless anyway.

      In the meantime there have been some knock-on effects that have probably been good for the undergrads. I'm not sure what you consider a "large lecture course" but because we can't count on having graders anymore, we are capping our lectures at a lower number than we used to. I'm going to presume this means a better experience for our undergrads, although some of my colleagues are so manifestly incompetent that it may not make a real difference there.

      Meanwhile, our grad students are getting teaching-heavy jobs. We just had a very good student not in my field accept a job at a comp-regional with a 4-4, another (one of our very best, smartest, and most research driven) started at a 3-2 R2 this year. There are many others. I'm pretty sure they struggle to adapt, but I'm not seeing a huge amount of evidence that their relative lack of experience in the classroom is hurting them that much when competing against the pay-to-play program students who had to teach or starve through grad school. My brain tells me that they should be getting torched by those others on the market, but my lying eyes tell me otherwise. So I'm not entirely sure what to believe.

      We (and at least a couple of other similar places) are now offering a teaching credential for the grad students. It is voluntary, but free. I'm not entirely sure how many of them take advantage, but I tell all of mine to do it. Perhaps it isn't as good as real classroom experience, but it's a damn sight more pedagogical training that I've ever had in academia. It probably isn't a perfect solution (what is?) but it is better than the alternative which is to throw them to the wolves.

      As for those teaching postdocs, We have them. mostly they go to our own students, but there is, as you surmised, a certain amount of trading back and forth. Some of them are good experience, some of them are worthless. The worthless ones tend to be the ones where the postdoc is still just leading recitations for a faculty-led course. The good ones involve mounting one's own courses. But here's the thing, my anecdotal data tell me that there's either negligible or no difference in job market outcomes at teaching-heavy jobs for the students who do those postdocs and the ones who don't. So intellectually I want to believe you, but I'm not seeing it playing out that way in real life.

    8. The one area where we agree is on the phenomenon of aping the Ivies and pseudo-Ivies. That is a problem. In fact, it is the problem. But the problem isn't that the institutions want to ape the Ivies, the problem is that the faculty want to ape them. That's the issue. As I said in another comment, if the faculty at school with crappy PhD programs stood up in unison and said we aren't taking any more applicants, there's fuck all the admin could do about it. So the fact that these programs continue to spit out PhDs is a function of faculty choices, not of administrative ambitions. The faculty want the ego-boost of having grad students. That's what's driving this. The admin is just taking advantage of the TT faculty's ego. The faculty are the ones who are making the whole farce possible.

      Here's the thing though. Having grad students and doing it right is a huge amount of pretty unrewarding work. I don't wake up in the morning and say to myself "you know what would make this a great day? marking up Greg the Gradflake's crappy chapter draft." I do it because it is part of the job, and I try to be a good mentor to the students I have and to the many others who seem to like to knock on my door instead of their own adviser's. But after a lot of years of doing this I think what I've learned is that I would have been happier to have spent my career at a SLAC or at some institution where I could have completely opted out of the grad program. And I wish more people would opt out. That's the only way to address the problem in a meaningful way. We have the power. We need to use it.

    9. Well, I certainly *don't* disagree that teacher training at the ivies/elites has always been negligible to nonexistent. I encountered some decent teaching as an undergrad, mostly from advanced grad students and assistant professors who eventually didn't get tenure (but landed on their feet anyway, though not without some pain/trauma; at least at that point in history, an assistant professorship at my undergrad institution was to all intents and purposes a 6-year postdoc that built strong qualifications for eventual tenure at a comparable or one-rung-down institution anyway). But I can't say it was a major goal of the institution. I got a pretty good education, partly thanks to professors who did care about teaching (and the advanced grad students who directed my junior and senior independent projects), but also in large part because I had a strong elementary and high school education, and knew how to take advantage of the opportunities available to me without a lot of guidance. I'm also an introvert, and learn best when working on my own, so the quality of leadership in recitation/discussion sections wasn't terribly important to me (though a really good how-to-be-an-English-major seminar my sophomore year, taught by one those assistant professors who didn't get tenure, definitely played a key role in my intellectual development).

      My grad institution actually prides itself on its undergrad instruction (yes, I did things backwards), and the burdens that imposes on the faculty became clear when my department lost a number of faculty members the year I passed generals. The remaining faculty barely managed to keep up with the undergrad teaching (including a heavy load of independent project advising), and grad students (especially those left without advisors, as I was) were pretty much left to their own devices. Although I'm independent, I'm not that independent, and that was also about the point where I reached the limits of what I could figure out on my own. I was also not all that mature in some ways (for whatever reason, most members of my cohort were at least 5 years older than I). For all of the above reasons, I floundered at the prospectus stage, while simultaneously immersing myself in trying to learn to teach without much guidance. In retrospect, I would have been much better off *not* teaching that year, if only because it would have become clear much sooner that my progress toward finishing the degree had almost entirely halted. So I can see the upside to the no-teaching approach, or at least of not simultaneously introducing teaching and dissertation-planning, as my program did (many programs, of course, have grad students teaching much earlier, which at least means they're used to it, and to juggling teaching and degree work, by the time they get to the generals and prospectus stages).

      On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that I would have found the entry into teaching much easier if I'd had more guidance and support, and more of a community with which to share experiences, at that stage (but I turned down an offer from a grad department with a program of parallel grad teaching seminars and initial undergrad teaching assignments, so my choices played a role there, too).

    10. I also realize that grad teaching, even of quite able students, isn't easy, if only because I experienced the effects of an almost complete lack of guidance or structure at a time when I badly needed both (and goodness knows I don't want to look back at early drafts of my dissertation, or even the finished product, which is *not* going to be a book, ever -- though there might be a few useful arguments somewhere in there). I'm very glad to see people at my own institution putting considerable time and effort into curriculum and extra-curricular support for our Ph.D. students, even as I'm not entirely sure all of the Ph.D. programs we have should really exist. Some are quite small and targeted to very specific needs outside as well as within the academy; that makes sense to me. The creation of one -- which as far as I can tell is an excellent program -- was justified by possibly overoptimistic predictions of job market trends within the academy; that's the one I worry about.

      At the same time, I'm confident that it was created in good faith, out of a genuine desire to serve the profession and the prospective student population, and not out of a desire to gratify egos (though a desire for more interesting teaching assignments may have played a role). At least at my institution (R2 with an explicit goal of becoming an R1) there are, in fact, institutional incentives to "grow" grad programs (for instance, there's money available to do things like create new faculty lines explicitly for that purpose; such activity would probably also have been rewarded out of the raise pool, had there been a raise pool anytime in the last 5-10 years, which there hasn't been). My colleagues could, of course, say "no" to such incentives, but the money would not, in that case, be redirected to undergrad teaching; it would simply go to another department's new/growing grad program. I'm not sure how strong the state-level incentives are -- in other words, if everyone at my school said "no," I'm not sure whether there's money that would simply go to another R2 down the road, but I rather suspect so. From what I can see, there's competition within institutions, among institutions in the same state, and between/among states to increase research profiles, which makes the "just say no" approach difficult.

    11. Finally (and I promise to stop adding to this already-very-long thread after this), while I realize that the numbers involved put us in the realm of anecdata, I'm suprised to hear that a Ph.D. with little to no teaching experience was hired to a 4/4 job (the 3/2 one seems less surprising, since that's what counts as a research-expected load in many places these days, reasonably or not). I can't blame the students for taking the jobs, but I do question the wisdom of those who extended the 4/4 offer. There will definitely be a steep learning curve when it comes to teaching (both teaching, period, and teaching particular a particular population of students very different from those the new Ph.D. has encountered before). Perhaps that will be offset by being further along in research (or at least having better connections to help with seeking a book contract, pre-tenure fellowships, etc., etc.), but I'm not so sure; the people I've met from longer, more teaching-intensive flagship state u Ph.D. programs seem quite well-prepared on those fronts. I hope that your institution is tracking its grads in the long term (mine is, though perhaps only recently; I am, amusingly enough, still tracked as a relatively "recent" grad based on my defense date). Once again, we're in the realm of anecdata, but, during my time in ABD/adjunct limbo, I encountered one graduate of my own program who had finished in the prescribed very short time (because she could not afford to do otherwise), gotten a tenure-track job (a few years before the bottom started sinking again), and failed to get tenure because she was badly unprepared for either the teaching or the research expectations of her new institution. When I met her, she was just starting over on the tenure track, at a more teaching-oriented institution. She eventually succeeded in getting tenure, but to some extent I think one has to count the 6 years she spent in an unsuccessful tenure-track bid as part of her graduate training, at which point the 4-year program she completed on time begins looking like a particularly torturous 10-year one (albeit with better-than-average pay).

  5. Don't get me started on tracking. We suck at it.

    Funny story about that 4-4 institution. There's a person already there who who is in my field (but of a totally different generation), who trained at one of the elite grad programs, taught very little, and finished quickly. She not only got tenure there, but she published her book with one of the prestige presses too. Not sure how she managed all that (and children). I wouldn't say she's over the moon about the job, the students, or the location (which while not as remote as Oilmont, is still pretty out of the way) but every time I see her at a conference she's always pretty sanguine about the whole thing. So them hiring our student seems consistent with what they've been doing successfully for some time.

    And here's one more. As revealed in that live chat with Stommel, I know shit about Digital Humanities. My department knows shit about Digital Humanities. One of our students, trained by a bunch of kooky old cranks like me who know fuck all about Digital Humanities landed a two year VAP at a place that was starting a DH program for the underflakes. Two years later this former student landed not one, but two tenure-stream positions teaching DH at an R1 and an R2. I presume that all the PhD's at the programs where they actually got some real training in DH must still be throwing stuff at the walls a year later. Don't get me wrong, I think there's something sad about it (although I'm obviously delighted for our student), but the fact is that at the end of the day prestige still matters in big and small ways that trump the actual experience of the applicant.

    Speaking of anecdata (as you say) we all know someone who didn't get tenure for whatever reason, but the actual numbers on tenure denial are not bad at all. The vast majority of people who have the good fortune to land a tenure-stream job get tenure. If you include people like your friend/acquaintance who get tenure somewhere else after being denied in the first instance, the numbers show that if you get your foot in the door, there is a negligible chance you'll get pushed back out.

    All this to say that the problem remains that huge cohort of people who never get their foot in the door, many of them more capable than the ones who do. And I remain of the view that we are the only ones who can do anything about it. Only the faculty have the power to restrict the pipeline. As I said, at the prestige programs we've been restricting it for a while now. But my suspicion is that for every student we turn away, there's some shitty program that is more than willing to take them and perpetuate the problem.

  6. I know I promised to stop adding to this comment thread, but since Archie and I are undoubtedly the only ones reading it by now (assuming Archie is still reading it), I have a few further thoughts, mostly revolving around the idea of a "shitty" Ph.D. program.

    Here's the problem: Shitty Ph.D. programs undoubtedly exist, but the ones I'm seeing created in my own department may be superfluous (or at least may produce superflous, i.e. un/underemployed, graduates), but they're not shitty. In fact, from what I can tell, they're very good -- better in some ways than the one from which I received my Ph.D., or (at least if you're talking about preparation for the vast majority of jobs out there) than the one Archie describes. Among other things, they've been recently and very carefully thought out, with oversight by both university and state committees, to make sure that they respond to present needs and conditions in the academy (give or take some possibly overoptimistic estimates of supply and demand). They also, thanks to exactly the employment trends you describe, Archie, tend to be staffed by people with very similar education, abilities, etc. as more prestigious/elite programs (people who are maybe a bit less lucky by some definitions, and/or a bit more geographically/personally limited, and/or a bit more pedagogically-oriented, but most of whom graduated from highly-ranked programs, and all of whom could hold their own in, and contribute to, an elite program if the opportunity arose).

    There's a bit of an apples-and-oranges issue with the particular program of which I'm thinking, because it's focused on a subdiscipline which is not generally studied at the Ivies (too practical/pedagogically-oriented), and in fact isn't represented at my own state's public-ivy flagship U. Instead, we have 3 Ph.D. programs at 3 (geographically-separated) non-flagship public Us in my state (one R1 and two R2s-that-want-to-be-R1s, including my own). In terms of supply (rather than accessibility/geography), we probably need one (at most), but as far as I know they're all good-to-excellent programs.

    That doesn't mean that the pipeline doesn't need to be constricted; it just points out how painful the process could/would be. It's a lot easier to think about eliminating "shitty" programs than to think about eliminating perfectly-good, or even excellent, ones which provide access for people who might otherwise not be able to pursue a Ph.D (and who can contribute to the profession), but which are nevertheless contributing to the oversupply problem.

    The other solution, since many Ph.D.s are under- rather than unemployed, is to increase the extent to which the available teaching work is packaged into decent (full-time, preferably tenure-track) jobs. The results of that would be less painful (at least until you get into the question of whether the Ph.D. is really a necessary qualification for most such teaching work, and, if we're going to say so, what happens to the M.A.s/A.B.D.s currently doing it), but it's at least as hard a goal to accomplish as killing off Ph.D. programs.


    1. P.S. And yes, I can think of several recent flagship-u grads of my acquaintance with significant DH expertise who probably would have been excellent fits for the DH job you describe, and may well have applied for it. Whether your own graduate, who is no doubt smart and able to learn independently and adapt to circumstances, grows into it is another question; it's entirely possible that he will (it's also quite possible that he will spend a good deal of time dealing with administrators who supported DH when there was grant money available, and are now frustrated to find that those were start-up funds, and the university is expected to fund further growth of the program on their own. That's the story of DH all over these days.)
      Since my own job is precarious, I'm pretty much driven to be a hypocrite about the value of prestigious degrees: I think overvaluing them is wrong, and should stop, but I also hope that mine might, rightly or wrongly, increase my employability, and thus serve as a partial safety net, should I need to go back on the market. Double aargh.

    2. I'm reading. I can't add anything, and I think I'm going to have to read it again to get its full import, but I am thankful for this discussion.

    3. All good points Cassandra. And I shouldn't have used the adjective "shitty." Sometimes I get carried away with the Archie persona.

      I think we are back to mostly saying the same thing. I do think that there is no one-size-fits all solution here. A lot depends on discipline, if nothing else. So Mrs Archie is in a non-elite department with a PhD program. In her discipline the department is responsible for a ton of service teaching (comp and the like). She says that if they shut their PhD program down and replaced all those instructors with contract faculty the level of instruction would fall precipitously because they run all their instructors through a series of boot camps on how to teach writing. So their students are much better prepared to deal with the realities of teaching writing than anybody they could hire off the street. In fact, when she was DUS she found that the problem writing instructors--the ones that generated the most complaints and failed on most metrics--were all the instructors hired from outside, whereas their PhD students all did at least a passable job. So as she says, killing their PhD program might be good for some of their PhD students who are likely dead-enders, but it would be a disaster for their undergrads. So that's an argument in favor of keeping PhD programs even if they don't turn out people who are going to go on to normative academic careers.

      But in my discipline no PhD program that I'm aware of provides the kind of baseline service teaching that so many programs in your discipline provide. So I agree that there would be truly negative knock-on effects of shutting down programs in your discipline. In my discipline I'm not convinced that that would be the case, although I am persuadable.

      Let's assume that we agree that restricting the pipeline is a good idea. There are two ways to do that. The first is to shut down programs, the second is to make across the board cuts in the size of programs at every institution in the land. The second approach is the one employed by the medical professions. The problem is that the MLA, AHA, APA, ASA and so on lack the coercive power to enforce across the board cuts. So while, as I indicated, many of the elite programs have cut cohort size because we are currently in an arms race to provide bigger and better funding packages. Just to put a number on it, it currently costs my institution something close to 60-70K per year (excluding the fictional waived tuition, just real honest to dog cash costs of stipend plus healthcare and benefits) per PhD student to offer the funding package we do. And the package is guaranteed for six years with no teaching required.To match what some of our rivals are now offering we'd need to push that to closer to 80K per year with the same six year guarantee. That puts a real limit on how many students we take. No such incentive (in my discipline) exists to make the non-elite programs cut their cohort sizes. The per annum cost that those institutions pay to and for their PhD students is much less than half of what we pay. And they recoup a lot of it from the savings they realize from having their students teach standalone courses. So they just take our overflow and the supply issues continue.

      Aaaargh indeed.

    4. So if we can't force across the board cuts in cohort size, and we can't eliminate non-elite programs for reasons that we've discussed, what's the solution? One solution would be for the non-elite programs to offer a significantly different product. To some extent that's happening already, but the point might be to have non-elite programs make a strength of the fact that they offer real pedagogical training. Mrs Archie's department doesn't place its PhDs at elite institutions, but they are super-successful at getting them jobs at Community Colleges and high-load institutions. They also seem pretty good at getting them jobs in publishing (which may also be dying, but that's a different story). So that more or less justifies their existence. Looking at what non-elite programs in my discipline do, it is surely true that they too place students in Community College and other high-load jobs. But they aren't creating any kind of value added. So if they remained themselves as programs that produce people who will become museum personnel or archivists, or what we generally call "public history" they'd be doing a Mitzvah for both their students and the discipline as a whole. If they cut cohort sizes that would be an additional Mitzvah.

      Here's the thing. The faculty have the power to do that. They just don't want to have the hard and honest conversations that would be required to achieve the goal. My central point, I guess, is that adminflakes can't do it. We can, but we won't. This is a self-inflicted wound.

    5. Should be "remade themselves" I think the fucking spellchecker foiled me again.

  7. I'm reading, too (fwiw).
    Some of the best stuff on CM is to be found in the comments, and added somewhat after the initial post, I find. I'm always grateful when people take the time to add to discussions like these.
    Former students' outcomes are sometimes bittersweet; the best in their cohort often don't get the post-graduation results they have the potential for, while less talented / hard-working ones get lucky (probably exactly what my old group say about me!)

  8. Since a few are still reading (and just to bother Hiram by making the place sound even more like a crampicle forum -- that's a joke, Hiram, just in case it doesn't come across as such thanks to the limitations of communication on the interwebs), I'll continue, though I may be running out of steam (those "aarghs," and the thinking behind them, take it out of you).

    I do think there are significant differences between disciplines, and that the Lit/Language/Writing/Communications discipline(s) are a special case, because we teach so many sections of required gen ed courses (of a sort that really can't be taught in large lecture sections, no matter how much administrators beg, plead, cajole, blackmail, etc., etc., though in some places they seem to be at least temporarily succeeding in forcing the matter -- see ridiculous class-size increases in foreign languages in some places, and ridiculous class-size and/or course-load increases in comp. in some places)

    Well-supervised grad students (especially those who entered their programs expecting to qualify for teaching-intensive jobs) can, indeed, be very good teachers of writing (and, I suspect, intro language) classes. In our case, we don't (yet) have many Ph.D. candidates teaching in the writing program; most of the grad TAs are MFA candidates, which sounds like a bit of a mismatch of interests, but, with good training, actually works out well (the whole question of who should pursue an MFA, and why, is, of course, a whole 'nother kettle of fish). At my place, we've also got a pretty strong full-time non-tenure-track corps (many of us with years of experience with our institution's particular courses, some of which are quite particular, and some of us on multi-year contracts), and a pretty strong adjunct corps (though hiring people more or less off the street in August is, indeed, chancy, and I gather there are occasional slip-ups in that area, we can and do require some prior teaching success, usually at the local cc, which minimizes the problem for us, though not for the cc). Because the relevant Ph.D. program is pretty new, it hasn't really changed those numbers yet. If it were wildly successful, it might reduce the adjunct corps, and even perhaps the non-TT corps. There also might be something of a philosophical/generational conflict over whether lit Ph.D.s should continue teaching comp, or should be replaced by rhet/comp Ph.D.s (this conflict is already brewing in the profession as a whole, and might briefly open up some opportunities for rhet & comp Ph.D.s at the expense of lit ones, but, unless the fundamental makeup of the teaching corps changes, we're still going to end up with a minority of tenure-track Ph.D.s supervising a majority of non-TT Ph.D.s, whatever the exact flavor of the Ph.D.s involved).

    1. So, yes, limiting the pipeline seems like the/a solution (at least until you consider what dastardly plans administrators may be dreaming up for "leveraging" a single Ph.D. as instructor of record by using advanced-undergrad TAs, or B.A.s on adjunct wages, or whatever, as "learning facilitators" or whatever they decide to call the non-Ph.D. hands-on teaching staff). I'm in favor of constricting the pipeline, at least unless and until we find a way to package much, much more of the college-teaching work that is out there into decent (i.e. full-time, tenure-track, or at least governance/service-participating) jobs. My instinct is that limiting inputs into the Ph.D. pipeline is one way to starve the beast (the other, of course, is for adjuncts to stop adjuncting, or at least limit their adjuncting to the strict minimum that fulfills goals that can be fulfilled in no other way -- e.g. getting/maintaining teaching experience).

      But I'm not sure we should discount the possibility that administrators might respond to a diminishing supply of grad TAs by instituting some of the changes I mentioned above (e.g. larger classes w/ various sorts of teaching "assistants"). If that's going to happen, I suspect it's going to happen whatever professors do or don't do in regard to their own Ph.D. programs, because word is getting out that a Ph.D. is not a route to what most people consider a "good" job (and the economy in general is improving, and law school is looking like a better bet again). A general impression that getting a Ph.D. is not such a hot idea may well be one of the main effects of adjunct activism. My guess is that the applicant pool is going to get smaller, and weaker, and that may well have the same effects (for good and/or for ill) as deliberate pipeline constriction.

    2. P.S. I don't like the idea of different kinds/qualities of Ph.D.s (though we may well have them already, especially if you include the Ed.D. realm), in part because I think we need more, not less, cross-fertilization among different kinds of institutions, and in part because I think we've already got that degree -- it's called an M.A. What's more, it used to be considered a sufficient credential for a job, even a TT job, at many teaching-oriented institutions. Perhaps we need to return to that situation? If so, accrediting agencies could help by not over-valuing the whole "Ph.D. instructor of record" thing.


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