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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: September ::
Re: The State of the Profession
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0665.  Tuesday, 17 September 1996.

(1)     From:   Lisa Broome <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Sep 1996 12:44:51 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0660  Re: The State of the Profession

(2)     From:   Robert Appelbaum <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Sep 1996 17:55:07 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0660  Re: The State of the Profession

(3)     From:   Robert F. O'Connor <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Sep 1996 12:37:33 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0654  Re: The State of the Profession, I

(4)     From:   Michael Yogev <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Sep 1996 11:02:49 +0300 (WET)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0660 Re: The State of the Profession


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lisa Broome <
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Date:           Monday, 16 Sep 1996 12:44:51 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 7.0660  Re: The State of the Profession
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0660  Re: The State of the Profession

Bill Godshalk recently wrote:

>However, I was thinking more in terms of what we are preparing our Ph.D.
>students to do in the classroom and in their professional lives IF they
>find jobs.  Is there some definable core of skills, knowledge, abilities,
>etc., that we expect in our colleagues?

I've been told that, in order to find a job, developing skills in a number of
areas (historical or generic) is useful; for example, instead of marketing
oneself as a Shakespearean, or even a Renaissance specialist, the better idea
is to market oneself as a teacher/critic of many types of Early to Early Modern
literatures (or, perhaps, of certain genres in both British and American
literature of a certain period, etc.), the basic message being that I should be
able to fill as many departmental needs as possible in addition to being a
brilliant upstart crow in one special area. The message appears to me not so
mixed, but massive; and I'm sure it simply reflects the bleakness of the job
market.

There also exists a running debate, quite connected to the above, I believe,
about whether PhDs should be seen as budding scholars or budding teachers; the
response, it seems, is to be the best of both at the expense of neither. Easier
said than done, of course, especially when funding for fellowships is low and $
for TAships is perhaps more readily available or justifiable.

My question, for everyone who's been in the profession a long time, is to what
degree has this message really changed? My undergraduate professors advised me
in a similar fashion, and I'm still hearing this message, but in more desperate
("this is your life") terms. I'm under the impression that there *was* a golden
age of hiring, but can't find anyone to confirm it.

        Sincerely, Lisa Broome

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Appelbaum <
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Date:           Monday, 16 Sep 1996 17:55:07 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 7.0660  Re: The State of the Profession
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0660  Re: The State of the Profession

It is interesting to me how a perfectly reasonable and dispassionate question,
posed by Prof. Godshalk about the state of the profession, immediately became
the pretext for the venting of frustrations about the lack of jobs in the
profession and especially about the apparent dominance of the profession by
hobgoblins.  Perhaps the frustrations are not unrelated.  One certainly wonders
why a department like like Prof. Godshalk's, excellent though it may be, is
concerned about losing Ph.D. students.  Is any social good served by subjecting
individuals to years of rigorous training for a profession which they are
unlikely ever to be able to profess?  Can't we find a raison d'etre for the
things that English professors do which doesn't ultimately depend upon doing a
disservice to unsuspecting young (or not so young) enthusiasts?  Why in short
do we have Ph.D. programs not only at a handful of top research universities
(to train that handful of individuals likely to become professors), but at a
hundred other places?  And why, given the oversupply of ambitions and the
incredible undersupply of opportunities, should we not expect the result to be
a terrible oversupply of resentment?

But I would like to urge my brothers and sisters on this list not to let
resentment or the resentment of resentment masquerade as a solution to the
problems besetting all of us, including the very real problem of the apparent
fragmentary nature of the humanities today.  Among other things, I would like
to point out (a) that the fragmentary nature of the humanities is not
necessarily in itself a bad thing, and (b) that it is not unique to today or
even to the humanities.  All of the sciences, the hard and the human, are
fragmented today.  Most of them always have been that way.  And most of them
have always also been highly contentious, politicized affairs.  If you think
English departments are bad, take a look at economics, or psychology.  If you
think disputes about "constructivism" are shrill, take a look at disputes about
evolution or inflation or the causes of AIDS.

But controversy isn't a sign of depravity; and ideological warfare isn't a sign
of ignorance.  On the contrary, both are signs are intellectual health.  If
aesthetes are lonely, and Christians are feeling dejected, if white males are
feeling resentful and minorities and women are resenting their resentment,
let's remember first of all that the scarcity of opportunities for
non-instrumental intellectual work affects EVERYBODY of EVERY PERSUASION in
EVERY FIELD (except perhaps biology and computer science, though these are
mainly "instrumental" fields); and let's remember second of all that the
existence of controversy is probably the only sure sign that what we are doing,
even in spite of the scarcity of opportunities, in some sense matters.

Robert Appelbaum

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert F. O'Connor <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Sep 1996 12:37:33 +1000
Subject: 7.0654  Re: The State of the Profession, I
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0654  Re: The State of the Profession, I

Well, as a soon-to-be-submitting PhD student, I feel I have to respond>

Harry Hill wrote that:

>I must say that a number of newly hired PhD's are a bit reluctant to dicuss
>"original texts", cannot quote from them and indeed give more evidence of
>thorough knowledge of theory and criticism than of the books they are
>presumably hired to teach. This I say from reports students have relayed to me,
>and perhaps I am being less than fair. Maybe they can type with more facility
>than I, but it strikes me that there is a general avoidance of the texts.

As someone who did my undergraduate work at a quite conservative (by Australian
standards) institution, I did not find my experience of studying in the
Humanities quite as Harry describes.  We *did* become intimate with the texts,
in the best Bradleian/Leavisite/Tillyard tradition.  Theory was something
easily avoided.  If I cannot quote at leangth from texts, it is more out of
sympathy with Sherlock Holmes' philosophy of brain-stuffing than anything else.

I am, at the moment, sniffing around looking out for the great 'What Happens
Next' - postdoc positions, lectureships and so on.  I have not had much chance
to teach while doing my PhD, despite having (a rare thing still in university
circles here) a teaching qualification, and I suspect this is due partly to a
alte-developing awareness of how to go about getting the teaching, but perhaps
also due to a confessed lack of familiarity with much of the 'theory' mentioned
above.  And most of the teaching positions I see advertised - wherever they are
- require some expertise in some area(s) of theory; an expertise I cannot offer
because that is not what I do.

If, as Harry Hill suggests, the 'texts' are being avoided, it is not entirely
due to any deep-seated bibliophobia on the part of graduating students: it is a
reflection of their experience, their 'training' as undergraduate and graduate
students, and of the imbalance between teaching and research that is the source
of no small amount of tension - as far as I understand - in universities both
here and elsewhere.

Robert O'Connor
Postgraduate student and soon to be inflicted once again upon the 'real' world
English Department
Australian National University

PS to further reassure Harry Hill - I'm a two-finger typist at best!

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Yogev <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Sep 1996 11:02:49 +0300 (WET)
Subject: 7.0660 Re: The State of the Profession
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0660 Re: The State of the Profession

I share Jean Peterson's concern about the state of hiring and retaining new
junior faculty (like myself).  While the labor unions, including the university
faculty union, here in Israel maintain vestiges of their earlier socialist
militancy when it comes to job security and tenure, their clout is gradually
eroding in public opinion and in government circles as well.  To some degree
this is justified due to the amount of corruption and nepotism these unions
have fostered over the years, but the bathwater may stink more than the
babies--especially us new ones.

Andrew Walker's comments about feeling like he is wasting his time--and his
parents' money--in many courses are indicative of the state of our profession,
too.  He is surely not alone in feeling that the vast majority of his lecturers
are more concerned about publications and conferences than about the quality of
the classes they teach.  I will not try to excuse any lecturer, senior or fresh
out of grad school, who does not want to work hard at teaching, but Mr. Walker
should recognize that tenure and promotion committees take a quantitative
approach most often in considering whether to hire, keep, or fire someone--and
the number of pages of publications is the quantity they check.  Few if any
universities have taken seriously (or seriously enough) student course
evaluations. The University of Haifa is probably better than most, in that over
the past two years our Rector has made a public commitment to excellence in
teaching--after several publicized scandals involving the deliberate
overpopulating of undergrad courses to maintain FTP's, and then a second year
equally deliberate whittling down of said departments' student populations by
some 30%.  We now have an Excellence in Teaching award for each department
which is given with some to-do each fall.

The problem is that in the same breath the Rector has told the Heads of
Departments that those smaller departments with less demand for places must
essentially dismiss all standards when accepting students in order to make the
University competitive for the increasing number of students opting for our
local or community colleges.

What all this indicates to me, as one without tenure and working hard at
teaching AND publishing, is that the economics of world "turbo-capitalism" have
percolated into the university as well, and this makes the job of higher
education hostage to the numbers-crunchers.  In view of the relatively low
wages paid by the teaching profession, even at the university level, and in
light of recent developments in tenure systems inaugurated by US institutions
like U of Minn., it seems that our life will be even less secure down the road
unless some of us can come up with a more convincing set of explanations,
including economic factors, in defense of the tenure system.

My sense is that the best defense is a vigorous attack on the trend to hire and
exploit part-timers at the expense of FTP's and tenure-track positions.  Not
only does this bode ill for the state of the profession from the point of view
of its teachers, but it will also cause a serious deterioration in the level of
study offered.  Part-timers (as well as many of us full-timers) must look to
moonlighting for financial compensation and benefits packages, and hence are
harder pressed to keep up with current scholarship in their fields--not to
mention the fact that they have little or no incentive to do so professionally.
 As a grad student and part-timer for many years myself, I know that many of my
untenured colleagues are and remain among the best teachers out there. But I
think we need to make a principled and vocal stand for the system of tenure as
the best guarantee of the excellence and progress in teaching for the future.
This stand should come with a promotion system that seriously considers and
rewards excellence in teaching along with the research and publication that is
essential to it as well.

Michael Yogev
Dept. of English
University of Haifa
 

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