As for private foundations, they reduced outlays on the humanities during the 1970s. New legislation curbed what they could do. Inflation meanwhile lessened their resources, and claims upon them multiplied. Even in the cultural area, petitions for support of scholarship came to compete with appeals for the maintenance of symphonies, opera companies, and galleries. Were foundation contributions to the humanities to inch up during the 1980s and 1990s that would be the most that could be expected?
Any hardheaded approach ought thus to assume almost no new money from any source. It should ask only transfers of resources, the total amount of which could well be diminishing rather than growing.
The second obstacle may also need more ample description, for panelists discussing the "academic job crisis" are also prone to call upon their professional associations for remedial action. In fact the MLA, AHA, and APA are powerless bodies. They are not at all analogous to the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association. Though their annual meetings can adopt resolutions, those resolutions are even less enforceable than planks in a party platform. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is for practical purposes a collective bargaining agent for certain college teachers who already have jobs. The Association of American Universities, the American Association for Higher Education, and other such organizations of college and university administrators exist chiefly for exchange of information.
Each such organization can serve as a forum for the discussion of various approaches to protecting the future of humanities scholarship. In the end, however, any approach that succeeds will have to be one entailing independent, largely uncoordinated moves by large numbers of individuals and organizations.
Even so, the prospect may not be hopeless. The question is whether current resources could be shifted about to ensure (a) that sufficient numbers of able young people obtain advanced training in humanistic scholarship and (b) that those so equipped and motivated be able to do research and to publish the results. Many people would like to see these things happen. Almost no one would oppose them. Something may therefore occur if interested parties merely make the right choices among alternative ways of doing what they already want to do.
With regard to the first hazard-that the numbers of talented people seeking scholarly training may fall off-the obvious remedy is not, in any case, to spend more money. Rather, it is to alter attitudes. The pool of potential trainees will remain large, for even "worst-case" assumptions yield projections of humanities B.A/s running well over 50,000 a year with perhaps 15,000-20,000 enrolling in graduate school.
The nation's universities have ample capacity to train scholars in these or even larger numbers, and they need no new resources for the purpose. Prior to the 1960s, 25 universities trained two-thirds of humanities PhD's. By the mid-1970s, the top 25 were turning out less than 40%, and the top 40 accounted for not quite 60%. Not all of these 40 had strong departments in all the humanities. On the other hand, some schools not among the 40 offered training equal to the best. Princeton and Bryn Mawr are examples. There can be almost no question that the United States has graduate departments in the humanities able to accommodate any B. A.'s interested in a crack at scholarly training.
And it is probably the case that universities could train graduate students in such numbers with little or no strain on their budgets, perhaps even with some net financial gain. Since graduate seminars are small and doctoral candidates receive a great deal of individual instruction, on the surface graduate education seems to be an expensive business. If a professor spends half of his or her classroom time on a large group of undergraduates and the other half on a small group of graduate students, simple arithmetic suggests that the university's per-student costs are much higher for the second group.
This is, however, an illusion. In the first place, the professor's time is not perfectly transferable. The replacement for the small group of graduate students would probably not be a second large group of undergraduates. It might be a small group of undergraduates. It might equally well be an equivalent number of hours simply doing research, for the university professor whose specialty is Goethe or medieval economic life or the philosophy of Heidegger is likely to have a limited repertoire of courses, many with less than universal appeal to undergraduates.
In the second place, for professors, the training of graduate students is often only in part a teaching activity. In small or large part, it is likely to overlap with research and scholarly writing. Students in a graduate seminar often pursue aspects of a subject on which their professor is doing research. Sometimes they are, for all practical purposes, research assistants paid with course credit rather than money. Sometimes-in the very best seminars-students and professors are collaborators. Even though some of the doyens of humanistic scholarship are at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, which has no students, one may argue that many scholars do better work as scholars because they train graduate students. It is even arguable that, if universities see their function as partly the advancement of learning, they need critical masses of graduate students both for the stimulation of their current faculty and for its ultimate replenishment. If these universities do not have graduate students, in other words, they would have cause to try to create assets for those who pursue other careers. Those who do teach do not see the experience as having improved their ability to teach. Teachers and non-teachers alike see it as having enhanced critical thinking and ability to do research, the latter something almost as prized outside academe as within it.
There thus exists some basis for saying the following to graduating college seniors:
If you want to do graduate work in the humanities, your reason is probably interest in the subject rather than a well-considered inclination to pursue a career in college teaching.
Graduate training will sharpen your critical faculties, give you some research skills, and perhaps equip you to do some scholarly writing. It could open up to you the possibility of a spell as a college teacher, conceivably even a lifetime in that occupation, and you cannot other-wise add that option to your string.
But you should not enroll in graduate school on the assumption that teaching in college is even what you will want to do, let alone what you will do.
If you end up in a line of work where an advanced degree in humanities is not a job qualification, the opportunity cost of your time in graduate school will obviously not have been zero. On the other hand, it will not necessarily turn out to have been high. Although your pay and status may at first be lower than if you had gone to work sooner, there is a good chance that in the long run you will do a better job and be better compensated by virtue of the finer tuning of your critical faculties and research talents.
So think chiefly about whether you want graduate training for its own sake rather than for the sake of the job for which it might qualify you. Reckon the costs, including the possible opportunity costs, and make your decision accordingly.
If graduate departments could become comfortable about saying something of this sort to would-be applicants, their own inhibitions about admitting new students ought to relax. Their admissions quotas could then become functions not of professors' consciences, abetted by pressures from incumbent graduate students, but of the applicant pool, their own training capabilities, and their particular system for pricing graduate instruction.
Although realistic advice to graduating seniors, coupled with changes in the admissions policies of key graduate departments, would improve chances for recruiting scholarly talent, some other changes may be necessary complements. A senior aged 22 might reasonably conclude that, as a business executive of 40, he or she would be better off and more satisfied with life if 2 of the intervening 18 years had been spent in graduate school instead of on the job. Contemplation of a doctoral program with a median duration of 7 years, however, could well lead to an opposite conclusion.
It follows that universities desiring to recruit humanities doctoral candidates should develop programs enabling students to move into nonteaching careers with a minimum of lost time and effort. The New York State Regents "Careers in Business" program pioneered at NYU, mentioned earlier, provided a 7-week cram course that enabled carefully selected PhD's and near-PhD's to move into jobs at levels of salary and responsibility well above those for people with B.A's alone. Other universities adopted the NYU model. For the most part, these programs served to facilitate career change by people who had completed Ph.D.'s and spent some time as college teachers, but concluded that they preferred different types of challenges. The short summer course offering orientation to business or government is, however, a device that universities could well borrow as an add-on to 1- or 2-year master's degree programs. Potentially self-financing, it could be an actual source of revenue to universities.
Another possible device is a master's program combining initial training in scholarship with training for a profession. A multiyear curriculum could lead to simultaneous award of an M.A., M.Phil. ,or M.Litt. in humanities discipline and an LL.B.,or J.D.,or M.B.A. or even M.D. Though entailing interfaculty negotiations and some redefinition by humanities departments of the requirements for initiation into scholarship, such programs could attract potential scholars who would otherwise never acquire the rudiments of training or test their talent for research and writing.
A third variant could be introductory training in scholarship coupled with formal, tested practice in concise writing, clear oral exposition, and guidance of small groups-skills associated with teaching but equally useful for and prized in other occupations. For such programs, universities in large cities could almost certainly draw at relatively little cost on alumni or others professionally engaged in providing comparable types of training in corporations or government agencies, thus providing some genuine capability for certifying acquisition of general capabilities beyond those of a B.A.
These suggestions are merely illustrative. Many possibilities exist. Since charges for graduate study are already artificial, one other line of experimentation could involve additional tinkering with prices. For example, course fees could be set at attractively low levels with most real or apparent charges being levied only when and if a degree is awarded. Yet another possibility, perhaps too radical even to be suggested, is for major graduate departments to schedule some courses and seminars for weekends for the convenience of part-time students who have full-time jobs.
What is appropriate or feasible may differ from university to university, even from department to department. The critical shift required is one of attitude-toward the view that the aim of graduate education is to train people interested in scholarship, not to feed a particular labor market. If that shift occurs, the rest is mere adaptation.