A Decline in Humanities - Higher Education


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A Decline in Humanities

by Murali Balaji

Nadine Gabbadon spent much of the spring and early summer fretting about completing her Ph.D dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania and finding a communications-related faculty job. There were times when it seemed like accomplishing both was a long shot at best.

          “As an academic, it’s already slim pickings as it is,” she said. “When I actually started looking, I started to panic.”

          Gabbadon’s fortunes changed when she learned about an opening at Lincoln (Pa.) University. By late July, she accepted an offer from the school and resumed work on her dissertation, which she expected to complete by the end of this month.

          “It’s funny because I stopped looking (at the time of the offer),” she says. “I still haven’t processed it. It is a relief because I would end up adjuncting.”

          Thanks to the faculty position, Gabbadon says she can continue her research without worrying about job security.

          Over 1,200 miles away, Terry Porter, a doctoral candidate in organizational leadership at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., has been disappointed by the lack of opportunities in his field as he prepares for his job search.

          “The thing I’m seeing is that there aren’t a lot of positions available,” says Porter, who will be applying for full-time faculty posts next years. “I’m seeing a lot more part-time lecturers and adjunct positions than I am tenure-track. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of opportunities.”

          Gabbadon and Porter’s struggles finding liberal arts faculty positions is not only reflective of the tight job market, but a preview of what could be worse in years to come, say some faculty job experts. Doctorate students of color who are couched in humanities and liberal arts fields such as philosophy, communications, and ethnic studies could be especially impacted by college job cuts and hiring freezes.

          Since humanities professions have not been strong revenue producers for most universities, they are often the first to get cut or scaled back during tough economic times. With universities emphasizing investments in jobs in the sciences, the growth of humanities fields might not keep pace with the number of doctorate graduates over the next few years.

          Ronald L. Jackson, associate dean of the College of Media at the University of Illinois and the chair of the university’s African-American Studies department, says the outlook doesn’t look good for many doctorate students who are looking for jobs in specialized fields such as ethnic studies.

          “From an African-American studies perspective, there are very few graduate programs,” Jackson says, adding that fewer specialized programs often means fewer faculty jobs. “Humanities will have somewhat of a decline because there’s less funding and less opportunities for hiring.”

          Jackson says dwindling budgets, particularly for state-funded universities, have made it harder for new faculty searches. As a result, he says, faculty members in the humanities and liberal arts are doing more with less.

          “They are figuring out creative ways not to hire new people,” he says.

          Despite the less-than-stellar job outlook, some doctoral students such as Letrell Crittenden are more optimistic about their prospects next year. Crittenden, a former journalist who is looking for positions in communications, history or African-American Studies, says he is hoping to distinguish himself from other Ph.D candidates on the market.

          “As an emerging faculty member of color I will bring a different skill set than many of one my White counterparts,” he says. “I think whoever hires me gets more bang for their buck.”

          Crittenden says that because more universities are emphasizing professional skills such as journalism, the best way for minority candidates to get job offers is to expand their teaching repertoire. He says many students of color he has met “are not building secondary skills to teach these professional classes.”

          Jackson agrees, but notes that many universities – including those that have been teaching-oriented – are looking for a scholar’s research potential. He says that graduate students can no longer expect to get hired based on merely presenting at conferences.

          “I always tell students that publications are paramount in academe,” he says. “You need to have publications, because the more you have, the more likely you are to secure a position.”

          Jackson adds that while humanities is not nearly as much a revenue generator as other disciplines, doctoral students would be wise to promote their skills in securing external funding.

          “The trend lines suggest that if you’re in humanities or social sciences, if you have experience in grant, you are head and shoulders above the competition,” he says. “There will always be openings, but it’s just a matter of whether they match up with the number of folks graduating.”



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