Thursday, April 10, 2008

Musicology Jobs.

I think I’m going to start at the end. First, my end: after three years I miraculously landed a tenure track job at an RU/VH University. Second, the works cited list: the musings below were inspired by the following:

* The job wiki.
* The Rhetoric of the ‘Job Market’ and the Reality of the Academic Labor System by Marc Bousquet ("By 1997, the dominance of market ideology had fully bloomed into a resplendently laissez-faire structure of feeling" (224).)
* A review of Marc Bousquet’s new book How the University Works
* Sarah Gerk’s excellent presentation on Musicology Job Postings
* Blog posts about the job wiki by Ryan Raul Bañagale: Take Two (first presented as a talk at AMS) and Take One.

Much of the larger discourse surrounding the academic job market comes from within the fields of the Modern Language Association. One of the key words is "casualization," the system where much of the work of the academy is done by graduate students, post-docs, adjuncts, undergrads (!) and others who are not part of the full-time, health-insured, long-term faculty. They're neither tenured nor tenure track. Bousquet argues that supply-side adjustments to the academic market (read: admitting fewer people to graduate school) will not solve the problem of casualization. In fact, that kind of thinking--guilty as charged--reflects how deeply ideas of "the market" have influenced thinking about "the job market" in the academy. He asks: "What if, instead of constantly adjusting ourselves (and our compensation) to 'meet the needs of the market,' we started to adjust or regulate the 'market' to meet our needs?" It's a good read, I recommend it (go unions!).

Big deep breath.

Finally, thoughts on the musicology job market. As Bañagale has pointed out, the job wikis are an amazing resource. As upsetting it is to learn about a job posting by clicking on the dedicated "job wiki" bookmark on your Firefox Bookmark Bar (tm), any experienced job hunter will tell you that the wait is far worse. In return you get (to paraphrase Bañagale) both information on the type of jobs being advertised and how these positions are actually filled. In my case this year, the apparent disconnect between what Google told someone about my research and teaching and what was in the original job posting actually led to a comment in the discussion section. I feel famous!

Bañagale makes a third comment in his original post, the fact that the wiki "reveals which programs are placing their PhDs." Harvard—Bañagale’s example, and graduate institution—did great last year, placing 7 people in the jobs on the list. Bañagale argues (in his AMS talk), "Such information is helpful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it helps perspective graduate students get a sense of which schools are having the most success." Again, I agree that this is important information. However, Harvard has undergone a significant change in faculty and graduate student make-up since I was applying to graduate school not THAT long ago. I'm an Americanist--like Bañagale--and in 2000 when I was looking at schools at which to study American music, Harvard wasn't on the list. So, while he makes a good point about the market on the one hand, the market alone will not decide where a prospective student chooses to attend graduate school. This year's acceptance list is remarkable for the range and variety of doctoral granting institutions. So far, there isn't one institution that stands out from the pack.

Like Bañagale's talk and blog posts, I think Gerk's study of the job market for Americanists is an excellent contribution to the discourse about the musicology/ethnomusicology job market. As far as I know, there hasn't been a similar study in other subfields, although I wouldn't be surprised if something appears from the ethno side of things soon (I've heard distant rumblings). She concludes, "American music specialists remain highly in-demand." After this year, I guess my personal experience might back-up this conclusion. However, what was outside the scope of Gerk’s project was information about the number of applicants. For jobs where I have been told this figure, the number is usually hovering a little below 100. If you do simple division on Gerk's figures, that's roughly 40 jobs per year for 90 people. (True, some of these people already have jobs, or are ABD, or are slightly out of field. Also true, however, is that many of these jobs go to people who already have jobs, are ABD, or are slightly out of field.) Gerk adopts the language of supply-and-demand, but only looks on the demand side.

Which brings me back to the academic job market. This academic workplace is full of term positions, part-time adjuncts, and graduate student workers. On the very top of this is a creamy layer of tenure-track and tenured faculty. Accurate figures about job placement should be easily available to prospective students in all fields. Harvard placed 7 people in one year, but they don’t admit 7 graduate students every year. In addition to this placement information, I’d like to know how many of those placed had to spend how many years adjuncting (or what-have-you) before finding a job. How many give up? How many don’t give up and don’t find employment? What is a department’s attitude towards finding non-academic employment for their students? (A commenter on the original post by Bañagale pointed out that another school had two people on the market and two people placed, another impressive statistic.)

Even after reading and digesting Bousquet's article, my gut reaction is to scream "Reduce supply! Reduce supply!” This is generally interpreted as letting less students into graduate programs. But, as Bousquet points out, there is no reason to think that this supply-side solution will fix anything. Less graduate students will probably just increase the demand for low-wage labor, not tenure track positions. There is also the fiction of the academic meritocracy, by which I mean the idea that the people who get jobs are somehow better scholars than those that don’t. (Or, in another vein, the idea that poverty is somehow noble and intrinsically related to a life of the mind.) I will be starting a job in the fall at a school I love, and I am thrilled. The search committee thought I was the best person for this particular job, but this doesn’t mean that those scholars that didn’t get tenure track jobs this year are less qualified for a tenure track job than I am.

Indeed, Bousquet’s solution, as I understand it, doesn’t even mean that I should feel too much guilt for my luck this year on the market. He recommends collective bargaining, a.k.a. unionization. The result might be to make the Assistant Professor position the most economically pleasing in the eyes of the university administration. Pay adjuncts and graduate students as much or even more as the Assistant Professor, thereby opening the road to tenure and closing the road to academic purgatory. I look forward to reading his whole book. I also look forward to advising undergraduate, graduate and professional students at my job next year. I will keep my eye on the job wiki and the field as a whole so I can help them figure out what they need to get them where I am now. But I think we need more information generally, and not just information about people (like me?) who have succeeded in the job market and are now graduate and undergraduate advisors. Individuals need to resist the assumption that the best work results in tenure track jobs, and that anyone (including yourself) who doesn’t land such a position in a reasonable amount of time only has themselves to blame. I don’t want anyone entering graduate school to be unaware of how grim the situation is, and I want all of us on the job market to be able to understand how capricious the system is. It can feel very, very personal when you get rejection after rejection. I think it’s important to temper all announcements of a high demand for musicologists with realistic information about the supply. Because even if the solution is to get away from the market-based conception of academic employment, it’s not going to happen overnight. You look for jobs in the market you have, not the market you wish you had.


rrb said...


Congratulations on your job! What a relief that must be--bravo!

Also, thanks for your great post. It has been very interesting to watch the wiki this year--it appears to be trafficked with much greater frequency this year than last. As a result there is a lot more information out there, especially though the various discussions. But as you say at the end of your post, there remains much info that isn't available.

You make a good point with your questions regarding the 7 Harvard hires from last year. I'm not able to answer those off the top of my head, but I can tell you that none of them were part of this new Americanist thing going on here. It will be interesting to see what happens with placement as the first round of this new group of Americanists goes on the market. The first crop is almost there, so we'll soon see... I'm sure I'll blog about it at some point!

Once the hiring season is over, it would be well worth someones time (perhaps Sarah and I) to compile this years data and add it to the last. Over the course of several years we may begin to have a clearer picture.

Of course, as you say, ultimately the hire goes to whomever the hiring department thinks is the best fit. This is regardless of scholarly work, institution, and in the case of one not-yet-wiki-announced post, degree.

I'm very excited for you and all the other great PhDs that are landing jobs this year.


cpo said...

Thanks Ryan! Rereading what I wrote, I realize it sounds like I only want to know about Harvard's "outstanding PhDs". I'd like to know that for any school my promising undergraduate is applying to.

I think there is a lot of data that could be collected to expand knowledge. From "how many people regularly post on the wiki" to "how many people applied for XYZ job." Of course, the latter is probably confidential for most searches, although I was told the numbers quite frequently during my interviews.

If you skim the Bousquet, he does talk about the illusion of rationality that these kinds of figures provide both the schools and the MLA as a whole. On the other hand, let us start with something, right?