Introducing the #AltAc Series

We are happy to introduce to you the latest feature of Symposium Ethics, the “#AltAc Series.” We intend this series to help graduate students (and their advisors) discern alternative career paths to tenure-track academic employment for Christian ethicists and other humanists.1 In addition, we hope this series helps potential employers learn the variety of ways that training in Christian ethics can prepare people for successful employment in a variety of professions.

The declining potential for traditional academic employment for people who earn doctorates in the humanities drives our motivation for developing this series. For this intro, we were tempted to throw a bunch of numbers and statistics at you to help you understand the gravity of the situation. Perhaps one will do the trick. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) found that seventy percent of all faculty positions are contingent (51% part-time or 19% non-tenure track and/or contract).2 Undoubtedly many of these contingent positions, particularly the part-time jobs, are filled by retirees, industry experts and professionals, and those who have stable employment outside of the academy, i.e. those who can instruct as a luxury and public service. However, many more are filled by people such as those profiled in an article by Caroline Fredrickson at the Washington Monthly (“Stop Chiseling the Adjuncts“), where one person in particular teaches six contracted courses in two different cities, or people whose statuses resemble the former life of our friend Kelly J. Baker (see her columns about the subject at the Chronicle Vitae), who found herself undervalued and under-appreciated as a faculty colleague because her position was not on the tenure track. This is something we academics colloquially call being trapped in “adjunct hell.”

We are not trying to devalue faculty contingency or demean those that take this path as a means of paying their bills, remaining connected to the academy, or getting on the tenure track. This is increasingly becoming the norm and more than a few have successfully turned their visiting faculty positions, post-docs, part-time teaching gigs with a side of tutoring, and the like into tenure-track jobs. Rather, we want to explore the possibility that someone who has obtained a humanities PhD can find meaningful employment that engages her or his scholarship outside of the academy. In one respect, this is a personal for us. Of the three editors here at Symposium Ethics, only one is fully tenured (congrats Amy!),  the others either work in higher education outside of the tenure track or have foregone academia altogether. The point of this series is to express to humanities PhD scholars out there that you have options and to help others think of ways in which having a humanities PhD on the payroll might be useful to the mission of their organizations. This imagining of possibilities outside of the academia just does not go on at a systematic or sustained level within our PhD programs or academic guilds (yet). We worry that for many, the academy will figure things out far too late to be useful to the PhD scholars that it produces today, given that the academy seems to be too invested in an outdated employment for PhD graduates.

So we are doing our part here at Symposium Ethics. The series will feature Ethics and Theology PhDs, but hopefully be broad enough to apply to other humanities PhD holders as well. We plan talk with book editors, writers, pastors, non-profit executives, activists, policy advocates and more. If you have a ethics, theology, or religion PhD, work outside of the academy and would like to share your story, please contact us using the proposals page or email us, editors [at] symposiumethics [dot] org.

* The featured image is a graphic developed by the American Association of University Professors based on data compiled from the U.S. Department of Education. See http://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts for more data.

 

  1. Alt-Ac stands for “ALTernative careers in and beyond the ACademy.”
  2. Statistics complied by AAUP using the US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, IPEDS Fall Staff Survey. A detailed bar graph can be found at http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/Faculty_Trends_0.pdf

Jermaine M. McDonald

Dr. Jermaine M. McDonald is co-founder and editor of Symposium Ethics. He completed his PhD in Ethics and Society at Emory University in the Spring of 2015. Jermaine researches interesting convergences between race, religion, and politics with the aim of analyzing how various groups bring their religious ideas of the common good to bear in U.S. society.