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Evolution of Academicians in America – The good and the Bad

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As for the professional associations, one can probably count on nonteaching scholars proving able on their own to gain adequate entree. During the late 1970s, they came more and more into evidence, partly because people hoping for academic jobs arranged to be included on programs but partly also be-cause members concerned about the "academic job crisis" formed effective committees. Unfortunately, the associations' annual meetings seem likely to serve less and less well as showcases for scholarly work, whether that of academics or non-academics, for inflationary increases in travel and hotel costs has greatly curtailed attendance by people other than those interviewing or being interviewed to fill academic jobs. Local, regional, or other meetings may increasingly serve as substitutes.

Even if library and archive schedules remain unchanged and universities continue to shut out all who are not their own and the learned societies either wither or serve primarily groups of professors, it is arguable that scholarly research and writing could still be done by people outside academe if they have some continuing incentives. The key question thus is whether something could be done to create such incentives.

The obstacles are many. In current practice, financial sup-port for humanistic research most often takes the form of paid leaves of absence for professors. Sabbatical leaves provided by colleges and universities from their own resources are supplemented by fellowship awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and other private and public sources.

Steady, perhaps precipitate, diminution in the amount of money available to underwrite humanistic scholarship seems almost inevitable. Universities will be pinched and, as already noted, will be under pressure to transfer funds to their libraries. Public agencies will probably have to spread their largesse more and more thinly. Foundations may well do like-wise. The most likely prospect is a shrinking total, with individual awards or subsidies becoming more meager.

At the same time, the financial needs of scholars promise to increase. With heavier workloads or declining pay or both, those in academe will be less and less able to arrange for or finance free time, research travel, and the like. Except for people who secure for themselves the freedom and income of a Jim Cortada, scholars who are not teachers may be in worse straits. Even a nine-to-five job leaves little leisure. Many jobs are more demanding, and most of those likely to be held by Ph.D/s or former Ph.D. candidates will provide little or no opportunity for scholarly research. If nonacademic scholars are to carry on research or write, they therefore have even more need for free time than do professors. Though their incomes may be higher and may more closely track increases in the cost of living, their research expenses will be heavier. Unlike professors, they cannot claim such expenses to be job-related and therefore tax-deductible. It is foreseeable that professors and other scholars will be gathered around a trough not adequate for either but with the professors closer.

Here, the power to do something lies with foundations, including the National Endowment for the Humanities. As university resources are shifted to other uses, foundation sup-port of humanists' research and publication will grow in importance. Though not without biases and obligations of their own, foundation trustees and officers are freer than university administrators to deal evenhandedly with academics and non-academics.

The choices before foundations, however, will be hard. They can support the individuals who seem most promising and give them what they need, or they can alternatively spread grants so that larger numbers of people get a little of what they need. When academics are to be supported, funds might go to those best situated to succeed those in the stronger colleges and universities or they might go predominantly to people so situated that they probably cannot do scholarship unless given outside support. Grant-givers will face more agonizingly than ever such dilemmas as choosing between an assistant professor at a rural Southern community college, who has time but no access to libraries, and someone in a New York advertising agency who is six blocks from a great library but has no time to go there.

It may be that any foundations so disposed should simply adopt rules of thumb: a certain percentage of grants to scholars from the faculties of elite schools, a certain percentage to those from the faculties of non-elite schools, and a certain percentage for non-academics. The obvious argument against such a formula is that it may militate against merit. It could result in not funding a project in one category qualitatively superior to ones funded in other categories. The counterargument is that, absent such a formula, awards are likely to go disproportionately to whichever group is best represented on the jury or juries assessing merit. Approaches to this dilemma already differ from foundation to foundation and will probably continue to do so. Practices appropriate to one foundation will probably not be appropriate for any other. Answerable to the Office of Management and Budget as well as to Congress, the Humanities Endowment must have rules peculiarly its own.

Concerned, as we are, more with the quality than with the sheer quantity of scholarship, we would not urge any foundations or agencies to support non academics simply because they are non-academics. We do, however, venture one suggestion. It is that some foundation or coalition of foundations- probably not including any public agency-consider the possibility of offering a large number of substantial prizes as rewards for completed scholarly work. The first governing principle should be that the prizes be large enough to make meaningful contributions to an individual's income: say, the equivalent of the price of an automobile. The second principle should be that there be enough such prizes so that any serious competitor could regard himself or herself as having a chance of winning.

If the field were limited to articles in major scholarly journals, only 1000 articles or so would have to be considered, for there are not more than 50 major journals in the United States for English, modern languages, history, and philosophy, and few print more than 5 serious articles per issue. One hundred prizes would represent one prize for every 10 articles.

Of course, the institution of prizes could not work miracles. As has recurred in Pulitzer and National Book Award and other prize juries, panels would divide, bicker, and provide public controversy. Even so, the benefits could be greater than the costs.

To begin with, the unit outlay would be relatively small. A prize of $7500 would be only half of the $15,000 that (in 1980 dollars) is a not unusual full-year stipend for a research fellow. If there were 100 such prizes, ample remuneration for judges, and small subsidies for the journals, the total cost could still be less than $1 million a year. Unlike fellowship stipends, furthermore, none of the money would be wasted on fruitless projects. The fruit would already be there to be inspected.

In the second place, prizes would supplement, not substitute for, ordinary income. We do not propose that eligibility be limited to people who do not teach. One reason is the belief that prizes would provide incentives for scholarship to people who teach in schools where research and publication are little appreciated and to professors whose tenure and status exempt them from publish-or-perish pressures. Obviously, rules might exclude people who had recently had sabbaticals or research fellowships. In general, however, we would suggest that com-petition be as open as possible.

Even so, we would advance as the third and chief argument for the scheme the proposition that it would encourage continued scholarly work by people who possess the training but are not in traditional career paths. The prospect of a substantial prize could provide the necessary extra incentive for night and weekend labor and help to justify it in the eyes of office-mates or superiors with different hobbies. The fact that such rewards would be accessible to people with the requisite training could even affect at the margin decisions by undergraduates on whether or not to seek graduate training.

To sum up: The central question is whether the humanities can retain their vitality during what promises to be a long-swing depression in higher education. It is difficult to project more than 15,000 full-time career openings for college or university teachers in English, modern languages, history, and philosophy from 1980 to the mid-1990s. The number might be even smaller, and not more than half would be at schools offering conditions advantageous for scholarship. If revenues replace enrollments as the controlling factor, numbers of jobs could be greater, but all or almost all scholars would feel in-creasing strain as a result of dwindling income. There will in all likelihood be many more than 15,000 men and women with doctoral training in the humanities who, by necessity or by choice, will not spend their lives in academic settings. In these circumstances, how is the nation to continue to have a corps of well-qualified, well-trained scholars conserving and adding to learning in the humanities?

Taken all together, the evidence plainly argues that graduate training in the humanities has no necessary connection with a career in college teaching. Though most graduate students aspire to be professors, comparatively few are excited by-or have even thought much about-the prospect of year-in, year-out work in classrooms. Many who do teach find that they do not like it. In any case, they regard graduate work as having done little to improve their ability to teach. They-and Ph.D.'s who do not teach-see the training as having emphasized research skills that have only marginal application in the teaching career itself.

Survey and interview data show graduate students in the humanities to be a varied group, including many combinations of talents and many different personality types. They are suited for a wide variety of other careers.

Humanities PhD's who have entered business or become government officials have been comparatively satisfied. On the whole, they have found more challenge and variety in their occupations than college professors have found in theirs. They earn more than the professors, and the difference in earnings more than compensates for the fact that what they do makes only indirect use of their doctoral training. On the whole, they also believe that their training makes them better able to think critically and do their jobs. Few regret the time spent on the Ph.D. A surprisingly large minority have some record of scholarly accomplishment-a book or an article. They are just about as productive as professors in 4-year colleges, and more productive than those in 2-year colleges.

At one time it was commonly assumed that, except for dilettantes, no one took an undergraduate degree unless headed for a career in teaching or one of the learned professions. Despite ample evidence that liberal arts majors can successfully enter almost any line of work, it is still common for college students to think of those majors in terms of jobs. In reality, any ambitious person is almost certainly better off with an English or history major than with an undergraduate major in business, which in most cases leads only to a career as a clerk or bookkeeper.

The arguments for the usefulness of liberal education for undergraduates cannot be extended wholesale into a case for graduate education. It is not clear just how much value is added to the English or history B.A. by an extra year and certainly not clear how much is added by an extra 7-9 years. Moreover, graduate and undergraduate programs are different in that graduate programs emphasize training over education. They produce scholars.

Our contention is simply that the numbers of people who equip themselves to be scholars should not be a function of actual or anticipated fluctuations in the academic job market. Tens of thousands of young people have the requisite love of subject. The national capacity to provide them with graduate training exists. It will not be a waste if large numbers continue to earn doctorates and go on to posts in insurance companies or government agencies. In fact, the cultural life of the United States will be significantly richer if the training of scholars can be divorced from the preparation of teachers and if it becomes no more extraordinary for a corporate vice-president to have a Ph.D. in philosophy than a law degree and no more remarkable for someone in business or civil service to publish a scholarly book or article than to win an amateur golf tournament or be elected to local office. The humanities could become more integral to American life. If so, "the academic job crisis" would prove to have been a blessing very well disguised.
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