Archive for Thursday, April 4, 1996


April 4, 1996


KU's graduate programs are changing in response to Ph.D.s' bleak chances of finding a job.

Frank Doden started a doctorate in English at Kansas University after coming to terms with an anxiety-producing condition afflicting graduate students.

"When facing the prospect of having a very difficult time getting a job after graduation, why do I want a Ph.D.?" he asked himself.

To escape bitterness felt by Ph.D.s unable to land dream jobs, Doden decided his primary objective was personal, scholarly fulfillment. A tenured university position didn't have to be at the end of the rainbow.

"If I get a job, terrific. If not, OK. I'm willing to look at other occupations," said Doden, who finished his degree last year and now works as a part-time KU lecturer.

Andrew Debicki, KU vice chancellor and graduate school dean, said the bleak employment outlook for many recent Ph.D.s would compel KU officials, faculty and students to swallow a big dose of reality.

For many years, the oversupply of unmet needs resulting from the undersupply of jobs for Ph.D.s has hit hard at the humanities. KU's traditional trouble spots are English, history and philosophy.

In the past two years, job prospects for some science Ph.D.s have shattered like a beaker knocked off a lab table.

Despite a National Science Foundation forecast of a scientist shortage in the 1990s, colleges pour out more Ph.D.s in computer science, engineering, math and other fields than the economy soaks up.

Debicki said economic reality would force KU's graduate programs to change.

He said graduate enrollment in English had already been cut by one-third. There are plans to downsize the history program. Other departments will follow.

Graduate programs could be modified to make Ph.D.s more competitive for jobs outside academe. A model might be law schools, which do much more than yield trial lawyers.

In that vein, KU is offering the new Self Fellowship. It will train students for industry or government. For instance, the recipient of a Ph.D. in political science could be groomed for a career in policy development with an environmental group.

"They don't want to train academics," Debicki said. "They want to train leaders."

Robert Harrington, president of KU's chapter of American Association of University Professors, said KU graduate faculty had a duty to explain the employment outlook to prospective students.

"They should be told explicitly what the odds are of getting a job in their area of choice," he said.

Meanwhile, Harrington said the flood of Ph.D.s and rising budget pressure on universities have led to the hiring of more temporary faculty. They're paid less than regular faculty and don't receive health benefits.

For example, a KU instructor like Doden working half time earns $10,000. KU's average faculty salary is $52,000.

"AAUP is very concerned about the use of part-time or adjunct faculty on this campus," Harrington said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.