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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Grad Placement and the Job Market

This week I calculated my department's job placement record for recent PhDs and found that, for the years 2000-2005, about 75% of our PhDs received a tenure-track job offer within three years of getting their degree. And that figure is probably a bit low, since those graduating in 2003 and after have not yet had the full three years since degree, so I expect it will rise to about 80%. That seems awfully good to me, considering that some proportion of those who did not receive a TT job offer did not particularly want one for one reason or another, and stopped searching: a few took jobs as deans, or librarians, or left academia altogether. So that probably leaves only about 15% of all those who got PhDs from our department between 2000 and 2005 who weren't able to land a TT job despite their best efforts.

Now, ours is not a "top 10" department, though we are a good department and, in fact, are probably better than you might think from our name. Still, we aren't Harvard, Berkeley, Columbia, Penn, Yale, &c. Our grad students generally teach 2 courses a semester. And yet over that five-year span about four of every five of our PhDs got TT jobs pretty quickly after getting their degree.

I know the job market is tough, and certainly these jobs were mainly at "teaching-focused" schools (some of our PhDs prefer those jobs), but I think that some of the nightmarish talk that surrounds the job market in our profession comes from faculty at "top-tier" schools who simply don't recognize many of the jobs that are actually out there as "real" jobs. That is, when they talk about how hard it is to get "a job" these days, what they mean is "a research job of the sort that I would want." And since those faculty have disproportionately loud voices in the profession--in journals like PMLA and Profession; in training the future faculty at departments like my own; and in those periodic stories about academia in the mainstream media--that nightmarish discourse spreads. Which leaves grad students in our department with a mistaken impression of their real chances on the market, even though they are not expecting or in many cases hoping to get a job at an R1 University.

I don't know how our placement figures compare to other schools (though I'd be surprised if we were outperforming our peer institutions by very much if any). I'm not saying that 80% of all PhDs get TT jobs within three years of degree. And doing the same calculations but expanding the pool to 1995-2005 lowers our placement rate to about 65%; no doubt this is because around 2000 we got an influx of money that allowed us to expand graduate fellowships and reduce their teaching load so that most grads get a year off to write their diss.

But I'm wondering how much of the rhetoric that surrounds the job market has a hidden academic-class agenda behind it, one that basically refuses to acknowledge the vast majority of faculty positions as "jobs."

Am I way off on this?

  • At 4/26/2006 01:41:00 AM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    I'd be interested in hearing what other people have to say about this. Personally, I can only think of one person whom I knew in grad school who went out three or four years in a row and still came back with nothing tenure-track. I still consider this one person a tragedy--she and her work are brilliant--but this anecdotal evidence does suggest that your theory holds. All the other people, some two or three dozen, and even the most hapless, wound up with something, somewhere, even if at schools with 4-4 loads.

    (And I'll say this: though the academic-class-snobbery is probably as deeply-seated at INRU as at any grad program, the job placement officers have been, for years now, emphasizing the merits of schools of all shapes and sizes--talking up the pedagogical innovation going on in community colleges, for example--and getting very angry indeed when grad students showed any indication that their search was to be "limited" in some way.)

    All that being said--isn't part of the problem with the job market the fact that it assumes that even the best candidates can and should be able to "hang on" for three years, post-degree? Plenty of candidates don't have that option, worn so thin financially as they are after six or eight years of grad school penury. Hanging on is a potentially smart strategy if you have a degree from a top-10 or -20 school; your degree will maintain its value, and since the extra time will allow you to build up more teaching experience and publications, so much the better. But, lemme tell you, I've got credit still available on my credit card, a family that could support me in a pinch, and a degree from a top program--and I'm not sure that *I'd* have been able to hang on for another year, financially or psychologically. I know several people who gave the market one go, maybe two, and then went to law school or into publishing or nonprofit work.

    THAT'S what I mean when *I* talk about the job market being for shit. Three years on the market, after six or eight years in grad school. . . and the candidate gets one offer. At a school in rural Nebraska. For $32K. Is that success?


  • At 4/26/2006 12:22:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    I'd also be interested in hearing about the situation at other people's institutions (what a perfect time to de-lurk!)...

    Just quickly, though: LL, thanks for your comment, which raises a number of important issues. I agree with what you're saying about the 2-3 year wait post-degree. Most of this time is taken up with adjuncting for most people; it would be better if schools used TT faculty instead of adjuncts, of course, but if they are using adjuncts, I'd rather it be a stopping point for most PhDs along the way to a TT job rather than a permanent position. (Just a sidenote, since I'm representin' the midwest, many of our grads are perfectly happy with--and even come from--places like Nebraska!) But you're certainly right about the psychic and material issues involved in "hanging on" for a couple years.

    Anyway, I don't want to ramble on because I'm interested in others' thoughts on these issues...


  • At 4/26/2006 01:50:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    I'm not going to post a single long response, but instead plan to add thoughts as they occur to me. Right now, I have several about appropriate comparisons and relevant contexts.

    1) Part of what Hieronimo's getting at is what people mean by "a horrible job market." What it would seem to mean is that it's incredibly difficult to get a job, but as he points out, that's not entirely true. People do get jobs, and I think it's often easier to get a job in the Renaissance than it is in other, later fields. For example, how many Shakespeare jobs are advertised every year vs. how many Joyce jobs?

    2) How then should we interpret that 80% number? How does that compare to the profession as a whole? Is his school particularly good at getting people jobs? Others can do the number crunching on this issue, and I have noticed a number of schools beginning to advertise their placement record (Princeton, Columbia, Yale, I believe).

    3) But I'd like to think about this from another angle, and this is the spiel I give my undergraduates who are thinking about grad school. A Ph.D. generally takes about 6 to 8 years. After finishing or when people are close to finishing, they generally apply to jobs all over the country. If you study Shakespeare, you might apply to 30 ro 40 jobs. If you study 19th-century French Literature, you consider yourself lucky if you can reasonably apply to 10 jobs. If you're lucky, you land a job your first year out at a school you like. If you're very, very lucky, you get multiple offers and can do a little more hardline negotiating. If you're less lucky, you go out one or two more times before landing a job.

    What this means is that people spend 6 to 8 years working on a degree that they have an 80% chance of parlaying into a TT job in one to three years, a TT job that might take them almost anywhere in the country, to a school they might not like and from which it may be difficult to "escape," and that will enable them to earn a salary of somewhere between roughly the low-forties to high-fifties per year. That's an awful lot of work and an awful lot of time for a very uncertain payoff. And then once you do land the job, the tenure clock immediately starts tick-tocking, which produces another six or so years of anxiety and fretting.

    Whatever else people end up doing, a Ph.D. in English Renaissance Literature trains people for one thing and one thing only: to be a professor of English Renaissance Literature. It's not a highly transferrable degree. And yet it requires six to ten years of studying and writing and putting your life on hold before you can start your career as an English professor--at a place you may not like--earning a starting salary not much higher than an undergraduate starts out with at a corporation or bank.

    That still strikes me as a bad job market. Not bad in the way people might immediately assume it's bad, but worse than many other professions. After all, people don't start at Yale Law School or the University of Nebraska Medical School facing an 80% chance of landing a job within one to three years of finishing their degree with almost no say over where they will live.


  • At 4/26/2006 02:08:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Interesting take, Simplicius, and very much along the lines of La Lecturess's comment. The question is about how "bad job market" is defined. You are defining it as roughly: "you could do a lot better financially, psychically, and geographically if you went into a different line of work." No doubt that's true, and it's a crucial thing to tell prospective grad students. If you would like to enjoy your 20s, this isn't the job for you.

    My original thoughts were trying to address a slightly different issue (but I'm happy to see the conversation move in different directions): given that most students who decide to go to grad school do so (or rather should do so--and need to be made very aware through advice like Simplicus's that they should be doing so) out of a passion for the profession, what are their odds of landing a job--any job--that allows them to be a tenure-track member of that profession? And here I think the odds are significantly better than I thought they were when I was a grad, and significantly better than my grad students think they are (and my grad students very much include teaching-intensive jobs in their plans, and still underestimate their chances, which I would guess they'd put closer to 50%).

    (As another aside, S., our Renaissance grads apply to more like 50-60 jobs--and I've seen as many as 80 apps--because they apply to generalist positions as well, something that virtually no one among my grad cohort did. Another area that is somewhat invisible at "top-tier" schools.)

    I guess what I'd say is that the career requires a willingness to relocate, is not very well paid, and is not very high prestige in today's America. So not a great job market (at least compared to other professional jobs--still, let's also acknowledge, no heavy lifting and remarkable job security if you do get tenure, compared to virtually every other job in the US today). But if you are willing to accept all that--and one should try to be clear on that before starting grad school, to the extent that's possible--then odds are pretty good actually that you can make a career of it.

    I'm not being Pollyanna-ish, or at least trying not to be, but I've also seen many of our grad students get really discouraged--and I think sometimes give up--because some of my colleagues drill into them that very pessimistic job-market discourse that is based more on my colleague's desires and goals than our grad students'.


  • At 4/26/2006 02:44:00 PM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    Yes, partly I think the question is what one's expectations are; at a conference a few years ago I met some grad students at a decent (maybe top 30?) program in the midwest. Most of them were from the area, most hailed from small regional colleges, and they were very happy to be facing jobs at institutions like their undergraduate ones. (Most of them also had spouses who had "real" jobs, too, which isn't insignificant!) And the placement rates at their university were, indeed, pretty darn good.

    It does seem to me that universities are doing a much better job today letting grad students (or grad-school-aspiring undergrads) know what they're in for--that the smart undergrad that we teach at, let's say, a public R1, *probably* isn't going to be teaching at a school like his own, even if he gets into a top-10 program.

    Not everyone truly gets this, though, or the sacrifices involved in spending so much time in school, and that's a large part of the reason for grad school attrition, I think. In the end it makes the numbers better--more people get jobs, since there are fewer Ph.Ds coming out than grad students going in--but I'm not sure that the job market isn't still a part of the reason people drop out before getting to stage of actually going on the job market.

    (It's also true what you say about Renaissance jobs--the woman I mentioned who didn't get a t-t job did mid-20th C. stuff, where there are almost literally no jobs--and for that we should definitely be grateful. However, specialization still matters: my friends who are Shakespearians each got between 10-16 MLA interviews [in many cases regardless of whether the job specified dramatic lit] each of the last two years. I'm primarily a Miltonist. Not so much in demand, in case you're wondering--and I can only imagine what it's like for Spenserians! I'm not complaining, btw; just observing.)


  • At 4/26/2006 02:48:00 PM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    GOD. Obviously I'm not a Shakespearean, since I can't, apparently, even spell the word.


  • At 4/26/2006 03:46:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    The Brits spell it "Shakespearian" frequently, so maybe you are British and your last comment is merely trying to preserve your inadvertently-revealed secret identity!


  • At 4/26/2006 03:53:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    I want to interject a different consideration here. I think the issue facing a lot of English departments right now concerns their role in the university, which as I see it is changing. I think in the days of the GI Bill, the model was that an elite liberal arts education was going to be democratized: every state school was going to be a little Harvard or Yale. This is now changing. We're getting massive growth in enrollments at schools catering to non-traditional students (part time, people working, people commuting, etc); the absolutely elite universities are more or less staying the same, I think, but I think the place of the schools in the middle -- R1 but public, not private, institutions -- is being squeezed: the fact is that an increasing number of students, now, would rather pay less to go to a community college, a regional school, or a school that caters more toward professional development, and less toward liberal arts; and they're going later, often because they're paying. This, at least, is partly my experience at State U, which is very much caught in the middle: it at the moment remains, and by and large thinks of itself as, an R1 institution in the classic sense; but the students are increasingly using it differently. I've read of similar developments at other state schools. The university is filling a different role, and English departments -- having been at the center of the idea of the university as a liberal arts curriculum, a curriculum geared toward critical thinking and active participation in public life -- are, I think, going to feel a significant change in their role, at least at certain institutions. At some schools, English departments will increasingly play the role of service departments, teaching writing and so forth -- but they'll be at the margins of the curriculum more largely considered.

    In other words, we're going to see an increasing stratification between the elite universities, which will continue the liberal arts model, and an increasingly large group below that, which will be functioning quite differently.

    When we talk about recognizing that "schools come in all shapes and sizes," in other words, we're talking about a situation that isn't stable but in flux: it's not just a matter of opening our minds to other, non-elite possibilities, it's about a profession that is itself, I think, looking at a future that's quite different from what the past has been. And English departments at state universities are going to be at the center of these changes.

    There may actually be more jobs, in this new dispensation: but they're going to be a different kind of job, I think. Higher teaching load, more focus on rhet/comp, more service work altogether, not to mention a much less central place in the broad structure of the curriculum. I think that's what we're facing here. It may be that our grad students are fine with this. I have to say, I have real reservations: it's not a life I would choose.


  • At 4/26/2006 04:14:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Good point, Hieronimo, about the difference between advising prospective grad students about what they should expect and advising current graduate students depressed about their chances of landing a job (any job). But another complicating factor that makes the job market "bad" is the issue of significant others (spouses and the like). How do your students negotiate that minefield? Because another part of my spiel to prospectives is, "Oh, and if you have some sort of significant other, that person better be willing to consider following you someplace undesirable or living long-distance for a certain period of time." I wonder in how many other professions it's common for people to live apart. But, that being said, the lifestyle of a professor still seems superior to that of a law firm associate (see, for example, this post by Opinionistas).

    And I agree with LL's point above: the realities of the job market (again, not so much not getting a job at all as having to commit to any job offered) do prohibit certain people from even entering it in the first place. I've seen this personally with women who have children and whose husbands earn a nice living in a not easily relocatable job (again, not universally true, but common among those I've known who haven't bothered with the job market). It's hard to argue for a $45k/yr job in the middle of nowhere when the other person is earning $150k/yr in someplace desirable.


  • At 4/26/2006 04:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    I agree in part with Inkhorn's point that the face of English Studies is changing. I also share the nervousness about the perception of English as a service department. And yet there might--might--in IH's post be too easy of an association between that growth in a perception of service and rhet/comp. In other words, at my U, I'm starting to get a very strong sense that the liberal arts component is becoming in a way a service component--iow, there seems to be a kind of creeping back of the assumption that everyone--especially the budding scientist-- 'needs' their culture, and our classics department is riding that tide even more than English seems to be. Is Libarts as service a crazy theory? Or am I conflating service and status, etc.?


  • At 4/27/2006 12:41:00 AM, Blogger Breakitdown wrote…

    Hello, I'm an adjunct teaching comp at a big public urban U. This is seriously useful and interesting to me, although this might not be so useful to you guys since I teach freshmen. The change you're rightly describing about English depts becoming service depts has already occurred where I teach. To inkhorn's point about elite universities changing, however, I don't know, there seems to be a move toward interdisciplinarity that has certainly happened at those schools, and even at mine, that at least for me changed the equation to something broader than just liberal arts. At my U there are cross disciplinary classes in the core curriculum. A lot of those classes get shuffled through English at the moment. We take the humanities classes that don't fit in the social science depts, which pushes the English class that I teach to become something like Spelling. Inkhorn's point earlier that the uncertain vision for English depts will create more jobs (the growth I think is referred to above) is interesting, but at our sadly funded joint that has merely meant more jobs for adjuncts. Since our focus is service, there is simply a confusion I believe on what the next tenure track job would even be. The suggestion that there is the need for new phds to think about work in ways that are less rigid seems really right on to me.


  • At 4/27/2006 01:19:00 PM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    Gotta say, if Hay We Say's vision of literature classes (and the humanities in general) becoming, themselves, "service" classes is correct, I'll take it. My current Shakespeare class, in fact, is almost entirely non majors (they're fulfilling a writing-intensive requirement by taking it). Sure, their papers are generally abysmal, but doesn't it make one feel better knowing that there are future accountants and physical therapists out there who have read a dozen Shakespeare plays & who might be that much more inclined to go see a live performance when it comes to their community?


  • At 4/27/2006 03:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Hay, we here. I don't know that it's my vision, but I do believe that the notions that students need to be good writers and that they need to get good culture are more linked--especially in the minds of curriculum folks in the sciences, business school, etc.--than we might imagine. Though it's also my sense that faculty and instructors in rhet/comp are a bit more at ease with the service argument than those in lit. Which, as a rhetoric person, makes me uneasy (i.e., rhetoric risks losing any intellectual oomph it might have). Curricularly, perhaps this is all a move back to the trivium. But the trivium is still subordinate, or in service of other disciplines, which is, I agree with inkhorn, a concern.


  • At 4/27/2006 03:28:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    As for the move back to the trivium, well, we're certainly having to teach quite a bit of grammar these days, but not quite what the Renaissance thought of as "grammar" in the trivium!


  • At 4/27/2006 03:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…



  • At 4/27/2006 04:27:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    Teaching Shakespeare is not what I had in mind. I mean, the old idea of a liberal arts education was *always* that you would go on to be a banker or something, but one who could, at cocktail parties, say something about Hamlet. It was all about a certain veneer of culture. The new thing I'm talking about dispenses with that veneer entirely. It dispenses even with the idea that we're teaching people critical thinking or how to be a citizen. Wherever there are "Shakespeare requirements" and such, you've still got a vestige of liberal arts education, however little students may connect to that idea. What I'm talking about really is the reduction of liberal arts education to absolutely the bare minimum of linguistic competency. Think of foreign language departments: all those hours spent teaching people to say "sprechen sie Deutsch?" only in order that, sometimes, once in a blue moon, you maybe get to offer a course on German literature. Which no one takes. That's what I'm afraid is going to happen to a lot of English departments, and I think -- from Breakitdown's comment -- already is happening at an increasingly large number of places. Not everywhere, of course; but that's the whole thing: an increasing division between the liberal arts institutions enculturating future bankers, and the growing mass of schools just shunting through any number of future low-level technicians.


  • At 4/27/2006 04:41:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    Though I also think, from anecdotal personal experience, that even the bankers no longer care at all about that veneer of culture, and never really cared about the idea of critical thinking at all. We have big Shakespeare lectures at State U, which fit into a university-wide requirement system. The students in my classes are there for three reasons: 1. A very small percentage (like, 1) are enthusiasts; 2. A larger percentage (maybe 20 or so) are English majors and feel, without really knowing why, that they just should know Shakespeare; 3. Finally, the rest are students from across the university who, if this weren't a requirement, would instantly disappear. And the administration certainly has no particular investment in this class either: they're nakedly interested only in enrollments and the financial bottom line, from which perspective, one required class is just as good as another. Not that I'm saying that Shakespeare classes ought to be more highly valued: far from it. But the whole idea of the university seems to me to be precariously balanced at this point. It's just a business like any other. The students are there only in the hopes of eventually finding reasonably well-paid jobs; the administrators are there only to extract money from the students; and the faculty are just the means of delivery of product. The actual education doesn't factor into anybody's calculations. The institution is just an alienating, mechanical thing, in which we're all caught for reasons unclear to any of us.

    In this environment, an English department, in particular, seems to me just radically out of place. Why take literature classes, when they don't tangibly contribute to your professional betterment? The old idea of liberal arts education was elitist, Eurocentric, and I don't exactly mourn it, at least in the form it actually took -- but its death threatens to leave nothing in its place. Except ESL and Writing across the Curriculum -- another way, incidentally, of detaching the one skill we have to contribute to this depressing new world from the actual practices of literary and cultural interpretation we though we were here to do and to teach. Better writing through chemistry. That's the future.


  • At 4/27/2006 04:45:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    But are English Departments becoming service departments, or has that always been one of their core functions/identities? It's my impression that English departments tend to be quite big at many schools for two reasons: 1) a fair number of students find reading literature to be more enjoyable, or less painful, than many other, "harder" majors (easier than physics, more fun than history); and 2) comp, comp, and more comp. I know this is the case at my school, and in fact it's that service aspect that is currently causing some worry.

    For while the number of English majors has declined somewhat in recent years (and it's not yet clear whether this is a troubling trend or a normal statistical variation), so too have the number of mandatory composition courses decreased because a) more students are placing out of them, and b) more departments are getting in on teaching such courses. Now students are taking these staple writing courses with history professors, or, er, graduate instructofs, poli-sci instructors, etc. So what had once been a staple of the English department course offerings (and a mighty profitable one at that) is now only a piece of a smaller overall university pie, reducing the number of teaching appointments available to graduate students, which, as you can imagine, has all sorts of problematic cascading effects. (God that's an ungly sentence. Try this: English departments have gone from having the whole pie to now only having a piece of a smaller pie. Still not good, but you get the idea.)

    Now, this is just one school, but it does seem that more and more schools are moving to "writing across the curriculum" type programs, and (thinking territorially) those programs pose serious long-term problems for English departments.

    As for the drop in enrollments and majors, I'm not sure what to think. On the one hand, I would have a hard time trying to convince anyone of why he or she needs to become an English major (good thing this blog is pseudonymous), but, on the other, I think there will always be a demand among teenagers and twenty-somethings for fairly easy classes that involve reading fiction. But maybe I'm wrong and we will all eventually become members of the "eat-your-vegetables" department.


  • At 4/27/2006 04:53:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    "Eat your vegetables department" -- funny.


  • At 4/27/2006 04:57:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Once again, Inkhorn has commented (twice!) as I was dallying in composing my comment. Sadly, I find he's captured my own professional existential crisis. I essentially agree with him: it's hard to make the argument that being an English major is a vital part of one's education.

    But I still there are a few reasons for hope: English classes are more fun than courses in most other departments; business courses require students to learn skills but have them questioning much of anything (and most people--especially college-age students, whether they're in late teens and early twenties or older--like to take at least a few courses that question the world; how else to explain the continued existence of philosophy departments); and English classes are often easier (and more easily graded) than courses in many other departments. So we do contribute to our students' educations: we help inflate their GPA.


  • At 4/27/2006 04:59:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Gah, for "But I still there" to "But I still think there".
    And, for "but have them" to "but do not have them".

    The perils of not proofreading.


  • At 4/27/2006 06:22:00 PM, Blogger La Lecturess wrote…

    Perhaps I misunderstood what HWS meant, but I certainly wasn't celebrating what (I agree) is Inkhorn's worrying and negative vision of what the academy seems to be becoming. I was simply saying that I'm happy that my non-majors are choosing to take a Shakespeare class rather than, say, a Poli Sci class for their writing intensive credit, and I'm naive enough to think that some of them will, along the way, learn to read literature a bit more critically and write about it a bit better. Not all of them; not necessarily most of them.

    But there are worse things than students taking a lit class because they feel they've got to get them some kultchur.


  • At 4/27/2006 06:56:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    Oh, I agree. In part I'm freaking out right now because some university reorganization threatens to turn us into a department that is composed of 50% non-tenure-track lecturers who teach comp. At the moment they're off in a separate program, which obviously doesn't really change anything, but has at least enabled me to go on with my life pretending that State U is a different place than it is.


  • At 4/27/2006 07:29:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…


    I tend to agree with you. While I certainly see the class bias and elitism inherent in the old Arnoldian "culture" model of education, at the same time, I do think that life is better when one reads good literature, and when one learns how to read good literature in new, interesting, and more sophisticated ways. (This isn't specific or exclusive to litearture, of course; I don't believe in any Renaissance-like hierarchy of the arts). And I think this is true regardless of the "political" merits of learning "critical thinking" (which I think the jury is still out on). I just think people, of whatever class, enjoy life more when they read and know how to read literature. And (hedging and taking refuge in a bit of litotes) that's not an unworthy goal. Old-fashioned, perhaps, I know...


  • At 4/27/2006 07:30:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Man, put up a little post about the job market, and you get 25 comments. Maybe we should change this blog to "Blogging the Renaissance Job Market."


  • At 4/30/2006 08:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    wow, hieronimo. That does sound old fashioned, more so, I think than LL's take. For my part, I'm not sure I like how the shrinking pie (I think S is of course right on that score) pits lit against comp. It's not as if comp has only recently arrived on the scene, though I agree it's burgeoning of late and also agree (with Inkhorn) that writing is frequently at the center of such self-justifications, in response to corporatizing pressures, and to that I too say ugh, even as someone working in rhetoric (not always comp but often aligned with comp in weird and sometimes anti-intellectual ways). And Inkhorn, I totally see what you're saying now, about the veneer biz. I guess my sense of the trivium goes even further back to ancient notions of baseline training.


  • At 4/30/2006 09:15:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Yeah, I'm pretty old-fashioned, HW. My name is Hieronimo, after all; can it get much more old-fashioned that that? But seriously, folks. In the final analysis, that's why I read and study literature, after all: not because I think it provides insight into politics or culture (though I do think it can do that, and I think that's important), but because I enjoy it. So it seems odd, and oddly elitist, to me to deny that that might be an important--and important enough--reason for my students to want to study literature, or for me to teach it to them. Is eudaimonia completely discredited as a reason for education?

    As for pitting comp/rhet and lit against each other, that's a terrible idea, as any Renaissance person could tell you. One way to avoid the shrinking-pie problem, I think, is to refuse to let administrative/corporate interests define rhet/comp as simply training basic language skills, and instead to insist, in the best of the trivium tradition, on the mutual dependence of rhetoric, composition, and the study of poesy (I know, not officially part of the trivium in theory, but certainly it was in practice).


  • At 4/30/2006 09:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    well said, brother H. More eudaimonia, more often. I wish you were my colleague.


  • At 4/30/2006 10:00:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    My name is Hieronimo, after all; can it get much more old-fashioned that that?
    Cue rim-shot. It's like we're in the Catskills here.

    But it's the centrality of "poesy" to rhetoric and composition that's at stake. After all, it's not as if papers about literature are a natural way to learn how to write, as opposed to say papers about history, or poli-sci, or anthropology, or sociology, etc. English professors have often spent more time (heck, some time) teaching composition and thinking about rhetoric, but that's bound to change with the whole writing-across-the-curriculum movement. In fact, at my old school there was a change a-foot to make teaching composition something graduate students from all disciplines applied to teach and not something that English graduate students had a virtual monopoly on (along with the handful of MFA candidates, about whom I have a few other half-baked theories). Sadly, I can see the logic in decoupling composition from English departments and opening them up to people working in a variety of disciplines. I don't want that to happen, but I can see the intellectual justification.

    As for olde-fashioned Hieronimo's point about eudaimonia, that actually is a pretty good justification to give for studying literature. It's something that people have long (always) enjoyed--telling and hearing and reading stories. To understand literature is to understand a crucial human activity.

    But will it get you a job?


  • At 4/30/2006 10:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    S: I agree completely about the intellectual justification for writing being taught in multiple disciplines. But WAC has been around for decades now, and while it's a potentially awesome way to alleviate the labor pressures in English that lead to overstuffed PhD programs and the crazy job market, it still hasn't caught on completely--or better, officially (there's a case to be made that lots of profs all over campus teach writing, but it's still unoffical and I'd bet sporadic). Some institutions prefer WAC for an advanced writing requirement while leaving the first year requirement (the dirty work) to good old English.

    To my mind, eudaimonia (esp. Aristotle's version), if translated into curricular values, would involve loads of writing and reflecting along with--even in response to--the telling/hearing/reading of stories.

    It just might not include grading that writing. :)


  • At 4/30/2006 10:53:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Hmmmm, interesting, HW. Does it seem to you that WAC is enjoying a bit of a renaissance right now (or are my experiences kind of outside the mainline of the mainstream)? If WAC has recently increase in popularity, then do we have any idea of the next big thing will be? In other words, is there anything in rhet/comp that works along the lines of the push-pull between formalism and historicism in literary studies?

    Grading: if it weren't for the grading, I'd love teaching comp. But, with the grading, I shudder.


  • At 5/01/2006 12:30:00 AM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    I like these comments about eudaimonia -- old-fashioned as they may be. And I'm pretty skeptical about "writing across the disciplines," since it seems to me that writing and reading are necessarily linked activities -- and while one needn't, I suppose, therefore only read literature in a comp class, the *way* one attends "literarily" is just more intense, more focused on a depth of meaning, on multiple meanings, on the particular resonances of a single word, etc etc etc. Comp can be paired with anything, I suppose, but it does seem to me that it sits best with a few old friends -- literature and philosophy, mostly.

    That said, I hold to my apocalyptic scenario. All of this is nice, but when they replace us with the robot education-delivery mechanisms, it won't matter.


  • At 5/01/2006 04:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    I agree with you about the fit, Inkhorn, and I also believe that RED-mechanism=kakodaimonia.


  • At 5/01/2006 05:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    And to S: I'm intrigued by the notion of a WAC renaissance, and as you're intimating these things vary so wildly by institution that it's hard to tell.

    My sense of the push-pull in rhet-comp is exactly along those lines: rhetoric and composition. In the past couple of decades a few strong PhD programs have begun training students in history and theory of rhetoric so that there's an emerging tension about the place of comp and pedagogy . It's an interesting conundrum: the growth of those PhD programs tracks with the open admissions movement and the subsequent growth in first year composition. Those of us working in rhetoric are frequently criticized for losing sight of pedagogy, though there are others who argue that rhetorical traditions have long been inherently concerned with pedagogy and training, just not in the context of the very recently created--and very American--First year composition phenom. So on the horizon may well be a shift of rhet folks into comm departments, or a bringing together of the rhetoric that happens in English and Communication departments. These observations are based on lots of recent talk at conferences and things about the place of rhetoric--especially among historians. We're becoming rather nomadic.

    Back to declamation, I say! The motto can be: No grading, just beating. kidding, of course.


  • At 8/10/2006 03:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Pseudonymous? "Gah"!


 Scribble some marginalia

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