Post Academic

On Making Humanities Like the Sciences: Start Using Numbers

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionArnold addressed the considerable issues involving the attempt of the “UC Commission on the Future” to align Humanities achievements with those in the sciences. That’s a tall order, especially when academics are already reluctant to give hard numbers related to who is getting jobs. Frank Donoghue, director of English grad admissions at Ohio State, isn’t fond of the question, “What’s your department’s placement rate?”

Here’s what Donoghue has to say about a “typical year”:

In that recent year, we graduated 11 Ph.D.’s; four did nationwide job searches, and two of them got tenure-track jobs. The third of those four Ph.D.’s got a two-year appointment as a visiting assistant professor that may possibly be converted to a tenure-track job, and the fourth got a one-year postdoctoral fellowship. Of the seven other Ph.D.’s, five did limited searches for personal reasons, and none got job offers. They will try again next year and in the meantime will work as adjuncts. One received a tenure-track offer but turned it down so that he could accompany his partner, who has a tenure-track job at a better institution. The one remaining Ph.D. did not go on the job market at all, but instead accepted a position as an English teacher at a private high school, which from early on in his graduate career had been his professional ambition. Now, what was our placement rate? Any answer to that question can’t be quantified.

Sure it can be quantified. Here’s Post Academic’s attempt to suss out Donoghue’s meaning:

Out of 11 PhDs:
2 tenure track jobs
1 visiting prof job
1 post-doc
5 adjuncts
1 faculty spouse
1 English teacher at a private high school

More after the jump! Image of numbers in action from public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

I respect Professor Donoghue’s attempt to address the needs of each of his students, and it’s great that he can list that much about them off the top of his head. The whole article addresses his genuine, not to mention refreshing, concern for aspiring academics. But that’s footnote material. The numbers should be isolated, and they should be up front at the top of the page. If a potential grad student is dismayed by the lack of tenure-track jobs, then she can read the footnotes.

A short, accurate list of where people wound up is invaluable. For example, a potential English grad student might think “Okay, tenure-track jobs are hard to come by, but it’s good to know that I could teach English at a private high school. I might like to do that, actually, so maybe this program is a good fit for me.”

Whether or not it is Professor Donoghue’s intention, such a wordy response suggests that he has something to hide regarding the success of his program. He really doesn’t. The glaring statistic is that 5 of the 11 individuals became adjuncts, but it’s a terrible economy anyway.

An Open Letter From a Director of Graduate Admissions [Chronicle of Higher Ed]

Literature grad-school official on job placement: It’s complicated! [Boston Globe Brainiac Blog]

4 Responses to 'On Making Humanities Like the Sciences: Start Using Numbers'

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  1. Mark Bauerlein said,

    How about this number: the average sales of literary monographs to individuals from leading scholarly presses is 50-100 units.

    • Arnold Pan said,

      Wow, those are some remarkable numbers–thanks for sharing the information, Mark! Do you know what the average print run for lit-related books are these days, and how much (or whether) the relevant numbers (from sales to print runs to published titles) have been declining? We’ve written some posts on the difficulties of getting essays published in scholarly journals, but we haven’t really explored book publishing, mostly because that’s an area we don’t have much experience in.

  2. ProfL said,

    Numbers aren’t scary, and English department personnel better get used to representing them to their advantage. After all, while many university administrators can’t read, but they certainly can count.

  3. Dr.Who? said,

    Placement rates can’t be qualified? What a load of crock.

    Those percentages match up pretty close to what happened to the 8 PhD grads from my old dept over the past 5 years. About a 20% success rate for TT jobs.

    2 – tt jobs
    3 – adjuncts
    1 – ESL overseas
    1 – unemployed housewife
    1 – govt job
    2 – MIA

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