Too Many Ph.D's?

Ellsworth Faris
University of Chicago


While 258 candidates for the Ph.D. are in training in 32 institutions, many of these are already employed, and many will go into other fields. There are seventeen institutions, each with more than 5,000 students, which are not in the list of assumed positions. The danger is not of an oversupply so long as men are well trained. Sociology must be practiced as well as taught. There are positions of research and administration of increasing importance. Public-school teaching and administration offers a field for the young sociologist who must in his turn seek the highest training and should shape his ambitions with emphasis on his obligation to the nation.

Serious questions have come to responsible educators in these times concerning the possibility of an oversupply of teachers. The situation is well stated by Professor Chapin in his article in this issue of the Journal. It is evident from the figures there given that few of the 258 scholars now working on theses for the doctor's degree can expect appointments as successors to the 130 highest positions in the United States. This article is not intended in any sense as a reply to Professor Chapin. A brief statement on the situation was in contemplation, and Professor Chapin's article only brought that purpose to a final decision in the hope that a somewhat further analysis might be welcome.

For there are some facts which would tend to lighten the picture a little. It is natural to assume that the listings in the Personnel Exchange are of unemployed sociologists, yet 30 per cent of the names in the Personnel Exchange are known to be employed. Several are unknown; it is probable that at least one-third now have positions. Moreover, some of the listings are of students still engaged in study, so there are duplicate entries in the Personnel Exchange and in the list of 258 doctoral dissertations.

An even more favorable aspect appears in the fact that many acceptable positions are open to the young doctors other than appointment to one of the 130 ranking positions. If the department of sociology at the University of Chicago is at all typical, there are many other avenues. Chicago has granted 106 doctor's degrees, and

( 510) 101 doctors are now living and active. Of these, 64, or about 63 per cent, are now in positions other than those in the leading universities. These include administration, business, teaching in foreign countries, research, and teaching in other departments than sociology. Some are in small colleges and in important institutions like Dartmouth, Mount Holyoke, or Brown, where the doctor's degree is not granted but where it is essential for a position on the staff.

While it would seem, therefore, that the 51 candidates whose research program has been accepted would form a heavy liability from the point of view of placement, there are extenuating facts. For of these candidates more than 6o per cent are at present employed. Some are on leave, others have finished their residence work and have gone back to their appointments, and still others have accepted appointments expecting to complete their research and receive the degree later. This leaves a total of 20 to be placed, and since only 35 per cent go into the large universities, there is a total of 7.4 persons left for the higher positions. But we must allow for a decrease in this number to account for those who will drop out and others who will fail on the final examination. Our experience at Chicago leads us to reckon this conservatively as 25 per cent. Thus we have 5.5 persons for the higher positions.

But the 32 institutions which appear in this year's list are only a fraction of the number of American schools and colleges where sociologists are needed. There are more than 575 colleges in the United States, though many of them are small, and some are destined to give up the struggle. But there are 164 institutions with over 1,000 students. There are 95 with over 2,000 students, and 112 with more than $2,000,000 in endowment. In the list of 32 there are only 12 state universities represented, and very important schools in this class are left out which ought to have sociological instruction. There are 14 in the list of 32 which have less than 5,000 students, and there are 17 institutions of more than 5,000 not on the list at all. The need for sociologists is not static. If sociologists have produced that which is of high social value, the students in American colleges and universities have as much right to it as to biology, mathematics, or history. Progress has been very rapid in this direction.

The important caution is not against the absolute numbers but

( 511) only against superficial training and inadequate selection. The new departments at Harvard, Duke, and elsewhere can be trusted, under their able leadership, to uphold high standards. There seems to be reason to hope that there will be a demand for scholars of proved ability and thorough training.

But all these considerations suggest a more fundamental issue. Are graduate students to be told that they should pursue their studies for the purpose of getting one of the 130 top positions in the universities? If the object is to teach men only that they may teach other men, we are in the position of teachers of Greek. The expenditure on departments of sociology in the nation is very large. The annual budgets of the 32 departments mentioned run into millions. How can this be justified? When the committee of the legislature considers the budget of a state university and votes money for the training of graduate students in sociology they will hardly vote the precious dollars merely to enable ambitious young men to prepare for the best teaching positions. Sociology as a subject merely to be taught is a parasite: sociology as a profession to be practiced may have indispensable social utility.

But if the social motive be admitted in the establishment and support of the graduate school, what are the reasonable expectations as to the motives of the students? Why do they come? In accord with the prevailing acquisitiveness and competitive commercialism of our day it is probably true that many come only that they may get good jobs. It takes three years or more of extra study and a financial sacrifice of a serious nature to many, so why may he not expect to receive his reward? Of course he may. But he has not paid for all he has received. In many cases there are generous fellowships and stipends. But if he pay his tuition fees he has still been heavily subsidized. Other men have labored, and he has entered into their labors. Does he owe anything, and if so, how can he pay? Having received much, he should recognize his debt to the nation.

In addition to the expected increase in the demand for men of sociological training in research and administration in government departments—municipal, state, and national—there are other institutions where the trained sociologist could and should be useful. Then there is need for men trained in research to study the problems of

(512) rural America, whose problems are now being admitted to be appropriate to our methods. The young men who have a doctor's degree in sociology may feel superior to the job of county agent, but we are discussing the need and the opportunity.

Another important unused opportunity for trained sociologists from the standpoint of the welfare of the nation seems to lie in the field of public secondary education and educational administration. The financial rewards are not unfair, the permanency of tenure in the city systems is assured, and the opportunity for constructive service undisputed. While the prestige of public school teaching in America has not been high, this is due to historical conditions now rapidly changing. In Germany the doctor's degree has always been considered the normal preparation for teaching in the secondary schools. In America it need not be considered as burying the talent in a napkin. If there could be some hundreds of competent and devoted sociologists giving themselves to the problems of the adolescents in training in our secondary schools, the national life would surely reflect a wise use of our resources.

But whether one or all of these fields should attract our young scholars or not, the principle that I have stated seems valid. The spirit of individualism and fierce competition is out of line with modern acceptance of social responsibility, emphasized indeed by familiar developments in the attempt to meet the present crisis, but antedating any political event of recent times. America is not interested in helping any young man or any group of young men to get ahead. America is interested in giving the highest training possible to its gifted youth only if this training is socially valuable. Having given this training, America has a right to expect the youth to make his plans with reference to his obligation to the nation. Unless I have misjudged them they will acknowledge the debt and find their place, receiving enough money for their needs, and with it the intangible rewards of social approval by which men chiefly live.


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