Stimulus for Humanities Job Market

American Council of Learned Societies and Mellon Foundation, worried about disappearance of posts, create fellowships that will give new Ph.D.'s two-year jobs at top colleges and universities, with health insurance and low teaching loads.
October 13, 2009

The depressed humanities job market is getting a boost.

The American Council of Learned Societies is creating 50 fellowships for new Ph.D.'s in the humanities, who will be eligible for two years of work at top colleges and universities. At a time when many of those on the job market in the humanities are scrambling to piece together adjunct slots with minimal pay and benefits, these fellows will receive $50,000 plus a $5,000 research or travel allowance annually, health insurance, and a one-time $1,500 moving allowance. And their teaching load can't exceed three semester-long courses per year.

Who gets a shot at these positions? All 60 U.S. members of the Association of American Universities have been invited to nominate candidates who do not have a tenure-track position and who will have received a Ph.D. between January 2008 and December of 2009 in the humanities or the "humanistic social sciences," defined as including history, anthropology and such areas as political theory, historical sociology and economic history. The AAU members may nominate between 5 and 40 individuals, based on the size of the Ph.D. classes they produce each year in the humanities.

From these nominees, 50 finalists will be selected based on statements about their teaching and research interests.

Then the AAU universities and a few dozen liberal arts colleges (the latter group is still being defined) will be able to offer positions to the finalists, provided that the universities agree to pay one-third of the costs and the colleges one-fourth of the costs. The AAU institutions will not be allowed to offer positions to their own Ph.D.'s. Any finalists who don't get a job offer will get a one-year stipend of $35,000.

ACLS officials said that although the invitation to the AAU members went out only a few weeks ago, 45 universities have already signed up, and others are expected to do so.

Steven C. Wheatley, vice president of the ACLS, said that while the council has run many fellowships over the years, they have all supported specific kinds of research, and never been motivated previously by a crisis in the job market. He said that he sees this program helping the new Ph.D.'s, but also the universities that have supported the candidates' doctoral education, and the universities and colleges that have cut back on hiring this year.

"It's very poignant that the people who started [in graduate school] eight years ago, they made an enormous investment and the universities made an enormous investment," Wheatley said. The fellowships reflect concern that careers could be derailed by talented graduates being forced to look for jobs at such a difficult time. He said that the low teaching loads were an attempt to provide the winners with teaching experience while also letting them refine their research so that they can be competitive when the job market improves.

Wheatley said that he didn't know if the program could be replicated in future years, but he said that the council is under no illusion that these 50 two-year positions will reshape the job market. Rather, he said, "we hope this inspires others to do something, too."


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