THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF ADJUNCT NATE SILVER! Anytime anyone, ever, says “the market’s always been bad”–send them here.

Schumeditor’s Note: Behold, Adjunct Nate Silver!!!!!!! This is already a beast of a guest post, so I’m not going to add any more words to it. Other than these: READ IT. ~RS

The Job Market Has Not Always Been Bad

by Adjunct Nate Silver

I would like to drive a stake through the heart of the myth that the academic job market in German has always been bad. This is going to be long, but keep reading. If you want to understand why your career is such a mess and what the threat is facing our discipline right now, you have to stop believing that the way things are now is simply how things have always been.

When we say that the job market is good or bad, what we are really referring to is the ratio of available tenure-track (TT) academic jobs to the number of applicants with Ph.D.s. We could push on this definition in some places, but overall it’s fairly robust. A wealth of part-time or temporary non-tenure-track (NTT) jobs does not make for a good job market, and the Ph.D. has been a minimal qualification for tenure or tenure-track employment at most colleges and universities for the time scale we’re concerned with here.

We also need to talk about our data sources for the number of jobs and the number of doctorates granted. We can’t rely on MLA reports about the job market, because we don’t have degrees in “MLA,” we have degrees in German. Our field has not developed in the same ways as English or French or Spanish. We need to look at German-specific data for a longer time frame than most MLA reports provide if we want to understand our discipline.

For German, useful data sources include the ADFL/MLA Job Information List (JIL) and the annual “Personalia” listing in Monatshefte. (The Survey of Earned Doctorates would be more accurate, and likely find somewhat higher numbers of Ph.D.s, but it does not at present allow for discipline-specific queries in the humanities.) The farther back you look, however, the less easily accessible the data become—and this was as true fifty years ago as it is today. The sad fact is that when your advisor’s advisor, or your advisor’s advisor’s advisor, made some poor decisions that harmed German Studies for a decade or more, no one was paying attention.

I. How the MLA Job Information List created the crisis in the humanities

As a data source, “Personalia” is imperfect. It relies on annual surveys sent to department heads, and the response rate is less than 100%. If you have never filled out one of the surveys, the first time is bewildering, and the next time isn’t much better. The surveys are sent out early in the year and due in June, when departmental staffing is often still in flux. Do you count the guy who taught for you this year but is leaving, or the guy you hired but who hasn’t set foot on campus yet? Flip a coin. Eventually people’s names appear there, tenure-track hires more quickly and regularly than NTT hires, but there can be a delay before names appear, and new appointments can show up two years in a row. Completed dissertations are no better. As the “Personalia” editor complained in 2000, the number of reported dissertations was 20% higher than the number of reported dissertation titles. At least “Personalia” is now keeping count. Before 1980, there were no summary tables, so if you wanted to know how many people were earning doctorates in German, you had to count dissertations by hand. Before 1980, there were also no summary tables of new appointments (which “Personalia” has never broken down between TT and senior tenured appointments). Before 1973, there wasn’t even a list of new appointments; you have to go through all the departmental listings and find the people marked as new appointments on your own. Despite its limitations, “Personalia” reveals quite a bit about what happened to German, as long as you know what to look at. Somebody should have been watching at the time. Today, we’re 50 years too late.

Our other data source is found in the MLA job lists. The MLA did not begin publishing a job list until November 1966. It’s initial effort, Vacancies in College and University Departments of Foreign Languages for Fall 1967—we’ll call it the FVL, for “Faculty Vacancy List”—was actually quite good. Owing to popular demand from departments seeking to find candidates, the MLA began publishing lists of job ads with standardized formatting three times each year. Here’s a typical ad for a job at San Diego State College (today’s SDSU) for fall 1967:


Even without referring to the key provided in the FVL, it’s clear what this job expects and offers. The German jobs were interspersed with all the other languages, and they appeared in order by state, but the “G” in the margin makes it relatively easy to find the jobs you would qualify for. (If you’re curious—or envious—the salary range given in 1966 translates to $59,500-$68,800 in 2013 dollars.) The FVL maintained this form through 1970 (you can access the complete archive from the MLA website).

Beginning in 1971, however, things started changing. The March 1971 issue of the FVL dropped the language codes from the margin, making it difficult to find jobs in your field. The entries were not as uniformly formatted. For the first time, the FVL included at the back a list of departments with no vacancies, which was intended to let job-seekers know where they should not waste their time on fruitless inquiries.

Then in the fall, the first issue of the JIL appeared, which replaced the FVL’s accessible and uniformly formatted list of actual openings with a hundred pages of fear and loathing. Instead of listing jobs openings, the JIL aimed to print brief reports on hiring needs from every department in the U.S. and Canada, arranged not by language or by state but by ZIP code. Imagine going on the market in fall 1971, and opening up the new JIL that had just arrived in expectation of finding a list of jobs you could apply to, and finding this instead:


It goes on like this for over a hundred pages. Who was this supposed to help? If you look through all the ads, there are actual jobs being advertised, but they’re not easy to find. (My theory is that the new JIL turned a momentary if serious downturn into a massive collective freak-out that has hovered over the field for four decades.) In December 1976, the JIL went back to ordering the ads by state rather than by ZIP code, as the FVL had done, but it didn’t start arranging job ads by language until 1997. In 1974, it moved the “no information received by press deadline” announcements to a separate section in the back of the JIL, and the “no vacancy” notices followed them the next year, as the FVL had done in 1971. But by then the damage was done. For keeping track of what was going on at the time, or for reconstructing it today, the transition away from the old FVL to the new JIL in 1970-71 came at the worst possible moment. The sheer toil of finding relevant job ads (and then collating them between lists to avoid duplicates) makes it extremely difficult to track the number of openings from year to year. But eventually, the bad things that had been done to German Studies couldn’t be ignored any longer.

II. The Sixties revisited: How your advisor’s advisor ruined German Studies (for a while)

Your advisor did not make a mess of German Studies. The people who did—your advisor’s advisor, or advisor’s advisor’s advisor and his friends—have been dead or retired for decades. Here’s what went wrong: If we take 1960-61 as our baseline (with 32 Ph.D.s in German, it was identical to the average for the late 1950s), then the number of Ph.D.s earned each year tripled by 1966-67, and doubled again by 1972-73 to reach an all-time high of 204 (see Figure 2, and remember that “Personalia” probably understates the number of doctorates). Some of the expansion was justified; thanks to the GI Bill and the Baby Boom (not to mention Vietnam-era draft deferments), undergrad enrollments were booming, new colleges and branch campuses were being founded, and new departments were being formed. Between fall 1959 and fall 1969, total enrollments jumped from 3.6 million to over 8 million. But a jump of 120% in enrollments didn’t in itself call for an increase of over 500% in the number of Ph.D.s in German.


Figure 1: Doctorates granted in German, 1957-1980

Even worse, hiring new faculty in German reached its peak by 1967 and went into sharp decline by 1969, but the number of new Ph.D.s kept rising into 1972.


Figure 2: Ph.D.s versus new TT/tenured appointments in German, 1957-80

The number of doctorates granted didn’t decline substantially until 1976, while between 1977 and 1981 it declined to the same level that persisted over the next few decades and continues up to today.


Figure 3: Doctorates granted in German, 1957-2011

Tripling the number of Ph.D.s to 90-100 per year in the 1960s would have been sufficient to supply faculty needs, so the ramping up of graduate faculty and grad student enrollments should have leveled off in the mid-1960s, but the department heads kept the party going well into the 1970s. They never had to pay a price for the strategic error they made in 1964-66. Their Festschriften, published back when presses still published Festschriften, have long since been moved to remote storage.

If we look at the number of TT job ads in the FVL/JIL and the number of new appointments in “Personalia,” it’s clear that 1970 was not a great year for job-seekers in German. (There is a one-year offset between the two sources, which otherwise track each other fairly closely. For the sake of synchronicity, all the numbers reported here use the hiring calendar of the academic year as their base, so “1970” includes job ads placed between October 1970 and July 1971, for which new faculty started employment in fall 1971 and appear in the fall or winter 1971 issue of “Personalia.”) In terms of long-term trends, however, 1970-71 was a short blip followed by a quick recovery to the level that would prevail for the next 30 years. The go-go days of 1967 were gone, and there were up and down years (1982 was another stinker), but over the long term, the market was relatively stable.

In order to provide meaningful figures, I’ve applied a standard definition of “TT job ad” for all years from 1957 to the present that includes only TT jobs published in the official MLA JIL. Senior-level, part-time, one-semester, and visiting positions are excluded, as are jobs open to any language or requiring multiple languages. This required making judgment calls in some cases when an ad was unclear about rank or the necessity of a second language, but I’ve tried to be fair. I counted all ads for instructor-rank positions as NTT, although promotions from instructor to assistant professor were not uncommon in the 1960s. If you disagree with my counts, I invite you to apply your own definition and judgment to 48 years’ worth of job lists.

There are a few more caveats about the earliest numbers. Departments were more likely than they are today to place an ad and collect applications before administrative or budgetary approval for a new hire was in place, so the appearance of an ad did not guarantee the hiring of a new faculty member (as is also the case today, however, as anyone knows who has ever sent in an application to a canceled search). The FVL/JIL also did not cover the market as thoroughly as it does today; there was a separate “Cooperative College Registry” for many liberal arts colleges, and some departments didn’t trouble themselves with anything as pedestrian as want ads at all. As J Milton Cowan, director of the Division of Modern Languages at Cornell University, stated in the first issue of the JIL:


With that in mind, here is the development of job ads and new appointments between 1966 and 1973 (the MLA archive is missing the JIL issues for November 1969, May 1972, October 1972, February 1973, April 1973, and May 1975, so I’ve tried to use reasonable estimates based on averages from prior and following years).


Figure 4: JIL/FVL TT ads and “Personalia” new apointments, 1966-73

These are steep declines in a short time, but the decline in TT/tenured placements, at 50%, is significantly less than the 65% decline in job ads; the transition from the FVL to the JIL appears to have exaggerated the market decline somewhat. The largest decline is in the new NTT appointments. Between 1963 and 1971, they declined by 85%—but this reflects both a slowdown in hiring, and a redefinition of entry-level positions away from instructors, who were often hired ABD and promoted upon completing their dissertation, to assistant professors with Ph.D. in hand.

If we extend our coverage with JIL TT ads and “Personalia” tenured/tenure-track placements from 1960 to 2007, the number of jobs available remains largely stable. I’ve added a three-year moving-average trend line to smooth out some of the annual volatility. Once we get into the late 1970s, the number of job ads and placements floats around between 40 and 70. The early 70s end up looking like a period of recovery following the steep downturn of 1969-71.


Figure 5: JIL TT ads and “Personalia” new TT/tenured appointments, 1960-2007

In other words, we should stop talking about the difficult job market of the 70s, 80s, or 90s, as this overlooks the 30-year stability in the market between the late 70s and 2007 and the particular circumstances of the 1970s. The rapid build-up of the American university system in the 1960s created a brief burst of intense hiring that had peaked by 1967 and declined to a more sustainable level by the end of the decade. The job market wasn’t ever easy; it required work and talent and connections and luck, but over a long time scale, the job situation in German from the late 1970s until 2007 looks relatively stable. It’s true that the early 1970s were laboring under the consequences of a severe overproduction of Ph.D.s, but job seekers in 1972 also benefitted from the second-highest number of TT job ads in recorded history.

III. 2008: The Bottom Falls Out

Things changed in 2008. This is the part that some people refuse to accept: The job market today is not like the job market of 1977-2007. It is quantifiably much worse.

We have JIL data for 48 years. The last six years, from 2008 to the present, are six of the worst eight years ever, including the four very worst. While it’s true that 1970 and 1982 weren’t great, they were one-year downturns followed by recoveries. For as long as the national job market in German has existed, it has never seen a period of sustained decline in tenure-track jobs like we have seen since 2008, and it has never fallen this low. The last time there were fewer TT or tenured placements than the 16 and 21 of 2009 and 2010 (and 2012 and 2013 will be similarly low) is unknown. It lies farther back than 1957. No year from 1957 to 2008 was worse.


Figure 6: JIL TT ads and “Personalia” new TT/tenured appointments, 1966-2013

Keep in mind that the more important line for job seekers is the green one, the number of ads for TT jobs that they can apply to. The blue line for TT/tenured placements in “Personalia” includes all kinds of hires, including spousal hires and senior appointments. For the thirty years between 1978 and 2007, the average number of TT job ads is 58; for the six years since 2008, the average number is 30.

At the outset I mentioned that the measure of the job market is the ratio of Ph.D.s to available TT jobs. We can graph that ratio over time using data from “Personalia” and the JIL. To estimate the ratio, it’s necessary to look at the number of new Ph.D.s over multiple years, as candidates are not only competing against Ph.D.s from their same cohort. As 95% of people are in their last year ABD or in the first three years after completion when they are hired into their first TT job (this number is not guesswork, but instead based on dates of degree completion and first hire for TT hires since 2006), each dot below represents the ratio of Ph.D.s over four years (in the given year plus two previous years and one following year) to the number of TT job ads that year. The solid three-year moving average trend line smoothes things out over three years to better characterize the period that an applicant might spend on the market. For job seekers, the market improves when there are few Ph.D.s and more positions, and declines when there are fewer jobs and more candidates.


Figure 7: Ratio of Ph.D.s to TT job ads (four-year moving window with three-year moving average trend line), 1966-2013

As you can see, between 1966 and 1970, the situation goes from brilliant to horrible very quickly before settling down to medium bad. If we look at how the ratio changes, we would say that the best time to look for a job in living memory was the 80s, while the 90s through 2007 were almost as good, and the 70s were notably worse, due to the nigh number of Ph.D.s. The period from 2008 to the present is much worse than the 70s. (The graph assumes that Ph.D. production in 2012 and 2013 was no higher than the average for 2000-2011, although the number in 2011 was significantly above average at 104 doctorates granted.) It’s true that 1970 was a bad year, but we’re currently looking at a bad decade with little prospect for improvement. The December 1972 JIL claimed that 87.5% of foreign language Ph.D. recipients the previous year had found full-time academic teaching positions; the December 1973 JIL claimed a placement rate of 72.5% specifically in Germanic languages. No one would claim we’re close to matching that number today.

There’s another important difference. The problem in the early 70s was one of Ph.D. oversupply. Compared to later figures, jobs were plentiful; there were simply too many job-seekers. What changed in 2008 was not the number of doctorates, however, but the number of TT jobs. Ph.D. production has been essentially unchanged since the late 70s (an average of 78 per year in the 80s, and an average of 75 per year in the 2000s). Nor is it the case that Ph.D. production is outstripping the growth of undergraduate enrollments; undergrad enrollments rose over 40% between 1999 and 2010.

So where’s my academic job boom? The roots of the problem of 1970 and the problem now are entirely different. The 70s addressed the problem of oversupply by cutting back on production. Who’s going to address the problem of underprovision of jobs by increasing TT openings?

It’s not that there are no jobs out there. There are contingent and part-time adjunct teaching jobs. When it comes to hiring contingent faculty and adjuncts, the profession is still partying like it’s 1969.


64 thoughts on “THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF ADJUNCT NATE SILVER! Anytime anyone, ever, says “the market’s always been bad”–send them here.

  1. This is a very compelling analysis, and I think you’re perfectly correct in describing the quantitative realities of the academic job market in German.

    Here’s what I simply can’t understand: why is there no mention that 2008 was the beginning of a general employment depression? There seems to be no mention here of the economy-wide shedding of a vast number of jobs. Bringing that up, it seems to me, is an immensely important piece of generating actual political will to change this problem. Because people don’t like academics, simply notifying them of a crisis in the academic job market will create indifference. But if you tie that to a broad collapse in employment and a huge jump in the jobless who have fallen out of the labor market (and are thus not indicated in unemployment figures), you can get people to address the actual structural problems that hurt both academics and non-academics alike.

    Of course, in order to do that, you’ve got to abandon any claims to being uniquely persecuted, and you’ve also got to admit that the people who continue on in the academy despite this reality aren’t uniquely deluded or uniquely corrupt but rather are simply caught in a comprehensively broken economy.


    1. I can’t speak for ANS, but I assume the very reference to 2008 was a reference to the general employment cratering. I do not think ANS feels persecuted, and neither do I. When I speak exclusively about academia, I do so because it is the only industry in which I have true expertise. It is meant to be but one of many ways ways in which the American worker is being screwed. Not the only way.


      1. FdB, I didn’t write about the national employment situation because a) I was responding to a different claim, namely that what we have today is simply how things have always been; and b) if the German academic job market had actually followed employment trends in the economy as a whole for the last 4 (or 40) years, we’d all be in a much better place.

        You’re right that wider employment problems aren’t entirely unrelated. It’s one thing to jump ship and start doing web design in 1999 because that’s what everyone’s doing, and a much different thing to try to find a non-academic job that pays adult wages today. Remember when people used to say, “Well, you can always go to law school?” Those were the days.

        As Rebecca says, I’m not making any claims to being uniquely persecuted,and (unless your Festschrift came out before 1980) I’m not accusing anybody of anything except perpetuating a myth that is simply untrue. I do agree that our economy is seriously broken, though.


  2. This is excellent, and should make anybody hired before 2008 much more sympathetic to the struggles of their near contemporaries. I do continue to worry, however, about the last remarks here.

    ANS concludes thus: “Who’s going to address the problem of underprovision of jobs by increasing TT openings? It’s not that there are no jobs out there. There are contingent and part-time adjunct teaching jobs. When it comes to hiring contingent faculty and adjuncts, the profession is still partying like it’s 1969.”

    Who is doing the partying? Who controls the spigot of TT jobs? Are the partiers and spigot-minders one and the same group of people?

    At a tiny number of institutions, yes. At most institutions, no. The Germanists I know have to claw and bite and scrap and fight to even get a retiring TT line replaced. The idea of expanding the German department is so whacky that nobody would dare propose it, even though Germanists tend to be over-worked in comparison to faculty in English, History, Political Science, etc.

    While many senior faculty are indeed clueless, or willfully obtuse, about the structural difficulties to which their own individual preferences contribute, let’s make sure to keep our focus on the ones actually making the decision to keep TT openings at a minimum: administrators!


    1. So here’s the argument that has to happen: we’ve seen calls for a “return to teaching” from those pushing educational reform in the universities. We’ve seen the accusation that the university doesn’t do enough to teach students. We’ve seen the claim that too many people in the university seem more invested in research than in teaching undergraduates.

      If that’s the case, then let’s put our money where our mouth is and reinvest in the human resources of the university, the actual teachers. If we’re going to return to teaching, let’s stop investing ungodly sums of money in dorms, gyms, and dining halls. Let’s stop hiring an army of administrators who have minimal contact with undergraduates and who have essentially nothing to do with the actual educational mission of the university. Let’s stop adding new, expensive functions to the university and start refunding the most important one, teaching students.

      Let’s put our money where our mouth is by paying the people who teach our classes a living wage, by providing them with benefits, and by giving them job security. Instructors who have to teach 6 classes a semester to cobble together a living can’t possibly be doing a good job. Instructors who don’t know whether they’ll get to teach again next semester can’t possibly do a good job. Investing in our teachers is one of the simplest, most direct ways to invest in our students. So we should expand the number of TT faculty we hire. If we absolutely can’t do that, let’s replace our adjunct/per course faculty with clinical faculty, permanent lecturers, or similar. Give all of our teachers job security and a living wage, and do so while ensuring they don’t teach so many courses they can’t devote sufficient attention to any one. We can afford it, if we stop wasting money by putting up buildings we don’t need and hiring administrators who have no educational function.

      It’s a start.


      1. Hear, hear, Freddie de Boer! This, THIS is what needs to be shouted from the rooftops. The argument made AGAINST such as approach is that it will turn humanities departments into service departments and make administrators take humanities research even less seriously than they already do. That’s a short-sighted response, however. Excellent teaching in the humanities could go a long way towards persuading the public that the humanities warrant the expenditure of tuition and tax dollars. Preach it, Freddie!


      2. If the choice is between being seen as a service department and nonexistence, I hope the correct choice is clear.


      3. Also, it does not have to turn humanities departments into service departments. Go for TENURE TRACK, research faculty — accepting these clinical, teaching-only, etc., long-term lines is also accepting a form of contingency and undermines the educational enterprise ultimately. That is *not* the best we can do (although I realize it may be the point of view of this blog that it is, or that this is desirable).


    2. Eisbär, thanks for your comment. I’ll be looking at the issues you bring up a bit more in an upcoming post or two. Some doctoral programs are still in denial about where their students end up, and the availability of NTT jobs enables their self- (and non-self-) deception. Their grad students earn Ph.D.s and get jobs; what happens to them after the 1- to 3-year terms of those NTT jobs are up is someone else’s problem.

      But you’re right – the people who are throttling TT hiring in German are largely one or two levels above the departmental level. And there is no argument that will convince them otherwise. You can have great enrollments and send students on internships abroad and everything else, but they and their administrator buddies will tell each other that German is the wave of the past and should be phased out so that they can hire four adjuncts to teach web design.


      1. In our case, it was the German faculty member herself, and her husband. They wanted her contingent so as not to have to compete for the job, come up for tenure, etc. I insisted on the TT line because we cannot keep the department downgraded just for the convenience of one person or one couple. She’s an associate professor now, but I don’t think this couple has quite forgiven me.


    3. Who is doing the partying? that is my question, as well. Most people and institutions are on an austerity program and it looks nothing like 1969 (although I cannot say I miss the tear gas of that era).


    4. Overworked compared with English faculty? I assume that you mean at *your* institution. Try teaching four sections of introductory writing. A semester. Or two sections. AND two more sections of a grad seminar. Online. In the same semester. And service. And presentations. And pubs. In one semester.


      1. As a general rule which can, of course, be broken locally, Germanists are over-worked compare to English faculty, period. English departments are usually very big and thus institutionally powerful. German departments are very small, and thus institutionally weak.

        Faculty in small departments very often teach over-loads so much that over-loads become normalized for them. This is because they are trying to maintain a responsible curriculum while servicing a strict hierarchy of languages. Your own experience sounds crappy, Butt, but if we were to do a longitudinal, intra-institutional comparison of faculty workloads between faculty in German and English, then German will win (or, rather, lose).

        Faculty in large departments that do not face existential threats like German departments do really have very little conception of those challenges, and the way faculty labor has to respond to them in ways seen and unseen.


    1. Sorry, ER. I only started tracking and then researching the German data because I had a personal stake in it, and because the relevant professional organizations weren’t doing it. Hopefully the professional organizations in physics are more on top of things. Counting job ads in old MLA job lists took 1-2 hours for each year of job ads, and counting placements in pre-1980 issues of “Personalia” took about a half hour per issue, so getting longitudinal data going back to 1957 is not a project I’d like to repeat any time soon. (It might be a good project for a coordinated distributed effort where 50 people each take responsibility for 1 year and encode the job ads or list of placements or whatever is available in your field.)

      But this is a good opportunity to point out how absurd it is that professional organizations aren’t providing the applicant-centric stats that would-be grad students and job-seekers need. The AATG and GSA are totally AWOL on this one. “Personalia” isn’t a perfect source of data, and its current summary tables only look back 3 years. MLA surveys lump in German with the other languages. And the really important changes go on in places where no one is really looking.


  3. Hey Adjunct Nate Silver:

    One question about the 500% explosion in German PhDs: any indicators to what degree, if any, that was driven by FLAS/Area Studies funding and Cold War priorities (i.e. East Germany is the Evil Empire’s closest ally, etc etc.)?

    Just curious and danke,


    1. Good question! I have no idea what the answer is, though. How many grad students in German had FLAS funding in 1960-70 versus 1975-85?

      I suspect the influence was limited, as the Slavicists – who got killed by the loss of interest and funding after the Cold War ended – seemed to run into problems in different times and in different ways than we did. But there are lots of Departments of German and Russian out there where someone might have seen how things worked out in both disciplines. If anybody has a better perspective on things, please share!


  4. How is overproduction of Ph.D.’s in German substantively different from “underproduction of jobs” for them (so to speak)?
    A similar situation exists in the legal field, except on a vastly larger scale (I am a lawyer myself, in private practice, though I got my J.D. nearly 20 years, so I am insulated from the current market for newbies). Only half of all law school graduates manage to get jobs that require a law degree – and that includes jobs that pay peanuts, as well as jobs that pay less than peanuts (e.g., working for ACLU, the Public Defender’s office, public interest organizations, crappy state government “legal” jobs, etc., etc.
    It doesn’t seem to me that German is different from much of the rest of the higher ed (60% of the population getting college degrees seems far too high to me, maybe 45-50% would be a better match with reality), and particularly doctorate-level higher ed. Too many people are being sold a fantasy. Too many people are willing to buy into that fantasy – people who are presumably very smart.
    Why? Now THAT would be an interesting issue to research, for somebody.
    P.S. I don’t speak German (I do speak Russian, however), have never read Kafka, and have no skin in the game, I just like reading RS’s stuff 🙂


    1. Thanks for reading! You seem very good-natured, so I won’t go batshit on you for violating my ‘supply and demand’/corporate-splaining comment rules. Could also be because I just had a meal and thus am not hangry. This blog-tatorship is inconsistent! There, I said it!


  5. See, George, the problem with saying “supply and demand” is that it treats the job market like a force of nature, when it’s very much some specific people who are making decisions about hiring. “Supply and demand” tells us nothing about those people or the reasons for their decisions. It’s a surrender rather than a systemic analysis.

    The difference between oversupply of Ph.D.s and undersupply of TT jobs is all about cause. In the early 70s, there was clearly an oversupply of Ph.D.s. If you ramp up production 500% in just over a decade, and suddenly it’s hard to get a job, then the obvious conclusion is that there are too many Ph.D.s, and the solution is to produce less of them. If, on the other hand, the number of Ph.D.s doesn’t change much, and undergraduate language enrollments are stable, but the number of TT jobs drops drastically, then something different is going on, and it’s not obvious that the solution should be the same. (I’d be in favor of reducing the number of Ph.D.s, but that’s not going to solve the problem of administrators who prefer that the humanities not exist.)

    About the supposed “lack of interest in all things German” and “something useful, like Spanish,” you really deserve to have Rebecca handle the response to that one. You might want to look into the ways the German and American economy are connected, and consider your daughter’s chances of spending some time in the Frankfurt office at some point in her career. It’s impossible to predict which languages someone will need in the future, which is why you want people taking a variety of languages, and experiencing what it’s like to gain a serious level of proficiency in at least one.


  6. Rebecca — thank you for emphasizing over and over again that there is no demand vs. supply problem. It’s a myth, an urban legend. There is a 100% let’s-save-money motivation on the part of administrators *and* tenured faculty who are administrating for their department (Directors of Graduate Studies — I’m look at you.).

    In my PhD program (humanities), incoming PhDs were assigned a 2/2 course load as part of their TA contract. Yes, we taught the same course load as our TT/tenured profs. Administrators were happier to avoid paying $55-65K a year to open a TT line and much happier paying a grad student $11K a year. During my time, I saw new dorms, athletic facilities, and new tech centers being built all across campus. Clearly there was no lack of money.

    If more incoming/present PhDs understood the economics of their employment, they would realize they are complicit in the system of financial abuse and want to do something to change it. It was only when I read Marc Bousquet that I understood *why* the university flushed me out the instant I became the most intellectually qualified, i.e. received my PhD: I had stopped being financially attractive in comparison with an incoming PhD who would continue to accept $11K a year.


  7. “I suspect that if you do a regression analysis, you’ll see a trend line going down for the last several decades (roughly 45-50 years).”

    This was my reaction too. Fig. 6 actually makes 2008 look like statistical noise in a long-term trend; when I try to eyeball where the trend line would be it looks like one or two of the last few years might actually be above it.


    1. GC, in addition to looking at the trendlines, we need to ask why the trendlines look the way they do. The current trendline has a slope of -.86, or one fewer TT job ad or TT/tenured placement on average each year. But part of that is due to starting off the trend with the 60s, which were a unique period for academic hiring. If we start with 1977, our trend lines have a slope of around -.7, which is a little better. For 1977-2007, the trend lines are around -.25. Which is to say: The reason that the current trendline looks so bad is largely because of the years since 2007.

      Even with the most pessimistic possible trendline (going from 1960 to the present), only one year in the last six (2011) is slightly above the trendline. Compared to the trend between 1977 and 2007, we’ve been far below the trendline every year since.


  8. George, what you write here is incorrect: “every German faculty member trains several Ph.D.s over his lifetime – 10? 15? 25? – to replace himself. Since they all stay in the academic market, presumably, we see why there is an oversupply of Ph.D.’s.”

    The vast majority of faculty members in German do not work in Ph.D. granting institutions. The problem is not an over-supply of PhDs per se, but rather the manner in which certain decision-makers distribute FTE workloads. Get rid of adjunct positions, faux-post-docs, contingent full-time lecturers and instructors, and refine all of those positions down to reasonable TT positions and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.


    1. Well, OK, as long as I am fearlessly talking out of my ass, are there any historical numbers for how many undergrads take German as a foreign language? And/or how many of them take more than one or two semesters of it?

      (I went to Cornell in the 1980’s and didn’t even know that there was a German department there. I did take a beginner’s Russian class, and after two days of it, the prof (adjunct? TA? NTT?) told me “you’re just here for an easy A!” I almost replied “No, actually, I am here for an easy A+!”, but decided, discretion is the better part of valor, and ended up taking some fluffy history course instead. But enough about me – let’s talk about the revolution instead!)


      1. Let’s try to keep the ass-talking to a minimum. I know you don’t mean to (I hope so at least) but your tone reads very condescendingly about the rigorous, complex and largely wonderful discipline to which I devoted ten years of my life–one that contains multitudes of which you are understandably not aware.

        I neither need nor want to hear how “useless” German is. I don’t think it’s useless, and I have gone to great pains on both this blog and in other publications to explain why.

        You are acting as if it has never occurred to me before to have any of these thoughts, when in reality they are things that we think about–and talk about in pedagogy seminars and meetings–from the first day of graduate school.

        I understand that the discipline is mysterious to you, but it is not to me, and the things that are needed to fix it are complicated and require sacrifice both at the administrative and departmental levels. I am fully, 100% aware of what they are, and I do not appreciate people from outside the industry coming in and telling me obvious things as if I were a small, dull child. I am a highly intelligent grown woman with an earned doctorate in a rigorous and challenging discipline. I don’t come down to where you work and insist that I know all the intricacies of the legal world because I’ve seen every episode of “Law & Order.”

        I would highly recommend you click on the “commenting hegemony” link on the top of the site, and read my commenting policy and why I chose to put it into place. Like I said there, this is my house, and I don’t take kindly to mansplaining in my house. Again, I don’t think you are doing it maliciously, but I really would prefer you stopped this line of commenting, or if you can’t stop, then you took it elsewhere.

        My blog is a safe space for me and my friends to express ourselves without fear; if I have to fear the condescending judgment of commenters even here, then I have literally nowhere I can go on the entire Internet without heaping amounts of criticism.


      2. Actually, I am a big fan! Or, at least, a medium-sized fan! And I freely admit, I know virtually nothing about the problems of getting tenure, and have never heard of the MLA until I read about it in Slate (and even then, it took me a couple of iterations to remember what the acronym stood for). So I am absolutely positively not trying to be condescending – just the opposite.
        And – I think I deserve a chunky brownie point for this, btw – I was the first to point out that regression analysis of ANS’s charts does not show a static job market


      3. Compared to the vitriolic hate-comment I just got, everything you’ve said in the last three days DOES deserve a big chunky brownie point, and a brownie for that matter. Thanks for not being mean.


      4. George, now that you’ve heard of the MLA, you should read their research reports on the academic job market and language enrollments. Or back issues of “Personalia.” People have been watching undergrad enrollments for decades, so when you wander in to a discussion and suggest it as a possibility to people who have been living by undergrad enrollments for many years, you sound condescending. And ignorant.

        And, no, the crash of 2008-2009 did not merely speed up the inevitable. Even if we start looking at trends in order to paint the most pessimistic possible picture, in 1967 as you suggest, it should have take fifty years (in 2007) to get to the level that we ended up with two years later.


      5. Well, now, I don’t think it is fair to call me ignorant. Especially since I am the first one to admit that I am ignorant, which is why when someone ELSE calls me ignorant, it hurts my feelings. Besides, I may be ignorant, but at least I am willing to learn – which is not true of 99.9999% of the rest of people who might wander in here.

        Now, as far as the substance of the debate on the trendlines and the regression analysis, maybe you can do a few charts with the different trendlines and post them here. Just eyeballing figure 6 and putting a ruler against the monitor, 2007 looks like an outlier on the up side, just as 2008 looks like an outlier on the down side.

        The way I see it, you have two statistical hypotheses: (1) a static job market – i.e., an essentially flat trendline for the past 30-40 years, which Figure 6 apparently does not support, and (2) a drastic drop off in the last 5 years (beyond what the trendline would explain and beyond what the sigma explains), which might or might not be true, but remains to be shown.

        I will say, though, that while intuition is a poor substitute for a calculation of the statistical parameters, my guess is that 2-3 more “bad” years significantly below the trendline, and I will buy into your hypothesis 2.


  9. Well, if I am wrong, I am wrong – I am man enough to admit it. 🙂 Hell, wouldn’t be the first time I was talking out of my ass.

    So I am curious now – what do all those Ph.D.’s who can’t get tenure, and who are tired of earning just enough to feed their hamster, for 10 or 15 years, actually do with themselves? Teach high school? Translate for some translation service? Marry rich, and drop out of the labor force? (That would be the option I would choose)


  10. I think the most meaningful trendline would start someplace around 1967-1968, and use some kind of a weighting function to give more weight to more recent years. but even without the weighting function, whether a particular year is just above, or just below, the trendline is not particularly meaningful. Inevitably, some years will be above, and some below.

    And I suspect that the trendline would show that the “bad” year 2008 only got here a few years early at most.

    Now, i have a question for everyone. The whole tenure system is an anachronism designed to protect dinosaurs. Wouldn’t it be a better bet (at least, ideologically and intellectually) to demand to do away with the whole tenure thing? (Rather than to demand that more young people be admitted into the racket, which won’t happen?) To insist on a true meritocracy, rather than for each applicant to try (and usually fail) to get inside the protection racket called “tenure”? If it is true that today’s crop of Ph.D.’s is a cut above the old fossils who have tenure now (which is entirely possible), then wouldn’t THAT be a more promising path?


    1. The university system is not centrally controlled. Universities are in competition with one another over faculty profiles, grant potential, etc. The first university to eliminate tenure would be putting itself at a severe disadvantage in the recruitment of talent. Such a university might be able to compensate by offering much larger faculty salaries than is the norm — but then this quickly starts to sound far more expensive than simply keeping tenure around.


      1. Yeah, but our goal is revolution, isn’t it? Or something like it? (Well, not MY goal, I am a lawyer who doesn’t speak German, but you know what I mean.) So we have to insist on every university doing it. Instead of working within an ossified system that protects old professorial relics at the expense of the young and the restless, shouldn’t we try to change the system?


    2. You seem to be defining “revolution” as “mass-action capable of upending a decentralized system.” Great. And, to be sure, this sort of thing does happen in history. Haiti. France. Russia. China. Note that in virtually every historical example, the mass-action is inspired entirely by a correct identification of an exploiting class (a slave-holding class, an aristocracy, a bourgeois class, etc). Note that mass-action is never inspired by mass-resentment of tenured professors. This is why from time to time we see mini-movements like Occupy Wall Street, but we never see an Occupy the Faculty Lounge. (I guess I’m Marxsplaining. There’s nothing in RS’s rules against Marxsplaining, right?)

      So, “revolution,” defined as mass-action, is not going to eliminate tenure. The elimination of tenure would have to be a top-down decision. But, as I said in my earlier comment to you, the university system is much too decentralized and competitive to allow for an across-the-board decision like this. If one school eliminates tenure, rival schools will respond by siphoning away that school’s talent.


      1. Of course, if this “one school” eliminates tenure, it could merely hire the younger, hungrier, and more published who are on the breadline, give them ten-year contracts and have them compete with the older, content, resting-on-their-laurels crowd. Just has the culture at large has eliminated pensions because the younger were willing to forgo them, universities will come to understand that it’s time to pull the plug on tenure because there is a willing supply of quite accomplished younger faculty who no longer believe in it. Most of the “university system” is far from competitive with respect to faculty hiring.


      2. Jody O:
        I think your scenario severely underestimates the value universities place on the grants, books, and prizes which are associated with their tenured faculty. Universities don’t want to be associated with these sources of capital and prestige for mere 10-year bursts. They want to be associated with these items permanently.


  11. ANS charts and statistics would have been very helpful to potential German doctoral students a few years back. In general, there is a lack of transparency in graduate student outcomes. Universities should be required to publish these statistics to improve transparency.


  12. The question still stands “Who’s going to address the problem of underprovision of jobs by increasing TT openings?” Grad students, NTT and TT need to start pressuring administration by forming mass coalitions. We need massive cuts to administration and pork-barrel projects like saunas and bourgeois dormitories. Only pressure from below will move toward this much needed change. Academics of all stripes need to start thinking of themselves as workers and not a privileged professional class.


    1. I am all for the revolution! It all comes down to framing the enemy class properly. If the bourgeoisie or the Wall Street fat cats who haven’t contributed to Obama’s reelection campaign are the enemy class, then why not the overly-well-fed tenured dinosaurs sipping Chardonnays and Pinot Grigios at the Tenured Faculty Lounges? The key is for the revolutionaries to have resolve to do what needs to be done.

      Vladimir Lenin, who knew a thing or two about revolutions, would at times explain to his comrades that one cannot do a proper revolution without shooting a lot of people. Mass executions (he would lecture his comrades) are vital to a successful revolution. Some of his comrades-in-arms, like Bukharin or Radek or Tomsky, had doubts – they weren’t against mass executions per se, mind you, they just felt that the scope of mass executions should be kept reasonable. Lenin, of course, only shook his head and laughed at them, since he knew full well that time and events would prove him right. Which they did, naturally.

      Which brings us to the revolution we’re talking about here. The objective of the mass movement should be a total and complete annihilation of the currently-tenured fossils – as a class. There is a reason why L’Internationale says:

      We’ll shoot the generals on our own side.
      So comrades, come rally,
      And the last fight let us face.
      The Internationale,
      Unites the human race.

      In other words – the wrong people are tenured now, and since they won’t shoot themselves, in between their glasses of Chardonnay (and won’t free up those tenured positions for their betters), we have to do it for them.

      (Again, when I say “we” here, you understand I don’t actually mean myself – it’s more of a call to arms from the sidelines. I am a lead-from-behind kind of guy, if you know what I mean – that’s why I read RS’s stuff.)


      1. George, your characterization of TT profs as an aging class of dinosaurs is naive at best. Wouldn’t it be easier if all TT were just chillin’ in the faculty club in leather chairs, sipping wine and scheming up ways to oppress under grads, grad students and NTT! Careful where you aim your guns comrade. The annihilation of tenure sounds more like the Ron Paul Revolution than the October Revolution. You’re suggesting that we eliminate one of the last bastions of worker control and self-management in the academy because of some imaginary fossils excavated straight from an Ayn Rand screed. No, tenure needs to be expanded and administrative bloat (i.e. management) needs to whither away. Q: What does the word “soviet” mean anyway? A: Council, assembly, advice, harmony, concord. Contemporary tenure needs to make a radical shift from a process that management often uses to control faculty to a process focused on worker self-management and egalitarian principles. The seed is already there we just need to give it some sun and water.


      2. No, no, I am not suggesting we eliminate tenure (well, actually, I was, but that was in a different comment – I multi-track and multi-task, so in THIS comment – my position is quite firm that we keep tenure). The problem is not tenure per se but the fact that the people who have tenure NOW are the wrong people. The relics of an age gone by (a.k.a. today’s tenured faculty drinking cocktails and eating caviar sandwiches at tenured-faculty-only parties) are the problem. These dinosaurs are the bottleneck between today’s depressing reality and tomorrow’s bright future.

        The objective of the revolution is not to eliminate tenure but to replace the undeserving ones (who have tenure) with deserving ones.

        And I am not buying this notion of “worker control and self-management”. Tenure is nothing more than a protection racket. The only real question is – who benefits? (There is even a Latin phrase for this, which escapes me at the moment – but you all are more well-read than me, so I am sure you can recall it.)

        Once we frame the issue properly, we see that Vladimir Lenin’s prescription is the only one possible, if we are truly going to address the problem. We KNOW the underserving ones will not give up their cocktails, caviar and cushy lifestyles willingly. Which means… you know what it means. Either we do what has to be done, or the deserving NTTs accept the sad lot that life has dealt them.

        P.S. “Soviet” originally meant “council”, in the sense of “local council”. Depending on context, could mean “advice”. I don’t know about “harmony” or “concord” – that’s not how I would translate it. And as a native Russian speaker, I ought to know.


      3. That’s ’cause the NTTs don’t have access to where the real action is. There surely IS a fancy tenured-faculty-only lounge there somewhere (and probably looks similar to the club in “Trading Places”), but the pleistocene megafauna undergoing the fossilization process there don’t want to share access with the NTT proletariat (and rightly so, I might add – after the revolution, when the dinosaurs are put out to pasture, and the replacement faculty gets THEIR bite at the shrimp cocktails, the swimming pool and the free massages at the Tenured Faculty Club – they sure as hell won’t want to share their hard-won gains with those who don’t have access. There is never enough for everyone – it’s human nature.)


  13. Keep in mind that several universities (e.g., USC, UAlbany) have tried to totally eliminate foreign language departments in the last few years. This might partially explain the recent plunge in TT job openings in German.


  14. Related: I have figured out that it is not actually true that my unit does not use adjuncts. It does — it is just that the people we hire, we also hire as FTEs. They don’t make enough to live on really as FTEs, although they do have benefits, raises, offices, a vote in the dept., etc. So they moonlight at their own workplace as adjuncts. It is called extra pay classes but it is work that would otherwise be given to adjuncts. We COULD have additional people as FTEs instead but the current FTEs vote against this since they want the adjunct pay. So just getting FTEs is not an answer: we need higher instructor salaries and also more TT lines. Have the instructor FTEs teach a normal load, no overload, but at higher salary, then have the classes now designated for adjunct pay taught by the new TTs. This would be my plan. (Current non TT FTEs cannot go TT because do not have terminal degree.)


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