First of all, let me state quite unequivocally that I think it is a shame and it is wrong that tenure-track positions are evaporating. I also decry other signs of the corporatization of the academy, and, while I’m at it, of the corporatization of everything else as well.
But let’s step back and take a look at graduate education. Is it really supposed to be strictly vocational in its purpose, with a tenure track position as a Professor its only legitimate goal? Or is graduate education by its very nature exactly that kind of education which can prepare one for a world of constantly shifting vocations? For who can say what the job market will look like in five, ten or twenty years, or exactly what kinds of careers will open up, and which ones will disappear? And I’m not advocating rapid change in the world of work, but I am acknowledging its existence. And change will come more and more rapidly with time, unless something or someone intervenes. So we might as well be wise and be prepared for new types of careers, even while pursuing what we think right now is our dream job, because that dream job may change or disappear and our new dream job may be something else which we don’t yet know about or doesn’t even yet exist.
A couple years ago I found this piece on reforms in graduate education at Drew University, and I wanted to share it as it is relevant to our discussion and incorporates some of the ideas that have been suggested:
Some of the reforms are specific to a smaller institution, but many of them are not, such as; ending the exploitation of grad students; let them finish in five years; do away with examinations; involve other departments; serve other programs; and, train your students to be public intellectuals.