Friday, March 13, 2009

Solve for n

This is the worst academic job market in n years.
I was discussing this problem with a colleague a little while ago. He was on the market in 1998 and '99, and he thinks that it was still worse back then. (However, this was before the Feb. JFP came out.) It's hard to tell, though, for a couple of reasons (at least). For one thing, it's hard to tell how many applicants there are from year to year. For another, the raw numbers in the JFPs don't reveal the number of searches that have been cancelled. For another, it's possible that the Spring VAP market will rebound once administrators realize that there are only so many classes they can cut without downsizing the student body (x students times 15 semester-hours divided by 50 students per class = y classes offered--you can only cut so much before you're offering an insufficient number of courses).

So, when was the last time it was this bad?

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

I've also heard the same assessment from people who had experienced the job market back in the late 90's--that it had been very bad. The few people I've heard this from had real difficulties landing jobs at that time, although these few lived to tell the tale--landed TT positions eventually. I don't doubt that that period was very rough. But, I have no anecdotal evidence about what happened to people who didn't make it through, or any sense of how many people left the field (given that I only know a few who lived to tell).

You note: there are only so many classes they can cut without downsizing the student body (x students times 15 semester-hours divided by 50 students per class = y classes offered--you can only cut so much before you're offering an insufficient number of courses

Very, very unfortunately, this isn't how some administrators are handing serious budget cuts. For instance, with the entire adjunct budget cut for the Fall '09, you might think a department would have to offer less courses. But, you'd be wrong! Departments in a situation like this are forced to increase class sizes (from 45 to 60 for lower division courses), encouraged to do "jumbo" courses (120+), required to cancel all "under-enrolled" upper division courses (with the enrollment requirement raised, of course) so that TT and T faculty from these courses can be moved to the larger lower division sections, and forced to cancel course releases for TT/T faculty ("banked" for the future, or eliminated entirely). That's how it works.

Perhaps, you are wondering how administrators doing these sorts of things imagine that effective student learning and faculty teaching and research would be maintained. The mistake is attributing such concerns to some administrators.

Anonymous said...

I had a conversation about this with my advisor. I believe that he stated that he came out on the market in the late 60's. It was so bad then, that there was a police department in Colorado that advertised for an officer in the JFP. Apparently they had previously hired someone who happened to be a philosopher, and that person was a great employee. The ad was, so the story goes, filled by an APA philosopher.

Can anyone verify this story?

What ANON 5:00 p.m. says might end up being true. There could be a push to increase class sizes. Sometimes such matters are non-negotiable due to union agreements. But often not. Once class sizes are increased, it is hard to go back.

There are some circumstances where cancelling a TT line for the reson of budgetary crisis creates a precedent whereby the line can be permenantly removed (I believe, though am not certain, that in NY, CA and TX there is an official "crisis" clause in the agreements). If there is still demand for sections, the admin. can just meet it with adjuncts rather than TT in perpetuity.

Admittedly, these scanereos depend heavily upon governance structure, union agreement, president/provost preferences and divine fiat.

I often think of the raging voices who decry "liberal higher education" and think "if they only knew the labor exploitation..."

Anonymous said...

I second the 5:00 p.m. comment. At my university, the 100-level courses, which are hell to teach regardless of size, always have 40 students, and the upper-levels, which are much more rewarding, have 10-15. Usually we hire a VAP or an adjunct every year to teach a number of intro courses to make up for the overflow of students. But for next year the dean has already "asked" one faculty member if he will give up one of his upper-levels in order to teach another intro instead. If you do the math this is an extra 20-25 extra students in a course at no extra cost to the university, and without causing any outrage whatsoever about increased class sizes.

You underestimate the deviousness of administrators. I'm the next lowest man on the totem pole in my department, and I keep on waiting for my chair to tell me that my upper-level courses will be cut too.

Anonymous said...

Old school: came out after the deep recession of the late 70s that served Carter his head in the 80 election (I was on the market in80-81). 70 apps--1 interview. Stole the job over an internal candidate and never looked back. The APA jobs sheet for the period (mid-81) I interviewed? One 8-1/2 x 11 sheet double-sided (still have it on my wall). Maybe not the worst in recorded APA job history, but every day I thank Socrates for my tenured academic life. Lucky more than smart? Probably.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking that another factor may be that some faculty members who might otherwise take leave (opening up a VAP position), are being turned down for leave. The university does not want to pay for them AND a VAP.

Anonymous said...

The APA actually has stats on the job market in the 80s and 90s here: Look at the jobs/candidate data in the pdf file. The worst year was 1996, with 1997 trailing by a small bit. The late 90s was far worse than even this year. And I might add, as a newly minted PhD one was competing for jobs with people who had recently been denied tenure from very prestigious program. These days, there is a much higher rate of tenure as well.

veteran said...

I came out in 98/99. It was bad then (though I did fine), but I think it is worse now, especially if you want a job at top research factories.
The mid-90s, though, were really terrible. So I would say this is the worst market for about 13 years. But I think next year is likely to be still worse.

J.P. said...

Re the horrors of 1996, in the fall of that year I wrote away for information about PhD programs. One of them was at York University in Toronto. The package that came back had a cover letter from the department basically saying "look bub, there are no jobs in philosophy. If you want to get a PhD with us that's great, but you should not expect to get any sort of university employment out of it."

I decided not to enroll in a PhD until many years later. It would be interesting to know if any departments will start sending out letters like that again.

Anonymous said...

Does any body have the numbers on how many jobs were ultimately canceled, suspended, or downgraded to a one-year this job market season?

I applied for 46 jobs this year and as far as I know right now, a good 20+ of them were canceled, some even after they had flown me out. I doubt that *that* is something previously bad years have seen: cancellations after they had flown people out. I know of at least two schools that did that this year; I'd be curious to see if there were more.