Monday, January 7, 2008

Lately There Ain't Been Much Work, On Account of the Economy

Leiter's got an interesting thread going about what philosophy's like now, as opposed to ten years ago. But there's one job-market-related thing I'm not sure about. Martha Nussbaum says "the job market for young philosophers is considerably worse" now than it was in 1997, and so "talented young people are increasingly deterred from choosing philosophy as a career."

Really? I mean, I'm not one to deny claims about how crappy the job market is, but is this comparison really right?

I ask because my folk history of the philosophy job market goes like this. The good old days were the '60s and maybe part of the '70s. Back then, undergrad teaching needs were growing faster than grad schools could pump out the new PhDs, and any white guy with three dissertation chapters and enough family money to put him through grad school could get a tenure-track job somewhere nice. Thus many seeds were sewn that would grow into dead wood.

But grad schools expanded too, and the supply of philosophers caught up with--then blew right past--the demand. In the early- to mid-'80s the market collapsed. No one got jobs. The Eastern APA became a sickening re-enactment of the children's crusade, with hundreds and hundreds of idealistic young philosophers getting sold into permanent adjuct-slavery or simply getting beheaded for sport. Each year was a scene of such gory carnage that the APA started sending out their notorious Letter of Death to new grad school applicants, telling them all to do anything--anything--with their lives besides grad school in philosophy.

Then, the story goes, the market started to improve in the late '90s. But getting back to Nussbaum's comments, is there any reason to think the market was better in the late '90s than it is now? Has there really been any movment back towards the market of the bad old days? I'm not so sure, but I can't say my views are actually based on anything like "facts" or "knowledge." So I'm curious to hear the thoughts of people who've been around for longer than me. How's the market now compared to ten years ago?


Elena said...

hi guys. great blog. it's funny. (no doubt i won't find it so amusing when i start looking for a job myself). the apa job interview process sounds like getting the shit kicked out of you multiple times in a day. in australia things seem to be a little less cut-throat. nonetheless, last time we were hiring at my department, we had 300 applicants. the applicant we finally got was so impressive no doubt if she hadn't decided to pursue a career in philosophy she'd be prime minister right now. anyway - good luck.

VAP said...

The oldest JFP on the internet is from October 1999. It lists 246 jobs. The October issue this year had 347 jobs. That is one bit of relevant information, but I do not know what it shows about overall prospects for obvious reasons.

Anonymous said...

My $0.02, as someone who was in grad school through most of the 90s and went on the market not long after the comparison date of 1997, is that Nussbaum _may_ be sorta right, in that there may have been a local maximum in the market in the late 90s, even if the market today is definitely better than it was in the early 90s. But my rough sense is that it really is a bit better now even than in the late 90s.

(What we also need, in addition to the data that vap adverts to, is how many applicants there were seeking jobs in those years. It may well have gone up a bit since then, though probably not by 30%.)

Anonymous said...

"'the job market for young philosophers is considerably worse' now than it was in 1997, and so 'talented young people are increasingly deterred from choosing philosophy as a career.'"

From the point of view of the profession, I don't really see why that's a problem, even if it is true. As this blog has perhaps demonstrated, plenty of us persevere in the face of terribly daunting odds - indeed, one might argue (and quite a few do) that more of us ought to be deterred, for our own good. If there were any evidence that the most promising philosophers were those turning away from a career in philosophy, perhaps we ought to be concerned, but I don't see any reason to believe that's true.

I suppose this might (again, if true) be reason to worry about the state of universities more generally.

Anonymous said...

Brian W?

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Anonymous said...

You might not take this for much, but here's my $0.02. I did my undergrad at a Leiter-very respectable department (15-30). My adviser there bounced around for quite a few years before landing a TT job, so he had a pretty good idea of the market in the 90's versus now. He told me that his view is that the market right now is considerably better than it was around 1997 or 1998, and expects it to generally continue getting better (though not as good as the 60's).

Anonymous said...

Maybe off topic, but PSG -- best lyric ever. The Boss is the Boss.

Anonymous said...

The economy was much better in 1997 and there was less of a drive to privatization.

It seems likely thatn the fiscal circumstances of state institutions was much better ten years ago than today, so this would imply that more TT jobs would have been available then.

I think this will be even more true in the next few years, as the effects of the subprime mess on state revenues will begin to be felt.

Anonymous said...

Where are we measuring from? Many people tell me that it's much more competitive to get into graduate school now than it used to be (I like to flatter myself with that thought). So the prospects for people already in graduate school are better now, but back then we could have been that much stupider and been in the same position to get a job!

(No offense to people admitted to grad school 'back in the day.' One of my sources, a brilliant and highly successful philosopher, claims he wouldn't have been admitted to grad school if he'd applied in 200*).

Anonymous said...

Well...I went on the job market in 1997. In the mid '90s we were told, the long anticipated retirements would happen and the job market would at last open up again. Except that with the abolition of mandatory retirement, it turned out that most faculty did not retire at 65. The mid-90s came and went, and in 1997 there were very few jobs (my recollection is that there were about 200 or so jobs, and that was unusually high then, but I didn't keep the JFP as a souvenir). I do distinctly recall that there were several very good jobs (by which jobs at top 20 research institutions or top SLACs), and lots of jobs at small religious institutions in various remote locations, but not very much in between. To say the market in 1997 was at a high point seems clearly mistaken. Last year and this year seem to be much better from a job candidate's point of view, to me, but then I am not looking for a job.

Jason Stanley said...

When I applied for jobs, in fall of 1994, there were between 150 and 160 jobs in the JFP. I could only apply to about 25 of them, open jobs included. The subsequent year was even worse. So yes, your suspicion is correct. Though it is still very stressful and anxiety provoking to go on the job market under any conditions, there are many more jobs now.

I also found Nussbaum's comment odd for other reasons. I was on our recruitment committee this year at Rutgers, and was extraordinarily impressed by the strength of the applicants, who seem much more sophisticated than I was at a comparable stage. I also find the graduate students at Rutgers to be intimidatingly smart. So my impression is very much that the improving job market over the last 8 years has brought many more people into the profession. Maybe the explanation is that Nussbaum and I interact with a very different graduate student communities (moral and political vs. M&E).

Robert Gressis said...

I don't deny that the graduate students now may seem more impressive than the grad students in the 90s, but I wonder how much that's due to greater preparation than it's due to attracting better talent. That is, professionalization seems to be happening earlier and earlier, and it's affecting not only grad students, who are, as a class, steadily publishing more and more, but it's also affecting undergrads.

Anonymous said...

Nussbaum seems wrong about this. The APA keeps the relevant stats (beyond mere anecdotal evidence). Look at their "Data on the Profession" page:

There under "Candidates Per Job Advertised" you'll find the relevant numbers, namely how many candidates applied for how many jobs which shows how competitive the job market has been from 1982 until the early 2000s. The last year they have posted is 2002-2003 but the trend is away from the bad old days, although that may have reversed in the last couple of years.

Since the APA does keep information on how many candidates there are in any given year, we should ask them to update this PDF on the site.

a prof who interviewed at APA said...

When I was on the market in the mid 1990’s, things were tough.

The market is much better now – with more tt openings.

Anon 9:17 is correct, standards have gone up.

Starting salaries are also improved as adjusted for cost of living.

Anon 10:14 is correct looking at an old JFP in the library this morning the jobs seemed to be at either top schools or small liberal arts colleges (some very good ones)

From my time in grad school in NYC I seem to remember that at a lot of state universities were putting tt positions on hold and hiring adjuncts ; you need to remember that along with the republicans winning congress at that time (remember the contract with America?) republicans also took a number of state houses and governors office’s and one of their first targets nationwide aside from welfare reform was to “reform” higher ed to make it more “efficient” and that universities should be run more like corporations. At some state universities those were very bleak times; ironic since the economy was running at full steam at the time.

Anonymous said...

love, love, love the "children's crusade" line.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"I think this will be even more true in the next few years, as the effects of the subprime mess on state revenues will begin to be felt."

I doubt you're right. Higher education is counter-cyclical, so enrollments will probably increase, esp. if we go into recession. Administrators will have trouble bringing in students who can pay their own way, so you'll probably see more lazy middle-class kids at non-selective schools, and there might be downward pressure on rates of salary increase for faculty, but that's all.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question. "Dossiers must . . . include . . . sample syllabus for an introductory course on epistemology or philosophy of science for undergraduates, sample syllabus for a seminar for advanced undergraduate philosophy concentrators."

It strikes me as dumb to ask for sample syllabi for particular courses, especially in subjects that grad students rarely teach (so most applicants will be mocking things up rather offering real ones from past semesters), for several reasons. First, developing a good syllabus (thoughtful, creative, original) is a summer's work. Second, most people are going to pick a textbook and present a syllabus that's "week one, chapter one, week two, chapter two, week three, chapter six (!!!) week four, chapter four" and what's the value of that? Third, a good syllabus at one school is a bad one at another, and how can an outside applicant be expected to know what's appropriate at school X? Fourth, this is a lot of work for serious applicants, with little chance they'll get the job, so cost-benefit is quite low, and what the school will end up doing is screwing all the serious candidates but one who apply. I'd think for both moral and pragmatic reasons it would be better to screw the non-serious, casual applicants.

Can other people think of good reasons to justify such a practice?

I can think of several justifications. One, they know who they want to hire but the dean makes them advertise. They don't want anyone better than Chucky their best friend, so they want to make sure they have a reason for choosing Chucky. Two, they don't want to read a lot of applications for one one-year gig, and this transfers effort from the search committee to candidates (by reducing the number of applicants). Three, somebody suggested the idea and everyone else in the meeting was asleep by that point. Yeah, I'm running out of even bad reasons to justify this. I've applied for two jobs that required custom syllabi, and never heard squat from the school about either.

Anyone at Hamilton want to weigh in for the record, or give us a clue what you're looking for?

Anonymous said...

Oh, I just went to the Hamilton website and learned that "Hamilton philosophy professors shine like Diogenes' lamp." Maybe I should put that in my syllabus.

The Boss said...

Seeds were "sown".

Tenured Philosophy Girl said...

Anon 2:10: I think anyone who proposed using a textbook for philosophy of science or an advanced undergrad class for majors (as opposed to a carefully-chosen array of primary sources) would have a big count against her/him. So maybe there is some point to the exercise ... they want to make sure they are not hiring someone who is just going to plug through a textbook. In double-digit years of teaching (no intention of giving my exact age/vintage away on this blog ) I have never used a textbook except for intro logic - and I have never seen anyone else teach a really killer course using one either.

On the other hand, Hamilton's Diogenes comment is idiotic so I am not defending them in particular.

Sisyphus said...

The Eastern APA became a sickening re-enactment of the children's crusade, with hundreds and hundreds of idealistic young philosophers getting sold into permanent adjuct-slavery or simply getting beheaded for sport.

I love this line!

Is it wrong to say I kinda want to see this acted out?

Anonymous said...

Universities may be counter-cyclical, but I think that increasing revenue pressure will lead, in the humanities, to a greater and greater focus on adjunct and temporary hires, rather than tenure-track.

Marianne Janack said...

I just wanted to answer Anonymous's question about why Hamilton requested a sample syllabus for the one year positions we advertised. We aren't looking for a day-by-day (or even week-by-week) schedule of readings, necessarily. But as Tenured Philosophy Girl points out, the books and topics that someone chooses to single out for inclusion in an advanced class tells a story about that person's orientation to the area--and to teaching--that is very helpful in picking out good candidates for a position at a school where teaching is the central concern for one year jobs.
I don't defend the Diogenes line--that went up on the website before my time, and I have no idea if anyone in philosophy is even responsible for it. It could have been the brainchild of some web-wonk. said...

All I can tell you is that I have a DPhil from Oxford '97, BPhil from '94, and that at least three-quarters of the BPhil class left the profession post-doctorally, including me.

Believe me, it's a nasty game, entering the graduate workforce in your mid-to-late twenties with a philosophy doctorate. Don't risk it unless you're at a first-rate school and your professors are seriously urging you on OR you have a considerable private income and don't have to worry about making a living, ever.

Anonymous said...

Marianne Janack, thanks for your reply. I appreciate and understand the reasoning you give, and don't intend to argue with you about these particular postings. I will, however, propose that asking for syllabi, particularly for one-year positions, isn't a good way of achieving your goal.

First there's the problem of how to communicate how a person would teach a course. Syllabi work in academia much like CVs: sometimes if I want to tell somebody about myself, it's almost easier to show them my CV than to tell them what it says. Both are genres we're adept at reading, and since they follow standard conventions we can read them quickly. But easy to read and interpret might come at the expense of adequately expressing a person's underlying pedagogical orientation.

You might do better asking for a partial syllabus (just two to four weeks' worth), including readings, assignments, general outlines of how the person would spend class time, what he'd want students to get out of the readings, etc. Or maybe a completed syllabus from another course the candidate has taught at the same level. Or a one- or two-page statement of how the candidate would put together a syllabus. If you give applicants some choice in the genre they present, you can leave it to them to identify a method that will showcase best what they bring to the table.

Also, and I'd really like to stress this as someone who's VAPed myself, the best thing you can do for a one-year hire is to give them a syllabus that's already been tested at your school, let them modify it a little bit if they like, but encourage them to simply adopt it for the year -- at least for some of their courses. They'll end up doing better if you give them more guidance. And if you ask them to design a new course from scratch, you should treat them like a real faculty member and give them a courseload that reflects the work you're expecting to put into it. A lot of schools pay a professor 5k over the summer or a one-course reduction, or something like that, to design a new syllabus. Then they bring in a VAP and expect them to design syllabi for 3-5 preps in a year. Not smart.

Anonymous said...

This last comment about how to treat VAP is really good. It's easy for senior faculty to forget how hard it is to teach your first year or two, when you have nothing prepared and think you don't know shit, especially outside your field. Now add on top of that the tremendous time and emotional suck that is the academic job market. It can make for a very difficult year.

Useless Reply said...

Back in the late 90's or early 00's the APA committee on indentured slavery compiled data on # of jobs advertised and # of registered applicants for the previous few decades.

Doubt I could find it, but somone might be able to do so--don't know whether they update that data or not.

Useless Reply said...

My memory of it was that the worst involved 4 applicants per job and the best was down around 2.1 or so.

I don't think they discriminated TT and non-TT, but I might be wrong.

Anonymous said...

The "please write us a custom syllabus" jobs are also - perhaps unintentionally - discriminating against a vast pool of applicants, especially those they claim to want to increase their diversity.

It has been striking to me over the years to see that tenured faculty, who are disproportionately white and upper-class, continually make choices that amount to de facto discrimination, especially when other options are available.

Simply put, no one except the trust fund candidate has the time to do a custom syllabus for every job posting, especially when you add the very cogent arguments made against the ability to suss out, prior to an interview, what the department wants from that course.

Doing a CV and cover letter alone for most jobs takes 2-3 hours minimum. If each job then requires additional hours, all candidates who work for a living while jobhunting - disproportionately those of lower income and minorities - will be unable simply to get applications done.

Yet questions about syllabi or one's approach to teaching a particular course can easily be left to a much more time-efficient - and illuminating - phone interview.

A past syllabus should suffice to see one's teaching approach.

Jonathan Moreno said...

Concerning the earliest appearance of warning letters from the APA, I first applied to graduate programs in fall 1972 and received the letter then. My recollection is that the APA began sending the letter -- and at least some departments began issuing similar warnings along with offers of admission -- a couple of years before that. The heydey of the job market in philosophy and the other humanities fields was the 1960s, post-Sputnik, when the federal government made a substantial investment in the expansion of support for higher education, especially the sciences, and the humanities happily went along for the ride. That was a much smaller window than some of the contributors to this blog seem to realize. I was employed part-time in fall 1977 after receiving my PhD, then got a one-semester job, then a one-year job, then a job with a future that only later was converted to tenure track. I have not followed the market closely in some time (though I was a tenured philosopher I've not been a member of a philosophy department for twenty years), but my impression is that it has been various shades of bad for thirty years. So I'm afraid the current market for newly minted philosophers is more nearly normal than it is unusual.