- What is clear is that students who spend eight or nine years in graduate school are being seriously over-trained for the jobs that are available. The argument that they need the training to be qualified to teach undergraduates is belied by the fact that they are already teaching undergraduates. Undergraduate teaching is part of doctoral education; at many institutions, graduate students begin teaching classes the year they arrive. And the idea that the doctoral thesis is a rigorous requirement is belied by the quality of most doctoral theses. If every graduate student were required to publish a single peer-reviewed article instead of writing a thesis, the net result would probably be a plus for scholarship.
- One pressure on universities to reduce radically the time-to-degree is simple humanitarianism. Lives are warped because of the length and uncertainty of the doctoral education process. Many people drop in and drop out and then drop in again; a large proportion of students never finish; and some people have to retool at relatively advanced ages. Put in less personal terms, there is a huge social inefficiency in taking people of high intelligence and devoting resources to training them in programs that half will never complete and for jobs that most will not get.
- Unfortunately, there is an institutional efficiency, which is that graduate students constitute a cheap labor force. There are not even search costs involved in appointing a graduate student to teach. The system works well from the institutional point of view not when it is producing Ph.D.s, but when it is producing ABDs. It is mainly ABDs who run sections for lecture courses and often offer courses of their own. The longer students remain in graduate school, the more people are available to staff undergraduate classes. Of course, overproduction of Ph.D.s also creates a buyer’s advantage in the market for academic labor. These circumstances explain the graduate-student union movement that has been going on in higher education since the mid 1990s.
- The obstacles to entering the academic profession are now so well known that the students who brave them are already self-sorted before they apply to graduate school. ... The result is a narrowing of the intellectual range and diversity of those entering the field, and a widening of the philosophical and attitudinal gap that separates academic from non-academic intellectuals. Students who go to graduate school already talk the talk, and they learn to walk the walk as well. There is less ferment from the bottom than is healthy in a field of intellectual inquiry. Liberalism needs conservatism, and orthodoxy needs heterodoxy, if only in order to keep on its toes.
- If Ph.D. programs were determinate in length—if getting a Ph.D. were like getting a law degree—then graduate education might acquire additional focus and efficiency. It might also attract more of the many students who, after completing college, yearn for deeper immersion in academic inquiry, but who cannot envision spending six years or more struggling through a graduate program and then finding themselves virtually disqualified for anything but a teaching career that they cannot count on having. (Sisyphus: Isn't this what's called ... a Master's Degree?)
- at the end of a long, expensive, and highly single-minded process of credentialization, they are asked to perform tasks for which they have had no training whatsoever: to teach their fields to non-specialists, to connect what they teach to issues that students are likely to confront in the world outside the university, to be interdisciplinary, to write for a general audience, to justify their work to people outside their discipline and outside the academy. If we want professors to be better at these things, then we ought to train them differently.
I will note though, how single-minded everyone I know, particularly among the bloggers I read, is about writing and publishing a book, even if they are in a school that doesn't require it or a school with a teaching and service load so high that it is almost impossible to do it. No one who's teaching mostly comp and lower-division level classes at an open-enrollment college needs the level of expertise a book brings. At one point, the candidates who really wanted those positions would apply for them specifically and would do a completely different set of activities considered research and service, whether in terms of writing textbooks or supervising student teachers or running a local Shakespeare-in-the-community group or what have you. I'm almost to the point of saying that I don't think all that much expertise is necessary to teach at the college level at all, and that I bet pretty much any high school teacher could step into pretty much any professor's shoes without it making much of a difference, barring the learning curve of how to run a classroom that you pick up in first few years. The only place the specialization has an impact is on the research side, which this article shows is more about reproducing the profession than about the research itself.
But what do I know? I don't have a job.