Martin Center column examines the supply of Ph.D. degrees in the humanities

Rob Jenkins explains in a Martin Center column why the world does not need more Ph.D. degree recipients in the humanities.

In May, The Chronicle of Higher Education asked four academics from across the country to weigh in on the “adjunct crisis.” The results were predictable, with most of the blame directed at the usual suspects: bean-counting administrators, complacent, tenured faculty members, tight-fisted state legislators, and, of course, those evil Republicans.

Solutions generally involved pressuring colleges and universities to fork over more money for tenure-track positions—irrespective of enrollment and at the expense of students and taxpayers.

Here’s an idea that wasn’t considered: What if we awarded fewer PhDs?

A scarcity of humanities PhDs, rather than a glut, would create more demand, drive up wages, and place institutions in a position where they have to offer full-time jobs with benefits in order to attract decent candidates. The adjunct “crisis,” to the extent that it is actually a crisis, exists primarily because the market is flooded. Institutions pay adjunct wages because they can.

Almost 10 years after William Pannapacker’s watershed column in The Chronicle, aptly titled “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go,” the message seems not to have gotten through. According to a 2017 article in Inside Higher Ed, the number of humanities PhDs awarded has increased each year since 2007 even as the market has steadily shrunk.

We must stop perpetuating the fantasy that any significant percentage of humanities PhD candidates will ever find secure, full-time faculty positions.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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