What, then, is the message of this report? To begin with, of course, our committee has wished to dramatize for our fields the crucial conclusion reached by Jack Schuster, a professor of education and public policy, whose summary of the situation recently confronted by new humanities PhDs is offered in the latest edition of The MLA Guide to the Job Search
: "Since the mid-1970s, incalculable damage has been inflicted on thousands of aspiring academics as the academic pipeline continues to disgorge people into a marketplace saturated in most fields. Preventing such dysfunctional imbalances in the future should have a high priority in the making of national, state, and institutional policies" (117-18
)--and, we would add, in the conduct of professional business by the MLA.13
At the same time, for those who will not benefit from an improved market that may be as much as a decade away, if it arrives at all, we have wanted to reiterate the views (expressed herein by and about a range of PhDs who have left the academy) that there is a world of viable work off campus. Most important, however, we have sought to study and to propose ways of redirecting the forces currently undermining the effectiveness of higher education in the fields our organization represents.
In examining these forces, we have attempted to illuminate a pedagogical and professional--indeed, a cultural--crisis of great magnitude, one to which finger-pointing, name-calling, political posturing, and intellectual profiteering are inadequate as well as inappropriate responses. Rather, as we hope our recommendations will indicate, we believe that only serious action on a number of fronts will enable progress toward resolution of the economic, social, and educational problems posed by the inequitable and insufficient multitier job system that has developed in all too many institutions across the country. What we confront is therefore a crisis in the truest sense of the word: not just an "unstable condition" but a "turning point," which we hope will evoke significant transformations of the academic settings we inhabit. Our tenured and tenure-track colleagues in English and foreign language departments will have to change their thinking about the nature of the work we do, its purpose and its structures. More specifically, in many cases they will have to reimagine the size and shape of the graduate programs they offer and the directions in which those programs ought to evolve, given the range of educational needs our profession will have to meet in the twenty-first century. Equally important, these colleagues will have to form alliances with part-time and adjunct lecturers, with graduate students, with undergraduates, with alert and responsible advocates for the humanities, and not least with yet another constituency whose interests should not be underestimated--the parents and other sponsors of undergraduate and graduate students--so that we can all speak forcefully and publicly about the intellectual, political, and economic threats faced by a society that tolerates a decaying educational infrastructure. For we must convince voters and their representatives who allocate public funds to make no mistake about it: the institutions of higher education that construct and constitute our society's intellectual infrastructure are bridges to the future at least as crucial as masses of stone and steel or electronic superhighways.
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