[lg policy] US: Language Job Openings Hold Steady, but at Low Levels

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 5 15:02:04 UTC 2011

Language Job Openings Hold Steady, but at Low Levels

By Jennifer Howard

After two years of steep decline, the full-time job outlook for
Ph.D.'s in English and other languages appears to be stabilizing in
2010-11, according to a report released today by the Modern Language
Association. The group released the report ahead of its annual
meeting, which begins Thursday in Los Angeles.

Based on the MLA's Job Information List, which came out most recently
in October, the report projects that the number of jobs in English
will hold steady at 1,100, with no change from the 2009-10 figures. It
also anticipates that positions in languages other than English will
stay the same, with 1,020 jobs open. (The job list emphasizes
traditional, full-time positions, so it does not give a complete
picture of employment in a market that relies more and more on
part-time and/or non-tenure-track labor.)

The leveling off is small comfort, though, for language and literature
departments hit hard in recent years by recession and budget cuts.
Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the association, thinks that
job market's apparent stabilization means that it has sunk about as
far as it can go.

"I see it more as having reached an absolute bottom," she said in an
interview. "When you look at the staffing in some departments, they've
reached minimal levels." Federal stimulus money, she said, "really has
not trickled down that much to departments, at least not our
departments." (In another humanities field, history, the job numbers
continue to decline, according to a report released this week by the
American Historical Association, although that group did see some
cause for hope in the December 2010 job numbers.)

The number of language-and-literature jobs most recently peaked in
2007-8, with 1,646 ads placed for jobs in English and 1,521 for
positions in other languages, according to the report. The last two
years saw a drop of 41.4 percent in the number of English jobs
advertised and 40 percent in non-English jobs. A decline in the number
of institutions placing ads confirms "the severity of the contraction
in faculty hiring," the report says.

Because it focuses on traditional, full-time positions, the job list
does not give a complete picture of literature-and-language academic
jobs. Ms. Feal cautioned that it should not be used as a barometer for
community-college jobs, part-time and some contingent work, or
alternative academic positions.

The report points out an "especially notable" decline this past year
in the percentage of jobs ads for tenure-track positions. Between
2004-5 and 2008-9, the average share of tenure-track listings was 77.4
percent in English and 61.8 percent in other languages, it said; that
fell at least 10 percentage points in the 2009-10 listings, to 65.1
percent and 49 percent respectively. The October 2010 job listings
showed those percentages going lower still, with 58.8 percent of the
jobs in English and 44.4 percent of those in other languages
identified as tenure track.

The issue of faculty members not on the tenure track is high on the
association's agenda, says Ms. Feal, and will be part of the
discussion in Los Angeles. "It's the No. 1 issue for me personally,"
she said. "I think it's what matters most for the overall vitality of
the profession." (One emphasis at the upcoming conference will be
discussions of what the MLA calls "the academy in hard times.")

The jobs report hinted that hiring patterns are changing, with
employers waiting until closer to the beginning of the school year to
advertise openings. Over the Job Information List's 35-year history,
the October and December listings have traditionally been the most
active; this year, the February, April, and summer issues saw more ads
placed. "Only time will tell whether this shift will prove a
short-term effect of the financial crisis that erupted in fall 2008 or
a deeper long-term change in how departments advertise and fill
positions," the report noted.

As for what those departments are looking for, Ms. Feal pointed out
that one often has to look at the individual ads to figure out which
skills are most sought after. But the report indicates some broad
trends. For instance, in English, many job listings clustered in
British literature, rhetoric and composition, multi-ethnic literature,
creative writing, and American literature. "It's hard to tell how much
has to do with retirements and so on," she said. "But in most
departments, I think we're still seeing a fairly traditional notion of
the field."

Among languages other than English, Spanish continued to see its
former dominance erode. Jobs in that field declined from just over 50
percent of all non-English-language positions in October 2000 to 33.6
percent in October 2010, the report indicated. Meanwhile, Chinese and
Arabic made strong showings, part of a trend the association has noted
toward a wider range of language offerings. "What jumped out at me in
languages was the diversity of the positions," Ms. Feal said.

She set that against recent cutbacks that have taken place in language
programs around the country, for instance, at the State University of
New York at Albany. "One of the messages in the hiring as well as in
what we're seeing going on in Albany is that it's very important to
have programs that address the kinds of languages that are emerging in
the current geopolitical world," Ms. Feal said. "But it is
short-sighted to do away with strong, traditional programs in
languages such as German, French, Italian, and so on."

The association has maintained the list since the academic year
1975-76. During that period, the number of jobs advertised has
fluctuated between 1,000 and 2,000, according to the group.



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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