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Crusteater

What do people think about this Chronicle article on Columbia English?

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Posted (edited)

Hi folks, I saw this article circulating on Twitter about Columbia’s failure at placing its Ph.D.s in TT jobs and the large size of its incoming cohort, and I’m curious what does GradCafe think about it. Here is the link to the piece: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Columbia-Had-Little-Success/246989

”The news was grim. Columbia University’s English department had failed to place a single current Ph.D. candidate into a tenure-track job this year. And 19 new doctoral students had accepted admission into the program, raising questions about why the cohort is so large when the job prospects aren’t plentiful. This had ‘given rise to some alarm,’ concerned graduate students wrote in an April 30 letter to department leadership.”

Edited by Crusteater

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This article is yet another disturbing example of blunted and unhelpful reporting in the CHI on the collapse of the profession. Kramnick and Cassuto frequently appear in the pages of the CHI and they both have asinine and clueless perspectives on the state of the profession. Kramnick looks out from the protection of his New Haven Tudor castle to offer commentary on the state of the job market that is about as informative as groundhog day. And Cassuto keeps deluding himself that misinformed ideas about work outside of academia have any currency or relevance to the various industries and institutions that he feels confident to pontificate about. It's all nonsense, and it's all an example of the lazy ease with which privileged academics assuage their guilt and culpability when they watch the young starve. Here's the situation as it currently stands: there are virtually no tenure-track jobs in English that a young scholar can obtain. Even the adjunct positions in literary studies are drying up. You wouldn't know it from the foolish nonsense posted on this web forum by uninformed people who are struggling to gain entry into these deluded places. But it's clear that people who have suffered these realities can admonish prospective students until they're blue in the face, and it will just make them feel that an opportunity--that doesn't exist anymore--is being denied to them. If Columbia was serious about addressing the fact that most of its prized PhDs will no longer find gainful employment in the academy, it would have to dramatically curtail the resources it puts into graduate education. And that's something that will continue to be met with deep resistance by the likes of Kramnick and Cassuto and their colleagues who will do anything to convince themselves that their genius can only be realized (and worshipped) in the graduate seminar full or eager disciples furiously studying for their under(or un)employment. 

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1 hour ago, wordstew said:

This article is yet another disturbing example of blunted and unhelpful reporting in the CHI on the collapse of the profession. Kramnick and Cassuto frequently appear in the pages of the CHI and they both have asinine and clueless perspectives on the state of the profession. Kramnick looks out from the protection of his New Haven Tudor castle to offer commentary on the state of the job market that is about as informative as groundhog day. And Cassuto keeps deluding himself that misinformed ideas about work outside of academia have any currency or relevance to the various industries and institutions that he feels confident to pontificate about. It's all nonsense, and it's all an example of the lazy ease with which privileged academics assuage their guilt and culpability when they watch the young starve. Here's the situation as it currently stands: there are virtually no tenure-track jobs in English that a young scholar can obtain. Even the adjunct positions in literary studies are drying up. You wouldn't know it from the foolish nonsense posted on this web forum by uninformed people who are struggling to gain entry into these deluded places. But it's clear that people who have suffered these realities can admonish prospective students until they're blue in the face, and it will just make them feel that an opportunity--that doesn't exist anymore--is being denied to them. If Columbia was serious about addressing the fact that most of its prized PhDs will no longer find gainful employment in the academy, it would have to dramatically curtail the resources it puts into graduate education. And that's something that will continue to be met with deep resistance by the likes of Kramnick and Cassuto and their colleagues who will do anything to convince themselves that their genius can only be realized (and worshipped) in the graduate seminar full or eager disciples furiously studying for their under(or un)employment. 

A lot of this is new information, thanks.

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Posted (edited)

I thought that the article suffered from a lack of graduate student perspectives. We got some brief comments from a grad student, but the article did not give enough specific examples of how the department had failed to provide support and resources. The piece was more concerned with reporting the responses of established professors than with describing the department's culture and its systemic problems.

Edited by Wimsey

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Posted (edited)
13 hours ago, Crusteater said:

Yeah sorry about that. Try opening from here instead?: https://mobile.twitter.com/emmajanepettit/status/1164295830796406784?s=21

This works. Your first link had the paywall.

I can only speak from the perspective of a prospective student. Even knowing the issues with the job market (barely because I just believe that you won't truly know until you're in it), I would still be willing to pursue the PhD because I am interested in continuing my research, a sentiment that I think is shared by many prospective students. I agree with Wimsey that we don't get a lot of student perspectives in this article, which I would have liked to see. 

Based on the article, I think the action taken by Columbia so far is commendable, but is it enough? So many professors offer their sympathy, but not all are willing to offer action and solidarity, and that's a big difference. Theory is fine for literature, but for real life students who are being affected, we need more than your theorizing and your "we seriously need to think about these things" spiels. What steps are you taking and what actionable ideas, if any, are you coming up with to mitigate this problem? 

Most importantly, are you transparent about the issue from the get-go? I feel like a lot of schools manipulate their data to be favorable in terms of outlining career outcomes. This just glazes over the problem and does not accurately depict the issue to prospective students. 

Edited by Cryss

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Posted (edited)

First of all, I wasn't really surprised by anything in this article. If this comes as a shock, then you probably aren't paying enough attention.

 

2 hours ago, Cryss said:

Based on the article, I think the action taken by Columbia so far is commendable, but is it enough?

If by 'commendable' you mean 'deserving praise' then I don't think that a graduate program doing a minimal amount of work to support their graduate students should count as commendable so much as the bare minimum for qualifying as a ethically responsible program (which is not to deny that many programs fail to meet this bar).

I'm not as familiar with Kramnick and Cassuto as @wordstew is, but this point by Cassuto strikes me as a bullshit excuse for not doing anything:

"But limiting enrollment can present its own problems, said Leonard Cassuto, a professor of English at Fordham University who writes about graduate education for The Chronicle’s Advice section. If colleges trained only enough graduate students to replace retiring faculty members, you’d lose out on all kinds of racial, socioeconomic, and intellectual diversity, he said, and “I don’t think anybody wants that.” "

First, he seems to assume that minorities and individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are weaker applicants, who would not be accepted were programs to accept fewer students. Furthermore, it suggests that even if that were the case, departments wouldn't or couldn't do anything to correct for these concerns. I'm not really sure why we should accept either of these concerns. (This isn't to deny that discrimination occurs in the admissions process. I just doubt that reducing the number of admitted students would necessarily make that situation any worse). I think the refusal to take seriously the idea that cohort sizes need to be reduced in the humanities is either naivete or willful blindness and both are irresponsible. Likewise, the failure of programs to provide complete placement information on their websites is dishonest, deceptive, and unacceptable (but also very common). Any program that doesn't (minimally) address these two issues is responsible to perpetuating this system.

Edited by Glasperlenspieler

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Glasperlenspieler said:

If by 'commendable' you mean 'deserving praise' then I don't think that a graduate program doing a minimal amount of work to support their graduate students should count as commendable so much as the bare minimum for qualifying as a ethically responsible program (which is not to deny that many programs fail to meet this bar).

I agree that it's a minimum. But the fact that they had faculty meetings, a meeting with the students and offered up (admittedly weak) suggestions in a short time after the letter was submitted, I feel, is more than many programs would have done. I recently read an article about ongoing grad student problems at UPenn and how the administration and President ignore the student groups and their demands completely. It is from that comparison that I commended Columbia for their willingness to listen. 

1 hour ago, Glasperlenspieler said:

But limiting enrollment can present its own problems, said Leonard Cassuto, a professor of English at Fordham University who writes about graduate education for The Chronicle’s Advice section. If colleges trained only enough graduate students to replace retiring faculty members, you’d lose out on all kinds of racial, socioeconomic, and intellectual diversity, he said, and “I don’t think anybody wants that.” "

I must also agree with your point concerning this quote. I do think he is trying to be "realistic." Oftentimes social, institutional, socioeconomic factors do favor a certain type of student to whom programs would be more attracted. I think he means that higher class students, often white, are able to afford a more affluent undergrad education, better SATs and GRE tutors etc, etc. And if programs are taking in less people, chances are they will end up choosing many of these homogeneous students. However, this is just a generic problem in higher education whether a cohort is 5 or 15, so it's still not a very good excuse. I see the issue with his statement  because it indicates to me that he believes that the first students to be cut would be the "racially, socioeconomically and intellectually diverse" students, which assumes that they are the weakest students, as you mentioned; the academic Other. This ideology is very problematic.

I'm not sure if I buy limiting enrollment as a solution to the problem either. 

Edited by Cryss

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18 hours ago, wordstew said:

This article is yet another disturbing example of blunted and unhelpful reporting in the CHI on the collapse of the profession. Kramnick and Cassuto frequently appear in the pages of the CHI and they both have asinine and clueless perspectives on the state of the profession. Kramnick looks out from the protection of his New Haven Tudor castle to offer commentary on the state of the job market that is about as informative as groundhog day. And Cassuto keeps deluding himself that misinformed ideas about work outside of academia have any currency or relevance to the various industries and institutions that he feels confident to pontificate about. It's all nonsense, and it's all an example of the lazy ease with which privileged academics assuage their guilt and culpability when they watch the young starve. Here's the situation as it currently stands: there are virtually no tenure-track jobs in English that a young scholar can obtain. Even the adjunct positions in literary studies are drying up. You wouldn't know it from the foolish nonsense posted on this web forum by uninformed people who are struggling to gain entry into these deluded places. But it's clear that people who have suffered these realities can admonish prospective students until they're blue in the face, and it will just make them feel that an opportunity--that doesn't exist anymore--is being denied to them. If Columbia was serious about addressing the fact that most of its prized PhDs will no longer find gainful employment in the academy, it would have to dramatically curtail the resources it puts into graduate education. And that's something that will continue to be met with deep resistance by the likes of Kramnick and Cassuto and their colleagues who will do anything to convince themselves that their genius can only be realized (and worshipped) in the graduate seminar full or eager disciples furiously studying for their under(or un)employment. 

This is a great post, which also applies to history. Even the best programs are thoroughly uninterested in what happens to their students after they complete the PhD; they take students based on egos and TA needs, not the job market. My subfield of history of science had 4 students enroll in the 2018-19 year. There aren't 4 TT jobs in history of science in any given year. 

The dwindling job market is one of the major reasons I left my program.  

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