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Are Humanities Grad Students Exploited?

Question: Are humanities\r\ndegrees high-risk?

\r\n\r\n

Louis Menand:  Yeah.  Well, I think the time to degree is right now the big\r\nobstacle to entry into the professions. \r\nNow, the median time to degree, to PhD in the humanities is nine \r\nyears,\r\nand that’s time as a registered student. \r\nThe time between Bachelor’s degree and a PhD, the median time is \r\nover 11\r\nyears.  So then you’re still only\r\non a tenure ladder, you’re not tenured. \r\nSo it generally takes 6 to 8 years after that to get tenure.  So that’s a very long period of what’s\r\nessentially apprenticeship, of insecurity. \r\nI don’t think that’s very healthy for any business, certainly not\r\n for a\r\nbusiness where you want people to be original and creative and take \r\nrisks.  So I think that’s a big problem, and\r\nthe humanities seems to be doing worse than the other disciplines, \r\nthough the\r\nother disciplines also have increased time to degrees.

\r\n\r\n

Now, part of the reason for that is that it’s \r\ndifficult to\r\nget a job and people stay in school longer because they’re employed as \r\nteaching\r\nassistants or instructors by their schools, by their schools where \r\nthey’re\r\ngraduate students, and that does become exploitative eventually because \r\nthey’re\r\nvery cheap labor and there’s a way in which in it’s not in the \r\ninstitution’s\r\ninterest to give them a degree if they can continue to employ them, I \r\ndon’t\r\nthink anybody thinks that way, but effectively that’s the way the system\r\n is\r\nstarting to work.  That’s a bad\r\nmorale problem and it’s something that gets into the mentality of the \r\nABD’s, who\r\ndo a lot of this teaching, and it’s not good for, again, not good for\r\ncollegiality, and not good for intellectual culture.

\r\n\r\n

So I think everybody recognizes at this point that \r\nwe’ve\r\ngotten ourselves into a really weird situation where the supply curve \r\nand the\r\ndemand curve are just not, you know, where they should be and it would \r\nbe very\r\ngood for the profession generally, and the humanities in particular, \r\nbecause we\r\nhave a lot of other things that we’re struggling with, if we could \r\nget the\r\nprofessional training part of it a little more rational and efficient.

Not on purpose, says the "Marketplace of Ideas" author. But the system is starting to hurt them nonetheless.

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