The long-term job prospects for those getting a PhD in the humanities are bleak at best. And among the hardest hit areas are those closest to my heart and mind: philosophy and theology. A couple exchanges I had with scholars at an academic conference I attended a little while ago illustrate the sobering reality.
In the first case I was speaking with a couple professors at a Christian university. Each of them teaches six courses a year. That’s what I’d call a full time teaching load, though some schools have even heavier teaching loads of eight or more courses. So in the grand scheme of things you might think these two professors were not too bad off. That’s what I thought … until they told me that each was only employed part time by the school. A full time load was eight courses at this school. As a result, these faculty were forced to seek out other sources of employment to supplement their income. And that is not all: by under-employing them the school could avoid paying them benefits, thereby saving greatly on the bottom-line.
Is this immoral exploitation? Or is it simply the new reality of what schools must do to survive? Is it both? I don’t know how to separate all these issues out. But I sure felt sorry for those two grossly overworked and underpaid individuals.
Now for the second case. I was speaking with a philosopher at a university that had just finished a search for a new faculty member in philosophy. The school is a respectable institution but no where near the first tier of research universities. So how many applicants do you suppose they had for this position? Incredibly, they had over three hundred applications for a single university teaching position.
And the fact is that countless universities continue to graduate new PhDs every year in a market that is already glutted with unemployed and underemployed doctors of this or that.
So things are indeed bleak and only set to grow worse in the years to come.