PhD students like to talk about the fact that there are far more new doctors of philosophy than positions as tenure-track faculty or researchers, so anyone who wants a job like that has to follow a series of very specific and demanding steps, with a high chance of finding themself stuck in a poorly paid, overworked position as a sessional instructor or post-doctoral researcher. Unfortunately, hard numbers are hard to come by, and naturally the people who are very successful or very unhappy have the loudest voices. The people who are most active in complaining about the problem tend to be Americans, and the situation in that country has some special features. Back in 2013, I estimated that about four people got a PhD in history in Canada for every tenured professor who retired, and made some choices accordingly.
Recently, the University of British Columbia published a survey of 3,805 students who graduated UBC with a PhD between 2003 and 2015. Through a combination of mail, email, and online searches, they were able to find some information about 91% of these students. A summary is posted at http://outcomes.grad.ubc.ca/ Read more
In October I got to attend the conference on technical military writing at the University of Winnipeg. Aside from giving me a chance to have some A&W and Timbits (somehow Wienerschnitzel and Quarkbällchen are not the same) and catch up on academic gossip, I got to hear a great set of papers.
The presentations focused on Greek texts from Aeneas Tacticus and Xenophon in the early 4th century BCE to emperor Leo VI around 900 CE, with one group of three papers on Vegetius. Three others focused on Xenophon, leaving six on miscellaneous topics and authors, and one on methodology. Only two of the thirteen focused on tactical writing in any language.
Alex Usher of the Higher Education Strategy Associates recently posted a summary of some surveys of students at Canadian universities. He and his colleagues found that students at most Canadian universities answered questions about their university the same way. Usher often suggests that he wants universities to become more diverse, but in this post he mentions with a hint of disdain another view, that universities exist to provide a uniform social service. That strikes me as a very good description of the role which I would like Canadian universities to play. Moreover, while I think his heart is in the right place, I can see a few disadvantages of greater “differentiation” which Alex Usher has not spelled out.
In the project briefs the university expresses an aspiration to improve the quality and quantity of humanities research. It intends to do this by removing some programs, and merging others. Research is a valuable goal, but to suggest that the problem with specific humanities programs within Arts and Science is that they are insufficiently productive is to miss the point. The University of Saskatchewan is not just a research institution. It is a university for the residents of Saskatchewan and for its students, and should take some time to consider their needs. The study of the humanities is a creditable pursuit and central to the idea of the university, it should be clear that the University of Saskatchewan has some obligation to provide a space, perhaps small but at least well defined, for the pursuit of that study. It is our belief that the proposals enumerated in the recent project briefs fulfill only half of this obligation. The space for the humanities presented in the briefs is certainly small, but it is also poorly defined.