On January 30, 2009, the Chronicles of Higher Education posted the following melancholy article by William Pannapacker entitled, “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go”. Pannapacker, Associate Professor of English at Hope College, argues that there are only five reasons that a person should attend graduate school in the humanities:
1) “You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else”
2) “You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere”
3) “You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household”
4) “You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it”
Pannapacker states that his intention is to warn graduate students that their chances of securing a tenure-track position as a professor is comparable to winning the lottery. Too many students, he says, are ignorant of the reality that “there is a shrinking percentage of positions in the humanities that offer job security, benefits, and a livable salary… They don't know that you probably will have to accept living almost anywhere, and that you must also go through a six-year probationary period at the end of which you may be fired for any number of reasons and find yourself exiled from the profession. They seem to think becoming a humanities professor is a reliable prospect — a more responsible and secure choice than, say, attempting to make it as a freelance writer, or an actor, or a professional athlete — and, as a result, they don't make any fallback plans until it is too late.”
I found Pannapacker’s article sarcastic, unsympathetic, and disturbing – but accurate. I think that graduate students should be aware of the difficulties of landing the elusive full-time teaching position.