This month’s column is adapted from a paper I gave at the invitation of the Graduate Student Issues Committee at the CAMWS meeting in Waco earlier this month.
The humanities are a field in crisis because the number of students pursuing liberal-arts degrees has plummeted over the past couple decades. Classics is producing more Ph.D.s than the discipline can support. Online education will be the death of us all.
Sound familiar? Well, most of that’s bull. The decrease in liberal-arts majors was caused by opening non-humanities fields like engineering to women: without formal gender discrimination, as Heidi Tworek explains, women’s humanities-degree rates have adjusted to match men’s, which have remained stable since the 1960s. Online education has indeed opened opportunities to people otherwise lacking access — but isn’t close to usurping in-person teaching, as witnessed by abysmal completion rates of overhyped MOOCs.
Yet our discipline does face grim realities: almost nobody nowadays lands tenure-track positions when first on the market, and many classicists never will. Adjunct faculty outnumber tenure-line faculty nationwide, and tenure-line employment has remained stagnant while the number of Ph.D.s awarded has blossomed. White privilege, class privilege, male privilege, thin privilege, and abled privilege affect academic careers in big and small ways, from hiring to service workloads. It’s not necessarily Sisyphean, though it is definitely a steep uphill path. But it’s worth considering three interrelated ways of achieving a strong, satisfying career: the value of non-tenure-track faculty positions, possibilities for non-faculty employment, and mindful approaches to the academic market.