‘The faculty will all hate it,” said Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory and former analyst at the National Endowment for the Arts, “but other administrators will be looking at it very carefully and wonder if they can do it at their campus.” To be sure, this is the most striking quote in David Burt’s piece last Wednesday (“Up Close: Grad school scrutinized,” Sept. 21) about the Pollard report on improving graduate education at Yale.
As a graduate student of history, where it still takes on average more than seven years to get a Ph.D., I avidly read Dean Pollard’s report when it came out on Aug. 25. Nobody very much likes to have their work subjected to a rigorous cost/benefit analysis. Indeed, we in the humanities, seem to have a special aversion towards such statistics. Could it be because of some troubling inkling of how much we cost and how little we benefit?
When I hear the classic argument that the humanities should be defended “for their own sake,” it sounds more like a refusal to argue. Our disciplines should be put to the cost/benefit test like others — and we should be confident that we would pass.
Admittedly, some of these benefits are hard to quantify. As my colleague Gabriel Winant reminded News readers last February, the History Department at Yale was that of C. Vann Woodward, author of “The Strange Career of Jim Crow,” the book which showed that “segregation was not a natural condition of a multiracial society, but had been consciously done by politicians, and so could be undone by them.” Martin Luther King called it “the Bible of the civil rights Movement.” How do you measure the benefit of that?
While such unquantifiable benefits may be the most compelling of a liberal arts education, there are many other benefits that are quantifiable, but which are unfortunately absent from our dean’s report.
If the purpose behind the report is to improve graduate education — and not just save money — why does the “outcome index,” which in Pollard’s report indicates how well a program does, include no measure of the proportion of graduates who end up with tenure-track jobs? This statistic seems more relevant to the quality of a program than the number of its students that finish in fewer than seven years, and might counter the foregone conclusion that shorter programs are better programs.
In a report about mentoring, I would also have liked to find ratios of ladder-faculty to graduate students. After all, nothing affects the quality of mentoring like the number of mentors. The report presents the poor state of the job market as a given. In fact, by progressively replacing tenure-track with temporary positions, University administrations have largely created the job market that Ph.D.s face today. Since only long-term faculty can serve as mentors to students, graduate and undergraduate, this strategy also affects the quality of education.
The University should be committed to creating opportunities for individuals regardless of their background. Therefore, diversity statistics should also be part of any evaluation of how well a program fulfills its mission. While this may seem removed from the report’s objectives, policies focused primarily on time-to-degree will affect most of all those students who cannot count on their families for financial support, who are not US citizens, who suffer from a health condition, or have children to care for. These policies will limit the diversity of the student body, and thus the richness of the scholarship produced at Yale.
If “faculty will all hate it,” it is because this report is part of a process in which they play a minor role. The report’s method is to identify successful departments and export their mentoring practices to other disciplines. No matter how subtle the statistics, it explicitly advocates a one-size-fits-all approach. And when the measure of success is time-to-degree and cost to the graduate school, that one size will inevitably be that of science programs — even though they do not rank as well nationally as Yale’s humanities programs.
Our Dean’s report reflects the diverse experiences of Ph.D. students in various disciplines and provides a wealth of information to grapple with. For that diversity to be preserved, faculty and graduate students in every department must gain a voice in the decisions about their programs. Dean Pollard offers us a great opportunity to improve our education. We must strive to be involved.
Antoine Lentacker is a Ph.D. candidate in history.