BMCR 1991.01.20

Opinion: The Job Market (1990): Jobs

All over this bright land, about a hundred classics departments are in the throes of hiring. This is a ritual that generally gives all participants occasion for a pleasant self-pity not unlike that which recovering flu victims, whose season this also is but who are generally more fun to be around, enjoy. To be sure, the candidates are more worthy of our sympathy than the hiring departments, but the hiring departments have more experience and their self-pity has a certain elegance. Of course, bull-fighters also find their jobs wearisome at times, and nobody really feels sorry for the bull. In the last issue of BMCR, I catalogued and commented on the pool of candidates who present themselves for employers’ consideration this year. So what does the market they face look like? The comments that follow are based on the APA job lists for the months of July through January: what additional jobs will appear on the later lists are mainly temporary and part-time, and will be few in number at all events.

Numbers: There are by my count 100 jobs advertised in the seven months surveyed. Thirty of them are temporary, fifty-nine tenure-track, and eleven senior or possibly senior in rank. Compared baldly to numbers of a similar kind that I retain from four and five years ago, these numbers are remarkably stable (January 1986: 91 jobs, 55 tenure-track, 21 temporary; January 1987: 99 jobs, 57 tenure-track, 27 temporary). Readers of my last column will recall that the consistency in production of candidates was comparable overthe same period. (The 1975-76 and 1976-77 lists, in my archives from a time when I read these lists with a very different kind of eye, show totals in the low 80s. I cannot now verify my recollection that the placement book of candidates was rather thicker, perhaps by as many as 100, in those days.)

What kinds of candidates are the employers looking for? There are 46 jobs that look for generalist lang./lit./hist. candidates of one kind or another: sometimes a bias towards one language or one subject can be seen, but I have included in this category all jobs that might reasonably go either to a pronounced Hellenist or to a confirmed Latinist. Leaving those aside, the breakdown of jobs more specifically advertised vis-a-vis candidates available is as follows:

This pattern is also old and secure: more Latin jobs, more Greek candidates; and far more archaeology candidates than advertised jobs—and many archaeology candidates are not trained to pursue the generalist jobs and many of the generalist jobs are slanted to discourage archaeological candidates even if they have the languages.

So how is the market this year? I think the important news is that this is now once again a subjective question. If people you know are doing well, it’s a pretty good market; if they aren’t (and in my neighborhood they aren’t, especially), it’s not so good. What is important and different about this is that the period of unrelieved objective badness seems to be over for the moment. Reactions to the raw data of the market are inevitably personal and opinionated. I have tried to label the following paragraphs helpfully to steer readers away from ones they will disfavor.

Hobby-Horse about Canon Exclusivity: It is hard for me to look at the specifications without thinking that the traditional canon is in very little trouble among classicists at least. If candidates are passing up Ennodius to write on Ovid and Euripides, as I pointed out last time, it is in large measure because hiring departments are looking for people to teach Euripides and Ovid. Most advertisements are studiously vague, but Georgetown wants Greek tragedy and Latin epic, for example, and Penn State is interested in Augustan literature. Eccentricities are few and mild: in a potpourri list, Ohio State mentions “Late Ancient Philosophy” but Texas Tech wants somebody in a “mainstream area of classical Latin” (good bet that means Ovid ahead of Ennodius, or even Silius Italicus ahead of Augustine). A phrase (from Swarthmore) like “the full range of Greek and Latin language and literature” should not go unnoticed: by the “full range” they mean of course little or nothing after 200 A.D. for either language, though in both languages the greatest bulk of surviving material by far comes from after that date; and by insisting on that “full” range, they automatically penalize eccentricity of various kinds. Of course our graduate curricula do the same: you can only become a classicist by reading the same texts your forebears did, and if you learned the language later than they, getting through that canon is going to take you longer and leave you less time to let your imagination roam. You will still think that the “central periods” are those when the military hegemony of small communities was making itself felt over a wider territory: Athens, Macedon, Rome—their glory is the focus of our profession. Students of classical literature responding to the impulses and possibilities of contemporary theory have done so more by taking new approaches with canonical texts than by going very far beyond the polite canon of approved authors; our historians have shown more imagination and gone further afield into provinces and centuries with something new to offer. I will dismount the hobby-horse only upon observing that to one who spends his working life awash in primary texts that have no critical editions, no serious commentaries, and bibliographies vastly shorter than those of the canonical texts, this disproportion seems absurd. (The recent CW bibliographical survey finds 700+ titles on Homer from 1978-83; for the same years, I find 13 titles on Ennodius. I would suggest that the correct proportion is not necessary 350/350, but perhaps 500/75 would not be inordinate.)

Necessary Disclaimer: The APA list is the only dependable source of information available for classics jobs, but it has its limitations. (1) The distinction between positions definitely available and positions possibly available is extremely indistinct. Many jobs in the first category go unfunded, many in the second materialize. There is no accurate source of information to use to judge how many jobs are actually funded and filled each year. (2) There are jobs filled each year that don’t get advertised here, generally at the two extremes of the market (high-prestige senior positions and part-time temporary positions with no prestige at all). (3) The desired specialties and qualifications listed are often misleading. Sometimes departments are merely looking to “draft the best available athlete”, a policy I have applauded ever since Gil Brandt built the Dallas Cowboys of the 1970s by finding people like Too Tall Jones in places like East Tennessee State. But sometimes departments are merely suppressing internal quarrels until after the convention by looking for lots of things when in fact a shrewd observer could have told you beforehand which specialty was actually going to get the preference. And sometimes they are just dreaming: the ones that sound as if the only person they will hire crosses the talents of Wilamowitz, Mommsen, and Levi-Strauss are probably in for long self-pitying wrangles over candidates who bear a closer resemblance to Elias Stoeber.

Unnecessary Kvetch: There are a lot of gaps in our systematic information about our profession. How many students with knowledge of both languages and at least three or four years of both are applying to Ph.D. programs in any given year? How many people actually finish Ph.D. dissertations in any given year? How many tenure-track jobs are actually created and filled in a given year? What is the percentage of tenure-track candidates who actually go on to tenure? What happens to those who don’t make it? All of those questions are susceptible of precise and accurate answers, but it would require I think a concerted effort by the APA to gather and assess the data. Why not?