Monday, February 16, 2009


Sleeping in the tub writes:

I am very curious to hear opinions from faculty about the following article:

...especially as it pertains to philosophy. I received my PhD a couple months ago, and I have to admit that I feel like I chose the wrong profession, but not because of any deficiency on my part in regard to what it has taken to be a professional philosopher. Rather, given the market this year, this seems like a dying field. I estimate that 25% of the TT jobs originally posted in the October JFP have been suspended or pulled, and there seems little to no sympathy or understanding coming from established faculty (especially those who have decided not to retire because their TIAA-Cref's have lost value). This is not about landing a 2/2 research position in a 'prime' location. This is about paying rent, buying food, and paying on loans. I realize that none of us were promised jobs when we finally 'got out,' but I have seen little to nothing from established philosophers that honestly addresses the economic crisis, especially as it pertains to our field (and to those of us suspended between graduate school and academic employment). The fall semester will be here sooner than many of us want it to be. Faculty, what is your honest advice? What do all of you really think is going to come of this profession?


Anonymous said...

I teach at a SLAC and I plan on giving the url to the Benton article to every student inquiring about graduate school.

Benton had a series of three articles in the Chronicle in 2003. They were similar in content, but less dire in tone. In the past, I forwarded those the articles to interested undergraduates.

When students ask the question, "but how did you manage to get a job?" I answer honestly: blind, dumb luck.

Anonymous said...

Rather, given the market this year, this seems like a dying field.

Do you really think this is a legitimate inference?

The market's so bad this year because the economy's so bad this year. And the economy's so bad this year because Republicans (with an assist from select Democrats) were allowed to fuck up the country for most of the past eight years. The conclusion to draw from the miserable job market is not that philosophy is "a dying field"; rather, it's that the livelihood of philosophy job market candidates, like the livelihood of most job seekers in this country, is under severe economic strain.

Assuming you worked hard and, under normal conditions, would've had a good shot at a job, don't blame yourself, and don't blame the profession, either. Blame the people who fucked up the economy.

Anonymous said...

Academic philosophy is neither a dying field, nor is the economy to blame for the circumstances Benton writes about in his Chronicle article.

There will always be jobs out there for Philosophy Professors. On the other hand, even when the economy is recovered, I think Benton's assessment of the prospects for TT jobs in the Humanities is spot on. It's irresponsible to encourage gifted undergraduates to pursue graduate studies without making it very clear to them the unlikelihood of landing happy employment.

Anonymous 11:50 said...

Anonymous 12:26,

I concur with much of what Benton says, and I also think the current economy painfully exacerbates an already difficult situation. As indicated by the italicized quotation, I was merely responding to assessments of the current job market which fail to take into account the current economic situation.

sleeping_in_the_tub said...

Although finding the appropriate locus of blame is important and therapeutic, I think many of us on the market right now are wondering what we should do while the economy is in a shambles. If (and I think this is a big if) there are more job openings in a couple years, and somehow the bottleneck effect of new candidates is not too severe, will faculty on SC's be able to understand that some of us took different routes for a couple years? Will they fall back on this notion that our PhD's got "stale" because we weren't on the philosophy side of the academy for a couple years (personally, I have decided to re-enter graduate school, but in applied science, not in the humanities)?

I realize that I am asking for a little bit of hypothesis generation, but many of us on the market are the inexperienced ones when it comes to past trends and future outlooks of this field (as a profession). So, I rely (in part) on your seasoned experience.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11:50,

You're right; sorry about that. I read your post a little too quickly.

Anon 12:26

Anonymous 11:50 said...

sleeping_in_the_tub's decision to pursue a degree in the applied sciences got me thinking.

Are there any real disadvantages to the following back-up plan: namely, pursuing a one- or two-year MS (or MA) degree which both compliments one's philosophical research and opens up another possible line of work?

Obviously, some sub-fields of philosophy naturally lend themselves to this sort of approach (e.g. bioethics, phil. law, phil. physics, etc.). But there are other examples which might not immediately come to mind, e.g. someone like Joan Weiner who, amid working on Frege, finds it useful to draw on her MS in biostatistics and epidemiology.

Because our discipline isn't always accorded respect by other sectors of society, it's easy to adopt a mindset bent on demonstrating the value of philosophical study for other endeavors -- the best defense is a great offense. But that default mindset may obscure an awareness of the creative impetus which other disciplines can offer for philosophical research. And they may also increase one's chances of landing a job should philosophy not work out.

Anonymous said...

Are there any real disadvantages to the following back-up plan: namely, pursuing a one- or two-year MS (or MA) degree which both compliments one's philosophical research and opens up another possible line of work?

I've known two people who have done this. Both got good results. One took an MS in human development and used his background in statistics and SPSS to work for a research firm (marketing research). The other took an MS in applied physics and ended up working as a computer programer. If you know anything about applied physics, the connection will be obvious.

Anonymous said...

When I was leaving a north eastern city to attend grad scholl in the south, the taxi driver taking me to the airport asked why I was traveling. When I told him, he started to shout at me. He had a PhD from a great program in the area and could not find a job; there were no jobs in philosophy and never would be. How did I imagine I could ever find a job in philosophy? (My being female may have been part of the problem, along with my going into a program for which he hd no respect). Years later, PhD in hand, I found a short term and then a tt position. I've since moved to another position and am chair of my department.
Lesson? The time one spends in grad school is also time in which the job situation is changing. Benton thinks we should not offer any hope to current undergrads. I certainly think we should slow down the pipeline of PhDs for a while. But I am not at all sure that academic philosophy is a dying field.

Now, this may not be much consolation for newly minted PhDs. On the other hand, my program has just hired a new tt member, whose partner has been hired not far away, and we are looking for someone for a one-year for a line for which we will do a tt search next year. So, there are jobs, although fewer than needed.

Now I'll really stick my neck out. I think Benton is correct that something is very wrong in the Humanities and that this is reducing the demand for academics in the Humanities. My belief is that the problem is the path many humanities and ss disciplines have taken in recent years. So much of what is published and taught is just navel-gazing dross. I recently had a student who became very upset with me (and Aristotle)for suggesting that there are some ways of living that simply are not 'good' for humans. Fresh from another humanities class, he told me that it is 'wrong to universalize in the Humanities.' Assuming he was overstating, I asked "so, the life of a person in a persistent vegetative state is a good human life?" Defiantly, he responded, "We can't say because we cannot know that person's consciousness"

If academics in the Humanities teach students such crap, how can we expect there to be continues interest in or valuing of our fields?

Ok, fire away. :-)

Anonymous said...

"So much of what is published and taught is just navel-gazing dross."

I completely agree. The irrelevance of most of the humanities in terms of what is currently published is beyond belief. We are in a crashing economy. The internalist/externalist debate is not going to put food on the table for much longer.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:07 AM,

I agree with much of what you say. I don't think anyone disagrees that there *are* jobs. Hardly ever does the job market just freeze up entirely. It's the s l o w down to this degree that worries everyone.

To Anon 12:24: It's not as if Hume's distinction between ideas and impressions is much less navel gazing. Philosophers and humanists in general have always thought about issues that, by themselves, don't "put food on the table" Think of Kant. So I'm not sure what your point is, unless you were mocking the previous comment. Or unless you mean teaching these issues in Phil 101 is a mistake. Really, I don't know what you mean.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:40:

The point: most of this stuff is for a leisure class that exists when there are expendable resources on such reflection.

That class is shrinking in this country. Those resources are ceasing to exist. We are seeking jobs. Philosophers have very little to no use in this sort of economy.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:13

Anon 10:40 here. I agree with your point. I guess I took the earlier posts to be pointing toward specific subjects as irrelevant in such times. You seem to be making a broader point: academic reflection is only made possible (and only makes sense?) when there are resources to support it. I wonder if this is true, though. Haven't there been universities even in the poorest of times. After, my knowledge of history sucks, but when universities got their start, things weren't exactly hopping, economically speaking.

Anonymous said...

I did not mean, in fact, to suggest that philosophy is only for the leisure class or leisure-rich societies. I'm committed to the idea that reflection, reasoning, and moral exploration are vital to human existence. Perhaps in situations of extreme exigency (Darfur comes to mind), the possibilities are so limited that survival is all one can hope for one's people. But, in our culture and most of the 'developed' world, there is plenty of space for serious thinking (even/especially about non-food-on-the-table matters).

No, what I intended to point to is a purportedly intellectual movement that has come to dominate much of the humanities. It promotes the kind of thinking that encourages undergrads to believe that someone in a persistent vegetative state has a 'life' that cannot be judge a bad life, because there is something illegitimate about all/any such determinations. (That he thought anyone could know the 'consciousness' of an unconscious person was probably his own error.)

It is also a movement - or is tied up with a movement - that celebrates the personal and the subjective and the fringey. Indeed, it typically prohibits any commitment to public reason and, so, prohibits exploration of anything beyond the navel of the individual or her pet interests. So, we get philosophy of magic as a field of equal intellectual importance with ethics. Or, we get courses which 'investigate the body and its boundaries through epistemology and dance' offered as core liberal arts courses.

Ah well. I'm on my soapbox and being obscure. :-)


Anonymous said...

P.S. To Anon 3:06:

So, yes, I did mean something like "specific subjects as irrelevant in such times." But, I would go farther than the 'at such times' qualifier suggests.


Anonymous said...

"...the economy's so bad this year because Republicans (with an assist from select Democrats) were allowed to fuck up the country for most of the past eight years."

Oh yeah, the bad job market for philosophy is because of evil Republicans. In fact, like everything else: its Bush's fault!

For thirty years Democrats (with an assist from Republicans) have been implementing policies to get poor people into houses. Remember Democrats are "for the poor" and Republicans are "for the rich." Democrats have railed against "red lining" and banks not giving enough loans to poor people as long as I can remember. They have intentionally worked to get more lower income people into house. This includes the Community Reinvestment Act under Carter and expanded under Clinton as well as creating a secondary market for financial institutions to purchase home mortgages (Freddie and Fannie). It was Democrats who refused to regulate Freddie and Fannie in 2005 congressional hearings when Republicans pushed for it because they saw Republicans as trying to undermine helping poor people buy homes.

Bottom line: Democrats bear at least as much responsibility for the housing mess that started this economic downturn as Republicans. And this Bush Derangement Syndrome which blames the bad job market in academic philosophy on Bush is twisted. Grow up!