Graduate programs in the humanities across the United States are scaling back considerably by cutting their admissions. The pattern of humanities departments limiting graduate admissions periodically (especially during economic recessions) is nothing new, but the scale of the cutbacks are significant.
Humanities departments and scholars are actively debating the ethical implications of admitting graduate students at a time of crisis in humanities funding and positions in academic institutions.
The American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association have published many reports and stories on the issue of graduate admissions and graduate program size.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the admissions cutbacks and the academic debate over graduate admissions policies.
History departments figure significantly in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s report:
The history department at the University of Wisconsin at Madison cut its new graduate admissions in half this past fall, to just 21 students. “Why train people if the outlook for professional historians is not nearly as good as it was five years ago?” asks Laird Boswell, director of graduate studies in the department.
Pennsylvania State University’s history department has gone even farther, dropping entire subfields in which graduate students were once invited to specialize and keeping only those in which it has a good track record of helping graduates find jobs. As of this academic year, it is no longer admitting students who want to write dissertations in 20th-century American history, modern European history, or medieval history. In the process, it is hoping to cut overall graduate enrollment by around 30 students—to a total of 40—in two years.
“This is the way of the future, and we’re way ahead of the curve here,” says Michael Kulikowski, chairman of the history department, which was featured at this year’s annual meeting of the American Historical Association as one of 10 departments doing innovative things. “People have been talking about the oversupply of unemployable Ph.D.’s in the humanities for several decades, and I think we’ve found a part of the solution. We are concentrating on areas where we can place students competitively.”
Historians and other humanities scholars will continue to debate these issues each year, as the graduate admissions season approaches.
Graduate students at Northern Illinois University will be interested in following the development of graduate program admissions policies.