US job market: Foreign-Language Professors Are in Demand

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Dec 18 17:37:41 UTC 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Foreign-Language Professors Are in Demand, English Professors Less So,
Analysis Finds

This academic year is shaping up as another good one for faculty-job
seekers in the field of foreign languages, according to a new analysis of
employment advertisements conducted by the Modern Language Association.
But the news for out-of-work scholars of English is not so heartening: The
number of faculty job openings for them has shrunk slightly since the 2006
academic year.

The MLA, which is the largest group of academics who study languages and
literature, projects that the number of open foreign-language faculty
positions will jump by 4.3 percent this academic year over the number of
jobs on offer last year.

What is driving that increase in jobs? "It's the attention that we're
paying in geopolitical terms to the Middle East and East Asia," said
Rosemary G. Feal, the executive director of the association. For Arabic
and East Asian languages, said Ms. Feal, "demand far exceeds the supply of
qualified teachers."

Enrollments in foreign language classesespecially those in Arabic and
Chinesehave jumped significantly since 2002 (The Chronicle, November 23).

Aspirants to English faculty jobs, meanwhile, will have had 4.1 percent
fewer openings to consider this academic year as opposed to last year,
according to the analysis. However, that downturnfrom 1,793 open positions
last year to 1,720 this yearstill marks the current job market as much
healthier than it was in the early 90s, when the number of job offerings
hovered just above 1,000 and the number of new Ph.D.'s was significantly

The data released today compares the numbers of employment ads posted to
the association's Job Information List, an electronic database, from one
year to another.

One factor that has remained relatively constant in recent years is the
supply of new Ph.D.'s in English. The annual crop of new doctoral
recipients in English has hovered around 950 for the past six
yearssignificantly smaller than the annual numbers of English Ph.D.'s
produced in decades past.

"Sadly, that's good," said Ms. Feal. "It's appropriate that Ph.D. programs
be aware of job conditions and that they not take in more Ph.D.'s than
they can reasonably expect to place."

According to the MLA, numbers from the Job Information List are among the
most accurate indicators of academic hiring trends in English and
languages. But one trend is not so well-captured by the national job
searches posted by the MLA.

"The majority of our advertised positions are tenure-track," said Ms.
Feal. "Most part-time positions are advertised locally." And it is in
those positions, said Ms. Feal, where a disconcerting number of literature
Ph.D.'s end up.

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