Documented Evidence from SBL: The Job Market for Professors is, How We Say in Academia, Majorly Horribly Bad

Documented Evidence from SBL: The Job Market for Professors is, How We Say in Academia, Majorly Horribly Bad June 21, 2012

Below is a letter from Dr. John Kutsko, Executive Director of the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL), the organization that oversees international, national, and regional academic meetings for scholars in Biblical Studies and related fields. All members of SBL received this letter, and I applaud Kutsko for his transparency and commitment to being a resource. (FYI, Kutsko is one of the editors of the The SBL Handbook of Style ).

As you can see, the news is horrible. Here is the relevant portion of the letter (emphasis is mine). “Contingent” faculty are non tenure-track, part time, adjunct faculty.

Dear Colleague:

The Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) has released the results of its Fall 2010 Survey of Contingent Faculty Members, Instructors, and Researchers. The survey inquired about course assignments, salaries, benefits, and general working conditions as members of the contingent academic workforce experience them at the institutional level. Such data are critical to our work in SBL, the future of our Society, and the Society’s context within higher education. This report provides critical data to the higher education field, disciplinary associations, advocacy groups, contingent faculty members, instructors, and researchers. It is available on both the CAW and SBL websites.

CAW is a group of higher education associations, disciplinary associations, and faculty organizations committed to addressing issues associated with deteriorating faculty working conditions and their effect on college and university students in the United States. When faculty members are not sufficiently supported, they are not able to provide students with the highest quality learning experience. The survey finds that faculty employed in contingent positions are not provided with the support resources necessary to excel and consistently provide such a learning experience for their students. Faculty employed part-time and paid the low wages documented in this report would likely need to find some other means for supporting themselves, which takes time and energy away from their teaching and interaction with students. Moreover, while the survey primarily addressed material working conditions, comments received at the end of the survey confirm the common belief that such faculty operate under inordinate stress and uncertainty, often self-censor in various ways out of a fear of repercussions or losing their jobs, and are left out of governance discussions that affect them.

These problems pervade higher education. According to data from the United States Department of Education’s 2009 Fall Staff Survey, of the nearly 1.8 million faculty members and instructors who made up the 2009 instructional workforce in degree-granting two- and four-year institutions of higher education in the United States, more than 1.3 million (75.5%) were employed in contingent positions off the tenure track, either as part-time or adjunct faculty members, full-time non-tenure-track faculty members, or graduate student teaching assistants.

To summarize, 3/4 of all faculty members–1.3 million out of 1.8 million–are “contingent” faculty. And that stinks majorly.

Note, this survey does not include seminaries, but I will bet you dollars to donuts (never knew what that meant but it sounds good) the situation there is as bad as anywhere. I can list you seminary after seminary that has chosen to fill vacated positions with adjunct faculty.

Note too, that this survey covers all academic fields, not just Biblical Studies, Theology, etc., so the specific statistics for the fields that might interest you could be better or worse. My money is on worse…way worse…since seminaries tend to have pressing financial concerns even in good times.

And keep in mind from my previous post that even full-time tenure track positions, which are so hard to get, pay lower than most people get who have 10 years or so of post-college schooling behind them.

This is how it is, folks, and it ain’t getting any better.

Be sure you click the CAW report on the SBL website to get the full picture.


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  • I just posted about this message from Dr. Kutsko as well. When you think about it, though, doesn’t it seem like just the fruits of bad policy? Why are we encouraging so many of our intelligent citizens to pursue dead-end degree programs? One can still live “the life of the mind” while working a day job–most people can’t get paid to think about history and literature.

    Honestly, the only reason I’m pursuing a doctorate in OT is that I have been able to keep my job in the pharmaceutical industry, and pay for my tuition as I go. I don’t have any illusions of an academic job waiting for me when I finish–I’ve accepted that I may work in pharma forever, and that’s OK.

    • Mark Chenoweth

      I think your attitude has to be adopted by all of us.

  • Eric Robinson

    So…where do we go from here? How will things improve?

    • Bryan

      I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. If the problems are rupturing in academia in general rather than biblical studies or theology specifically then what will become of the important “get an education” mantra? Is this the end of capitalism? What is it?

  • Mark Chenoweth

    I have always liked your writing because it shows us a POSSIBLE path to take from where we’re at. This is just depressing. Haha. Not that you should have written it differently. I have been struggling with knowing this about academia for a year or so. I plan to still to go to St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in two years, but I’m still very nervous about that not leading anywhere. All this news makes it very hard to discern if I’m simply contemplating the priesthood because it’s more job security than being a professor and it may possible to teach as an adjunct somewhere AND be a priest. I’m sure many students are going through the same thing in Evangelicalism. “Do I want to be a pastor so I can simply be a University Professor who gives lectures every Sunday?” I really don’t know.

    Having to get a nearly perfect GRE scores and a 3.7 or higher GPA to even qualify for a PhD is stressful enough. On top of that, to know there may be no job when you finish the whole process is excruciatingly difficult to contemplate.

    But hey, there are worse things in the world. The worst that could happen is those who are in my shoes (and I’m sure that some readers of this blog probably are) end up teaching Sunday school classes in their churches and end up just working a normal job.

  • Lindsey Trozzo

    I agree with Mark that your perspective is exemplary. It is admirable that you are working your way through your doctoral program – and that you have maintained flexible expectations about your future.

    I feel immensely privileged to be in a funded PhD program. Thought I have my sights set on teaching, this program is a great “job” opportunity for its four to five year run-time. So, if you enjoy study (in an intense, demanding, and rewarding environment) – a funded PhD is a great course to pursue. You get paid (little, but enough) to read and write, to learn and grow as a scholar.

    Considered on its own merits, I see value in my study here and now – despite the bleak job-market. I want to be realistic AND optimistic. Perhaps the landscape will change in the next few years. Perhaps I will be one of the lucky ones who finds a unique fit and gets to serve a university and the academy for many years. Regardless, I do not regret entering the PhD program. Best job I’ve had! (Though I’m sure my thoughts would be different if I were going into debt for my education.)

    Thankfully, there are schools (like Baylor) who provide funding for hopeful scholars and opportunities to teach while in school. Such programs are worthwhile even before considering professional opportunities (or lack thereof) in the future.