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"Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Humanities Ph.D.?"- The Changing Scenario in Humanities Ph.D.

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Since the historic pattern for 9 out of 10 humanities Ph.D.'s has been simply to move from one side of the podium to the other, the number not in teaching careers has never been large. Of 60,000 whom the National Research Council could locate in 1977, all but 4800 (8%) were employed by schools or colleges.

These 4800 were mavericks. Receiving their Ph.D.'s when the degree carried with it virtual title to a teaching job, they were for the most part people who chose not to teach. Even so, evidence about them is suggestive. It says something about how graduate training in the humanities has been used or not used in lines of work other than teaching. It also says something about possibilities for continued scholarly work by people whose places of work are not classrooms.

Most of the evidence comes from a second HERI survey, again supplemented by interviews. The objective was to poll a significant sample of Ph.D.'s in English, French, Spanish, history, and philosophy and compare the answers of non-academic's with those of academics matching them in fields, age, sex, and other characteristics.



The original plan called for surveying Ph.D.'s from the 40 universities whose graduate students were simultaneously being questioned. This plan had to be abandoned. Graduate departments knew only the addresses of Ph.D.'s who were teachers. A sample of non-academic's had to be rounded out by posting notices at professional association meetings, searching the computerized personnel rosters of cooperative corporations and government agencies, and placing in the book review section of the Sunday New York Times a large paid ad headed: "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Humanities Ph.D.?" The ad included a coupon order for a questionnaire.

These efforts produced 1200 responses from PhD /s or A.B.D/s not working as teachers. A comparable sample of teachers was easily found. Alike in most characteristics other than type of work, the two groups together were similar to the HERI sample of graduate students. They were, of course, older and scattered across the age spectrum. Coming from generations that had felt less affirmative-action pressure, the two groups were both about three-quarters male instead of being half male and half female. Not surprisingly, in view of their age, a larger proportion-approximately 80%-were or had been married. Almost half had spouses who worked. Though both groups included many from the population that the American Council on Education had surveyed at the end of the 1960s, they did not have its characteristic family income distribution or upwardly mobile appearance. Instead, the proportions from rich, middle-income, and poor families were almost the same as in the contemporaneous graduate student sample heavily weighted toward upper middle. In academic honors and college extracurricular activities, the Ph.D.'s also resembled the students. Twenty-two percent were Phi Beta Kappa's. The majority had been "grind."

Of those not employed as teachers, a large number worked for academic institutions. The survey respondents were therefore divided into four groups. First, there was the "faculty" group. Larger in number than the comparison sample of people not teaching, this group consisted of about 1600 people, somewhat fewer than 100 of whom were teaching below the college level. The other groups were "academic administrators," "other academic" (a miscellany dominated by college librarians), and "nonacademic." The last group exceeded 800 and thus formed about two-thirds of all those not employed as teachers. Offsetting possible distortion due to inclusion of secondary-school teachers among faculty was inclusion in this nonacademic group of somewhat fewer than 100 who had no employment at all, mostly people going dispiritedly from one fruitless academic job interview to another.

For the guidance of graduate students and new Ph.D.'s voluntarily or involuntarily considering careers other than teaching, the evidence is illuminating chiefly because it cannot be generalized. When looking back on their time in graduate school, few humanities Ph.D.'s believe that it enhanced their imaginativeness. (See Table 3.2.) Anyone who hears students or professors discussing "alternative careers" has confirming evidence, for the range of possibilities seldom runs much beyond librarian, archivist, or curator, with little note that these professions have their own entry systems and surpluses of talent. Teaching at the secondary or elementary level sometimes crops up, despite the fact that the students not to be in college in future years are already not filling chairs in schoolrooms, and despite barriers posed by certification requirements, union rules, and union-school board contracts. The survey sample of non-academic's suggests how much more varied are the types of jobs that humanities Ph.D.'s have actually had.

The group did include some who entered another profession by taking another degree. Among the non-academic's were 15 lawyers, 15 Protestant ministers, 2 priests, 2 nuns, a monk, a rabbi, and an Episcopalian bishop. Such professionals, however, formed a distinct minority. Most of the non-academic's had jobs that required little or no additional specialized training.

Some had careers as researchers, employed by federal executive departments, the Congressional Reference Service, or state or local governments. The largest single collection of humanities Ph.D. engaged in research appeared to be in the Central Intelligence Agency. Others did research for private companies. At IBM's austere headquarters in Armonk, New York, for example, a philosophy Ph.D. who started out as a poet sat alone in a study seeing if he could dream up chains of logic computers could not follow.

Many humanities Ph.D.'s were editors or writers. A few were at unsurprising addresses such as the University of Chicago Press. Others were with journals such as Craw Daddy West or with news magazines or newspapers. A still larger number were connected with corporate house organs like those of Westinghouse, Exxon, and Eastman Kodak. Others listed themselves as staff writers for such concerns as Blue Cross-Blue Shield. Le Anne Schreiber, once a doctoral candidate in the English department at Harvard, went by age 33 from writing about international politics for Time to editing Women Sports magazine to being the sports editor of the New York Times, where from 1978 to 1980 she directed a department of 55 reporters and editors. Now deputy editor of the Times Book Review, she says, "I believe that the two things I have to sell are a highly developed critical intelligence and an ability to teach and write. I just had to convince people that I could translate these skills from an academic to a nonacademic environment."

Of the 800 non-academic's, one fourth were administrators or managers. Their employers included Xerox, Cummins Electric, Pillsbury, Gimbels, General Motors, Korvettes, the Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. (Academic administrators were a category apart.) One Ph.D. was vice-president for lending at a commercial bank, another a senior vice-president in a computer company, another the proprietor of a men's clothing store, yet another the president of a wine company. More than a score were section heads, office directors, or the like in U.S. government agencies. Two were or had been U.S. senators.

Finally, apart from a cluster of Ph.D.'s marking time as cabdrivers, gardeners, tree trimmers, house painters, and waiters (one a very well-off French-speaking headwaiter), there were salesmen and saleswomen. During interviews with students, mention of this occupation usually provoked retching sounds and references to Willie Loman. Some humanists who had tried it, however, echoed an outspoken graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania who protested a fellow student's saying that he could not imagine thus compromising himself. "That's a lot of crap," she said. "I come from a business family. I play the same damn games my father does. We are trying to sell education now. We are selling ourselves all the time. Do you think people need literature any more than a paper towel?" Arousing interest in a product, said several humanities Ph.D.'s, was not inherently different from arousing interest in a poem or a period of history or an idea. Often, it involved chiefly explanation very similar to good classroom teaching. And some people selling on commission claimed to have more control than college teachers over their hours, days, and seasons of work.
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