OK, let’s imagine the impossible of total supply-side control. Clamp off admissions to every doctoral program in history immediately and what happens?
They all keep pumping out new Ph.D.’s at contemporary levels for 10 years. Scratch that. They actually pump out higher levels, because fewer of those enrolled will drop out, believing that they have better chances. So that keeps the “supply” at status quo rates for, say, 13 to 15 years. Then of course there’s all the underemployed circling the drain. They’re good for at least another five years’ supply.
Another thing. Young people being so clever, they’ll find ways around that job czar and the gerontocracy, enrolling — as so many already do — in American Studies, cultural studies, women’s and ethnic studies. So while history is choking off “supply,” the “competition” will continue merrily.
So even after total lockdown on admissions, this “oversupply” will continue for two decades at minimum. When could “production” start again? After a decade? At what level?
One more thing. Since we’re still staying hands-off on the demand side — what administrators want is what administrators want, and what can us chickens do about that? — that “demand” will continue to be restructured downward on a dozen fronts: dumping humanities from curricula, more casualization, automated courseware, etc.
So I remain confused, if not downright skeptical. To those of you scoffing at how impractical it is to try and attack the problem where it lives — on the demand side, with aggressive administrator restructuring of demand, I want to say this: Really? You think this is the practical alternative?
Here are some demand-side questions, all of them far more practical, doable, and approachable than the Wiley E. Coyote-style fantasy of clambering atop a giant people pipeline and shutting ‘er down.
1. How much teaching should graduate students do per year, for how many years en route to a degree? At what rate should they be paid?
2. On what basis should teaching-intensive faculty in history earn tenure? If monograph publication isn’t the gold standard for professional activity, what forms of “doing history” should count? What size should their classes be? How many should they teach in relation to participation in governance and “doing history”? What degrees should they hold?
3. What’s the limit to standardization, automation, and “scaling up” schemes? Historians and many other faculty, especially academostars, are susceptible to the idea that the nation really only needs a handful of doctorally degreed specialist stars in each field, and we can “scale up” their teaching infinitely by streaming their lectures (plus enlarging the army of cheap teachers/volunteers leading discussion sections).
4. When faculty are employed on a “temporary” basis, when is temporary an honest descriptor and when is it a loincloth for exploitation? Shouldn’t “temporary” faculty be paid more than nontemporary faculty (to contribute to self-funding of benefits, inconvenience, etc.) What are the academic rights, including academic freedom in the classroom, and to teaching their own syllabi, of “temporary” faculty when they’re truly temporary? What are their rights in that respect when they’re really permanent but being treated as temporary?
Since we’re all so fond of imaginary “basic economics” at one stroke, wouldn’t removing the incentive for exploitation (super-cheap wages for grads and contingent faculty) solve the problem now masquerading as an “oversupply”?
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