Where Have All the Tenure Track Jobs Gone?

Andrew Pilsch, pictured above on the right circa 2005 at Georgia Tech, recently wrote a very cogent and important post titled “Luck, Hard Work, Blame: How (and Why) Older Generations Hate Us,” which is about the trouble our generation is having finding tenure track jobs and the blame that some entrenched academics mete out on us poor saps for listening to them in the first place.

The problem with finding good jobs in academia now is a revisiting of ghosts from the past. The bad economy keeps folks at work who otherwise might retire, and even when professors retire, administrators convert those positions into non-tenure track, part-time posts–the Wal-Mart-ification of higher education workers.

Andrew’s beef is with people of authority who told him that things would be okay as long as you do well, publish, and give it a good effort. Unfortunately, things are so bad now that even knocking it out of the park might just be a foul ball. I haven’t been to MLA, but I heard from friends who went last year and this year that the available job interviews decreased from about 1,200 to 900. It’s not just that there are fewer jobs available, but it’s also a tremendous number of folks vying for those few jobs. I realize that these metrics of getting a job are affecting everyone right now, but I believe that Andrew does make a valid point that some authority figures in academia that we have each encountered separately have painted rosier pictures about our future job prospects. However, I can honestly say that at Kent State I have encountered more Simon Cowell’s than Kara DioGuardi’s. The early wakeup call that I got from some professors at KSU have put a lot more drive into my motor to build a terrific CV, but my own struggles getting published and meeting young folks who are equally, if not more so, bright with a hunger in their eyes that I recognize from my own have made me question to some extent where I am right now and what I plan on doing in the near future.

I love what I do, I want to do more of it in the future, and I want to excel in my field making lasting contributions. However, the way things are right now and the administrative changes that are taking place with long term implications are making me worry about there being a place for me to do the things that I set out to do several years ago before I earned a B.S. and M.A. and put in almost three additional years thus far on my Ph.D.

I agree with Andrew that we, as graduate students and fellow academics of this generation, have to stick together. I have told my friends here at Kent State the same thing–we are all in this together. These are good sentiments, but I do not know to what extent we can affect a change that will result in more jobs that will provide research and pedagogical fulfillment. Perhaps we are all just weathering a rather lengthy and terrible storm.

What would you say is the best way to survive the current academic job slump? How can we as graduate students pull together to make things better for ourselves?

3 thoughts on “Where Have All the Tenure Track Jobs Gone?

  1. Hopefully, sticking together will mean that the lateral competition — us against each other — will not force us into the lowest paying, highest expectation jobs (you know that dirty word adjunct). It’s our refusal to strike that allows us to fight for these crappy jobs and thus make crappy jobs the norm. We have to make sure none of us become scabs, really.

  2. Hey Shawna,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that we do need to take a stand against the shift toward lower pay, higher teaching loads, and part time positions. Though, the only way that we can evince some kind of resistance is through collectivity. I wish that we did have some kind of guild or union that represented all university educators or humanities educators, but I don’t see MLA or the 4Cs serving that function. Also, the fractured unionization of educators at individual universities protects only the interests of educators at those institutions. How can we create our own imagined community of educators that span all institutions (and maybe also disciplines) to voice our concerns about these trends in higher education? Also, I completely agree that “thou shalt not scab.” The problem with this is two fold: one, the institutions are increasing providing the crappy jobs, because they know that there is a great number of applicants with the requisite educational background with limited job prospects, and two, folks need work so they are willing to scab, so to speak. I agree with you that part of the solution is to collect stories so that we can establish that there is a problem and that is affecting a lot of folks. We need to establish affinities. Is anyone doing this now?

    As far as mobilizing, there are the NAGPS, AFT, and NEA (others?). Have you or Andrew joined a union/given it any thought? I don’t know much about how or what kinds of work these groups have done recently for higher education teaching professionals. Any word from the street?


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