“The problem is not that humanities jobs are disappearing”

In an interview at Inside Higher Education, Jason Brennan (Georgetown) and Phillip Magness (American Institute for Economic Research), answer a question from interviewer Scott Jaschik about their view that universities are admitting too many PhD students.

Brennan and Magness, co-authors of Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education, respond:

Everyone likes to blame the poor state of the academic job market—especially in the humanities—on alleged cuts to faculty lines … The problem is not that humanities jobs are disappearing, but that many academic fields are graduating new Ph.D.s even faster than their full-time job market grows.

paper sculpture by Kate Kato

They cite data to support their answer:

U.S. Department of Education data (see, e.g., IPEDS tables 315.20 and equivalent in earlier reports) show that the total number of tenure-track assistant professors in four-year colleges has grown steadily since 2002, and is keeping pace with student enrollment … Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the total number of humanities professors (excluding part-timers) has not only increased by about 60,000 between 2000 and 2015, but that humanities professorship employment grew faster than any other field except all the health sciences.

The annual Survey of Earned Doctorates shows a similar pattern. In 2015, the humanities reported 1,383 full-time hires among newly minted Ph.D.s. The social sciences showed 1,215 hires (excluding psychology, which is sometimes categorized as a preprofessional discipline); life and agricultural sciences posted 920; math and computer science posted 441; engineering posted 399; and physical sciences posted 246 faculty commitments from the newest class of Ph.D. students …

The real problem is that while the humanities jobs are growing, Department of Education and other data sources show that the rate at which humanities departments graduate new Ph.D.s is even faster. So, the job market “shortage” is really job market glut of our own creation. Both administrators and faculty have perverse selfish incentives to churn out Ph.D.s. (For example, professors in doctoral programs get free grading, higher salaries and more prestige.)

You can read the full interview here.

Related: Against Reducing The Number of Philosophy PhDs

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