I want to be clear at the outset: I love literature. I was an English major, and I’ve never regretted it for a moment. I seriously considered pursuing a Ph.D. in English. I could not have a deeper faith in the liberal arts as a path to the betterment of all mankind.
So imagine my dismay at some recent reportage in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Graduate programs in languages and literature are suffering troubles all too familiar to the readers of these pages: In these straitened times, the tenure-track academic appointments for which a doctoral degree is the traditional and necessary preparation are available for only about 60% of the recipients of doctorates in language or literature (a number chillingly reminiscent of the 56%-57% of the last two law-school graduating classes who managed to find a full-time, long-term job requiring a law license within 9-10 months of graduation, though when you exclude school-funded and self-employed positions as well as a few other confounders and irrelevancies, that number is closer to 53%). The Modern Language Association (a trade group for college and graduate educators and scholars in language and literature analogous to AALS) recently released a report conceding “[w]e are faced with an unsustainable reality.”
The solution? Simple—dismiss the “reality” as “wrong”: