Reports and White Papers

In this section, you will find official documents prepared by the MLA, the Scholarly Communications Institute (in conjunction with the University of Virginia), and Stanford that address issues pertinent to trans/alt-ac and the future of the humanities PhD. Link to a specific document by clicking the document’s title, or the logo of the affiliated organization below.

 

Russell A. Berman, et al. “Report of the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature.(May 2014). Modern Language Association. Web.

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This report makes several recommendations for doctoral programs in the humanities, including: to reduce the time to degree; to reimagine the form of the monograph dissertation; to increase technological literacy; to strengthen teaching preparation; to redefine the roles of faculty advisers to expand professionalization opportunities such that a variety of diverse career outcomes beyond the tenure-track or adjunct position are possible; and to ensure that departments to track and validate said outcomes. The report does not advocate reducing the number of students admitted to programs, and raises concerns about how such a recommendation would negatively affect accessibility to doctoral education. Its major recommendation is for departments to design programs that can be completed in 5 years. The report has been criticized for this and on several other accounts, especially for its failure to advocate for structural reform that would meaningfully address issues surrounding the casualization of academic labor and the poor working conditions of most contingent faculty members. This page links to several different critiques made by a variety of respondents; summaries of the critiques are organized topically, and directly follow related quotations from the MLA report: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/538-what-people-are-saying-about-that-mla-report-on-the-ph-d. For one major critique authored by 10 humanities scholars, see: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/06/24/essay-critiques-mla-report-graduate-education. For Berman’s rebuttal: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/07/21/essay-defending-mla-report-doctoral-education

 

“MLA report on Professional Employment.” (December 1997). Published in ADE Bulletin 119 (Spring 1998), pp. 27-45. Print.

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This report discusses changes in doctoral education that have taken place in the humanities since World War II, focusing primarily on the lasting effects of a diminishing number of available tenure-track positions and a saturated academic labor market. It states that, as a result of fiscal and economic constraints both from outside the university and within (in the form of business models that advocate the downsizing and streamlining of the university along corporate lines), the field has reached a “crisis” point that has been slowly building for decades. The report seeks to understand the crisis, and to provide recommendations for reform in order to mediate the effects of the structural changes precipitated the crisis in the first place. A main area of concern is the well-being (and lack thereof) of growing ranks of contingent faculty members, as well as the graduate students who eventually take these positions. In addition to recommending tenure-track faculty advocate to increase in the number of overall tenure-track positions, the report stresses that individual departments should be held accountable for preparing their graduate populations for a difficult academic market, and making sure they are conscious of and meeting both graduate and undergraduate evolving student needs. Major recommendations include an increased emphasis on graduate student teaching and regular departmental self-studies.

 

Katina Rogers. “Scholarly Communications Institute – UVA Humanities Unbound: Supporting Careers and Scholarship Beyond the Tenure Track.” (August 2013). Web.

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This report surveys PhD students in the humanities who have obtained careers other than the traditional tenure-track position. It also surveys the employers of these “alt-ac” PhDs, though the employer response-rate was significantly less than for the main survey of previous doctoral students. Notably, the report’s findings demonstrate a large discrepancy between graduate student career expectations (upon entering, 74% expect to be a tenure-track professor) and the realities of a narrowing academic job market. The report recommends curricula modification and expansion to better prepare students for job searches that extend beyond the traditional tenure-track position, and it highlights the need for emphasizing collaborative projects addressed to “an array of expected audiences” in particular. Further recommendations include partnership-building between discrete (“inter- and para-departmental”) university structures, as well as between the university and the public sphere, and between the university and professional, non-profit, and other organizations located outside of academia. Like many other reports, this one calls for a stronger effort in tracking former students, including those who did not complete the degree, and recommends encouraging both current and former students to reach out to one another.

 

Berman, R., Bobonich, C., Ober, J., Safran, G., Summit, J., & Winterer, C. (2012). “The Future of the Humanities Ph.D. at Stanford.”

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Several Stanford humanities professors presented this report to the Stanford senate in 2012. A seminal “alt-ac” document, the multi-authored report has spurred much debate around the future of the humanities PhD, not only at Stanford but at large. The several recommendations for reform include shortening the normative time to degree to five (fully-funded) years, requiring grad students to submit a “ranked list of [career] preferences by the end of their second year of graduate study” that will tailor the remainder of their time at Stanford (academic or non-academic), and offering alternatives to the dissertation “where appropriate” to meet a student’s stated career goals. Critics of the proposed reforms are concerned about how they might created a “two-tiered system” of “serious academics” pursuing a “real” PhD and “everyone else” who does not fall under this category. It is also unclear how the Stanford model, which requests 5 years of year-round funding per student, could be applied to departments at public schools lacking the resources to make the same (or even a somewhat similar) offer of admission.