Sorry lucero, I agree that it is sad to see college faculty on food stamps, but I'm also
going to lay some blame on their shoulders.
The PhD is a necessary but far-from-sufficient credential for an academic job. Would-be PhDs should have educated themselves on this before they made it far into a grad program, maybe by reading news stories ("unemployed PhD" has been a popular meme for at least 40 years) or asking their advisors about careers in the field or looking at their professional organization's website or main journal. (Perspectives on History
regularly runs articles on the History job market, did the subject of the CHE article ever look at it? Even I
know about this, and I'm not in History.)
Assuming they've somehow avoided taking responsibility for their future before entering grad school, students can then just open their eyes and ears to find out what is happening with the senior students in the program, the ones who are graduating and looking for jobs, or see if the postdocs in their department are having any success. Or, start going to their association's annual meeting (the one that has the field meat market) and listen to the buzz.
I agree that departments could be less optimistic in their recruiting materials, but if you have any ability in the humanities at all you should be able to parse the language in something like the UC-Irvine web page to see that they aren't really suggesting their graduates are getting jobs:
We believe that history is fun. The History Channel, movies like Ben Hur, Gandhi, and Gladiator, show that the past still entertains us all. For students, we also know that the study of history is both useful as well as being rewarding in and of itself. Over the years, we have prepared a number of students for professional (law, teaching, business, etc.), graduate, and academic careers.
("Rewarding in and of itself" clearly suggests "not with cash," and "we have prepared a number of students for professional (law, teaching, business, etc.), graduate, and academic careers" doesn't say anything about the prepared students actually getting careers. If someone misreads this, well, maybe their inability to land a top job 5 years later is a second
consequence of reading comprehension deficiencies.)
Honestly, I'm getting a little tired of these stories. The academic job market in most fields has been very very bad for 30 years or more. Far from a secret, this is very visibly discussed in the kind of media grad students or even senior undergraduates should be reading, including newspapers. It takes a real effort to avoid getting this message as an undergrad, let alone before the first year or two of grad school, and anyone who is surprised by the market by the time they get a PhD is frankly a little stupid.
Are adjuncts underemployed/underpaid? I think there is no doubt that the ready supply of PhDs has made it possible to hire contingent faculty on the cheap. Regular faculty (like me) should
be doing everything we can to make sure that courses are taught by regular faculty, not adjuncts. This might
increase the availability of full-time jobs for some fraction of the current adjuncts, but would create permanent unemployment for the majority, probably including the small number that are on food stamps.
We don't grade our students on effort; similarly, any suggestion that the hard work involved in getting a PhD should be reflected in the salary is specious. - DvF