Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Growing Academic Divide

The decreases of the past three years bring the number of advertised jobs to a new low, below the level reached after the severe drop between 2007–08 and 2009–10. 
So reads the Report on the Modern Language Association Job Information List. The MLA is the main scholarly organization for the humanities in the US. The bright spot--we aren't Japan.

Meanwhile in computer science we continue to see large enrollment increases in major, minors and students just wanting to take computer science courses. In the upcoming CRA Snowbird Conference "a major focus of the conference will be booming enrollments, with a short plenary followed by parallel sessions devoted to the topic, its various ramifications, and ideas to help you deal with it, including best practices for managing growth."

The 2015 November CRA News had 83 pages of faculty job ads, up from 75 in 2014 and 34 in 2012. This doesn't even count that fact that many departments are looking to hire two, three, four or more positions in CS. It will be an interesting job market this spring.

All of this is driven by jobs. We can't produce enough strong computer scientists to fill industry demand. And it's becoming increasingly hard for a humanities major to get a good first job.

It's nice to be on the side of growth but it's a shame that faculty hiring seems to be a zero-sum game. We need poets as well as nerds. We've help create a world where we have made ourselves indispensable but is this a world we really want to live in?


  1. What about the issues of hiring bias? Ten schools feeding each other. Many schools competing against candidates from a limited number of sources.

  2. Does the growth in job openings exceed the growth in applicants?

  3. Lance keeps trying to put a positive spin on CS academic job market. The reality is this: the number of faculty from each school in top 50 schools is less than 20 except for top 5. This is total number not per year hiring. Considering the number of PhD graduates this means if you are not in top 5 then your chance of getting a position in top 50 is essentially nil.

    This doesn't need to be like this. Take e.g. business schools. They have a much smaller number of PhD graduates per year compared to their faculty.

    In CS PhD students and more recently post-docs are treated as cheap labor. It is like a lottery (faculty position with high salary and job security): lots of people buy tickets with the hope of being the winner believing that they know something others don't. It is worst in theory since many theory PhD can't even code a simple program.

  4. Our society doesn't seem to think that humanities are valuable so there is little government support for people who want to get a degree in history or literature. What would be the point of paying huge amounts of tuition and be indebted and pay interest for years when there are not jobs to get.

    Academics keep complaining about cost of journals but if they are honest the cost of university education is much more enraging. Undergraduates pay for all the things faculty and even more so the administrations enjoys. The highest factor in rapid increase in tuition costs is the money that goes to top university executives. Universities are run as business and the students don't get the value for the money they pay. So more and more university education in areas like humanities become an aristocratic privilege.

  5. About two years ago, in serve of a contemplated book on the subject of hope, my wife Constance Sidles chartered me to read every article and book with sympathy.

    The impact of Connie's "hopeful sympathy" charter on my readings of (for example) technical articles in Reviews of Modern Physics has been unexpectedly great … but this is a topic for another comment.

    Instead it's instructive to consider hopefully sympathetic readings of five novels about young adults.

    • Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn (1885)
    • Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1900)
    • Robert Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy (1957)
    • Annie Proulx' That Old Ace in the Hole (2002)
    • Dominique Eddé's Kamal Jann (2014)

    These books are alike in that every one of them concerns the difficult transition from childhood to morally awakened adulthood; moreover in all of them the protagonist is a young male orphan who is at grave risk of moral injury.

    Questions  Do academic careers in general, and STEM careers in particular, subject students to substantial risk of moral injury? Is this part of the reason for high academic drop-out rates in general, and among young women particularly?

    Answers  No one who has sympathetically and hopefully read Proulx' and Eddé's works would glibly answer "no".

    Needless to say, the institutionalized mechanisms by which academia fosters moral injuries in students (if it does) are exceedingly contentious. The above five works provide students with plenty of material for reflection in this regard … which (as I read them) is the intended purpose and great merit of these works.


    PS  Popular works like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Star Wars books/movies are omitted from the above list — even though they're about young male orphans who are at-risk for moral injury — because these works childishly imagine that evil can be vanquished by mortal combat. Most STEM students are mature enough to appreciate that's not how these things work!

  6. You say:

    It's nice to be on the side of growth but it's a shame that faculty hiring seems to be a zero-sum game. We need poets as well as nerds. We've help create a world where we have made ourselves indispensable but is this a world we really want to live in?

    Here's the problem. Suppose there are a fixed number of students at a university who each get to choose one major. If more people choose computer science, that implies fewer will choose humanities majors. So, yes, in the simplified version of things, hiring does seem to be a zero-sum game.

  7. I like poets as much as the next person, but I think it is clear that we need more computer scientists than poets.

    1. A case study (from the Lava comments):
      "I sang this to my girlfriend to ask her out, changed a few words, and I got a girlfriend."
      Poetry more effective than discussing complexity classes?

      Years of graduate study inessential! ;)

  8. One issue is that English used to be the default major for anyone who didn't have any particular academic interest, and was just spinning wheels through college. Now, those people have moved to more marketable degrees like psychology and economics, and the economics students have moved to CS. I highly doubt that English departments have lost their best students in recent years, whereas CS has seen an influx of career driven students, who may be reasonably smart, but not as hard working or capable as the average student from a decade ago. A choice between small classes of good students and large classes of mediocre ones is easy. Unfortunately, hiring is a numbers game.