Rebecca Schuman reacts to the MLA Report of the Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature. I am not going to try summarizing it or even highlighting it, as such contempt and wrath needs to be read in its original language.
If a higher education insider can react this strongly to what is clearly a well-intentioned and highly focused effort to improve an alleged profession, then what are the normies outside academe to think?
From the InsideHigherEd story “We are faced with an unsustainable reality: a median time to degree of around nine years for language and literature doctoral recipients and a long-term academic job market that provides tenure-track employment for only around  percent of doctorate recipients.”
How ’bout that? This is from the same large group of faculty-types that objects when we in government start talking about credits-to-degree, time-to-degree, placement rates, and job market outcomes for undergraduates. Schuman says this:
So as I talk about this report, please keep in mind that my issue isn’t with the MLA’s leadership—it’s with the MLA’s membership, which consists almost entirely of people who can both afford to pay the dues, and haven’t been so traumatized by the convention that they drop out for their psychological health (I am in the second group).
So she is holding the large group of faculty responsible. Many of whom, at least in Virginia have bemoaned my work with wage and debt outcomes. I guess when it comes to just a continuing stream of sacrificial lambs to fund one’s salary, it is a different story.
In all fairness, this is a healthy debate to have for an academic community to have, especially given the apparent over-production of PhDs compared to the full-time, tenure-track jobs available – which may be the result of people like me (and above) pushing for cost-constraints. It is certainly a result of decreased funding (which I have not advocated). The problem is that the path the MLA suggests, doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. It seems contradictory and under-informed. To me it looks like they are suggesting producing more of what cannot be currently consumed, without a complete re-funding or restructuring of higher education. (But probably not the restructuring suggested here.)
Reports and debates like this suggest to people like President Obama that higher education has no clue. The proposal of a rating system is a way to enforce a simple message, “Get a clue!” Unfortunately, as currently proposed, and because USED’s focus has historically been on undergraduate access, measurement of graduate and professional programs has not been talked about – save by me. I was the lone voice at the Technical Symposium making that argument. I don’t know that a rating system will help the academe get a clue in a changing world, but I don’t know that it won’t. I do know, as I have said before, that the current data available to the Department are inadequate.
I really enjoyed reading Schuman’s post. As I read it, I wondered, “Is this really much different than current accreditation practices in terms of the resultant nonsensical solution?”