Don’t Vilify Educated People

Have you seen memes like this?:

Meme Philosophy job

Jonathan Couser, a history professor at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire, has some good thoughts about this meme.  Here is what he recently wrote on his Facebook page (used with permission):

Bash the meme time, children. This was recently shared by a friend who, appropriately, took it down. But it’s the kind of thing that circulates a lot so I’m going to share it myself – with some analysis.

At first glance, the meme appears to be pointing out the value of trade jobs, which provide solid employment with little or no college debt. That’s true enough, and valid. These careers are good options that young people should consider.

But that’s not all it’s doing.

It’s misleading on a number of points. While “Adam’s” $100K in college debt is not unheard of, it’s nowhere near typical. Actual average college debt is around $30K. Meanwhile, “Chris'” income figure is inflated – it’s possible to make $80K a year as an electrician, but the average figure is around half that, maybe three-quarters, depending on where you live.

The meme says that “Adam” can’t find “a philosophy job,” which is no-brainer because, outside of academia, where you’d need a PhD rather than a BA, there’s no such thing as “a philosophy job.” That makes a cheap shot easy for the meme-creator, but disingenuously hides the realities.

Philosophy majors (and majors in other supposedly “worthless” degrees like History or English) actually do very well on the job market. The major is not designed as job training. Instead, they go into all kinds of careers where skills in writing, communicating, or analytical thinking are beneficial. They are also much better prepared than most to go on to graduate programs like an MBA or JD and become lawyers or business executives.

In fact, according to Five-Thirty-Eight in 2015, the average income of a philosophy major was – guess what? – $80K – the amount that was the inflated claim for “Chris'” income.

After being dishonest, the meme gets ugly.

Supposedly, “Adam” thinks that “Chris” is stupid. Meanwhile, “Chris” gleefully disconnects “Adam’s” electricity.

This is the rhetoric of grievance. It vilifies the educated people of the world, the philosophers, as a bunch of snobs who carry an unjustified contempt for working people. And it relishes the sense of vengeance, of getting even, that “we” (since we’re clearly supposed to be cheering for “Chris” by the time we read this far down the meme) are going to stick it to “them.” There’s no sense of empathy for “Adam” losing his electricity or blame that “Chris” does this to him. We’re supposed to think it’s just deserts.

To be sure, there are some educated snobs in the world. But I spend my life in academia, and I can honestly say that I can’t think of any of my colleagues, nor students, ever expressing contempt for working people. It’s a myth.

What’s really going on here is not a positive promotion of the value of a good trade career. What’s really going on is a toxic attack on higher education. The meme is designed to promote a sense of grievance, of resentment, and of contempt for education and the educated. By encouraging the “Chris'” of the world to despise the foolish “Adams”, the meme tells people they don’t need to listen to reasoning, they don’t need to respect expertise, and thus makes them pliable to misinformation, fake news and propaganda.

I agree with every word of Couser’s analysis.

The State of the History Job Market


The number of full-time faculty jobs in history has declined over the past year, but the history job market appears to be stabilizing. The number of Ph.D.s in history is dropping.

Here is Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed:

The new data appeared in the American Historical Association’s annual jobs report, released Wednesday. The report is based on jobs posted to the AHA Career Center and the separate H-Net Job Guide. About 25 percent of historians work outside academe, so the report does not reflect the entire jobs outlook, but it is considered representative of overall disciplinary trends.

“We may have reached a point of stability in the academic job market,” reads the report, written by Dylan Ruediger, an AHA staffer. During the 2018-19 hiring cycle, the AHA Career Center hosted ads for 538 full-time positions, making for a 1.8 percent decline year over year.

Read the entire piece here.

Job Market Stories

College classroom 3

I noticed last night that some folks on Twitter were telling horror stories from the history job market.  OK, I’ll play.  Here are a few of mine.

  • A professor at an research university asked me during an on-campus interview lunch if I wanted to be a historian or a minister.  This interview, I might add, happened after I published my first historical monograph.  I did not get the job.
  • I was asked to give a lecture on Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society for a teaching demonstration at small liberal arts college.  Later in the day, a politically conservative professor said he did not like my lecture.  I asked him if he thought I had said anything inaccurate or misrepresented Johnson or the Great Society.  He said, “no, I just don’t like LBJ.”  I did not get the job.
  • As members of the search committee at a research university drove me through town on my “community tour,” one member asked me, somewhat sheepishly,  if I was an evangelical Christian.  I said yes.  He then said, “wow, that’s great, we need one of those on our faculty.”  I still think his response was an example of postmodernism at its best.  I was offered the job.
  • At one mid-level state school in the Midwest I learned midway through the on-campus interview that I was the fourth candidate to visit campus.  I hit-it-off with one member of the search committee and on the ride to the airport he told me that I had no chance of getting the job because they needed to hire a woman.  I was the only male candidate they brought to campus.  To this day I still wonder why they even invited me to campus.
  • During another interview at a research university I was scheduled to have individual meetings with all of the faculty members whose research intersected in some way with early American history.  When I met with the department’s professor of native American history, a member of an indigenous people group, he told me up front, before we even started talking, that he would not be voting for my candidacy because he did not want the early American position filled by a white person.  The rest of that conversation was very awkward. I got the job offer despite his negative vote.
  • During a conference interview with a southern university in the midst of redefining its religious identity, I met with two history department faculty–one who was in favor of the new identity changes and one who was not.  The entire interview revolved around what I thought about these changes. They asked me nothing about my work or teaching.  It was clear that these two men did not like each other and they were using me as a punching bag to air-out their differences. I did not get an on-campus invitation.
  • During an on-campus interview at a regional state school I was asked to give a lecture to a large United States history survey course.  After the lecture, I was chided by one of the search-committee members because I did not put the students into small groups.  I did, however, get the job offer.
  • At another regional state school, a professor on the search committee called me up the day after I received the job offer and warned me not to take the job.  The place “sucked” he said and he was trying to desperately get out himself.  I took his advice.  And he eventually got out as well.
  • At another research university I called the chair of the search committee two weeks after I had visited campus.  I asked him if there was any news about the committee’s decision since I had not heard from them in a while.  He told me that he would call me back in an hour since he was in the middle of helping the top candidate’s wife find a job in the area.  He even told me the name of the candidate. (Yes, this is true).  Needless to say, I did not get this job.  Apparently he found sufficient employment for the guy’s wife.  By the way,  today, about 20 years later, I am a big fan of this guy’s work.
  • The committee of a small liberal arts college insisted (due to plane ticket prices) that I fly into town on the Friday evening before the Monday interview.  They put me up in a bed and breakfast in town that doubled as the home of one of the members of the search committee.  Needless to say, it was a long weekend.
  • At one research university, which invited me to campus for a position in early America, a senior scholar spent most of the candidate dinner peppering me with questions about Harry S. Truman, the subject of his most recent book.  I did not get the job.
  • In an on-campus interview at a liberal arts college I delivered a job talk on Presbyterians and the Enlightenment in early America.  During the Q&A, one of the faculty members began a question by saying, “I don’t know why religion is so important.  I just wish they would abolish it.”  (That’s a direct quote.  I will never forget it).  I did not get the job.
  • During a conference interview with a regional state school, I met the six-person committee in a standard hotel room (not a suite).  There were three men and three women. Several members of the committee lounged on the beds because they only had one chair and one small love seat.  I did not get the job. This was 1999.
  • During an on-campus interview at a Catholic college in the Midwest I was asked to give a lecture on the Stamp Act.  One of the professors in the room, a well-known conservative historian, asked me why I did not say anything about stamps on Bibles.  This, he claimed, was the real reason why the colonists resisted the tax. When I told him I did not think the resistance to the Stamp Act was religious in nature he told me, in front of all of his colleagues and the undergraduates in the classroom, that I was being swayed by revisionism.  I got the job offer.
  • I received a job offer from a private university in the mid-Atlantic and turned it down.  The next year at a big history conference the person who accepted the post after I turned it down contacted me (we had only met once before) and asked me if he could take me out to dinner as a “thank you” for not taking the job.  As far as I know, this person is no longer in academia.
  • During a driving tour of the community during an on-campus interview I started to get car sick.  When we got back to campus the chair invited me to lie down on the coach in her office before my next meeting while she sat at her desk and took a phone call.  I got the job offer.
  • During an on-campus teaching demonstration I began by going around the room and asking the students to tell me where they were from.  When I was rejected for the job the head of the search committee, in what I imagine was an attempt to give me constructive feedback, told me that I wasted too much time at the start of the lecture “getting to know the students.”

I’ll stop there for now until more stories come to mind.  I should also add that the job market was much better back in 1998-2002.  Those were some boom years in early American history.

Have You Seen Claire Potter’s Advice for History Job-Seekers?

Job Center

Several years ago Inside Higher Ed published a few of my pieces on interviewing for jobs at various kinds of history departments.

Here is my piece on interviewing at church-related colleges.

Here is my piece on interviewing at teaching colleges.

I also took a stab at a post on interviewing at research universities, but it did not appear in Inside Higher Ed.  You can read it here.

We have also spent a lot of time posting about job interviewing at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.   Find those posts here.

It is now time to add Claire Potter‘s recent twitter thread on conference interviewing to my lists of posts on the job market.  It is excellent:

Great stuff! Thanks, Claire.

Good Advice: A Cover Letter is Not a Vita and a Vita is Not a Cover Letter

Curriculum vitae written on typewriter

Karen Kelsky explains at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Question: I’m preparing my job documents for the fall and looking for ways to economize. Can I just write a really short cover letter since all the information I would put in a letter is already on my CV? The cover letter feels redundant.


And the reason for that is — they are two different documents. They have different functions and are designed to help the search committee ascertain distinctly different things. Summer is a good time to go over the basics of both documents as candidates prepare for a new academic hiring season.

Read the rest here.

Digital Humanities and Your Vita

harrisburg digital

Will experience, expertise or interest in digital humanities help you land an academic job?   In the Fall, my department will be conducting a search for a public historian.  While the ability to do digital history will not be one of the major requirements for the position, I think it will certainly make a candidate attractive.  (The job ad will be out in a couple of months).


Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jennifer S. Furlong and Julie Miller Vick talk about how graduate students in the humanities might develop some digital skills.  Here is a taste of their piece:

Julie: For many scholars in the humanities, one of the most compelling reasons for pursuing DH work is the possibility that they could continue their own line of research. Don’t count on it, though. All three of our experts said it was difficult to find time for their own research in the midst of all the work they do to support other people’s scholarship.”

“Remember that dissertation I mentioned?” Hardy said. “With the exception of a handful of conference presentations, it is pretty much sitting on my desk at home, awaiting my undivided attention. I go through spurts of dedicating 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. to my own writing and research, and then inevitably, a grant deadline looms or a meeting demands preparation, and my twilight hours are given over to more immediate tasks. I should add: I am fortunate enough to work at a place where most of the work I do really excites me as an intellectual.”

For Varner, moving into DH meant that he left behind his work in American studies, but “published quite a bit on changes in libraries and digital humanities. It is worth mentioning that many academic libraries have tenure (or something similar to tenure) for librarians, and publishing is generally part of making those promotions.”

Likewise, Morgan’s work has shifted “more toward questions of process and infrastructure in libraries: how people work with systems, how we build effective systems for people to learn, etc., how we describe what DH/DS librarians do. I’m quite happy about that, because I love those topics.”

Jenny: We always ask our interviewees about future trends in their career path. One emerging trend, according to Varner, is the desire to make DH “less special” and incorporate more of its methods into the humanities curriculum for undergraduates and graduate students. Hardy noted two areas of increasing interest: “The Mellon-funded initiatives for digital platforms for scholarly publication certainly have pushed that toward the forefront of the DH conversation. And perhaps I am revealing my own biases here, but scholars are increasingly recognizing the importance of special collections and archival data.”

In fact, all three experts expressed hope that DH tools would transform how humanities scholars communicate — both among themselves and with the public.

In addition, Morgan is seeing “more interest in platforms like RStudio that can work with enormous datasets. But there actually aren’t countless large humanities datasets out there, so I think that more focus on data curation will be productive.” She also noted that many older digital projects are breaking down as they “age out of the current tech infrastructure” — making sustainability an increasingly important part of the DH conversation.

Read the entire piece here.

Episode 37: Should You Go to Grad School?

PodcastAnyone who has been paying attention to higher ed and the humanities knows that job prospects for recently minted Ph.Ds are abysmal. So why do people keep choosing to engage in such a difficult process that by many measures is unlikely to pay off? John Fea adds his thoughts to this question and they are joined by Erin Bartram (@erin_bartram), the author of the viral blog post, “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind.”

OAH Dispatch: Sometimes “I just need to listen”


Mary R.S. Bracy teaches history at Warner College in Lake Wales, Florida

Here is Mary R.S. Bracy‘s latest post from the Organization of American Historians meeting in Sacramento. Click here for Mary’s previous OAH post: “She Persisted: A New Assistant Professor Tells Her Story.”  Enjoy!

As is usually the case when I go to conferences, I have about five million things rattling around in my head at once. Yesterday was a full day. Today I’m headed back home, so I feel like this  has just been too quick!

I sat down to write this dispatch last night, but I was simply too tired to type any words on the screen. Our panel started off the day at 8:00 am. I was excited to get going, but was a bit disappointed when we only had three audience members.  I guess this is what happens when you’re up against a panel on “Hamilton!” I have participated in a lot of conference panels, but this was one of my favorite.  It was first panel I’ve been on where I’m the one with the most experience!  I would have never been brave enough as an MA student to even think about presenting a paper at a big conference like the OAH…so I was really happy to see my fellow panelists doing that.

I like to get out of my comfort zone when I go to conferences, so the other panel I attended yesterday was “When All That Is Left Is Words: The Writing Sensibilities of Civil War Soldiers.” Sarah Gardner (Mercer University), Peter Carmichael (Gettysburg College), and Timothy Williams (University of Oregon) each presented papers. I was especially intrigued by Professor Williams’s paper “Prison Pens: The Culture of Writing in Civil War Prisons,” which focused on prisons as intellectual spaces.

I only made it to two panels overall, which is about what I expected.  I gave up trying to do everything at conferences a few years ago.  If there are papers I really want to see, or colleagues I want to support, I do that, but otherwise I simply try to absorb the intellectual atmosphere.  Sometimes this is exhausting; other times it’s completely inspiring.

This time, I’m taking away a deep sense of inspiration from my fellow panelists, who are all young and excited and passionate about what they’re doing.  I am in no way old, but I am disillusioned.  The academy has hurt people I care about.  It hurts to see my friends leave the profession.  It’s been frustrating to talk with them as they fill out hundreds of job applications, only to have nothing.

But I’m an optimist at heart, and being on a panel with graduate students fed that optimism.  They know that this job market is terrible. But they love the job so much that (at least for right now) the problems seem like a distant future.  I tried to offer a dose of reality.  I mentioned that the job market is terrible and graduate students need to be thoughtful about the future.  But when they started talking excitedly about passing comps, planning dissertations, and writing grants, I just shut up.  Because in my disillusioned world, I just needed to listen.

She Persisted: A New Assistant Professor Tells Her Story


OAh LogoI am thrilled to have Mary R.S. Bracy writing for us this weekend from the floor of the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento.  Mary is not new to The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Longtime readers will remember that she wrote for us as a graduate student from the 2013 American Historical Association meeting in New Orleans.  You can read her posts here.  I am also happy to announce that Mary just accepted a position as Assistant Professor of History at Warner University in Lake Wales, Florida.  Congrats!!

Here is Mary’s first dispatch:

Greetings from Sacramento!

This is my first trip to the OAH, so I’m very excited to be here.  It’s also my first time to present at a major national conference, and my first time to present something about my teaching, rather than my research. Plus, I’m excited about my panel: I’m joining with some colleagues who are public historians, and we’ll be talking about how we foster collaboration in our work. (Shameless plug: 8:00 am Friday, Convention Center Room 305!) Shae Smith Cox, who is ABD at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, put together our panel. Shae is a friend of mine from my days at Oklahoma State, and I’m happy to be working with her yet again.

I spent today traveling (Tampa to Sacramento is a long trip!), getting registered, and wandering around the book exhibit. I found lots of things that I want to buy, but won’t, because I don’t want to lug a super-heavy suitcase back through the airport.

I also spent a lot of time today musing on the nature of academia and academic labor. This isn’t anything new. I’ve been thinking about academic labor and the tragedy of so many talented scholars having to leave the profession ever since my friend Erin Bartram’s brilliant and heartbreaking piece about the grief it causes.

And I think about the nature of academia and academic training every time I work with Shae. Both of us had really, really difficult MA experiences but went on to be successful PhD students.  I haven’t kept my experience a secret, but to briefly recap:

A professor once recommended I drop out of graduate school because I did not have the research and writing chops.  This professor said I was much better at recommending books to people, so I should be a librarian instead of a historian. (I worked in a bookstore in college, and I have pretty extensive bibliographic recall.) I also struggle with anxiety, and in graduate school tended to have panic attacks at the worst times (like when I cried through my entire MA oral comprehensive exam).  Shae (who has given me permission to share this) was told by professors she should “go back to working retail” and was “too dumb to be in graduate school.” And yet we both stuck with it and went on to be pretty successful. Shae has organized conferences and managed museum displays, and is working to complete her dissertation—a study of the material culture and memory of Civil War uniforms.

As for me…I’m feeling pretty good right now, because I just landed my dream job. Starting in the fall, I’ll be a full-time Assistant Professor at a small Christian college.  It’s everything I ever wanted out of my career.  But imposter syndrome is real, and even with my professional successes, I still see myself sitting in my car, crying because I don’t think this whole “being an academic” thing is worth the stress.


Warner University

So that’s the emotional space from which I’m coming to this conference. And it’s changing how I act here. I want to be kind in my interactions and my feedback. I want every single graduate student or early-career scholar (or late-career scholar!) who feels like they don’t know what they’re doing, or they don’t belong, to know that it’s perfectly normal to feel that way.

Tomorrow I plan on recapping my own panel and attending one or two others.  I’m certainly looking forward to it.

Job Opening: One-Year Lecturer in American History at Messiah College

Boyer Hall

Anyone interested in spending the 2018-2019 academic year teaching in the Messiah College History Department?

One-year Lecturer in post-1865 American history:  The Department of History at Messiah College invites applications for a one-year lecturer position in post-1865 American history beginning August 2018.  Teaching responsibilities will include introductory and advanced courses in post-1865 American history. Ability to teach the United States history survey to 1865, first-year general education courses (First Year Seminar and First Year interdisciplinary CORE), and at least one upper-division course in area of specialty is required. Evidence of strong commitment to teaching undergraduates in the liberal arts tradition is expected.

Qualifications: Ph.D. (preferred) or A.B.D. with focus on post-1865 American history.

The full job ad, with all the necessary instructions for application, will be posted at the Messiah College website in the next few days, but I wanted to give a heads-up to the faithful readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  When the ad appears at you will see that we are asking for a cover letter, a vita, 3-letters of recommendation, and a completed application.  The load is 4-4.

As you might imagine, we will be moving quickly on this search.  Once the job ad is released we will be accepting applications immediately.  I will be chairing the search.

*Inside Higher Ed* Covers the Erin Bartram Blog Post on Leaving Academia


Headquarters of the American Historical Association, Washington D.C.

We blogged about this yesterday.  Get up to speed here.

Here is a taste of “Calling Academe’s Bluff.”

Janet Watson, an associate professor of history at UConn, worked with Bartram in graduate school and reached out to her about her essay.

That Bartram is now in such a position “is further evidence of how the academic job market is increasingly dysfunctional in ways that are harmful both to students and to the people who teach them,” Watson said Monday.

Joshua Eyler, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and an adjunct associate professor of humanities at Rice University, shared Bartram’s essay on Twitter. He told Inside Higher Ed that there isn’t “a lot of space for this kind of grieving, which is why the kind of frank and open discussion of it in her essay is so important.”

Agreeing with Bartram, he said, “I think it is still true that the dominant reason people enroll in Ph.D. programs in the humanities is to one day be faculty.” That doesn’t mean everyone does so for that reason, he said, “but it is a major motivating force.”

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said his organization and the Modern Language Association are working on career diversity precisely because they’re confident that keeping people like Bartram “in our respective communities benefits us, the individuals and public culture.”

“If we cannot find good ways to maintain productive relationships among historians who follow diverse career paths, there is not only individual loss but also for the discipline and public culture,” he added via email.

Read the entire piece here.

Erin Bartram: “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind”


Mary Sanders Bracy (l) and Erin Bartram (r) at 2013 AHA in New Orleans

I am a big Erin Bartram fan.  We have been on a panel together.  She has written multiple posts here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  I have learned a lot from her about teaching.  Frankly, I can’t think of a person more deserving of a tenure-track teaching job in a college or university history department.

The academic profession needs to deal with her post about leaving academia:

Here is a taste:

It happened during AHA.

I was sitting at home, revising my manuscript introduction and feeling jealous of all of my historian friends at the conference, when I got an email telling me my last (and best) hope for a tenure-track job this year had evaporated.

I’d promised myself that this would be my last year on the market. Now, I’d promised myself that last year, and I’d decided to try again, but this time, I knew it was over.

I closed my laptop and walked out of my office. In that moment, I couldn’t bear to be surrounded by the trappings of a life that had just crumbled around me. The perfect reading lamp, the drawer of fountain pen ink, the dozens of pieces of scratch paper taped the walls, full of ideas to pursue. The hundreds of books surrounding me, collected over nearly a dozen years, seemed like nothing more than kindling in that moment.

I cried, but pretty quickly I picked myself up and started thinking about the future. The circumstances of the job I didn’t get were particularly distressing, so I discussed it with non-academic friends, explaining over and over again that yes, this is the way my field works, and no, it wasn’t surprising or shocking to me, and no, I won’t be able to “come back” later, at least in the way that I’d want to, and yes, this was probably what was always going to happen. And then I started looking forward.

Only now do I realize how messed up my initial reaction was.

I was sad and upset, but I didn’t even start to grieve for several weeks, not because I hadn’t processed it, but because I didn’t feel I had the right to grieve. After all, I knew the odds of getting a tenure-track job were low, and I knew that they were lower still because I didn’t go to an elite program. And after all, wasn’t this ultimately my failure? If I’d been smarter, or published more, or worked harder, or had a better elevator pitch – if my brain had just been better, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. But it had happened, and if I were ultimately to blame for it, what right did I have to grieve?

Read the rest here.  Today I grieve with her.

Hidden Hiring Criteria in Academia


My Ph.D alma mater: Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY

Back in the late 1990s I was a finalist for a job at Midwestern state university.  During the campus visit a senior faculty member, who was not on the search committee, pulled me into his office and said to me: “You don’t want this job–you can do better.”  (This, by the way, happened to me on two other occasions, at two different universities, when I was on the job market).  I thought I gave a pretty good job talk, but I sensed that half the faculty members in the room were disengaged and the other half seemed unusually critical of my work.

During the interview I developed a positive relationship with a member of the search committee.  This person drove me to the airport at the end of the two-day affair and told me that I had no chance at the job.  The Dean had asked the department to hire a woman.  I wasn’t angry.  The department was indeed male heavy.  I didn’t even think the trip was a waste of time since I got some valuable interviewing experience.  But everyone I met during that interview, with the exception of my new friend, lied to me.  Everyone knew I had no chance.  The faculty in the department and the administration I met with were just going through the motions.

I thought about this experience after reading Brian Leiter‘s piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Academic Ethics: ‘Hidden’ Hiring Criteria.”  Here is a taste:

Certainly in some searches, race or gender is a hidden factor but not a decisive one. The same goes for hidden criteria based on differences in scholarship or pedigree. For example, despite the committee’s leanings, an excellent theorist may prevail over a quantitative scholar, or an outstanding candidate from an unranked program may be hired by the pedigree snobs.

But when the hidden criteria involve decisive but unmentioned factors — more often demographic and personal than scholarly ones — applicants are effectively being lied to. They are led to believe that all applicants who meet the advertised criteria will be considered when, in fact, only the candidates of a certain gender or race will get serious consideration, or, in the extreme spousal-hiring case, only one candidate will get serious consideration.

That last scenario is surely the most objectionable, since the department is basically defrauding all of the applicants (except one) as well as the legal authorities (the law’s equal-opportunity requirements demand a public ad and a genuinely open search). There may be circumstances under which a department should be permitted to hire, for retention reasons, the spouse of a crucial faculty member, but it should not be permitted to do so under the guise of a real job search and at the expense of soliciting hundreds of pointless applications. Any faculty member confronted with such a rigged search should report it to the institution’s legal office and decline to be part of the process.

Read the rest here.

More Good Reasons to Study the Humanities

59c16-i_love_humanities_tshirt-p235524076469557183trlf_400These come from Ilana Gershon and Noah Berlastsky at The Pacific Standard.

Here is a taste of their piece “Studying Humanities Teaches You How to Get a Job.”

“If you’re studying interpretive dance, God bless you, but there’s not a lot of jobs right now in America looking for people with that as a skill set,” Kentucky governor Matt Bevin declared in September, at a conference about higher education. Bevin’s skepticism about the humanities and arts isn’t an anomaly; politicians regularly joke about the supposed uselessness of non-STEM training. In 2014, President Barack Obama told students to major in trades rather than art history. In 2011, Governor Rick Scott of Florida said that it wasn’t of “vital interest” to his state to have students major in anthropology. And so on. Math, engineering, science, trades: Those are practical, politicians agree. Literature, art, and anthropology? Those don’t help you get jobs.

In fact, the reverse is true: The skills you learn in the humanities are exactly the skills you use in a job search. The humanities teach students to understand the different rules and expectations that govern different genres, to examine social cues and rituals, to think about the audience for and reception of different kinds of communications. In short, they teach students how to apply for the kinds of jobs students will be looking for after college.

Read the rest here.

Neem: “The STEM rubric undermines the unity between the humanities and sciences.”

Bevin 2

Kentucky governor Matt Bevin

Back in June, we published a post on Kentucky governor Matt Bevin‘s endorsement of a bill allowing the Bible to be taught in the state’s public schools.  I later published a shorter version of this post at Religion News Service.

Governor Bevin is back in the news after his said that the state’s public universities should cut programs that are not “helping to produce” a  “21st century educated workforce.”  Bevin urged university administrators in his state to “find entire parts of your campus…that don’t need to be there.”  He singled out “Interpretive Dance.”  Back in January, he singled out “French Literature.”  Bevin wants to put money and energy into growing engineering and other STEM programs at Kentucky universities. Ironically, according to Inside Higher Ed‘s coverage of Bevin’s remarks, the governor has an East Asian studies degree from Washington and Lee University.

Sadly, the interim president of the University of Louisville, Dr. Greg Postel, seems to agree with the governor. Postel told the Lexington Herald-Leader that his university’s engineering program is growing, making Bevin’s ideas for funding more STEM initiatives a “natural fit” at Louisville.  “Universities have to be aware of where the jobs are,” he told the Herald-Leader, “and that has to advise us as to which programs we choose to grow and put our resources in.”  If I was a humanities or liberal arts faculty member at Louisville I would be up in arms right now.  Postel has no clue about two things:  1) college education is more than job training and 2) liberal arts majors contribute to the economy and do a variety of jobs.

Check out Inside Higher Ed‘s coverage here.  It includes several faculty members who have pushed back.

Western Washington University historian Johann Neem is not mentioned in the Inside Higher Ed article, but back in February he responded to Bevin’s earlier comments on STEM. Neem believes that “science” should not be part of the STEM equation.  As he puts it, “The STEM rubric undermines the unity between the humanities and sciences.”

Here is a taste of his piece at the blog of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education:

In theory, there are two major faculties on American college campuses, those who teach in the liberal arts and sciences, and those who offer professional education in such fields as business, education, engineering, social work, and various health fields. The two types of faculties are not necessarily in opposition, but they have different missions because they are oriented toward different goals.

To faculty in the arts and sciences, undergraduate education is liberal in nature​ — it is about gaining a broad knowledge ​about how the human and natural worlds work, because doing so can inspire students and because it serves a broader public good to have well-educated adults. Ideally, and often, there is no specific vocational outcome to these majors. In fact, to ask a history, English, biology, or geology major, “​What are you going to do with that?” ought to be irrelevant since these are academic disciplines designed for academic purposes. When majors were first established, their goal was not job training but to offer intellectual depth ​and balance or, better put, to enhance a general education. Thus, majors in the arts and sciences exist for their educational purposes with no real or necessary relation to market needs.

Professional faculty, on the other hand, train people for specific jobs. Their success is measured by whether their students gain the knowledge and skills necessary for employment in specific fields. Students who major in engineering, for example, are right to ask their programs, “​What can I do with that?” Moreover, students who choose to major in these fields may not receive the same kind of liberal education as those in the arts and sciences. Instead, they seek a direct line to employment. These fields, in other words, are tied closely to market needs.

The rhetoric of “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) seeks to professionalize science faculty by reorienting their core community of identity. The sciences are not job training but part of liberal education. Math is a humanistic pursuit. Ideally, faculty and students in the sciences and math have different goals, perspectives, and aspirations than those in engineering and technology-related fields. Traditionally, science and math faculty have identified themselves with the broader purposes of the liberal arts, of which they are a part.

The more we use the term STEM​ — in praise, condemnation, or simply as a descriptor​ — the more we divide the arts and sciences faculty from each other. The arts and sciences exist as the educational core of the undergraduate collegiate curriculum. They are tied together conceptually. There is in fact no difference, from the ​perspective of liberal education, in choosing to major in philosophy or chemistry. Faculty in both disciplines, in all the arts and sciences, believe in the value of intellectual pursuit, in fostering curiosity about the world, and in graduating students who have breadth and depth. Yet, increasingly on campuses across the United States, colleges of arts and sciences are dividing into two units, the humanities and social sciences in one, and the sciences and math in another.

Neem concludes:

The STEM rubric undermines the unity between the humanities and sciences. For many policymakers, this is no doubt desirable. Yet, if faculty in the sciences and mathematics are not careful about how they identify themselves, they will be party to the erosion of the ideal of liberal learning, of which they remain an essential part. If faculty in the humanities and social sciences are not careful, they will find themselves marginalized as the sciences abandon liberal education to join forces with market-driven technology and engineering programs. If Americans are not careful, we will soon find that we have fundamentally changed the purposes and goals of collegiate education.

Read Neem’s entire piece here.

Should Young Academics Be On Twitter?

f91dc-twitterOliver Bateman, a historian and journalist, explores this question over at The Atlantic.

Here is a taste:

Scholarly research has lent credence to anecdotal claims about social media’s growing importance as a networking tool for academics at all stages of their careers. In a 2012 paper that represented one of the first systematic studies of social media’s impact on academia, George Veletsianos, a professor at Royal Roads University in British Columbia, analyzed the usage patterns of academics. He concluded that “the participation observed on Twitter presents opportunities for … scholarly growth and reflection,” though it was still too early to make a definitive statement about what that might entail. (He also noted, rather tellingly, that “online practices may not be valued or understood by peers and academic institutions even though scholars themselves may have found scholarly value in participating in online spaces.”)

Four years later, the researchers Charles Knight and Linda Kaye evaluated the social-media practices of academics at a large university, determining that these academics’ “use of the [Twitter] platform for enhancing reputation is an implied acknowledgement of the importance of research within higher education and the increasingly public engagement agenda.” Professors on the campus they studied were far more likely to use Twitter for this purpose than they were for pedagogical reasons: “Academics want to use Twitter to inform the wider community of their activities rather than engage their students.” Networking, it seems, is one of social media’s principal purposes for those in academia.  

“Twitter is great for academic networking, because it can be an awesome way for introverts and people who aren’t already in close proximity with the people they want to talk with to start building genuine relationships,” said Jennifer Polk, a friend and academic and career coach who runs the From PhD to Life website. “Of course, it’s all public [unless you adjust your security settings], so you should be professional—whatever that means in your field. And I recognize that in this context, ‘professional’ is a loaded term.”

Read the rest here.

I think Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other social media sites are great resources for networking, sharing ideas, and raising questions.  (Perhaps this is simply stating the obvious at this point in my career). Graduate students and young academics should be using them for these purposes.

But I also think graduate students and young academics should always remember that while social media is a very democratic space, academia is not.  Academic life, in order to function properly, must have some degree of hierarchy based on expertise and experience.  In other words, a young scholar who submits a journal article or book for review will inevitably have a senior scholar evaluate the manuscript and make a decision on it.  Senior scholars at colleges universities will often have a lot to say about who gets hired in their departments.  In the course of searches for academic appointments and fellowships that have residency requirements, the search committee will often contact outside scholars who might be familiar with the candidate’s work and sense of collegiality.  And yes, I have been asked about a job or fellowship candidate’s sense of collegiality based on their social media presence.  It has actually happened more than once.

I entertain several of these requests a month.  I have even been in a position where a person argued with me on Twitter in a very unprofessional way and then applied for a job in my history department.  When I saw the application I went back to review the series of tweets this person had written, but they were deleted.  This person did not get the job.  There were stronger applicants in the pool that better served the needs of our department.  But I would be lying if I said that this Twitter exchange did not influence the way I thought about this person’s application. And I can tell a host of other stories like this from other committees on which I have served.

In the best of all possible worlds, decisions about publishing and teaching jobs should be made entirely on the merits of a candidate’s scholarship or teaching, but we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.  Young academics should have this in mind whenever they tweet or post.  I am often amazed when I see graduate students picking fights on Twitter or Facebook with senior people who one day might have to make a decision about the course of their future career.  Hopefully, for the sake of the candidate, that senior scholar will lay aside their memory of these social media exchanges and judge the candidate on the merits of their work.  But to do so requires a superior degree of discipline and professionalism.

23 Jobs for History Majors

3DCoverI just came across a really interesting website titled “Sell Out Your Soul: A Career Guide for Lost Humanities Majors”  It is run by James Mulvey, a former English student who now works at a global software company.  He started the site to “inspire others to run from the culture of fear, isolation, and single-mindedness that keeps many graduate students from finding employment outside of academia.”

Here is a taste of a post titled “23 of the Best Jobs for History Majors“:

If you’re wondering what careers are available for History majors, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve collected 23 of the best jobs for History majors—careers that pay well, complement the skills taught in History departments and have long-term growth.

Despite the lies you’ve been told from the annoying Engineering major or clueless Business major, History majors end up in a variety of interesting places.

So pour yourself a beer. Roll up your sleeves. And let’s take a fast tour of the best careers for History majors.

The point of the list isn’t to tell you the exact steps to get these careers. That would be a long post and I cover that in my book. Use this list to decide on a general direction. Then go and search those careers on the following sites: Glassdoor, LinkedIn advanced search, Twitter advanced search, and Reddit. This will give you a realistic view of what your day-to-day would be like and whether this career would be a good match for you.

The jobs include Exhibit Designer, Content Creator, Customer Success Manager, Business Analyst, Growth Hacker, Product Marketing, PR Manager, Internal Communications, Content Strategist, Web Developer, Journalist, Project Manager, Social Media Manager, Content Editor, Research Analyst at Think Tanks, Political Campaign Manager, Government work.

Read how James connects the skills of history majors to these jobs.

“Stale Ph.Ds” and “Overqualified” Applicants

bowenThis morning Michael Bowen is back with more insight on the academic job market in history.   As you now know, Michael has been writing for us from the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Denver.  I think this post raises some very important points about the hiring process in history departments around the country.   Read all of Michael’s posts from the 2017 AHA here. –JF

After studying the job market for well over a decade, some clear, systemic biases have become evident. It might be too strong to call them biases, but the cumulative effect is to disqualify many good applicants right from the start. These observations will come over two blog posts in the hopes that interested search committee members might at least be more cognizant of them and job seekers can be prepared and make smart decisions regarding publishing.

Some caveats are in order first. These are qualitative, not quantitative. I don’t have a spreadsheet in front of me crunching the statistics for every hire in the last decade. I am open to arguments that they may be unique to my situation, and I am sure that there are exceptions to every rule. These are also only valid for the initial screen, where committees determine their AHA/Skype lists. Since the majority of applicants for any given job never make it to the first interview, these decisions are the most crucial.

For this post, I want to focus on time from degree. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that job candidates from ABD to about four years from their defense date are hirable, while everyone beyond that is not. There are exceptions…I know of one person who went on the tenure track for the first time after ten years…but those hired after an extended time as contingent faculty are in the minority. The higher ed press refers to these individuals as “stale PhDs,” which is incredibly insulting and implies that good academic work can only be accomplished in the dissertation stage or on the tenure track. Controversy erupted a few years ago when a couple of English departments posted ads that explicitly required a degree received within the previous three years.  History has not been so brazen, but we have a similar bias.

Maybe once, long ago before postdocs were readily available and the academy shifted the burden of instruction to adjuncts and lecturers, it made sense to make a “first cut” of applicants based on time to degree. Now, with individuals stringing together years and years of contingent appointments and producing good scholarship in the meantime, it seems unwise to do so. My dissertation director always told my cohort that as long as we can add something substantive to our vita every year, we would be fine. That has been my goal, which has been met eleven out of eleven years. He never envisioned a scenario where I would need to do that for eleven years, but his advice is still good. I would argue that such a benchmark would be a better measure of a candidate’s employability, than an arbitrary line on the calendar.

However, the aforementioned measure for success runs counter to the second pattern prevalent in today’s job market; the “overqualified” applicant. With so many people finding survivable, contingent employment for extended periods of time, more and more applicants are going for assistant professor lines with books in hand and a significant number of courses under their belts. In theory, this should be a good thing…you can bring in a new faculty member who you do not have to train and needs little prep time. But it goes against the old idea that faculty lines are apprenticeships. An assistant professor must learn the ropes from their colleagues and, when deemed sufficiently qualified, be granted tenure. If someone exceeds those requirements from the start, should they be hired? In most cases, search committees say no.

Historians who are working on an extended contingent faculty track find themselves treading a fine line. Do you hold off publishing a book because it could hurt you on the job market, or do you go ahead and publish because it is ready? My first inclination is to say publish, but I have lost enough jobs (both VAPS and TT) to individuals with a single journal article or a handful of book reviews to question whether or not I should have published mine before I had a tenure track line.

If you are a search committee member, do you see a book as a sign that an applicant will produce no further research of merit? It is a valid question. We all know of professors who have an early burst of scholarly productivity, get tenure, and then coast for the next thirty years. There may not be an answer to this, but it would be nice if we would get past the traditional expectations for a hire and take into account how academia has changed. Committees should factor in both logged experience and future potential.