As thousands of English and foreign language Ph.D.s and professors get ready for the 2016 annual meeting of the Modern Language Association (a major stop for those seeking to find or fill jobs), they will find a job market that is tighter than ever.
The MLA's annual report on its Job Information List has found that in 2014-15, it had 1,015 jobs in English, 3 percent fewer than the previous year. The list had 949 jobs in foreign languages, 7.6 percent fewer than 2013-14.
This is the third straight year of decline in jobs listed with the MLA. And those declines have reversed the gains made in English and foreign language jobs after the severe declines that hit the disciplines after the economic downturn that started in 2008. The low point for jobs in that economic downturn was 2009-10. But the job totals for English this year are 7.7 percent below the English positions of 2009-10. The job totals for foreign languages are 7.3 percent below those of 2009-10.
Not all faculty jobs in English and foreign languages are listed with the MLA, but its job listings (like those of other disciplinary associations) have generally been seen as a good barometer of the job market.
The start of the calendar year is a key time for academic hiring, as many departments conduct initial interviews during annual meetings. At least one large discipline preparing for its annual meeting -- economics -- is reporting a healthy job market. But that's not the case for languages.
A historic strength of the MLA list has been tenure-track jobs. Of the 2014-15 English listings, 67.3 percent were tenure track, up by less than a point (0.8) from the year before. In foreign languages, 50.4 percent of the listings were for tenure-track positions, down 2.1 percentage points from the prior year.
While English jobs in the MLA database have historically been more likely than foreign language jobs to be tenure track, the levels for both English and foreign languages are down significantly from where they once were when more jobs were listed. From 2004 through 2009, 75-80 percent of English jobs and 60-65 percent of foreign language jobs listed with the MLA were for tenure-track positions.
Almost all positions listed with the MLA are for full-time positions -- the association's analysis doesn't provide insight into the job market for part-time positions, on which many colleges rely for introductory writing and foreign language instruction.
The MLA analysis also shows the specializations requested both in English (where there are both writing and literature specializations) and for foreign languages. In the tables that follow, figures do not add up to 100 percent because some search committees don't separate out by specialization, while others list multiple areas.
Specializations in Writing and English Jobs
|Field||% of Listings|
|-- Composition and rhetoric||33.6%|
|-- Technical and business writing||10.1%|
|-- Creative writing and journalism||18.1%|
|-- American (chiefly U.S.)||21.8%|
|English other than British or American||6.9%|
Specializations in Foreign Language Jobs
|Language||% of Listings|
|French and francophone||22.9%|
|Germanic and Scandinavian||16.7%|
|Russian and Slavic||4.4%|