According to a Modern Language Association forecast, faculty positions in literature, composition, and foreign languages will decline 37 percent next year, for the biggest drop in 35 years. The previous record was set last year, with a 26 percent drop.
So things do not look bright in English depts. around the country, including mine, at the University of Delaware.
Rosemary Feal, the executive director of the MLA, told the New York Times:
Students thinking of going to graduate school in English should understand that right now their chance of landing a job that provides them a livable wage is 50-60 percent. What I often hear from grad students is, ‘I had no clue it was this bad.’ They need to go into it with their eyes wide open.
Much of the discussion on this bad news has centered on whether, in this kind of job market, graduate programs should continue to churn out PhDs who, even if they do find a suitable job to apply for, will be one of 300 or 400 applicants. One of the people commenting on the Chronicle of Higher Education article on the news did not spare the sarcasm, observing:
I am certain that responsible English departments everywhere will sharply restrict their literature graduate enrollments in light of this data. I am equally certain that departments with weak placement rates for their graduates will consider limiting or even eliminating their graduate programs, since their grads do not appear to compete well in the market. Finally, I am absolutely certain that grad programs in English will appropriately advise their current literature students on the risks of the market and counsel them to avoid accumulating debt to earn a degree that is oversupplied.
I am sure of these things because my literature colleagues are wise and practical people who care deeply about their students and their field.
I wonder what my distinguished colleague Charles Robinson, who for two decades and more has been helping UD PhDs find jobs, makes of all this. In fact, I am going to ask him right now.