Trained for Nothing

By Heathcott, Joseph | Academe, November/December 2005 | Go to article overview

Trained for Nothing


Heathcott, Joseph, Academe


Why do we still structure doctoral training around tenure-track positions in universities? The PhD can lead to so many other places.

Dreams deferred and hopes dashed make for heart-wrenching personal narratives, as we see weekly in the Chronicle of Higher Education. No other trade publication reveals such pathos in the industry it watches. Stories abound of tenure cases capriciously and unfairly decided, budgets shredded owing to fiscal austerity, departments rent by raging canon wars, and burdens borne unequally by faculty members. Few topics, however, elicit as much anxiety as the crisis in the academic job market.

Week after week, graduate students, adjunct instructors, and recently hired tenure-track professors recount harrowing stories of applicants who go in search of tenure-track jobs only to find themselves locked into a series of low-wage temporary positions. I have been moved many times by the witness of the talented men and women who spill their guts to the paper of record for higher education. Yet the time for witness is past; it is now time to act. The tenacity of the job crisis means that it is time to rethink the nature of graduate training in America.

Dimensions of the Crisis

The numerical mismatch between seekers and jobs in academe is now well known, and it cannot be explained through anecdotes about behavior. For most applicants to any given tenure-track position, rejection has little to do with biography; it is rarely the result of inadequacy, poor preparation, personal defects, or wearing a bow tie to your interview (which I was warned against doing by well-meaning advisers).

Rather, the job crisis is a structural problem, produced by the introduction of scarcity through real, identifiable, and thus reversible policy decisions. The contour and durability of the crisis are shaped by state legislative priorities, tanking endowments, declining endowment payout rates, and blockbuster investments in campus plant that divert funds from classroom instruction. Within these parameters, university and college administrators seek to balance budgets on the backs of a growing casual labor pool. With high levels of PhD production and a shrinking number of tenure lines in American universities, academe has settled in for a long period of struggle over the terms of intellectual labor. It will take sustained pressure from multiple stakeholders to redress employment grievances in today's university.

Still, just and equitable employment policies will mitigate only half of the problem. The number of positions available in higher education might rise slightly, but the number of applicants will remain high. A fundamental problem will remain: departments continue to run doctoral programs on an outdated guild model in which professors and matriculants tacitly agree that the only worthy outcome for the apprentice is to land a journeyman position in academia, eventually becoming a tenured master. No amount of restructuring can address this problem. It is time we reevaluate our system of doctoral training to exorcise the guild model once and for all.

I am not suggesting that we replace the guild model with a bland careerism that reduces graduate education to an exercise in job training. Graduate programs must not aim to produce workers alone; they must also help shape students into balanced, well-adjusted colleagues capable of living good lives. A sense of passionate vocation once called all of us to be historians or anthropologists or theologians. It is around this sense of vocation that we should reorient graduate education. After all, there are many places to practice our disciplines-many potential vocations-and the academy is not necessarily the best. We need to root out the assumptions embedded within the guild system that make the tenure-track academic job the central trajectory of doctoral training.

Purpose of the PhD

Dismantling the guild system requires that we unravel the underlying correspondence between the PhD and the professoriate. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Trained for Nothing
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.