AHA and Employment: Recent Activities Concerning the Job Market and the History Student

There’s a possible bright spot emerging in the job market. The October issue of Perspective on History last year included 133 job ads, but this year’s issue will feature 189. This does not in itself constitute a breakthrough, and we should point out that what matters most is how many total ads are placed by the end of the season. Still, we hope that this increase over last year’s numbers is the start of a trend. Over the past year, the American Historical Association has been active in addressing the tough academic job market, the single most important issue faced by history students and recent graduates. These efforts have taken place on several fronts.

Best Practices on Transparency in Placement Records

The AHA Council recently approved a statement on best practices for transparency in job placement by history departments. This statement endeavors to help prospective and current students understand the opportunities and challenges faced by graduates who came before them.

Recent items in the news underscore the importance of getting this data right. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on highly questionable claims by colleges and universities regarding their job placement data. One university claimed that 98 percent of its graduates got jobs, but the Chronicle found many reasons to question this figure. “The problem is that there are no standard questions or even agreed-upon standards,” noted one employment researcher. And in late August, the Department of Justice filed a complaint against a for-profit college that operates in four states, claiming that it “knowingly misrepresented its job placement statistics to the Texas Workforce Commission in order to maintain its state licensure, and therefore its eligibility for federal financial aid.”

In its statement, the AHA Council pointed out that “Complete and accurate information is invaluable to prospective students deciding whether or not to enter the historical profession,” and emphasized the need to provide data on nonacademic career choices along with those who follow academic careers. Data would ideally be online, and could include information like time to degree and field of study.

The Malleable PhD Workshops

The AHA annual meeting in New Orleans, January 3–6, will host a series of workshops for job seekers and graduate student directors on how to use a history PhD for nonacademic employment. The workshops are a result of the conversations started by AHA President Anthony Grafton (2011) and Executive Director James Grossman in their articles “No More Plan B” and “Plan C,” which argued that history departments must explore ways of preparing graduates for nonacademic career paths—and help remove the stigma from those choices. These workshops are geared to promote broader thinking about careers for history graduates, from both history departments and their students.

Sessions will include “The Entrepreneurial Historian,” “Finding and Loving a Government Job,” “Transforming History Graduate Education to make the PhD ‘Malleable,’” and “From CV to Resume.” Panelists will include representatives from the U.S. military, State Department, and House of Representatives; entrepreneurs who got their start as historians; and professionals in an array of nonacademic fields including: film, research, and public history.

Registration for the annual meeting opens online on September 18.

Adjunct, Part-time, and Contingent Faculty

AHA Executive Director James Grossman and Deputy Director Robert Townsend took part in surveys and meetings in late spring, sponsored by the Delphi Project on “The Changing Faculty and Student Success.” The report was released in early August and highlights “important questions about poor working conditions and connections between these conditions and student learning outcomes.” It specifically notes, “On many campuses, current policies and practices create conditions where these non-tenure track faculty are inaccessible to students outside of scheduled class time and are not permitted to have a role in decision making, including decisions about the courses they teach.”

The report acknowledges that the seismic shift toward reliance on contingent faculty (now teaching a majority of courses in most institutions) was never part of any institution’s strategic plan, but rather a response to crises. A common theme throughout the meeting was a call for a more deliberative approach and the need to “think proactively about the future of the faculty overall.”

The AHA also played a key role in the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, which released its report, “A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members,” in June 2012. The report confirms what we know about the situation faced by adjunct faculty and suggests not only several lines of inquiry for further research, but concrete steps departments and their institutions can take immediately to better provide for their contingent faculty. AHA Deputy Director Robert Townsend (a member of the task force that developed and analyzed the survey) summarized the report for AHA Today, focusing on aspects that directly affect history faculty, and wrote further on the report in the September issue of Perspectives on History (members only until October 1).

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