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Future of PHD’s and Research- A war for the survival of Humanitarians in Academics

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With regard to the character of the training offered as distinct from recruitment into training programs, a separate set of issues exists. Traditionally, humanities doctoral programs have had three components. Featuring seminar papers and a culminating dissertation, preparation for research has been the most prominent. The acquisition of broad knowledge has come second, oriented to a qualifying examination-usually the daunting "doctor's oral"-presumably because of student need to be able to define research topics and to teach. The third component, seldom required and sometimes dispensed with, has been practice teaching.

The new circumstances do not demand changes. Research training is the heart of any doctoral program, and both seminars and dissertations seem necessary. When University of Michigan PhD's were polled in 1974-1975, only a handful, whether in academic or nonacademic jobs, questioned the usefulness of their dissertation work.2 Qualifying examinations would probably be much the same if designed for students who did not expect to teach. And practice teaching serves not only to finance graduate training but also to supply experience that may be directly useful in other settings. In any case, any group of students is sure to include some who will spend some portion of their lives as teachers.

New questions concerning the training of humanists have to do less with basic elements than with duration and intensity. It has always been the case that people could take Ph.D.'s and prepare for nonteaching careers. They simply added 2-5 years in professional schools. If students in the future were encouraged to combine Ph.D.'s and professional degrees, Ph.D. programs would have to be altered, for almost any of the possible formulas would require some interruption in the constant several-year-long master-apprentice relationship heretofore characteristic. And none would attract ambitious and purposeful students unless both degrees could be completed within some reasonable period. A department in which the median time for the Ph.D. alone remained 7 years would probably draw few such students, no matter what its distinction or strength.



Another question concerning future doctoral training has to do with selectivity after admission. The alternatives can be characterized as the funnel versus the cylinder. The first figure implies admission of a large number of novices but progressive elimination of those judged weak, with only a small number ending up as Ph.D.'s. The second figure implies the opposite: a complete course of training for as many as possible of those originally admitted. In between the extremes are many combinations. One argument for the funnel is that, if openings in college teaching do diminish significantly, the supply of Ph.D.'s would come closer to academic market demand. A second is that it permits concentration of faculty time on the students who seem most promising. For the contrary model, the primary argument is that judgments on the promise of graduate students are uncertain and apt to be wrong. A secondary argument is that a number of subfields need scholarly tending, even if by people whose own minds are not extraordinarily creative or original.

The issue can be further complicated by introducing the question of whether selectivity should have to do with continuation in course or simply with allocation of support. Should a paying customer be able to stay on almost regardless of other factors? Should teaching assistantships be awarded on the basis of scholarly promise or probable teaching proficiency?

The questions are ones likely to be answered differently in different institutions. The model of the funnel is apt to attract the elite institutions; the model of the cylinder, the institutions with most need for new graduate teaching assistants. If so, the result could be that many Ph.D.'s of the 1980s and 1990s will hold degrees from the latter. If this likelihood sparks concern in the elite schools, some of them might adopt a variant resembling-to stretch the metaphor-a funnel with a bubble or retort below the point. They could, for example, develop examinations on the basis of which they would admit for dissertation research some students who had taken basic graduate training elsewhere.

The greater the variety of opportunities, the larger should be the number of people finding that they have a bent for humanistic scholarship and going on to acquire the knowledge and skills needed for producing scholarly work. Since the median time for a Ph.D. is never likely to drop below 5 years, it may be especially important that those students who reveal the greatest scholarly promise-those who might make the best use of doctoral training-do not see completion of a Ph.D. as necessarily committing them to competition for a restricted set of professorships. For them, "Careers in Business" programs and other such transition aids may have particular value in that their very existence provides reassurance that other doors are not necessarily closed. Since some of the most successful products of these programs are people who changed occupation after several years on college faculties, appearances by such alumni and alumnae at functions of graduate departments could reinforce the effect.

In order to increase the chances that promising students complete their training and then actually produce scholarly work, it is even more important that opportunities plainly exist for the pursuit of scholarship by people who happen not to be professors. It is undoubtedly romantic to suppose that a very large fraction of significant scholarship will ever come from people dependent on salaries from institutions other than colleges, universities, or research centers. It is probably not unrealistic, however, to suppose that the fraction could be larger than it is at present and that, in a long period when teaching posts are scarce or poorly paid or both, the fraction could be substantial.

As matters stand, scholars who are not professors suffer severe handicaps. In most cases, they do not have schedules as flexible as those of people whose only fixed commitments are in classrooms. The disadvantage is made much greater when libraries, archives, and museums cope with financial pressures by curtailing hours or privileges with concern chiefly for their student and teacher customers. Would-be scholars with nine-to-five jobs can only use research facilities open at nights and on weekends.

Scholars not in academe are likely to be isolated. They lack opportunities to discuss their ideas or findings with people who share their interests and knowledge. To be sure, many scholars on college faculties are also isolated, either because of their colleges or because of their colleagues. As a rule, however, they at least have entree to learned societies, where a little effort can bring into being a panel at a regional or national association meeting. Scholars whose stationery carries only a home address or the emblem of a corporation or an operating government agency can do likewise only with great effort, more than likely involving an exercise of influence by some intermediary in or near academe.

Few scholars not associated with colleges or universities have any incentive to publish. Exception has to be made, of course, for official government historians, curators of historical societies and museums, and others who have lately begun to style themselves "public historians." Exception also has to be made for the tiny number, symbolized by Barbara Tuchman, capable of producing best-sellers. For the majority, the only reason for putting something in print is either private vanity or an almost fanatical belief in the importance of some finding or findings.

At least equal must be the number of people tempted to prepare a scholarly article or monograph but put off by fear of ridicule. One source of such fear lies among nonacademic friends, associates, or relatives: "You wouldn't believe how Dolores spends her weekends." Another source lies among the in-group of academics dominating learned journals and scholarly publishing houses: "Our reviewers feel that your manuscript shows insufficient familiarity with recent changes in interpretation initiated by Professor X."

Over the next few decades, humanistic scholarship will have a much better chance of thriving if, in addition to nourishing the flow of apprentice scholars, graduate deans and departments and interested foundation and government officials were to exert some effort to lower the obstacles that currently block research and publication by scholars not in academic institutions.

The first specific measure is profoundly needed, even if humanistic scholarship is exclusively the product of university people or even if the output of such scholarship should temporarily dwindle or cease. It is the maintenance of facilities for research-in particular the Library of Congress and the nation's major university libraries. AH scholarly libraries are in trouble, for prices of books have soared, and cost for cataloguing, holding, and circulating them have gone up yet more. Even the Library of Congress has been forced to make economies. The New York Public Library has practically been compelled to cease adding to its collections and to cut to a minimum its services to scholars. The nation's other great repositories are in stages of invalidism bracketed between these extremes.

Here, a case can be made for spending more money, not just making transfers. The Library of Congress and a dozen or so state, state university, and private university libraries are national treasures. Their collections need to be maintained for the sake of future generations. If humanistic scholarship languishes in the last decades of the twentieth century, that will be a misfortune. If the major libraries develop serious gaps in their collections, that will be a calamity. It might prove irreparable.

In connection with humanistic scholarship as a whole, the temptation occasionally arises to argue that it may serve some unsuspected national need. Had the United States had scholars who understood Vietnamese history and civilization, runs a recent version, the American people might have been spared a grim and humiliating war. Thus put, the argument is over-blown, perhaps meretricious. It resembles the case for space exploration based on the incidental discovery of Teflon. On the other hand, the thesis that the United States should have on hand collections of research materials relating to a wide range of problems, domestic as well as foreign, that might arise over the centuries ahead is surely one that deserves respect and that ought to influence both government appropriations and the outlays of foundations.

With regard to scholars as distinct from materials for scholarship, the question is how to improve conditions for nonacademic scholars without additional money, perhaps even in circumstances in which money now going to scholars goes instead to libraries.

The first problem is how to ensure that scholars not employed as teachers are able to do research. They must be able to use libraries and archives, and this means that hours of access have to include at least some evenings and weekends.

Since professors and students do have somewhat more flexible hours, they should be able to adjust without great difficulty to slight shifts in library and archive schedules-say to a 10:00 A.M. or even a noon opening time. Alternatively, some facilities might offer after-hours services to people paying special annual users' fees that cover the extra costs. The scholar not in academe is in need of consideration but not necessarily of charity.

The intellectual isolation of scholars not in academe could be eased if they had opportunities for more free and frequent interchange with those who are associated with universities, for universities will continue to be almost the only places with congregations of people sharing strong interest in particular fields of literature, history, or philosophy. Such opportunities are unlikely to arise spontaneously. On their own initiative, few professors are apt to hunt up scholars who are outside academic circles, and few non academics will push themselves on professors.

If change is to occur, it will have to be brought about chiefly by university administrators. One reason for their doing so resides in the fact that the non-academics represent a potential reserve of cheap labor. The common impulses of administrators and professors have already created a large group of second-class academics employed part-time and/or at low wages to teach English composition, introductory language, and other subjects that few professors like to teach. This group could well expand, especially in universities that engineer or experience reduction in numbers of graduate students.

In the future, however, administrators and professors could unite to produce something healthier. Even though their enrollments will not drop, major universities are likely to show some response to financial pressures. Some professors who die or retire will not be replaced. They are most likely to be ones teaching esoteric subjects. The specialist on the twentieth-century United States will have a successor; the specialist on the history of Brazil may not.

In some instances a partial remedy could be an adjunct appointment. A Ph.D. specializing in Brazilian history who keeps up with the field but who happens to work for a bank could give a once-a-week evening course or seminar for interested students. He or she would enjoy it and would probably ask minimal compensation. If satisfied with the individual's quality and sure that in fact nothing more could be had, the department could at least feel that it was maintaining the field. The president or dean could take comfort in not sacrificing all academic variety for the sake of economy. Though the numbers would probably not be large, they might be sufficient both to set before undergraduates role models of scholars not in academe and to catalyze interchange between scholars employed as teachers and those not so employed.
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