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The Job Crisis across the Disciplines

Although the configuration of the problems our committee has sought to analyze is uniquely associated with the fields we represent and their special staffing requirements, our organization is not alone in its confrontation of critical alterations in opportunities for professional employment. As most MLA members know, if only from anecdotal evidence supplied by campus colleagues, PhDs in history, philosophy, and other branches of the humanities have lately faced an equally problematic job market and often suffered equally egregious exploitation as adjunct and part-time instructors. Indeed, the MLA recently joined the American Historical Association and other academic organizations in a collaborative effort "to grapple with the tough issues presented by the over-use of part-time teachers" (Ramusack and Freitag). For instance, in the fall of 1992 part-timers constituted approximately 27% of the teaching faculty among historians and philosophers and over 29% among social scientists (Zimbler). But many in the MLA may not realize the extent to which cutbacks in academic and professional employment have affected even the sciences, law, and medicine. Prefacing the 1995 report Employment Patterns of Recent Doctorates in Chemistry, Ned D. Heindel, president of the American Chemical Society, noted that among leaders in his discipline "concerns about doctoral education [were] at or near the top of everyone's list," with many recounting "stories of difficult job placements" and "a shared general sense that academe was graduating too many PhDs." Similarly, a 1995 survey produced by John D. Fulton for the American Mathematical Society indicated that among mathematicians the "unemployment rate for new doctoral recipients [has] reached the highest level ever reported. Among those whose employment status is known, 14.7 percent were unemployed as of late September 1995, surpassing the previous record high figure of 14.2 percent in fall 1994 and the record high for previous decades of 13.7 percent in 1975" (1).

More generally, a November 1994 story in Science asserted that "the share of PhD-level scientists and engineers employed at academic institutions has been steadily declining for over two decades," adding, "This in itself necessitates some rethinking of the purposes of doctoral training" (Good and Lane 742).5 Finally, observers studying employment patterns in law and medicine also reported problems faced by recent graduates, though none as severe as those confronted by new PhDs in the humanities. Claiming a "modest" gain in legal employment, the National Association for Law Placement noted that this was the "first private practice employment increase since 1988" and that "juxtaposed against the overall increase ... were continuing changes in the nature of jobs taken which document ongoing shifts in the job opportunities available to new lawyers" (1). Spokespersons for the American Medical Association were considerably gloomier. In March 1997 the New York Times reported that the AMA, together with "representatives of the nation's medical schools," believe that "the United States [is] training far too many doctors and that the number should be cut by at least 20 percent" (Pear 9).6

The employment crisis that has struck deeply, if differently, across the professions has, of course, a broad range of long- and short-term causes. Social scientists have offered speculations--and economic projections--based on examinations of global data. The problem as it has manifested itself in academia, however, was succinctly summarized by Phyllis Franklin, the executive director of the MLA, when she discussed Breaking the Social Contract, a June 1997 report by the Council for Aid to Education, which finds that "the cost of educating a college student grew by 'more than sixfold between 1961 and 1995, much faster than inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.'" The report, Franklin writes, argues that
both federal and state governments have underfunded higher education since the mid-1970s because entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid have required an increasingly large proportion of public funds... . Thus, while the cost of educating a student increased, funding from the public sector decreased. By the year 2015, the report concludes, "the higher education sector will face a funding shortfall of about $38 billion [in 1995 dollars]--almost a quarter of what it will need." ("Debate" 5; interpolation in orig.)

To be more specific about the gradual impoverishment of higher education at the state level, it is noteworthy that in most regions throughout the country increasing competition between discretionary programs like education and mandated programs like Medicaid and prison construction and operation has led to the shifting of some educational costs to students in the form of substantial tuition increases at public universities. In a recent MLA Newsletter, Herbert Lindenberger, the 1997 MLA president and a committee member, cites a study from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government showing that between 1990 and 1994 state expenditures for prisons and welfare increased while those for elementary and secondary education remained constant and the percentage for higher education decreased from 14% to 12.5%: "The study concluded," writes Lindenberger, "that higher education has come to serve as a 'cash cow' to finance other state needs" (3).7


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