English Jobs Hold Steady

As interview season arrives, MLA releases job figures that encourage some, but leave others anxious.
December 22, 2005

This week, the Modern Language Association released data indicating that faculty positions advertised in the organization’s job list remain steady in 2005-6. Still, both officials with the organization and prospective job candidates note that the numbers have remained steady within a context of what the MLA had labeled a job market “crisis” as late as 2004.  

This year’s data show that:

  • There are an estimated 1,728 openings advertised with the MLA for positions in English for 2005-6, compared with 1,739 positions advertised in 2004-5. Advertised openings in the foreign languages are expected to rise slightly from 1,369 positions last year to 1,391 in 2005-06.
  • Approximately the same number of individuals received their doctorates in English in 2004 (933) as in 2003 (929). The number of doctoral recipients in foreign languages actually dropped from 622 in 2003 to 586 in 2004.
  • Of the advertised positions in English, more than 57 percent are for full-time, tenure-track positions, which is a slight increase over last year.
  • Of the advertised positions in foreign languages, 45 percent are full-time, tenure-track positions, which is a slight decrease from last year.
  • Spanish remains the foreign language specialty area with the highest percentage of advertised positions, at 43 percent, while British literature remains the English specialty area with the highest percentage of advertised positions, at 21 percent. French is at 12 percent, a decrease from 17 percent in 2004 and German has held relatively stable at 7 percent.

In a telephone press briefing Wednesday with five prospective job candidates, Rosemary G. Feal, director of the MLA, said that this year’s numbers present a steady picture within an overall downturn in the hiring modern language professionals. She said that because the number of earned doctorates has remained relatively steady in comparison to the number of positions available, job prospects for 2005-6 graduates have also remained steady.

Reactions from grad students who will soon enter the job market has ranged from cautious to optimistic.  

Victoria Elmwood, who is completing a combined doctoral degree in English literature and American studies at Indiana University, said during the conference call that she’s been aware of the “grim” situation for job prospects throughout her graduate career, but she “put her blinders on” and “hoped everything would turn out OK.”

Although Elwood does not have any interviews lined up yet, she said she is not concerned because several of her older friends have been through similar situations. She indicated that job postings later in the year have often met their needs. “There’s a lot of stuff beyond this season that will come up,” she said.

Prospective job candidates also expressed fears over how a wide range of issues, like being pregnant, being gay, having a spouse, or already having a child, would affect their ability to secure positions.

Meghan Moore, who is pursuing a doctorate in French literature from the University of Michigan, provided an upbeat assessment of her job search to date. “The job market has been an unexpected delight,” she said, noting that she’s arranged interviews at several institutions in diverse locales.

“Considering how bad the job market has been for a long time and considering that we expected it to get worse this year because of nationwide budget cuts, I think the MLA's statement about the market is encouraging for all grads interviewing next week," Steven Thomas, president of the MLA's graduate student caucus, said Wednesday.

Ann Wallace, who is pursuing a doctorate in English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said it was important for her to keep her options open in case a tenure-track position did not become immediately available.  She’s interviewed for an administrative position in academe and is also focusing on expanding her career as a fund-raising consultant.  

Thomas, for one, is particularly concerned about the long term trends in the job market, since he won’t be interviewing for at least another year. "It's too early to say for sure,” he said of the current job trend forecast. “Wait until next spring when the contracts have actually been signed."


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